Release the hounds! The fate of ID creationists in an educated world


The Intelligent Design creationists keep trying the same old tactics of making their case with phony PR, but I don’t think it’s working so well anymore. For example, take a look at this op-ed from Richard Buggs of “‘Truth’ in Science”; he makes a futile attempt to throw out some of the usual creationist talking points, like these:

But, whatever the limitations of Darwinism, isn’t the intelligent design alternative an “intellectual dead end”? No. If true, ID is a profound insight into the natural world and a motivator to scientific inquiry. The pioneers of modern science, who were convinced that nature is designed, consequently held that it could be understood by human intellects. This confidence helped to drive the scientific revolution. More recently, proponents of ID predicted that some “junk” DNA must have a function well before this view became mainstream among Darwinists.

It’s rather pathetic. Buggs doesn’t even seem to understand how science works, and he makes vague claims that don’t make sense, and specific claims that are simply wrong.

  • We aren’t Darwinists any more. This isn’t 1859, OK?

  • The existence of Spiderman would also profoundly affect how we think about biology, evolution, physics, etc., if true. That final clause makes the whole idea non-scientific, if we recognized that Spiderman is a fictional character…what needs to be done is to support the initial premise. IDists want us to assume that major premise and act as if what follows from that invention is science.

  • The point about “confidence” in a designer driving the scientific revolution doesn’t make any sense. Does he think people who don’t believe in a designer just throw up their hands and give up because that means the world is unknowable?

  • The idea that large swathes of the genome have no adaptive utility is non-Darwinian. Functional roles were assumed by biologists first, certain stretches of non-coding DNA were known to be essential, and in general, IDists should avoid talking about junk DNA altogether, because all they do is reveal that they don’t understand the concept.

Now read the comments on Buggs article. It’s heartening: the readers slam the poor guy unmercifully. That’s what I like to see, every false claim made by an ID flak getting swarmed and ripped apart by an informed citizenry.

Comments

  1. says

    Hmmm. “my own research published in journals of evolution” – I only found 3 hits on PubMed:

    1: Obbard DJ, Harris SA, Buggs RJ, Pannell JR.
    Hybridization, polyploidy, and the evolution of sexual systems in Mercurialis
    (Euphorbiaceae).
    Evolution Int J Org Evolution. 2006 Sep;60(9):1801-15.
    PMID: 17089965 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

    2: Buggs RJ, Pannell JR.
    Rapid displacement of a monoecious plant lineage is due to pollen swamping by a
    dioecious relative.
    Curr Biol. 2006 May 23;16(10):996-1000.
    PMID: 16713956 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

    3: Hegarty MJ, Jones JM, Wilson ID, Barker GL, Coghill JA, Sanchez-Baracaldo P,
    Liu G, Buggs RJ, Abbott RJ, Edwards KJ, Hiscock SJ.
    Development of anonymous cDNA microarrays to study changes to the Senecio
    floral transcriptome during hybrid speciation.
    Mol Ecol. 2005 Jul;14(8):2493-510.
    PMID: 15969730 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

    2 & 3 are not very evolutionary; 1 looks (from the abstract) like it might even get him (3rd author, assuming it’s the same boy) hauled up in front of an AiG disciplinary hearing. Same old same old from TiS, it seems. He deserves the savaging that he seems to be getting.

  2. Faithful Reader says

    Wonderfully scathing and literate comments. I especially like the one about conflating the arse with the elbow.

    Off topic: PZ, are you still coming to Ann Arbor next week?

  3. guthrie says

    Yep, we’re having fun in there, and I shall be writing a short letter the the Guardian tonight. Its amazing how many people crawl out the woodwork who are sort of sympathetic to ID because it challenged science, rather than because of their religious beliefs.

  4. says

    Yes, I am — I’ll be at ConFusion from 19-21 January. This trip, and then classes start on Tuesday, and then a weekend in Michigan, and then a couple of Darwin Day events in February…2007 is off to an exhausting start.

  5. Seanly says

    Isn’t junk DNA in there for things like when there is a malfunction on the Enterprise’s transporter & you get mixed with your dog? And then you start aging backwards…

    If true, having that happen would suck.

  6. Hank Fox says

    Buggs went down like a WWI biplane in a skyful of jet fighters.

    Nice to see this article, and the response. It made me feel very hopeful that creationism/ID hasn’t got a chance of catching on in Europe. The level of education, at least as far as these readers of the Guardian demonstrate, seems to be very high.

    I had to read down 21 comments before I found one that supported Buggs. But it was also the first one with rampant misspellings:

    All theories like all phiopsophical argumnents and mathematical problems must start with a premis, a defining point. At the end of day, that defining point is always a matter of faith howver you try to explain it. The Scientist, the theologian, the philosopher and the mathematician – all are in chains to this.

    Did this guy miss class on the day the teacher talked about supporting evidence?

  7. says

    I’m hoping people here are familiar with this already, but to me, the most entertaining argument against Intelligence Design is Neil deGrasse Tyson’s talk on “Stupid Design” at the Beyond Belief conference. You can find it on YouTube.

  8. Caledonian says

    Did this guy miss class on the day the teacher talked about supporting evidence?

    No, no, Hank Fox! The scientist is bound by cruel chains of faith, like “phenomena can potentially be understood”, “all things being equal, assertions with fewer new implications are better than those with more”, and “if we can’t test it, speculating isn’t much use”. He is obviously on the same ground as theologians.

  9. guthrie says

    Hank, I’ve spent a few seconds considering that situation before, and think actually the WW1 plane would last quite a long time. This is because it flies so slowly, (usually under 100mph) that the jet fighters would have trouble targetting it, and it may or may not be hot enough to get their missiles going.

    Personally, I prefer to ponder the fate of H G Well’s Martians if they landed today. THey would last oohh, about 3 seconds, the time it would take an anti-tank missile to hit them.

  10. MartinC says

    The Guardian is a UK based newspaper and as such wont have the same level of religious fundies in their readership. This is not to suggest, however, that the general understanding of science or evolution is particularly better in the UK. While there are hardly any believers in the 6000 year old earth story science knowledge is not that widespread in the population. New age beliefs and quackery are probably more widespread compared to the US and as such it shouldn’t be looked at from the US side as a shining example of where you want the population to be, educationally speaking.

  11. madrocketscientist says

    gutherie

    why would a jet fighter need to shoot a WWI aircraft? A close supersonic pass should do nicely…

  12. Beren says

    The pioneers of modern science, who were convinced that nature is designed…

    It’s funny how often this comes up. It’s essentially an argument from authority. “These are the founders of your Science, so shouldn’t you listen to their opinions?” The critical disconnect here, though, is that science is not a religion. That is: it is not a set of beliefs passed down from a group of founders. It’s a set of carefully tested ideas whose elements are refined or discarded as time progresses.

    Darwin, Galileo, Newton, and their like were brilliant men whose work has greatly benefited us. Their specific opinions, though, only matter so far as they have been validated by the subsequent centuries of testing. I don’t think people who make this sort of argument realize that.

    Either that or, more cynically, they DO understand that we aren’t impressed but are trying to appeal to those who assume authority on one subject grants infallibility on all.

  13. SharonC says

    My favourite of their comments is one by EnBuenOra:

    Short rephrasing:

    “Scientists have been inappropriately dismissive of my ‘Guy with a Magic Wand’ theory of living organisms.”

  14. guthrie says

    Thats spelt guthrie, not gutherie.

    I did consider that. It might well work, but I dont know how good they would be at zeroing in on a WW1 aircraft- also there is risk of collision, and although most of the aircraft was made of wood and canvas, the engine would do a lot of damage.

  15. Christian Burnham says

    Why does P.Z. feel slighted by the term ‘Darwinist’? I’m not saying he’s wrong- I just want to know.

    I don’t think most physicists would object to being called Newtonists or Einsteinists where appropriate.

    Doesn’t sound like much of an insult to me.

  16. Bob O'H says

    MartinC – You don’t read the Grauniad, do you? It’s the centre-left paper for us old-fashioned liberals. I doubt it has that many fundies in its readership (try the Torygraph).

    I suspect the reasons for publishing this are (a) a sense of fair play, allowing the other side to have a voice, and (b) because the responses from the readers will be entertaining.

    Bob

  17. Ginger Yellow says

    The Guardian also has a disproportionate number of teachers in its readership – indeed the stereotypical Guardian reader is a teacher.

  18. 99 bottles says

    Please. The notion that modern jets would have a hard time targeting a biplane is just ludicrous. The Albatros DIII, for example, with a max speed of 103mph, has a flight envelope similar to some modern helicopters, which are not a problem for jets to target. More to the point, a simple diving attack from altitude followed by some (say, one to two rounds) 20mm cannon fire would do the job.

  19. G. Tingey says

    Re: “The Grauniad” as it is usually known …

    It has had a couple of religious idiots (who are not, as far as I know ID-iots) spouting, see here:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,1984003,00.html
    and here
    http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/theo_hobson/2006/12/merry_christmas_to_all_my_read.html

    Reading them being shot down is equally good for the blood pressure.
    However, they are very weak on the poor, misunderstood, oppresse muslims, and their different, but repected view on women, for instance – though that is changing.
    But you still occasionally get crap like this:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,,329675666-103677,00.html

  20. says

    Why does P.Z. feel slighted by the term ‘Darwinist’? I’m not saying he’s wrong- I just want to know.

    I don’t think most physicists would object to being called Newtonists or Einsteinists where appropriate.

    Doesn’t sound like much of an insult to me.

    It’s the fallacy involved: They’re trying to turn Darwin into our “prophet” so that they can manufacture religious iconography for us, even though we object to it. It’s also trying to suggest that evolution hasn’t gotten anywhere even though we’ve added mechanisms beyond just Darwinian evolution into modern synthesis.

  21. tomh says

    Are they more irreligious or just better educated over there? A US paper of any persuasion would get nowhere near the high level of comments that the article received.

  22. 99 bottles says

    @ Christian Burnham:

    The “Darwinist” title is used by creationists as a kind of straw man. See, they say, Darwin didn’t know all the details and got lots of things wrong, and occasionally did other silly things. Therefore, the contemporary theory of evolution is wrong. To the creationists, it is still 1850 (not, as some liberals would say, 1950).

    The “no transitional forms” argument comes from this kind of thinking.

  23. Hank Fox says

    Please. The notion that modern jets would have a hard time targeting a biplane is just ludicrous. The Albatros DIII, for example, with a max speed of 103mph, has a flight envelope similar to some modern helicopters, which are not a problem for jets to target.

    With visions of Snoopy and the Red Baron in mind, I was actually thinking more of the Sopwith Camel.

  24. guthrie says

    99 bottles- my taste in weaponry is about 600 years earlier, so I dont know much about planes targetting helicopters.

  25. says

    Although creationism has made some small inroads over here in the past few years it doesn’t have much credibility with the wider public, unlike America. Another in the host of reasons why I live here!

    It does sometimes feel like 1859 here though as I live a five minute bus ride from Downe House.

  26. Chris says

    Are they more irreligious or just better educated over there? A US paper of any persuasion would get nowhere near the high level of comments that the article received.

    Both, I think. There’s a strong correlation for individuals (the more educated, the less religious, especially fundy religious; of course this is statistical and some individuals are exceptions), so why not for nations?

    I wonder how much longer it will be before the US meets the conditions for being declared a “developing country” (what used to be called Third World countries)… the direction we’re currently going, I suspect a generation or less.

  27. Hal says

    Regarding the compulsion to compare ID to WWI aerial objects, may I suggest a gasbag? It’s static, flabby, virtually immobile under its own power, easily punctured, and supported by artificially confined forces.

  28. says

    There is little new in this editorial. I felt moved to blog it to death anyway. PZ does make most of the key points.

    It is interesting to compare 19th century non-Darinism (i.e., Paley) and Darwin during the course of his coming to understand Natural Selection. One stream of thought got stuck, the other did not.

    And Buggs last paragraph is of course the most annoying. Let us always remember:

    “Discovery Institute’s Center… seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies.”

    (from the wedge document)

  29. Torbjörn Larsson says

    Christian:

    I don’t think most physicists would object to being called Newtonists or Einsteinists where appropriate.

    I would be livid. The theories these men spawned have other names, and in Newtons case his mechanics and space is superseded even then. In any case it is the disciplines, not the men or theories, that gives occupational names.

  30. Torbjörn Larsson says

    Christian:

    I don’t think most physicists would object to being called Newtonists or Einsteinists where appropriate.

    I would be livid. The theories these men spawned have other names, and in Newtons case his mechanics and space is superseded even then. In any case it is the disciplines, not the men or theories, that gives occupational names.

  31. Christian Burnham says

    I may be wrong- but Dawkins seems happy to refer to himself on occasion as a Darwinist.

    Torbjorn-

    You would be ‘livid’? I don’t think that’s a very useful response.

    Again- there are certainly worse things to be called than a ‘Darwinist’. I would take it as a compliment if anyone called me that.

  32. Greg Byshenk says

    Are they more irreligious or just better educated over there?
    A US paper of any persuasion would get nowhere near the high level of comments
    that the article received.

    Both, with some qualifications.

    The English (like most Europeans) are less religious than Americans; IIRC,
    surveys suggest something like 60% self-describing as non-religious. That
    said, I supsect that there is just as much (if not more) pseudoscience and
    quackery to found in England as in the US.

    As for education, I suspect that there is about the same percentage of
    truly uneducated people in England as in the US, but that the fat part of the
    bell curve may be shifted a bit to the left in England. That is, the level/quality of education of the average, middlebrow English person may well be
    somewhat higher than his US counterpart. For example, I suspect that a
    significant number of US college graduates would have difficulty with English
    A-Levels. Additionally, there is less anti-intellectualism in England than
    is the US — it is certainly present, but it is not as overwhelming as in the
    US.

    All that said, there is almost certainly a selection bias evident. The
    Guardian
    targets an educated, intellectual readership, and that usually
    shows in the general tenor of the comments.

  33. Jud says

    Christian Burham said: “Again- there are certainly worse things to be called than a ‘Darwinist’.”

    Agreed.

    “I would take it as a compliment if anyone called me that.”

    I wouldn’t be at all sure what they meant, unless they were believers in YEC or ID, in which case I’d be quite sure they weren’t being complimentary. Did they mean I was interested in Darwin’s life and work from a historical perspective? Someone who liked the man’s work and the propositions for which he stood (perhaps more properly a ‘Darwinophile’)? Certainly a physicist working on gravitation in the modern era would never expect to be described as a ‘Newtonist,’ nor an ‘Einsteinist.’ Why should a modern evolutionary biologist expect to be described (inaccurately) as a ‘Darwinist’?

  34. MikeM says

    You know, it isn’t so much the term “Darwinist” that’s offensive. Taken by itself, it’s not offensive.

    It’s the spirit with which the word is used that is offensive. The best parallel I can come up with is the way Reagan used the term “Liberal.”

    And then Reagan’s mostly right-wing friends ran with it.

    Coming from PZ, “Darwinist” is a compliment. But from Behe (and, apparently, Buggs)? It’s not the same.

    It’s a contextual insult.

    What amazes me, after following this blog for a year or so now, is that zero science comes out of the ID movement, and yet “scientists” like Buggs don’t seem bugged-out by that at all. Come on, I want to see a hypothesis. Instead, all I’ve seen so far is, “We can’t see how this could have happened any other way; therefore, we were designed.” That is literally all we’ve seen.

    By the way, the preceeding contains a good example of a contextual insult. I put “scientist” in quotes. I’d never do that with PZ, et al.

  35. says

    Dawkins is a “Darwinist” in the sense that, in various modern debates about this or that aspect of evolutionary biology, he takes a particular stance in which more recent propositions are given less weight. It’s a bit like saying that the “music of life” can be understood by the rules of Bach’s classical harmony and counterpoint (or, at the most novel, classic rock) without having to care about techno or Swedish psy-trance.

    I cannot stress enough the fact that we have moved beyond what Newton and even Einstein could figure out. They learned a great deal about the world and got many things right, but they each got some matters wrong. Their answers were incomplete. Today, we know a little more. We have no reason to deify those human beings who have gone before.

    To a scientist, people’s names are labels: Maxwell’s equations, Planck’s constant, Einstein’s relativity and Minkowski’s spacetime. We use these labels for convenience, sometimes to contrast one idea with another — Newton’s mechanics versus the more widely applicable concepts of Einstein — but having your name attached to a discovery just gives you a little fame, not a mantle of prophethood. As a physicist, I use Maxwell, Newton and Einstein as the circumstances require, and I don’t have to change a “Maxwellian” hat for a “Newtonian” one.

    Given that a person who calls me a “Darwinist” is, by the odds, probably a victim of religious dogma trying to undermine science and everything honest, calling me a “Darwinist” might make me livid indeed.

  36. Dylan Llyr says

    I’m not so sure that knowledge and understanding of science in Britain is any better than it is in America. While British creationism is still marginal, it really isn’t because they’re all so knowledgable about evolution; rather, it’s because nobody really cares.

    British scientific illiteracy is easily demonstrated by the widespread prevalence of all things woo and quacky in the mainstream media (see Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science column (also courtesy of The Grauniad); he doesn’t even touch things like evolution and global warming, as there’s enough crap just in fields like alternative medicine and dietry to keep him busy.

    If creationists do make inroads and start a “debate” going in the mainstream media, I’ll be both very interested and fairly worried. Much is made of Britain’s “godlessness” but in truth I doubt that actual atheism is all that widespread. Most would probably still call themselves Christian (or worse, “spiritual”). Some comforting vague vestige of some god, at least. If the creationists successfully manage to pass themselves off as “scientists” “challenging the establishment” (most Brits deeply distrust the “establishment”, so anything that goes against it is inherently good) and create the illusion of an actual controversy, they might make small gains. Given the choice between rigid science on one hand, and some flimsy scientific-sounding justification for their “spirituality” on the other hand, I can see many being tempted by ID. Remember that the vast majority will never have given this any thought whatsoever before now, so they will approach the whole thing completely unfamiliar with the arguments of either side. Therefore many will inevitably decide, being the good liberals that they are, that the answer lies “somewhere in between”. And that in itself would already be a creationist victory.

    I think in Britain, more than anywhere, creationism will find useful allies among post-modernists, who generally dislike science anyway.

    Am I being too pessimistic?

  37. stogoe says

    as 99 bottles said, it’s projection. They have a ooga booga sky fairy and a profit err prophet so we must, too. In their minds we bow to Darwin, because not bowing is incomprehensible to them.

  38. guthrie says

    Dylan, I thnk you are being a bit pessimistic.
    Firstly, Creationists already have Prof Fuller (A post modernist nutter in the traditional sense who apparently supports ID because it is a challenger to the reighning paradigm) on their side. He testified at Dover. We can now point to that record and laugh at him.

    I think also you overestimate the involvement of the great multitude who would describe themselves as Christian. Many people would passively support Id because it actually looks scientific, and also panders to their religous preconceptions. But we have DAvid Attenborough on our side, thus can overide much of those preconceptions. This still leaves a large number of people who are actually religious, and who probably do accept evolution and an old Earth, and yet would argue that God started it all and guided it. However they are quite passive.

    What we need to do is phrase the problem in such a way that these religious people can see clearly what a bunch of lying charlatans TiS are, and also that it is alright to have whatever belief they have, as long as they are not so stupid to try and pretend it is scientific and get it taught in classrooms.

    So far I would suggest we are doing quite well.
    Keeping the debate both boring and yet full of soundbites helps I think as well. We have to overmatch them with soundbites, and our explanatory power has to be better. When we meet people who value politeness, we have to be polite. When we meet braindead trolls, we have to make it clear how stupid they are without alienating everyone else. This is a PR war first and foremost, and science still has a fair bit on its side. With the warmest winter i’ve ever heard of currently underway, i expect more people will take global warming seriously, and this will help a bit with science in general.

  39. Torbjörn Larsson says

    Christian:

    You would be ‘livid’? I don’t think that’s a very useful response.

    I would be annoyed, distraught, angry, mad, insulted, livid, … Because faulty, fallacious, inaccurate and assbackwards terms for naming seems like an insult, intended or uninformed.

    It was a perspective on your assumptions behind the analogy for “Darwinism” – they are as bad in their own context.

  40. Torbjörn Larsson says

    Christian:

    You would be ‘livid’? I don’t think that’s a very useful response.

    I would be annoyed, distraught, angry, mad, insulted, livid, … Because faulty, fallacious, inaccurate and assbackwards terms for naming seems like an insult, intended or uninformed.

    It was a perspective on your assumptions behind the analogy for “Darwinism” – they are as bad in their own context.

  41. Ichthyic says

    Hey I can do this:

    But, whatever the limitations of Darwinism, isn’t the idea of the existence of unicorns an “intellectual dead end”? No. If unicorns exist, they would offer a profound insight into the natural world and a motivator to scientific inquiry. The pioneers of mythology, who were convinced that nature is full of fictional beasties like unicorns, consequently held that it could still be understood by human intellects. This confidence helped to drive the scientific revolution. More recently, proponents of unicorns predicted that since little girls hang pictures of them in their rooms so commonly, unicorns must essentially exist somewhere.

    Now give me some money.

  42. Steviepinhead says

    Indeed!

    Let no hyphen in the name of a fictional super-hero be overlooked without consequence.

    Hyphens rule!

  43. Steve LaBonne says

    I think in Britain, more than anywhere, creationism will find useful allies among post-modernists, who generally dislike science anyway.

    Am I being too pessimistic?

    No, and my 2-word explanation of that answer is: Steve Fuller. (Whom, alas, we admittedly exported to you… sorry about that.)

  44. Scott Hatfield says

    PZ, you wrote: “We aren’t Darwinists any more. This isn’t 1859, OK?”

    PZ: I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but it seems to me that varying *contemporary* usages of both ‘Darwinist/Darwinism’ and ‘evolutionism/evolutionist’ make the above point rather difficult. Dawkins, evidently, considers himself a ‘Darwinist’ and seems to use it synonymously with ‘evolutionist.’

    OTOH, Larry Moran, (after Gould) identifies the term with those who feel that “natural selection must represent the primary directing force of evolutionary change”. This would not be the same as ‘evolutionist’, would it? Moran goes on to claim that both Dennett and Dawkins are Darwinists for holding the above view, while he and others sympathetic to Gould’s pluralism would not be Darwinist.

    And, of course, there is the interesting fact that scientists tend to use both terms either neutrally or with approbation as simply an aspect of established science, while creationists use it pejoratively to imply a belief system, and thus requiring something like religious faith.

    I know this seems a little obsessive, but if you happen to be charged to explain these differences in a pithy and too-the-point fashion, what would you do? The ambiguity of these terms is a major stumbling block for those who would attempt to explain things to John Q. Public….SH

  45. Curtis Cameron says

    The pioneers of modern science, who were convinced that nature is designed, consequently held that it could be understood by human intellects.

    Whether or not “nature” is designed, it, being natural, can be understood. What cannot be understood is the capricious action of a supernatural God. The whole point of ID is that the laws of nature were subverted by God in order to effect his design.

  46. says

    The big problem with buggs, of course, is that he’s demanding that all USAF pilots spend an equal amount of time training in canvas and wood biplanes as they do in jet fighters, on the grounds that you can’t say for certain that one kind of plane is well-suited to defending the country, and the other is an obsolete antique with historical or curiosity value only.

  47. Dylan Llyr says

    Scientists and their evolution-denying opponents use the word “Darwinism” differently. When Dawkins uses it (and he seems to do so proudly) he is obviously referring merely to the scientific idea of non-random selection working upon random genetic change. The (usually religious) opponents seem to think it constitutes an entire philosophy representing everything they find odious.

    This is why I’m generally opposed to its use; due to the perceived wider implications it seems to relegate a robust scientific theory down to their level. It’s interesting in itself that IDiots wish for precisely this; when they say “evolution is just relgion” as if it’s an insult (which it is), aren’t they simultaneously depricating their own views?

  48. CortxVortx says

    Another diamond in the Guardian replies, this from one “Mintaka” —


    LuisGarcia,

    “13 Why do so many creatures of phylum Mollusca have better eyes than we do? (… Also, molluscan eyes have a spherical lens which can be moved back or forth to focus, rather than a fixed lens which must be forced to change shape, which means that molluscan eyes are far more unlikely to develop hyperopia, myopia, or indeed any form of astigmatism.)”

    That is easy. Molluscs don’t have a nose on which to wear glasses, so their eyes had to be designed to be free of these defects.

    Gotta remember that one.

    — CortxVortx

  49. Christian Burnham says

    Thanks for your perspectives on the Darwinist label.

    I don’t accept the idea that because ‘we’ve moved on’ we should be offended by terms like Newtonian, Darwinian etc.

    A lot of what Newton discovered remains true today and the core of his ideas are applicable to a lot of modern science. Credit where credit’s due. A lot of us are still using Newtonian mechanics and Newtonian optics without much shame.

    Actually- I guess I’d prefer to be called as ‘a user of Newtonian principles’ etc. rather than a ‘Newtonist’, which may imply that I agree with hanging Catholics and outfitting my apartment in red fabric.

    Similarly- I think most modern biologists accept that Darwin was a giant in their field and that the core of his ideas still form the backbone of evolutionary study and genetics.

    So- again, I personally don’t mind it if someone refers to my stance as ‘Darwinian’.

    I still think Torbj√∂rn could relax a little about this. The names we call things by aren’t that important- and change with time- going in and out of fashion. As others have commented- it’s not the name itself which is all-important- it’s the intention behind the name.

  50. Ichthyic says

    it’s the intention behind the name.

    indeed. which is why Dawkins’ usage of the term can be readily distinguished from that of a creobot’s.

    the really funny (ironic) thing is that while the typical usage from a scientist’s perspective relates to the concept of natural selection, creobots’ MISUSAGE of it always ends up being related to the idea of random mutation, which had nothing to do with Darwin.

    just more evidence of the total imbalance in this “debate”.

  51. SkookumPlanet says

    Christian misses a fundamental point. “Darwinist” doesn’t exist as an abstracted word nor a simple denotative one. So the discussion Christian is pursuing is meaningless without reference to facts on the ground.

    There exists a well-funded, coordinated campaign in the U.S. to return Jesus to science. The campaign has stated such in the Wedge Document. This campaign contains no, nor is interested in doing any, science. It’s a long-term sociopolitical campaign driven, very smartly, by psychomarketing. The Discovery Institute is the leading example.

    When such a marketing-savvy opponent systematically focuses on particular nomenclature to brand or rebrand important aspects of an issue, and especially you, they certainly have well-considered reasons for doing so. The best move is to consult with experts and, if appropriate, develop counter programming. The worst possible response is to simply adapt to your opponent’s terminology.

    This is a tool to shape the public’s perception of evolution science. One obvious intermediate goal is to turn it from a science into an ideology. Behe, on a PBS News Hour head-to-head, called astronomer Lawrence Krauss a [evolution] “sympathizer.” Give American adults a free association test with “sympathizer” in the list. Got it? If for no other reason, doubtless there are others, an “ist” is an “ist” is an “ist”. [How about Darwinianismist?]

    Take the case of “liberal”. Liberals simply watched as the Far Right’s media franchisees turned the word into a political kiss-of-death. The left can insist all they want there’s nothing wrong with being called a liberal, but only political idiots would label themselves such. The Far Right simply changed the definition of the word in the public’s mind.

    [No, I don’t think PZ is an idiot; exactly the opposite. He’s using the word advisedly and properly for his purposes. He also doesn’t hold a red-state U.S. Senate seat he wants to retain.]

    The Far Right tried to eliminate the Estate Tax for decades and never came close. Once in control of Congress they essentially reversed the public’s pro/con percentage by doing one simple thing. Everyone on their side consistently, in unison, started calling it the “Death Tax”. The left stood around and watched. It’s gone.

    The language in the public’s mind directly effects they way they think. Words matter.

    .
    PS. I read MikeM’s comment but wrote this before his post.

  52. Kagehi says

    Let me try to put things in simple terms Christian Burnham. A few hundred years ago the term “bitch” was used **only** to refer to female dogs, then some ass came along with stupid ideas about both dogs and women, equated the two, then started using the term to refer to certain types of women. The term is still used in a narrow and specific manner, appropriate to its original meaning, when in the confined of the community of dog lovers. To everyone else, the most likely reaction to hearing it is, “How dare you call someone that!!!” Darwinism is IDs version of “bitch” and they are trying damn hard to make sure everyone who hears it thinks of their idiotic and insulting definition, instead of what was originally meant.

    So, yes, its all about intent. The problem is, its always about intent, and there isn’t one bloody curse word in “any” language that doesn’t have both an original, but rarely today applied use, and a nearly universally common definition that ends up being replaced with lots of #@$% type symbols or bleeped out in media, because its not *appropriate* to say in public.

    The only difference of course being that when religion makes up a word, or demonizes some group, the new definition becomes compulsory use, while so called swear words, even if the meaning becomes compulsory, have their usage chastised. So.. What does Darwinism become if they get their way, a word like “bitch” or like, “hippy”. Both offensive in the common “intent” applied to them by most people, but the former of which you are deemed, “not allowed to say in public”?

  53. Alex says

    Kinda like the label “atheist”.

    Perhaps they should be referred to as “superstitionists”.

  54. Christian Burnham says

    Uh, Kagehi- if you read my last post you will see I wrote:

    “it’s not the name itself which is all-important- it’s the intention behind the name.”

    So- we don’t disagree.

  55. Graculus says

    Hank, I’ve spent a few seconds considering that situation before, and think actually the WW1 plane would last quite a long time. This is because it flies so slowly, (usually under 100mph) that the jet fighters would have trouble targetting it, and it may or may not be hot enough to get their missiles going.

    Some friends of mine and I spent more than a few seconds, and came to the same conclusion as madrocketscientist. About the only way a modern jet fighter could take down a biplane would be “shock and awe”… supersonic shock wave and/or the afterburners. The damned things have no radar signature to speak of (being mostly fabric), the heat signature of a Mini Cooper, and move so slowly that modern avionics will think it’s a goose.

    Of course, there’s not much a biplane could do to take out a modern fighter jet, either.

    The benefits of a mis-spent gaming geek youth.

    Darwinism is IDs version of “bitch” and they are trying damn hard to make sure everyone who hears it thinks of their idiotic and insulting definition, instead of what was originally meant.

    Yet women have done a fine job of claiming “bitch” as their own, of making it a compliment, not an insult.

  56. rdb says

    I second Hal’s suggest on Gasbags or Blimps, since Jef Raskin’s The Piper Cub Offense says jets may not even see a non-metallic plane.

    From wikipedia

    Blimp can refer to:

    * a non-rigid airship as opposed to a Zeppelin
    * a slang term for a person considered to be conservative due to ignorance, after the cartoon character Colonel Blimp

  57. Stogoe says

    SkookumPlanet, I wouldn’t say the Paris Hilton Tax is dead just yet. It’s the best un[der]tapped source of income for infrastructure and government programs, and taking that money back will be a huge step towards re-destroying the aristocracy.

    Well, that and nationalizing our natural resources…

  58. llewelly says

    SkookumPlanet:

    The language in the public’s mind directly effects they way they think. Words matter.

    Welcome back. Haven’t seen much of you lately.

  59. llewelly says

    It’s the best un[der]tapped source of income for infrastructure and government programs, and taking that money back will be a huge step towards re-destroying the aristocracy.

    The Paris Hilton Tax (funny name, but not a good propaganda choice) is not capable of ‘destroying’ the aristocracy – note how powerful families like the Kennedys, the Bushes, the Waltons, etc, became while the Land Lord Tax (ok, maybe no better a name, but we must experiment) was in effect. It has a valuable ‘drag’ effect on the accumulation of aristocratic power, but that’s it.

  60. Baratos says

    This WWI plane thing reminds me of the Simpsons episode where Bart is kidnapped by Sideshow Bob. He escapes on the Wright Brother’s plane, and the jet pilots end up walking behind him with a net.

  61. Sean says

    The on-topic quickie: Seize the word Darwinwist. Use it. Explain it in a flattering manner to the public. Claim it as our own.

    Back to the WWI versus jet fighter subthread.

    I would not be surprised if a modern IR missile would track a WWI plane just fine. They are designed to home not only on the expected engine exhaust, but the heat generated by passage through the atmosphere. A WWI era rotary engine was a hot little beastie spilling copious volumes of heat through air cooling…

    Those fabric biplanes were built over wooden and metal frames. Not since WWII have radars been susceptible to spoofing by wood. Add in the engines, landing gear, weapons and a fair amount of metallic content in the wing fabric dope as well. They may have smaller returns than all metal aircraft, but will be considerably higher than an equal volume of air.

    Disregarding what IR and radar guided missiles would do in this situation, almost every modern fighter packs a rotary cannon. Each round from a common specimen, a 20mm M61, has roughly eight times the mass and an additional fifty percent muzzle velocity as compared to a typical WWI .303 round. This round is also bringing nine identical friends to the party for every round the .303 is spitting out.

    As for worrying about the speed differential, no worries. As mentioned previously, modern jets have no issues with gunning down helicopters with similar flight profiles. Ditto for ground trucks and cars with even slower airspeed velocities.

    Jets do not have to go fast. Go to an airshow and watch one do a high alpha pass — nose sticking up, flaps down, just enough air moving over the wings to keep the plane in the air. Much slower than even the sub two hundred miles an hour that a fighter lands at.

  62. thwaite says

    Skookum wrote: The language in the public’s mind directly effects they way they think. Words matter.

    Coincidentally, Frank Luntz, the North American master of using words that matter (for politics, such as his phrase ‘death tax’ and others) was interviewed on NPR’s “Fresh Air” program today, and Terry Gross was in good feisty form as interviewer.

    It’s Frank Luntz Explains ‘Words that Work’

    Republican pollster Frank Luntz advises politicians on the language they should use to win elections and promote their policies. Although he works on one side of the aisle, he says that what he does is essentially nonpartisan, seeking clarity and simplicity in language. His critics disagree, and have accused him of using language that misrepresents policies to “sell” them to the public. Frank Luntz is the author of Words that Work.

    — Luntz defended his craft well.

    And we *DO* want to reclaim ‘Darwinian’ as our own term.

  63. Tony Jackson says

    I like the Guardian, but it does sometimes have a rather peculiar attitude to science (or more generally rationalism itself). On the one hand, they have the excellent Ben Goldacre. On the other, they regularly publish anti-science rants from the likes of Jerremy Rifkin and fluffy-faith pieces from Madeline Bunting and they did publish a ridiculously soft interview with Behe a while back. Two possibilities come to mind:

    1) The cynical view. The Guardian editors know full well that ID is nuts, but articles like this always generate lots of interest and hey, that sells newspapers!

    2) It’s not that the editors are themselves Biblical literalist Creationists. Outside a few isolated pockets in Northern Ireland (and one engineering department at the University of Leeds) their influence in the UK is very small. Rather, there is a vague sympathy with the post-modernist view that Science is all narrative and that ‘other ways of knowing’ should be respected. You could call it the ‘Steve Fuller tendency’. (see Dylan and Steve post). Unfortunately, this attitude really does strike a chord with a certain type of Guardian reader (I’ve met them myself). I suspect that the newspaper’s printed edition will publish a steady sprinkling of letters from such types over the next few days.

    Perhaps we should just regard this as part of the newspaper’s charm – along with the misprints.

  64. says

    The US objection (and biologists are more prone to using the term in the UK) to the terms “Darwinism” and “Darwinist” relate to the IDist/creationist claims that we are “believers in Darwinism”. And because we worship at the altar of Darwinism (which is something IDists actually do write), we are unwilling to even consider anything else, blah blah blah. We’ve all read it, for it’s stock in the trade of ignoring the fact that we regularly do engage with their arguments and they never manage to come up with any convincing counter-arguments, let alone evidence for their “designer”.

    But there’s another crucial reason why we who fight ID reject the label “Darwinist”, or at least it’s important to my rejection of it. And this is that the IDiots want to be able to claim to “believe in evolution” (some do, most do not, but even someone like YEC Sal Cordova wants to be able to claim that they’re not “anti-evolutionist” in their ID configuration) while rejecting any plausible explanatory theory for evolution. They’re calling us “Darwinists” to suggest that natural selection, founder effects, bottlenecks, genetic drift, and neutral evolution are all incidental tack-ons to the descent with change that some of them do accept.

    It is true that there is the bare fact of evolution (though one should not forget that there would be no bare fact of evolution without hidden assumptions, notably that reproduction and inheritance are responsible for the similarities seen in related organisms), all right, which exists independently of the full “Darwinist” explanation for it. But as such it is a very meager datum indeed. To accept evolution in any meaningful sense is to have at least some semblance of an explanation for how evolution did occur. That is to say, it is absurd to say “I acknowledge that evolution happened” without having an inkling of why organisms are built upon the same “body plans”, and even denying that homologies and other measures of relatedness–which are accepted by some IDists as being the result of normal reproduction and evolutionary adaptation in human “bloodlines”, and are even accepted by some IDists across species–have completely different origins on “the larger scale”.

    What I’m saying is that Behe claims that the evidence for evolution is good, while he rejects the causal processes which underlie and predict the kinds of “modification of design” that we actually see in flagella or other “large scale evolutionary change”. It’s as absurd as anything can be, for his acceptance of “Darwinian evolution” in Galapagos finches is predicated upon normal causal processes, while similar homologies, nested hierarchies, and DNA evidence relating to flagellar evolution have a completely different and unverifiable (in the usual sense) Cause behind them. Essentially he’s smuggling “Darwinist” expectations into his God-caused “flagellum evolution”, yet he has absolutely no reason to suppose that God would change things in a completely “Darwinist manner”.

    There is no reason for evolution if there was design, for there would be no time constraints upon change, and no knowable constraints on how organisms would change if a designer were tweaking his products. This is why any sensible evolution is “Darwinian evolution” as many Brits and IDists call modern evolutionary theory. Darwin actually took the trouble to demonstrate cause and effect relationships within the “chain of being”, which tells us that the only meaningful “chain of being” is a time- and mechanistically-constrained process which alone, of all origins concepts extant today, produces predictions which are borne out by the fossil and DNA records.

    The foregoing facts are what the IDists wish to obscure with their epithet “Darwinist”. They want evolution itself to be a bare fact at most, not something that is known via successful mechanistic predictions based upon natural selection and other processes. They’re not accusing us of being evolutionists, for they feign that they, too, are able to be evolutionists in a scientific sense. They’re simply opposed to the only theory (which most sensibly would be called “evolutionary theory”) that is capable of making the causal predictions that provide the strong and useful correlations which make us confident that evolution did indeed occur.

    Behe wants to claim that organisms are related without any actual “natural” connections (reproduction) providing for this relatedness. This is, perhaps, his greatest scientific sin, for without political pressures his ID concept is just useless twaddle, while the belief that real-world relatedness exists via extra-world intervention potentially calls into question all scientific conclusions. We have done very well with finding causation within the classical sciences, including in biology, which is precisely why Behe and Dembski want to destroy “Darwinism” at the “larger scale”.

    “Darwinism” provides the causal side of the evolutionary effects that any honest and intelligent person can see. IDists such as Behe allow that the effects exist, but they deny any discoverable cause for it (in select cases), implicitly denying that predictivity counts with respect to the flagellum. They can’t achieve this science-destroying maneuver without trying to suggest that “Darwinism” is some useless, or even malevolent, addition to the effects that they wish to claim have no observable cause. Pretending that evolution is acceptable without a theory of causes is paramount in their propaganda efforts, so that they must call us “Darwinists” rather than empirically-guided “evolutionists” (“evolutionist” itself is a questionable label in some respects, but probably is unavoidable) in order to divorce effect from cause, to foist upon the public the idea that correlated facts point to absolutely nothing (well, to God (they claim), who is sensibly nothing).

    Dawkins, of course, knows that any reasonable conclusion that evolution happened entails acknowledgement that natural selection, and other known processes, acted throughout that evolution. This is why his use of the term “Darwinist” (a Britishism, more or less) is fundamentally different from the IDist hurling that epithet while claiming to accept common descent.

    We might, I suppose, adopt the term “Darwinist” ourselves, but we’d be stuck trying to explain why to a whole lot of people who have drunk the ID/creationist Kool-Aid (by the way, it’s said that it wasn’t actually Kool-Aid drunk in the Jonestown massacre/suicide). And because these people already have no conception of how science progresses, I doubt that adopting such a static-appearing term would advance the cause of science. Darwin did not give us a revelation of all truth, he pointed us toward a path, something that we’d probably do better to imply in our terms, especially given the contentious nature of evolution in the US.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

  65. Torbjörn Larsson says

    Christian:

    I don’t accept the idea that because ‘we’ve moved on’ we should be offended by terms like Newtonian,

    You continue to miss the point. It is because it portrays a faulty picture of physics, how the theories are used, and the disciplines named, that it is offensive. “Newtonian” doesn’t exist as a term for members of a discipline, nor should it. It is used to describe theories.

    I still think Torbjörn could relax a little about this.

    And again. I mentioned this as a perspective to your analogy between physics and biology, and because you used a faulty assumption. No more, no less.

    But this is all a side issue to the real discussion, about biology, which is another discipline with its own terms.

  66. Torbjörn Larsson says

    Christian:

    I don’t accept the idea that because ‘we’ve moved on’ we should be offended by terms like Newtonian,

    You continue to miss the point. It is because it portrays a faulty picture of physics, how the theories are used, and the disciplines named, that it is offensive. “Newtonian” doesn’t exist as a term for members of a discipline, nor should it. It is used to describe theories.

    I still think Torbjörn could relax a little about this.

    And again. I mentioned this as a perspective to your analogy between physics and biology, and because you used a faulty assumption. No more, no less.

    But this is all a side issue to the real discussion, about biology, which is another discipline with its own terms.

  67. Christian Burnham says

    Torbjörn: I wrote:

    “Actually- I guess I’d prefer to be called as ‘a user of Newtonian principles’ etc. rather than a ‘Newtonist'”

    You wrote:

    “Newtonian” doesn’t exist as a term for members of a discipline, nor should it. It is used to describe theories.”

    Seems to me that we largely agree.

  68. Peanut Gallery says

    IDists want us to assume that major premise and act as if what follows from that invention is science.

    The major premise of ID is that their is a design in the universe. From this we infer a Designer. Its not the other way around. But of course its easier for the evolutionists to turn it around rather than face what ID actually states. Of course they have no problem in inferring the Big Bang from microwaves, instead of microwaves from the Big Bang and inferring macroevolution from the fossil record instead of the fossil record from macroevolution. Double standard? I think so.

  69. says

    Apologies for feeding the troll.

    Newsflash: If it was not working, certainly PZ would not care to mention it. Apparently it is.

    Yeah, because touching a guy’s nerve is the measure of scientific validity. Need to get that little law concept of mine through Congress.

    The major premise of ID is that their is a design in the universe. From this we infer a Designer. Its not the other way around.

    Doesn’t matter. The fallacies involved in ID are still there, no matter which direction you look at it.

    So, any predictions to be made about the designer that are inferred from the “design” of the universe?

  70. Steve_C says

    Inferring “design” is the same thing as inferring a “designer”.

    You can’t have one without the other.

    And who ‘designed” the designer?

    It’s stupid.

  71. George says

    And who “designed” the designer?

    The billions of credulous idiots throughout history who have worshipped God(s).

  72. Scott Hatfield says

    Peanut Gallery:

    There’s no hypocrisy except in your mind, sir. Science by definition excludes the ‘design hypothesis’ from consideration since it appeals to the existence of an untestable Designer. Anything whose existence/action can’t be tested can be invoked to explain anything…thus, in reality, it explains nothing.

    Does that mean science has disproved your ‘Designer’? Not at all, but it does mean the notion of a Designer is not a scientific claim and (again) is properly excluded.

    On the other hand, the existence of cosmic microwave background radiation is a testable claim. It’s existence was predicted mathematically by astronomers in the 1950’s as a possible consequence of a hypothetical ‘Big Bang’ (Hoyle’s originally derisive term). This last was in turn inferred by Georges LeMaitre from Hubble’s data in the early 1930’s. A single chain of causation can be shown from Hubble to LeMaitre to Bethe to Penzias and Wilson, who actually discovered the background radiation while trying to do something entirely different in the 1960’s.

    So you know what? Your entire argument falls apart! The Big Bang was inferred from data, then confirmed by the discovery of radiation whose existence was predicted in advance by leading theorists. The analysis of the details of the background radiation by COBE and (later) WMAP reveals the large-scale structure of the universe in its infancy and allows us to reliably date the universe at 13.7 billion years. These are all testable claims, sir, and you can see the evidence for yourself.

    You, on the other hand, don’t seem to know the difference between a scientific claim and a religious one, or why the ID movement is fundamentally (heh) not science. Hypocrites? Ha! Before you rail about the toothpicks of scientific uncertainty, please take the time to remove the logs sticking out of your forehead, the mass of timber which prevents you from seeing the light of science….SH

  73. Andrew Wade says

    Scott,

    There’s no hypocrisy except in your mind, sir. Science by definition excludes the ‘design hypothesis’ from consideration since it appeals to the existence of an untestable Designer. Anything whose existence/action can’t be tested can be invoked to explain anything…

    I’d quibble with this. It is true that the “design hypothesis” in general has no predictive power, and as such is scientifically vacuous. But then, the same is true of “energy fields”. Nonetheless, some specific theories of energy fields (such as described by Maxwell’s equations) are well respected scientific theories. In my experience, physicists don’t much worry or care whether electromagnetic fields are real or not; they’re a useful mathematical tool for predicting facts, and that is enough. I see no reason in principle that the same approach could not be extended to “God”. In practice however, there is no equivalent to Maxwell’s equations for God, or the design hypothesis, and without that both are superfluous to science. There are, to be sure, theories about God that make testable predictions. But the ones that aren’t simply wrong in what they predict are so ad-hoc that the God in them is superfluous and doesn’t add to their explanatory and predictive power; in your words they “[explain] nothing”.

    Peanut Gallery, points to “design” as a prediction of I.D.. (I think; he is using terminology in weird ways). That’s not much of a prediction. Darwin’s theory and successors don’t just predict/explain “design”, the predict/explain a wealth of details about “design”. The Big Bang theories of today don’t just predict/explain the cosmic microwave background, they make predictions about its temperature and the power spectrum of the variations in it. They (in combination with the Standard Model of particle physics and solar models) make predictions about relative abundances of elements. They predict redshifts. They predict details about the relationship between redshifts and distances. In short, you get more out of these theories in terms of (correct!) predictions than you have to put in them in terms of parameter tuning and ad-hoc assumptions. I.D. hasn’t met that standard.

    Now of course that doesn’t mean I.D. is wrong. Many theories are not well corroborated in the early days. But the creationists would do well to look at the string theorists. The string theorists are not whining that their theories are not accepted by the scientific community; they’re trying to develop their theories to the point that they will be acceptable. But then string theorists want to do science, not P.R.

  74. Ichthyic says

    I see no reason in principle that the same approach could not be extended to “God”.

    that’s gotta be the dumbest thing anybody has posted in this thread.

    congratulations.

  75. says

    What evolved evolution?
    Now you can’t get anymore stupid than that.

    Answer:
    A few of apehead lice-picking elitists.

    REAL answer: Mu. In not-so-short, yes, there is such a thing as a stupid question.

  76. Scott Hatfield says

    Andrew Wade: Thanks for your comments. However, I confess to being confused. First you say that ‘energy fields’ are scientifically vacuous, lacking true predictive power. But a bit further on you write that such fields are ‘a useful mathematical tool for predicting facts.’

    Is there a distinction in your mind between predictive power and the property of predicting facts? If so, please favor me with an explanation. Also, while I agree that some string theorists are attempting to do science, it’s really hard in my mind to distinguish all of them from the vacuity which is I.D. There are some pretty bright people out there who appeal to the very large (600 million plus, by some accounts) possible number of solutions to explain any phenomena you like. Again, anything that explains everything explains nothing, IMHO….SH

  77. SkookumPlanet says

    llewelly
    Life’s very busy. I have to rationalize to steal this little bit. How about a mental health day? Works for me.

    Others
    I have no quarrel with reclaiming “Darwinism”. I’ll just add my usual caution. The impulse, even the effort, doesn’t necessarily auger success. There will be pathways to accomplish that, and pathways that won’t.

    The Far Right’s long national campaign has been so successful not because they are such a brilliant galaxy of stars, clearly. It’s happened, to pick one metaphor, because they’re a brilliant collection of delegators. They go out and hire the best professionals, listen to the options presented, chose well, then execute as smartly as possible. [Repeat as necessary.]

    Stipulate an insane fantasy somehow and imagine they needed your expertise. They would recruit the very best your field offered, starting at the top and working their way down. The ultimate few deep pockets behind this made their fortunes building [I assume] and running complex corporate enterprises. The evidence suggests that’s the deep key to their success in sociopolitics.

    D.I. & Co. is a cheesy subsidiary which staggers along on injections of cash and professionalism from corporate headquarters. Don’t underestimate the awareness and abilities of the home office, nor the competitive advantage they calculate in keeping the 200-year-old brick relic tottering along.

    In other words, the management team doesn’t sit around and dream up advertising/marketing ideas. They locate the right professionals, and then integrate them with the other individual components of such a complex operation. That takes an impressive, and fairly rare, skills set to do well. How important is a diverse management talent? Here’s a hint, and brief inside glance at the enormous resources put into designing a basic marketing element, an interview with the creator, as it were, of the subliminal arrow in the FedEx logo.

  78. C.W. says

    All theories like all phiopsophical argumnents and mathematical problems must start with a premis, a defining point. At the end of day, that defining point is always a matter of faith howver you try to explain it.

    Hasn’t this argument gained a lot of popularity lately? And where’s the infamous “why are there still monkeys?” silliness? It isn’t mentioned once in that long thread!

    Creationist talking points obviously spread through mindless parroting, but It’s interesting how they seem to disappear and reappear regularly. I wonder how that works.

  79. Andrew Wade says

    Scott Hatfield,

    Thanks for your comments. However, I confess to being confused. First you say that ‘energy fields’ are scientifically vacuous, lacking true predictive power. But a bit further on you write that such fields are ‘a useful mathematical tool for predicting facts.

    Perhaps another example will clear things up. The theory that “an energy field causes falling” is scientifically vacuous and lacking in predictive power. If you travel up up a mountain, do you have to worry about getting heavier? Will you always fall straight down? If you throw a projectile at 20 m/s horizontally 1.5 m above the ground, where will it land? The theory can’t answer these or any other empirical questions. I may as well have told you that “falling is caused by God pushing you down” for all the good it’s going to do you.

    If however, I tell you that “falling is caused by a force per unit mass that is proportional to the gradient of a scalar field whose divergence at any point is equal to the mass density at that point”, that tells you something useful. It tells you that variations in density of minerals in the Earth’s crust will cause variations in the strength of gravity at and above the earth’s surface. If you’re a geologist looking for a mineral of unusual density that’s valuable information. It tells you what the motions of the known heavenly bodies should be assuming no unknown bodies, and can help you find such unknown bodies. This is a scientific theory. (Aside form a small matter of boundary conditions it is in fact just a reformulation of Newtonian gravity.)

    Now the reason I chose this specific example is because Newton’s theory of gravity is not normally presented in terms of fields. So how do you know gravity fields are real and not “just” mathematical bookkeeping that gets you the right answer? The short answer is you can’t know, not scientifically. So the mere presence of elements whose existence is unprovable is not enough to disqualify a theory from being scientific.

    Which gets me back to God. Assume, for the sake of argument, that the young earth creationists are right. Obviously the world would look very different. But what would biology look like? Could it still be a science? I would assert that yes it could. Mosquitoes are a degenerate form of some non-noxious creature from before the “fall”? Well dispatch a palentological expedition to Eden and let’s find fossils of it; we may learn useful things about mosquitoes. Animals were created in distinct kinds which then diversified? Well we should be able to identify what those kinds were. It could be useful to know if, say, a viable hybrid between different kinds is not possible. I would assert that in principle a theory involving God is not inconsistent with the practise of science.

    All right, lets return to our world. The young earth creationists are simply wrong, full stop. Now might not God be having some more subtle influence in the world and might not that influence be susceptible to scientific enquiry? I don’t think that is the case; I believe God doesn’t exist. But I don’t see how to rule that possibility out.

    To be continued…

  80. Torbjörn Larsson says

    Christian:

    We seem to agree in the small overlap between “using Newton’s law of gravitation” and ‘being a Newtonist’ in “using Newtonian theories”. I agree with the former use, and disagree with the latter since it has no mapping to how science and scientists work. So I wouldn’t call it largely either. :-)

    Andrew:

    Nitpick: Classically, this is true of fields. But in quantum field theory fields have observable properties. (Zero point energy et cetera.) Gravitation is different of course, since current effective theories (Newton’s, or general relativity) aren’t quantified.

  81. Torbjörn Larsson says

    Christian:

    We seem to agree in the small overlap between “using Newton’s law of gravitation” and ‘being a Newtonist’ in “using Newtonian theories”. I agree with the former use, and disagree with the latter since it has no mapping to how science and scientists work. So I wouldn’t call it largely either. :-)

    Andrew:

    Nitpick: Classically, this is true of fields. But in quantum field theory fields have observable properties. (Zero point energy et cetera.) Gravitation is different of course, since current effective theories (Newton’s, or general relativity) aren’t quantified.

  82. Torbjörn Larsson says

    Uuups. Blockquotes didn’t show because of a typo. Again:

    Christian:

    Seems to me that we largely agree.

    We seem to agree in the small overlap between “using Newton’s law of gravitation” and ‘being a Newtonist’ in “using Newtonian theories”. I agree with the former use, and disagree with the latter since it has no mapping to how science and scientists work. So I wouldn’t call it largely either. :-)

    Andrew:

    So how do you know gravity fields are real and not “just” mathematical bookkeeping that gets you the right answer?

    Nitpick: Classically, this is true. But in quantum field theory fields have observable properties. (Zero point energy et cetera.) Gravitation is different of course, since current effective theories (Newton’s, or general relativity) aren’t quantified.

  83. Torbjörn Larsson says

    Uuups. Blockquotes didn’t show because of a typo. Again:

    Christian:

    Seems to me that we largely agree.

    We seem to agree in the small overlap between “using Newton’s law of gravitation” and ‘being a Newtonist’ in “using Newtonian theories”. I agree with the former use, and disagree with the latter since it has no mapping to how science and scientists work. So I wouldn’t call it largely either. :-)

    Andrew:

    So how do you know gravity fields are real and not “just” mathematical bookkeeping that gets you the right answer?

    Nitpick: Classically, this is true. But in quantum field theory fields have observable properties. (Zero point energy et cetera.) Gravitation is different of course, since current effective theories (Newton’s, or general relativity) aren’t quantified.

  84. Andrew Wade says

    Torbjörn,

    So how do you know gravity fields are real and not “just” mathematical bookkeeping that gets you the right answer?

    Nitpick: Classically, this is true. But in quantum field theory fields have observable properties. (Zero point energy et cetera.)

    Ok, my example wasn’t the best; though as I recall zero point energy implies infinite energy density–a curious property for a real field to have.

    But I’m not inclined to argue for or against the reality of fields; they’re “real enough” to me. My argument is rather that it’s not a scientific question in the first place. Worrying over whether fields, phonons, spinors, “virtual” particles, momentum-space wavefunctions, et cetera are really real is a waste of time.

  85. thwaite says

    I would assert that in principle a theory involving God is not inconsistent with the practice of science.

    …a fine theory in principle, but the one guy who tried it in practice (just two years before Darwin published) didn’t get well received even among pious Victorians. I’m thinking of Philip Gosse’s 1857 book OMPHALOS. Gosse was a reputable naturalist who tried to reconcile the existence of fossils with a literal reading of Genesis, and his concept was ‘prochronism’. This held that fossils were a legacy of the instantaneous creation of the living world, implied by that large act of creation just as the creation of a specific adult chicken implied a prior egg in some prochronic sense of time. Pretty wacky, and implies god’s creation involved deceitful evidence. This latter point was noticed, and the wiki article excerpts one articulate rejection of it.

    The theory has been carried to logical extremes as the Omphalos_hypothesis, also known as “Last Thursdayism”, as in “the world might as well have been created last Thursday.”

  86. Andrew Wade says

    To be continued…

    This’ll be really short:

    Scott wrote:

    Also, while I agree that some string theorists are attempting to do science, it’s really hard in my mind to distinguish all of them from the vacuity which is I.D.

    Well, the vacuity is somewhat different in form. String theories have a great deal of mathematical sophistication (or so I’ve heard), they just don’t (yet?) have any connection to empirical matters. I.D.? What a bletcherous mash of vague phrases and ignorance. But yes the two theories are in similar straits; that’s what makes the contrast between their respective “theorists” so telling:

    If there is something to string theory, the string theorists are probably capeable of finding it. If, for the sake of argument, there was something of value to be found in the pile of crap that is I.D., the current bunch of clowns don’t have a hope of finding it. They don’t even know what is wrong with what they have. (I suppose it is likely that a few of them are conmen rather than clueless and clueproof, but that doesn’t bode well for their future success either).

    … There are some pretty bright people out there who appeal to the very large (600 million plus, by some accounts) possible number of solutions to explain any phenomena you like. Again, anything that explains everything explains nothing, …

    Agreed. I would not think much of someone who doesn’t understand that being able to explain arbitrary results is a fatal flaw. I trust they are not all that clueless; the general impression I got from the way string theorists are regarded in the wider community is that they are generally cognisant of the flaws of their theories. But I am not in a position to confirm this about them.

  87. Torbjörn Larsson says

    though as I recall zero point energy implies infinite energy density–a curious property for a real field to have.

    Sorry, another possible off-topic nitpick, though I haven’t studied QFT: I don’t think the energy density of the lowest energy mode(s) can be infinite. I also think one of the infinities QFT avoids is just the infinite energy of the field around a point particle in a classical theory.

  88. Torbjörn Larsson says

    though as I recall zero point energy implies infinite energy density–a curious property for a real field to have.

    Sorry, another possible off-topic nitpick, though I haven’t studied QFT: I don’t think the energy density of the lowest energy mode(s) can be infinite. I also think one of the infinities QFT avoids is just the infinite energy of the field around a point particle in a classical theory.