Thursday, July 30, 2009

The 116th Skeptics' Circle

The 116th edition of the Skeptics' Circle is up at Beyond the Short Coat, as a doctor wander through a homeopathic ER. Very amusing.
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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

How our world views can blind us to reality

The way the world-views of a person can interfere with their observation of reality seems to have been a recurring theme this week. In my discussions with aintnuthin on evolution, I find myself accused of this, along with all the "neo-Darwinists". Meanwhile, three other examples appear on a couple of blogs I read from time to time. So, I'm going to talk about all four below the fold.

With regard to myself, I am always hesitant to be quick to my own defense. Every other person (or, nearly so) is prone to allowing their blinders, and in fact I just finished a conversation on the existence of a maximal set of truths where my own inclinations stopped me from seeing what should have been an obvious inference. So, I'm not really sure what to make of the claim that I see the natural explanations for evolution as being far stronger than they are--that saying the theory of evolution is a well founded and demonstrated as heliocentrism is somehow wrong. Part of the problem is that I used to be an Old Earth Creationist, and it was the evidence of evolution that swayed me away. Did the pendulum swing too far in the other direction? I can probably never answer that objectively. However, I do take it as a personal responsibility to question my own views as well as those of others, and to change my views when reliable evidence opposes them. Isn't that part of the heart of being a skeptic? For now, I'll consider myself probably innocent on that particular charge. For those inclined to disagree, please use this thread to talk about skepticism and/or me generally, and let's keep lengthy comments about evolution specifically in the above-linked thread.

Meanwhile, at Martin Cothran's discussion of atheism and logic on vere loqui, an old contention about atheism and morality that I'm not interested in re-arguing today, find inserted this interesting little ditty (any distortion of the meaning by my snips is strictly unintentional).

There were, in fact, moral beliefs before Christianity came along. There are two kinds of virtue: the cardinal (or classical) virtues: Justice, Prudence, Temperance, and Courage; and the theological (or Christian) virtues: Faith, Hope, and Charity. The first four, the cardinal virtues, not only can be sustained without explicit religious belief; they in fact were. They arose in a world, not without religion, but without religions that said much about morality.

The cardinal virtues have also been called the “practical” virtues. They had mostly to do with getting along in life. The most familiar examples of this were Aesop’s Fables.


All these cases involve sheer self-preservation. This is of the essence of pagan morality: it is exclusively self-preservative or at least self-gratifying (and usually applied only to other members of one’s tribe or race).


But there is nothing in Aesop like the parables of the Good Samaritan, or the Lost Sheep, or the Prodigal Son. The theological virtues are completely different from the practical or classical virtues in this: there is literally no practical reason for them.

It turns out this is just plainly false. For example, in this version of the Serpent and the Eagle, there is no virtue more appropriate to describe the action of the man, or the eagle, than Charity. Neither expects to gain a direct benefit from their behavior. Of course, Cothran probably did not bother to actually research all of Aesop's fables before his comment. He knew of a handful, and they confirmed his previous bias that there is some sort of real difference in the notion of virtues between non-Christians and Christians. why should he bother to do any research to see if it was true? Of course, that's a theme skeptics see all the time from the credulous of all sorts.

Meanwhile, from Edward Feser's blog, we are treated to an article where, while trying to disprove “Having a thought with the content that P is identical to, supervenient upon, or otherwise explicable in terms of having a sentence with the meaning that P encoded in the brain", Feser begins by making a comparison to musical notes and numbers, saying that "... the point is that the relationships between notes are clearly not reducible to or entirely explicable in terms of mathematical relationships." Feser seems to have a habit using counter-to-reality claims (in other posts, we see a discussion of the notion of simultaneous cause-and-effect, which has no physical example). On a typical piano, there are seven "B" keys, each of which is exactly described by a number of Hz.

Finally, on the Maverick Philospher's blog, there is a brief post objecting to the term Islamophobia. For a person that prides themself on such a precise use of language that they are careful to distinguish between single quotes for non-direct quotes, and double quotes for direct quotes, this is just an embarrassing oversight. My guess is that it comes from the usual persecution complex we see among the religious, the automatic assumption that any term must be implying the worst possible meaning. While many times phobia indicates fear, the term is also used to indicate dislike or aversion. No one thinks you have to be scared of French or English people to be Francophobic or Anglophobic, similarly, you don't have be afraid of Muslims or Islam to be Islamophobic. It's quite correct to use the term Islamophobic (or homophobic) to describe people who just dislike Islam (or homosexuality). I think Dr. Vallicella needs to stop being "a dumbass PeeCee" conservative, and just accept this is what he is.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

The 115th Skeptics' Circle

You will find the 115th edition of the Skeptics' Circle at Effort Sisyphus, where in it is revealed, among other things, that when asked to name a planet, I can't even figure out they don't mean one of the eight around our sun. Otherwise (or perhaps because of that), it's a delight and a treat.
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Sunday, July 12, 2009

My oversight, apologies, and thoughts

After last week's post concerning the Cantorian argument against possible worlds being maximally consistent sets of propositions posted by Dr. Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher, I sent an email to Dr. Vallicella for his thought, and his initial response was that I missed the point of the argument entirely. He was kind and patient through out the exchange, and entirely correct instating that I had missed the point. Using "e" to represent the element relation, I had entirely missed the point that the truths being constructed were of the form t1 e {t1, t2} and ~(t1 e {t2, t3}. This means that Dr. Grim/Dr. Vallicella have created a set of size T X P(T) of truths from set T. Why I missed this, and what it means for my analysis of the proof, is below the fold.

As for why I missed it, it just seems to be a blind spot with me. Ii will probably not make this error again in the next month or two, but it will happen eventually, because I see a fundamental difference in the type of between saying "the earth orbits the sun" and "t1 e {t1, t2}", and I don't really see the latter belonging in T. The latter sort of statement I think of as being a formal truth, one that it true based on the initial definitions, definition that we select arbitrarily because of their usefulness. My understand of Dr. Vallicella's worldview (and if I mis-characterise him here, I apologize) is that there is no relevant difference between the two statements. As long as I carry the first view in my brain, I no doubt will fall prey to the same blindness about arguments founded in the second view in the future. I beg the patience of any readers in this regard.

Well, after being so kind and professorial in our exchange, Dr. Vallicella certainly deserves to have Grim's/his analysis validated, and it would have been my pleasure to do so. Unfortunately, I can't do this with honesty, because it turns out that the proof will still fail. One of the unfortunate side effects of mixing formal truths and non-formal truths is the formal truths have a tendency to grow past any reasonable size. When you include all the formal truths of the type "t1 e {t1, t2}", you wind up with T being a proper class, and that means |T| does not exist, and to the degree P(T) can be defined, |P(T)| does not exist either, so obviously you can't have |P(T)| > |T|.

This is easy to see when you consider what must be included in T. For simplicity sake, let's start with a universe with one non-formal truth, t0, and call the universe itself T0. We can use the very process describe to create R0 containing two truths: t1 saying t0 e {t0} and t2 saying ~(t0 e {}). Defining T1 as the union of R0 and T0, T1 = {t0, t1, t2}. Applying the same process to T1, you get 24 elements in T2, 402,653,184 elements in T3, etc. Then, you need to combine the contents of all the Tn into Taleph-0. From Taleph-0 you can build (assuming without loss of generality the generalized continuum hypothesis)Taleph-1, Taleph-2, etc., so that there will be a version of Tx greater than any specific cardinal number. This means that, when you finally union all these Tx to create T, T has the size of a proper class.

I want to thank Dr. Vallicella for his cooperation and gentlemanly behavior.

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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Cantor offers nothing useful on maximally consistent worlds

I fully acknowledge that I am a philosophical amateur, and no doubt from time my thought and questions reflect this. However, I know enough to know that people who have studied philosophy professionally, but not mathematics, make ludicrous mathematical arguments. Such is the case with an attempt by Dr. Vallicella to export a standard Cantorian argument from mathematics to philosophical constructs. While you could say logic is the grammar of mathematics, the difference in vocabulary makes any sort of transition of proofs from one venue to the other a difficult procedure, and not one to be done casually.

So, lets say we have this maximal set T of true statements (truths, for short). {t1, . . . , ti, ti + 1, . . .}. In particular, let's consider {t1 ,t2}. The first question we need to answer: Is this subset itself a truth? If this subset is not a truth, then the entire argument from the creation of the power set is meaningless, because the power set does not consist of truths, but of collections of truths, and there is no reason to presume the cardinality of all collections of truths would be the same as the cardinality of all truths. In fact, since the proof relies on looking at elements of P(T) as if there were in T, for Dr. Vallicella's argument to be cogent, we need to apply the standard that {t1, t2} is itself a truth. We are not given a definition for this truth, unfortunately, and how it relates to t1 or t2, possibly via some sort of truth table. At least, since we are using sets, we know that {t1} = {t1, t1} = {t1, t1, t1}.

However, that leads us to another area of fuzzy definition. Is {t1} the same truth as t1? Is {t1} the same truth as {{t1}}? Will {t1 ,t2} be the same truth as {t1 ,t2,{t1 ,t2}}? Basically, can we remove all internal braces (except for the empty set)?

If we we allow the removal of all internal braces, then the proof falls apart, because all of the elements of P(T) will already be elements of T, after removing the internal braces and reducing the duplications. For example, let's look at a world of one atomic truth (that is, truths that not sets of other truths). T = {{}, t1}. Then P(T) = {{},{{}},{ t1},{{},t1}} = {{},{}, t1,{},t1} = {{}, t1} = T.

So let us consider the construction where we can not remove internal braces. Now, since we have a valid method of creating a new truth from previously existing truths, by inclusion in sets, that means for any set Q of atomic truths, we find the power set of that set of truths, and the power set of that first power set of truths, and the power set of that second power set of truths, etc., already in T. How far can we go? Do we allow for there to be (loosely speaking) an infinite number of brace levels? If we do not allow that, then we know either |T| (the cardinality of T) = |{1, 2, 3, 4, ...}|, that is, T is countable, whenever Q is finite or countable, otherwise |T| = |Q|. However, this has the defect of removing much of P(T) from being eligible to be in T, because P(T) will include elements with an infinite number of braces.

In fact, if we place any limit M at all on the number of braces, we find that |Q| being less than or equal to M means |T| = M, otherwise |T| = |Q|, and either way P(T) will have elements that are not capable of being in T. So, the only way around this is place no restriction on the number of levels of inclusion. This has the side effect of making T a proper class even when |Q| = 1, so P(T) does not even exist.

So, it would seem regardless of set-up we are left with a choice of P(T) = T, P(T) having elements that do not qualify to be in T, or P(T) not existing. Regardless, the attempted proof fails.

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Discussion on evolution, part 2

I am starting this post because I felt the comments on the previous one were too bulky (I'll probably do this when this post gets past 200 comments). This post is a response to 28 consecutive comments, and will be of interest to no one else besides aintnuthin. The content is below the fold.
aintnuthin, did you just return to the JazzFanz as aintsheeit? If so, you should know the account has been banned for a) being an obvious duplicate account (whether of yours or someone else's) and b) profanity filter avoidance in the username.

One Brow said: "Nor am I aware of any serious theoretical problems with the Theory of Evolution."

Which begs the entire question, i.e., what is THE theory of evolution in your view? The hypothesis of common descent?

If you are aware of no serious theoretical problems, maybe it's because you pay little or no attention to the proliferation of inconsistent views generated by different evolutionary theorists

The inconsistent views are over the parts that people can't demonstrate and don't know how to test. It's all a great deal of fun, but not part of the Theory.

I get the feeling that for you, personally, THE theory is selected from items like a chinese menu. You take one from column A, one from B, one from C, etc., as each is most appealing to your personal tastes. The meal which is then served is, for you, THE dish served by that restaurant.

As long as "appealing to my tastes" is a metaphor for "having been validated by experiment", and "take one" is a metaphor for "accept every proved result", pretty much. I have no problem with a theory being messy.

I'm not sure how you get from "especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena," to your flat assertion that: "A theory is not really a theory until is has been confirmed."

Well, from "especially", I interpreted it to mean that the prototype of a theory is the one that has been confirmed (and by confirmed, as you should be aware by now, I do mean having generated predictions that have survived actual tests). The "especially", to me, said that this is when the usage is most appropriate, and that the word theory was somewhat less accurate if the predictions and verification had not been performed. Not to mention, he definition was not limited to scientific usage. Usually, scientists are more careful about calling something a theory that the general public. Do you disagree with the interpretations of either "especially" or "confirmed"?

Also, you seemed to bypass completely the difference between 1) as a theory for epistemological activities and 3) for formal systems. Did you feel my criticism of your use of 3) to apply to 1) was apt or off-base?

I don't agree with your conclusory assertion at all, and I don't see why you think the dictionary defintion you use supports it. Since it says "especially" ones which are widely accepted, etc., it implies that the definition is not limited to those in particular. If you are tryin to make some semantic hierarchial distinction between "hypotheses," "theories," and "laws," or sumthin OK, but I wasn't tryin to git that refined about it. To me a "hypothesis" is a theory because it is theoretical in it's basic nature, and can make testable predictions even if those predictions have yet to be tested. But if you are using a highly refined sense of the word "theory" we can go with that. Again, the question is what (which) hypotheses, of all those which have been offered over the years on the subject of evolution, is/are THE theory of evolution?

Many different hypotheses have been confirmed over the years in many different ways. They are all part of the Theory of Evolution, and I could write a book out of just listing the proved hypotheses and taking a paragraph or two to explain each one. Some of these hypotheses include descent with modification, the unity of life, the various mechanism involved, the adaptations of bacteria to various sorts of antibiotics, common descent, the pattern of geological radiation of populations, etc.

So, then, would you say that geocentricism, heliocentrism, and jupitercentrism are all equally compatible with the "Theory of planetary motion?" If they are "equally compatible" are they all the same theory, despite wildly different initial premises?

To my understanding, using either geocentrism or jupitercentrism would require massive inputs of energy into the system from sources unknown and unseen, to force the Sun to orbit these bodies under the Theory of Planetary Motion. So I would say that, to the degree that heliocentrism/jupitercentrism make predictions regarding why the Sun orbits the earth/Jupiter, its predictions fail, it is not compatible with the current theory.

Now, if you come up with a different example that does produce identical predictions, like various incarnations of string theory (according to my understanding), then I would say none of them are part of the theory, but all are compatible with it.

One Brow said: "It's an older book."

It's 21st century (2001 edition, accordin to Vallicella)

My error. I did not realize Mayr was alive for that long. However, since he was in his 90s when that book was written, it is understandable that it would not reflect the most modern understanding of evolutionary theory at the time of writing. In any case, strict genetic determinism is certainly older thinking.

If the new information contradicts a central claim of the pre-existing theory, does that contradiction automatically generate a brand new, widely accepted and thoroughly tested, theory, as you see it?

That's the first step in the process. You have to verify those observations, come up with new explanations for those observations, incorporate those explanations in a systemic way, and test the new system to get a revised theory.

One Brow said: "You think so? Perhaps you can quote a few texts penned within the last five years or so that agree?"

Well, Eric, why not ask for ones in the last 5 days? Those would be more likely to reflect THE theory of evolution, doncha figure?

How about quotes like this from a 1998 publication by the NAS entitled "Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science?"

You are defending a claim about textbooks by quoting book of under 150 pages?

"...selection can work only on the genetic variation that already is present in any new generation, and genetic variation occurs randomly, not in response to the needs of a population or organism."

Note the breezy, strictly "a matter of fact," presentation of this claim. Note also that it purports to apply to any and all variation "present in any new generation.

When did "genetic variation" become "any and all variation"? When did evidence of non-random genetic variation (not regions where variation is more permitted, but the actual variation itself) appear?

This same publication approvingly cites another NAS publication which states that "Fossils found in rocks of increasing age attest to the interrelated lineage of living things, from the single-celled organisms that lived billions of years ago to Homo sapiens. The most recent fossils closely resemble the organisms alive today, whereas increasingly older fossils are progressively different, providing compelling evidence of change through time."

Note that this was in 1998, long after reputable scientists called attention to the fact that the fossil record essentially amounts to a disconfirmation of "interrelated lineage of living things," e. g.

The standard denailist tactics reappear. You're really better than this, on most topics most of the time. You don't even bother to try to show the quoted sentence is false, instead you bring in a range of quotes that have nothing to do with whether the sentence is true, with an apparent motive to cast doubt on fossil evidence generally.

1. "Species that were once thought to have turned into others have been found to overlap in time with these alleged descendants. In fact, the fossil record does not convincingly document a single transition from one species to another." (Stanley, S.M., The New Evolutionary Timetable: Fossils, Genes, and the Origin of Species, 1981, p. 95)

How does a lack of confirmation of a species-to-species translation equate to a disconfirmation of the interrelated lineage?

2. "The majority of major groups appear suddenly in the rocks, with virtually no evidence of transition from their ancestors." (Futuyma, D., Science on Trial: The Case for Evolution, 1983, p. 82)

How does the sudden appearance of some major groups equate to a disconfirmation of the interrelated lineage?

3. "In spite of these examples, it remains true, as every paleontologist knows, that most new species, genera, and families, and that nearly all new categories above the level of families, appear in the record suddenly and are not led up to by known, gradual, completely continuous transitional sequences." (Simpson, George Gaylord, The Major Features of Evolution, 1953, p. 360)

How does a lack of completeness in transitional sequences equate to a disconfirmation of the interrelated lineage?

4. The principle problem is morphological stasis. A theory is only as good as its predictions, and conventional neo-Darwinism, which claims to be a comprehensive explanation of evolutionary process, has failed to predict the widespread long-term morphological stasis now recognized as one of the most striking aspects of the fossil record." (Williamson, Peter G., "Morphological Stasis and Developmental Constraint: Real Problems for Neo-Darwinism," Nature, Vol. 294, 19 November 1981, p. 214)

How does morphological stasis equate to a disconfirmation of the interrelated lineage?

5. "But fossil species remain unchanged throughout most of their history and the record fails to contain a single example of a significant transition." (Woodroff, D.S., Science, vol. 208, 1980, p. 716)

How does a lack species-level translations equate to a disconfirmation of the interrelated lineage?

6. Darwin himself, ...prophesied that future generations of paleontologists would fill in these gaps by diligent search ...One hundred and twenty years of paleontological research later, it has become abundantly clear that the fossil record will not confirm this part of Darwin's predictions. Nor is the problem a miserably poor record. The fossil record simply shows that this prediction is wrong. ...The observation that species are amazingly conservative and static entities throughout long periods of time has all the qualities of the emperor's new clothes: everyone knew it but preferred to ignore it. Paleontologists, faced with a recalcitrant record obstinately refusing to yield Darwin's predicted pattern, simply looked the other way." (Eldredge, N. and Tattersall, I., The Myths of Human Evolution, 1982, p. 45-46)

Actually, thousands of gaps were filled in. Eldredge is making an observation for punctuated equilibrium, not against the interrelated lineage.

A few more, just for good measure, eh? These relate mainly to your recurring claim that we should expect the fossil record to be incomplete:

1. "One of the most surprising negative results of paleontological research in the last century is that such transitional forms seem to be inordinately scarce. In Darwin's time this could perhaps be ascribed with some justification to the incompleteness of the paleontological record and to lack of knowledge, but with the enormous number of fossil species which have been discovered since then, other causes must be found for the almost complete absence of transitional forms." (Brouwer, A., "General Paleontology," [1959], Transl. Kaye R.H., Oliver & Boyd: Edinburgh & London, 1967, p. 162-163

Other causes have been discussed and explored.

2.There is no need to apologize any longer for the poverty of the fossil record. In some ways it has become almost unmanageably rich, and discovery is out-pacing integration. The fossil record nevertheless continues to be composed mainly of gaps." (Neville, George, T., "Fossils in Evolutionary Perspective," Science Progress, vol. 48 January 1960, p. 1-3)

To be even close to complete, we would need some 100 complete vertebrate fossils for each vertebrate species (not to mention all the other types of living things).

3. "A persistent problem in evolutionary biology has been the absence of intermediate forms in the fossil record. Long term gradual transformations of single lineages are rare and generally involve simple size increase or trivial phenotypic effects. Typically, the record consists of successive ancestor-descendant lineages, morphologically invariant through time and unconnected by intermediates." (Williamson, P.G., Palaeontological Documentation of Speciation in Cenozoic )

Again a reference to the lack of species-level changes.

4. "In any case, no real evolutionist, whether gradualist or punctuationist, uses the fossil record as evidence in favour of the theory of evolution as opposed to special creation." (Ridley, Mark, "Who doubts evolution?" "New Scientist", vol. 90, 25 June 1981, p. 831)

Obviously wrong. Many evolutionists make such a claim. It makes me wonder what he was really trying to say.

"We have long known about stasis and abrupt appearance, but have chosen to fob it off upon an imperfect fossil record." (Gould, Stephen J., "The Paradox of the First Tier: An Agenda for Paleobiology," Paleobiology, 1985, p. 7)

Like, whooda thunk, I ax ya!?

*Yawn*. I am still waiting for some quote that addresses the interrelated lineage that fossils make evident.

With respect to the education about evolution of high school students, T. Ryan Gregory says:


Of course, it is these very "college graduates" (Alters) and biology majors with at least two years of undergraduate education (Gregory) who go on to teach the next generation of high school students, eh?

In schools with a reasonably large student base (let's say 800 students), the preference has been (in my experience) to hire biology teachers who took a full secondary biology education curriculum, which would have included a handful of upper-level courses. I think it would be much better if every single biology teacher had this background, but it's not always possible.

I don't see what this has to do with the content of textbooks on the subject.

Gould, after complaining about concessions to creationists in high school texts, go on to complain about a more serious problem:

This is from an essay that is pre-Edwards, referring to a 1983 textbook and the pre-Edwards texts generally.

According to that article: "The books critiqued are limited to 1991 editions of Biology I textbooks adopted by the state of Texas as listed under References.

Well, I sure hope no one is using that text anymore.

One Brow said: "By the way, I still have not heard an epistemological reason to call these variations non-random. When all of the experiments conducted show distribution's that are indistinguishable from being random, and there are no known mechanism for making the distribution non-random, then random is the only epistemological interpretation."

1. Your reference is to "these variations," whereas as my post was addressed to the source of variation (without limiting the question to a specific range of variation, such as "those which occur on the 3rd Sunday in each new millenium," or sumthin.

Variations can come from any number of sources, and I am not aware of sources that are inherently non-random within themselves. They are random with respect to the needs of the organism, as far as anyone can tell.

2. The literature is rife with examples which suggest that some variation is highly correlated to the needs of the organism with respect to, and are apparently generated by "interaction with," the environment. One such example I recall is of a certain type of insect that has several typical predators, one of which is the dragonfly. If dragonflies are present while the larva is still developing, the larva will be born with a certain color (say green) which makes it more likely to escape detection by dragonflies. If not, it will be born a different color, which provides more natural defense against other common predators.

So, if you don't feed a human food that has Vitamin C, they get scurvy? How does change the notion of random variation?

One Brow said: "When all of the experiments conducted show distributions that are indistinguishable from being random...

To begin with, I would interested in knowin how you came to be familiar with "all the experiments conducted," and just what the nature and methods of all experiments were.

You have mentioned yourself the work of James A. Shapiro, for example, wherein the mutations themselves seem to be randomly distributed within the high-mutation regions. I certainly don't claim to have read every paper on the subject. I'll happily revise my opinion when you provide a counter-example.

But let's leave that to the side. Randon mutation of DNA plays a central explicatory role in prevailing evolutionary theory, because it, and it alone, supposedly provides the "variation" which leads to hundreds of species (genera, phylum, or whatever) disversifying into thousands of species which diversify into millions of species, etc. But, as just noted, the fossil record does not seem to support such a notion, with long-term stasis of phenotype, rather than constant, continuous gradual changes to same, being what is found in the fossil record, and abrupt, rather than transitional, changes being the overwhelming norm.

That would be genetic variation, not all variation, and why is random genetic variation incompossible with long-term morphological stability?

The first answer, presumably from a "scientist," flatly states that: "The fact that chimpanzees and humans have different numbers of chromosomes immediately causes a reproductive barrier and would be an immediate speciation event."

Scientist or not, that's just wrong. Even today we can find humans with broken chromosomes (so they technically have more than 46), fused chromosomes, or a combination of the two, who mate and can pass this condition on their descendants

An "immediate speciation event," eh? How so, if the "speciation event occurred long before? And how, I wonder, would such a rare chromosome split thereafter become, by the process of natural selection, the ONLY type of chromosome structure found in humans?

Populationgenetics models do account for the occasional split/fusion becoming dominant and even exclusive over time, if it is one among many such events.

One last comment on the foregoing website. It is apparently a government-sponsered one for "K-12 educators," designed in part to provide answers to high school students. It identifies itself as follows: "NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators.
Argonne National Laboratory, Division of Educational Programs, Harold Myron, Ph.D., Division Director."

It appears that the answer a high school student gets to such questions is highly dependent on the "educator" who responds.

If you have recommendations for improving the quality of educators in high school science, that would be great to try to put into action, but seems to be off-topic here.

Eric, I kinda been waitin for you to go wild with a "quote-mining" charge, ya know?

Let's talk about "quote-mining" and the allegations thereof, for a second, whaddaya say?

This quote does not represent any purported "refutation" of Ridley's point, it IS Ridley's point (about use of the fossil record)

Since Ridley's point is that there are better reasons to accept evolution than the fossil record, it would be a legitimate use to quote him in the context of the appropriateness of fossils, and not legitimate to quote him in a effort to claim special creation is better supported. So, would still be quote-mining.

It's seems that the allegations of "quote-mining" often rely on the imputation of disingenous attempts to "imply" sumthin which "attempts" are created, whole cloth, by the accuser in order to create a strawman through which he can level at unwarranted and unsubstantiated charge of dishonesty.

It is dishonest to take criticisms of certain types of evolution, or quotes that bemoan the lack of a particular types of fossil, and portray them as general proclamations against fossil evidence generally.

Here the author of the quote-mining entry claims that the quote has been used in an attempt to "discredit evolution." Where does the evidence of that "attempt" come from? Ridley is sayin the fossil record aint where it's at if one wants to argue for evolution, and that's all he bein quoted as sayin. What's the problem?

Quoting Ridley without the caveat Ridley added makes unwary readers think Ridley's issue is with evolution generally, and not fossils specifically, and this is the sort of error quote-miners rely upon.

Mebbe we can quit beatin round the bush here, a little, eh, Eric? An article I cited above summarizes some views of Yale biologist Keith Thomson as follows:.

I can always rely on you to pull out anti-evolution denialists, such as ARN, from far and wide. I see no reason to treat this as being an accurate summary.

"[Thomson] indicates three commonly employed meanings of evolution:

1. Change over time
2. Relationships of organisms by descent through common ancestry
3. A particular explanatory mechanism for the pattern and process of (1.) and (2.), such as natural selection

Red flag: a biologist who says "evolution" means the same thing as "a mechanism of evolution"? Or, is the biologist critiquing some other work? Are you presenting a fourth-hand account (your quote of a summary of a critique of an original text), with a link to the third-hand account??

Thomson notes that factual patterns of change over time, particularly as seen in the fossil record, can be studied in the absence of theories of how these patterns came to be.

Didn't you just provide several quotes about how there were no factual patterns of change over time? No particular fossil changes, so there is no "factual change". However, the summarizer (which is quite possibly not an accurate reflection of Thomson) is willing to accept a certain amount of evolution (often described as "within kinds"), and so describes this amount of change as "factual".

Thomson also emphasizes that the second meaning, descent through common ancestry, is a hypothesis, not a fact, and that it is derived from the twin premises that life arose only once on Earth and that all life proceeds from preexisting life.

Actually, common descent is perfectly compatible with multiple origins of life, but Thomson may not have been familiar with the work of Woese, and once life becomes omnipresent on earth, there is no place for life to develop de novo. Also, descent through common ancestry as passed the hypothesis stage decades ago, it is now certainly theory. Either Thomson was speaking over a century ago, or this is editorializing on the part of the summarizer.

Cladistic analysis, championed currently by a number of biologists, has sought to eva1uate relationships among organisms without regard to the twin premises cited above. In regard to the third meaning, a particular explanatory mechanism, there are currently many alternative hypotheses. Darwin insisted that changes had to be small and gradual. However, Gould and his associates (1980) have proposed static intervals (stasis), followed by periods of rapid change (punctuated equilibrium).

You would think Thomson would be aware that the the changes in punctuated equilibrium are small and gradual, except when compared to neo-Darwinism.

The authors then state that:

Is this supposed to be Thomson, or the posters on ARN?

The biology texts, in general, do a poor job of distinguishing between these three different meanings of evolution. They generally fail to note that it is possible to accept the factual evidence for change over time, while having a more restricted view of descent through common ancestry. For example, to speak of ancestral descent in regard to the relationship of an ancestral horse to a modern horse would be a very restricted use when compared to the relationship of an ancestral one-celled organism to a modern mammal. Likewise, accepting the factual evidence for change over time does not require the acceptance of a particular explanatory mechanism for these changes.

It is possible to accept every part of the water cycle, except that you believe evaporation water is being skimmed by angels, and rain is caused by God, with no connection between the various molecules involved. After all, the water cycle is only a theory. Just because a position is possible does not make that position reasonable nor scientific.

On another level, many scientists prefer to differentiate between microevolution and macroevolution: the former being the relatively small changes noted in the diversification of species, and the latter being the changes required in the development of new phyla, or possibly of new orders or classes. The term macroevolution has also been used in regard to development of new functions, such as vision or hearing..

Mostly, this terminology is preferred by anti-evolutionary scientists or by people responding to them.

Many proponents of Darwinian natural selection have argued that processes demonstrated for microevolution may be extrapolated to account for macroevolution as well. When this type of extrapolation is used in an attempt to validate a theory, we have moved beyond the reasonable bounds of science. Scientifically, we should simply state that at present, there is no satisfactory scientific explanation for macroevolutionary events. Those explanations that have been presented lie in the realm of philosophy.".

Gosh, an anti-evolutionist thinks we should state there is no scientifically supported explanation? Que surprise!

These observations strike me as sound. (1) is a simple fact, (2) is a hypothesis, one which entails certain (unproven) assumptions, and only with (3) do we enter into the realm of "theory.".

Except, (1), which is a fact and a theory, is supported by the exact same evidence as (2), which is also a fact and a theory, and (3) seems like wither a confusion or a distortion.

Of course not all which parades as "theory" is actually scientific in nature. The attempt to "validate" by projected extrapolation, rather than empirical evidence, is not, in itself, a "scientific" form of validation. It may be part of the theory, which I claim is independent from empirical validation, but it is not any kind of "evidence.".

Duh. It is the verification of the extrapolation that either raises the hypothesis to the level of theory of sweeps it to the dustbin of science.

Do you have any major disagreement with Thomson's summary? Are you using the term "theory" in the same sense Thomson does, or are you perhaps calling (1) and/or (2) THE theory?.

I would not presume to agree or disagree with Thomson based upon a quote of a summary of Thomson.

With regard to the issue of how much ideology is an inherent part of "evolutionary theory," I found the following report interesting. I am taking it as accurate:

" 1995 the NABT issued the following statement: ... On the last day of the October 8-11, 1997 annual NABT meeting, the board met again and voted to remove the two objectionable words, "unsupervised" and "impersonal"...

Good to know it was removed. The words don't belong in government-run schools.

But most prominent evolutionary biologists do not see the blind watchmaker thesis (as defined above) as an optional ideological add-on to neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory. Rather, they see it as a central part of the propositional content of neo-Darwinian theory, as indeed Darwin himself did. .

Perhaps they just have not sufficiently considered the difference between their ontological and epistemological equivalents.

Is their a side on this matter which you agree with, Eric? Should the two words have remained? Is Pigliucci right that "NABT’s two-word alteration to the definition of evolution betrays the core...?".

While I think those words are accurate, I think you can find better ways to describe the concepts that only refer to epistemological concepts, possibly replacing "unsupervised" with "without apparent direction" and "impersonal" with "with no detectable outside influence".

Does it imply anything to you about how high school biology teachers may generally approach the teaching of evolution ...

Since some biology teachers are young-earth creationists, I don't draw any general conclusions from the statement of the NABT.

It seems that the website with Pigliucci's "open letter" to the National Association of Biology Teachers is no longer functional. A few excerpts appear here, though: .

Thiswould be the plea the NABT decided to reject?

Eric, you often suggest that you believe most, if not all, opposition to neo-darwinism is motivated by religious motivations. At the same time, you deny that "scientists" (with the exception of a few, like Dawkins) have any ideological agenda..

Since neo-Darwinism is dead, and was opposed by many scientists even when it was thought to be viable, this is plainly false, and seems worded to again attempt to intertwine neo-Darwinism with modern evolutionary theory.

I think this letter (apparently signed by a number of high profile "scientists")and the position of the high school biology teachers
indicates otherwise. While they may confess that naturalistic fundamentalism is "philosophy," that doesn't temper their certainty that is is ontologoically correct in the least.

Most philosophers, and most people, accept some unproven ontological truths as correct.

I have come to view both theism and atheism as equally "religious" doctrines. What's ironic about it is that the atheists come out looking worse than those they oppose in this view. This look like total hypocrites with little or insight or thoughtfulness because they deny their religious faith, and accuse their opponents of being "soft-minded" and "stupid" for openly admitting their religious faith..

Some forms of atheism make no ontological claim and require no faith, other forms do. Either way, they don't fit the term "religion". It is true there are fuzzy-headed atheists,both of the type that make no claims and of the type that do.

I did find the contents of Pigliucci's open letter after lookin a little more:.

I see no reason to care.

I am still unable to give meaning to your dual assertions that (1) Life could have independently arisen on earth a million times without in any way contradicting premise 1 from above, .

I feel it is unfortunate that, after all your efforts to quote Woese, et. al., you still retain this blind spot.

and (2) that anyone who even questions the the "factual" status of the doctrine of common descent is a "denialist.".

Denialism is a matter of tactics, not topic. Not everyone who questions common descent is a denialist (I used to question common descent, but I never used the tactics of denialism to do so, and changed my opinion after a careful examination of the evidence).

According to the NEScent website, this "workshop for educators" is "designed to provide an overview of key evolutionary concepts and explore cutting-edge topics in evolutionary biology for instructors at the high school and introductory college level."

Cuttin edge, eh!? Sounds interestin, sho nuff! Like what, I wonder?

I'm not going to go through the various topics individually, because I think you are missing the point. It's not about cutting-edge topics in biology, for the most part they don't even belong in introductory biology courses. It's about cutting-edge topics in biology education. I've been to math seminars that discussed cutting-edge ideas in mathematics. I assure, it was not the mathematics that was novel.

Arlin Stoltz, a research biologist in working in the CAMEL (Computational and Analyitical Molecular Evolution) lab at CARB (Center for Advanced Research in Biotechnology)

Is this supposed to be Arlin Stolzfus?

does a good job of articulating some of my general thoughts about both theory and the neo-darwinistic axiom of random mutation as the source of genetic variation, eh, Eric?

With respect to theory, he says, for example:

"Sometimes one hears the claim that, in science, "theory" refers to hypotheses that have been repeatedly confirmed and that are widely accepted by the scientific community, but (not to put too fine a point on it) this is a ridiculous position. One only hears of this interpretation of "theory" in discussions of evolution,

Actually, I've read a couple of similar discussion about string theory. Stolzfus seems to be ignorant of the general dispute on what is a theory.

Elsewhere he claims, with respect to the importance of variation to any evolutionary theory, that:


"Contempory discord" with "competing views," eh?

This is inevitable in science.

A "yet to be named" new view which abandons neo-darwinistic assumptions and acknowledges "non-randomness in evolution," eh?

Highly unlikely. For one thing, non-randomness was an essential component of many of the mechanisms in neo-Darwinism.

Is this now THE Theory of Evoluton, I wonder? If so, I wonder when they will tell the high school teachers, ya know?

Pretty much the same thing as always.

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

The 114th edition of the Skeptics' Circle

You can now find the 114th edition of the Skeptics' Circle at Homologous Legs. He was even kind enough to include my last-minute submission.

I plan on having two new posts up this weekend (one a very long response to some 28 comments of another post, the other on how some philosophers are as bad at mathematics as I am at philosophy, and an example of how the job should be done). Until then, may all you fellow Americans enjoy Independence Day.
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