Saturday, December 16, 2006

Richard Dawkins: Man of Faith

Jonathan Miller: Mmm. Now the objection that is constantly raised by people who hear this, to me and to you, extremely persuasive argument, they say, "Aha! But what is the source of these fruitful novelties upon which natural selection exerts its pressures?" People would say, "Well surely the novelties themselves, even if, um, they are then... pressure is exerted upon them, something has to explain the novelties themselves."

Richard Dawkins: Well the novelties themselves of course, are genetic variations in the gene pool, which ultimately come from mutation and more proximately come from sexual recombination. There's nothing very inventive or ingenious about those novelties. I mean, they are random. And, um, they mostly are deleterious - most mutations are bad. And so you really need to focus on natural selection as the positive side, and it's only natural selection that produces living things that have the illusion of design. The illusion of design does not come from the novelty, it comes from what happens to the novelty as it is filtered through.

JM: But the argument was constantly leveled about the, um, the imperceptible changes which might in fact, as they were developed and recurred, would have culminated in something as useful as a feather. They constantly emphasise the fact, what was it about that early novelty before it had accumulated to the point where it was recognisably doing an adaptive job... where could natural selection get it's purchase upon something which was no more than a pimple?

RD: Yes. Um... well it's a fair point. It's one that I've talked about quite a lot. Um... there... we... there cannot have been intermediate stages that were not beneficial. It's... there's no room in natural selection for the sort of foresight argument that says, "Well, if we're going to persist for the next million years it'll start becoming useful.” That doesn't work, there's got to be a selection pressure all the way.

JM: So there isn't a process as it were going on in the cell saying, "Look, be patient. It's going to be a feather, believe me.

RD: Um no. Yes.

JM: Sydney Bremner satirised that beautifully when he said he imagined some protein arising in the Cambrian which was kept because, "It might come in handy in the Cretaceous".

RD: Um... it's... it doesn't happen like that. Um, there's got to be a series of advantages all the way in the feather. If you can't think of one then that's your problem, not natural selection's problem. Natural selection, um, well, I suppose that is a sort of matter of faith on my, on my part since the theory is so coherent and so powerful. You mentioned feathers. I mean it's perfectly possible that feathers began as fluffy, um, extensions of reptilian scales to act as heat insulators. And so the final perfection of the sort of, wing feathers that we see in flying birds might have come very much later. And the earliest feathers might have been a different approach to hairiness among reptiles keeping them warm. Over and over again we come across, um cases where an organ starts out doing one thing and then gets modified to doing another thing.

http://cotimotb.siteburg.com/wiki/index.php?wiki=AtheismTapesFour

1.Notice what an extremely demanding theory evolution is:

“There cannot have been intermediate stages that were not beneficial. It's... there's no room in natural selection for the sort of foresight argument that says, ‘Well, if we're going to persist for the next million years it'll start becoming useful.’ That doesn't work, there's got to be a selection pressure all the way.”

“There’s got to be a series of advantages all the way in the feather.”

2.Now ask yourself whether we have evidence anywhere near to being commensurate with the demands on the theory. For millions of years on end—indeed, multiplied millions of years on end—every intermediate stage must be beneficial. There’s got to be a *series* of advantages from start to finish. A continuous series.

And do we have serial evidence for this series? Do we have evidence every step of the way for every intermediate step on our way to a feather? Continuous evidence for a continuous series?

3.It won’t do to say that if we end up with a feather, then somehow it had to happen that way.

For one thing, this assumes descent with modification. But if there are vast intervals of time in which we have gaps in the fossil record, then how do you establish lineal descent?

For another thing, it assumes that an evolutionary pathway is the only way to make a feather. But that begs the question.

4. “There’s got to be a series of advantages all the way in the feather. If you can't think of one then that's your problem, not natural selection's problem.”

Observe how the theory outpaces the evidence. He takes the theory for granted.

Lack of evidence is not a problem for the theory. If you point to the lack of evidence, then that’s *your* problem.

The theory doesn’t depend on having actual evidence of beneficial adaptations. The theory has achieved the axiomatic status of an unquestioned datum.

The onus is on you to reconcile yourself with the theory.

5.Evidence is irrelevant. At most you only need to *think* of a *possible* benefit.

And even if you can’t think of one, that’s your problem.

6.No wonder he ends up saying: “Natural selection, um, well, I suppose that is a sort of matter of faith on my, on my part.”

13 comments:

  1. Steve.

    1. Evolutionary theory *is* a demanding one. That's a mark of strong science. It specifically disallows a huge range of mechanisms. If any of those mechanisms can be demonstrated, then the theory would be falsified. That's a *good* way to have it, scientifically.

    2. You ask:
    And do we have serial evidence for this series? Do we have evidence every step of the way for every intermediate step on our way to a feather? Continuous evidence for a continuous series?

    The answers are, in order: Yes, no, and no. No one *expects* that we should find evidence for "every intermediate step". It's a wonder that we have the evidence that we *do* have. Science never demands that *all* the evidence be in view, exhaustively. It does, however, require that a theory accomodate and explain the evidence that *is* available. This evolutionary theory does.

    Demanding that forensic evidence be supplied for *every* step of development over billions of years is ridiculous.

    3. So, here's how the theory works. It identifies a pattern, a mechanism for development that accounts for what we see today. In order to test it, certain things must not ever be found, like a horse fossil in the Silurian segment of the stratigraphic record. Also, what *must* be found are pieces of evidence that support the idea of common descent.

    What's been found is not exhaustive, and never will be; it's a red herring to suggest that's even a serious complication. For example if I see this:

    [ ][ ][ 3][ 4][ ][ 6][ ][ ][ 9][ ][ ][ ][13][ ][ ][ ][17]

    I might advance a theory that that this is a list of integers starting at 1 and counting up to 17. Obviously, I don't have an exhaustive set of evidence here; only 6 of the 17 presented slots have information in them. Now, after a time of investigation and discovery, I may end up with this:

    [ ][ 2][ 3][ 4][ ][ 6][ ][ ][ 9][10][ ][ ][13][ ][15][ ][17]

    Now, I still don't have a complete chain. But I have more corroboration for my theory; more data that supports my idea. So we are inferring, for instance that the 14th slot will contain a "14", and that the whole sequence is an ordered one from 1 to 17, as before. Only now, as the picture becomes more clear, we are more confident.

    It could still turn out with further investigation that this is what the picture looks like:

    [ ][ 2][ 3][ 4][32][ 6][ 3][-6][ 9][10][9][77][13][ ][15][43][17]

    If that's what we find, we would have to reject the "1-to-17" theory. It doesn't fit the data.

    But right, now, we are at a point something like this:

    [ ][ 2][ 3][ 4][ ][ 6][ ][ ][ 9][10][ ][ ][13][ ][15][ ][17]

    More data rolls in every data, and the picture will get more and more complete as time goes by. But The original, high-level idea Darwin proposed has been supported by the evidence that's been uncovered. There are significant gaps in the evidence base (as there are above in the numbers), but the data that has come in has strengthened the epistemic support for the theory. If you can understand how one might theorize the "1-to-17" idea here, then you understand how scientists look at the evidence for evolution.

    4. Theories *always* outpace the evidence. That's why theories exist, to provide a wider explanatory framework for the evidence that's available. And the way a theory is evaluated is by "taking it for granted", and analyzing its performance against the evidence, and the predictions the theory makes. The things you are complaining about are the hallmarks of good science.

    As for beneficial adapatations, I can't think of a more backwards thing to say than "[t]heory doesn’t depend on having actual evidence of beneficial adaptations". That's just about *all* it depends on, Steve. While Darwin only had modest insight into the process at the time, his note of the beneficial adaptations in the finches of the Galapagos (now known as "Darwin's finches") points to a realization from his observations that those adaptations (larger beaks for some birds on some parts of the islands, for example) were the result of the evolutionary process -- variation + natural selection.

    It's no stretch to say that evolutionary theory is the study of beneficial adaptations. Whether it's a larger beak, or a stronger tail, or a light-sensing group of cells on one's back, the features of living things are *all* viewed as beneficial adaptations.

    Even in real time, if you take a population of bacteria and subject it to the ravages of streptomycin, you will find that some portion of those bacteria will spontaneously develop a resistance to streptomycin, and reproduce and flourish in its presence.

    5. Evidence *is* relevant. That's the raw materials of science. Like I said, the evidence of horse fossil sourced to the Silurian period breaks the back of evolution in one stroke.

    6. All theories are based on faith. A theory is an extrapolation from the evidence, a generalization from the specific. Again, that's not a bug, it's a feature.

    -Touchstone

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  2. The Red Rocker12/16/2006 2:00 PM

    This is regarding the posts on the unforgiveable sin which are down in the archives a ways now, but this is interesting:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7QVbJnSPQE

    It's atheists, including children, committing, at least they think, the unforgiveable sin. Provoked into it by people selling the God Who Wasn't There video.

    Maybe their understanding of what the unforgiveable sin is can inform the overall definition since this is sort of a popular or folk type definition they adopt (if that makes sense).

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  3. The Red Rocker12/16/2006 2:06 PM

    Touchstone, everything you just wrote can also support the theory that I'm the King of England.

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  4. Red Rocker:

    That's an interesting idea. Let me know how your theory pans out...

    -Touchstone

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  5. The Red Rocker said...
    "Touchstone, everything you just wrote can also support the theory that I'm the King of England."

    Huah? LOL!

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  6. Touchstone, we know how your theory has panned out. The flat earthers are currently knocking out walls making an addition to their room in the the great building that houses the history of pseudo science. They know the tipping point has arrived for you. It has just become untenable to keep telling people fish turn into racehorses and that the fossil record supports your theory when its your worst witness.

    By the way: the theory of evolution was around long before Darwin. Darwin just lived in the right gullible times to make a sensation with it. Since then your only hard science has been artist-rendered illustrations in text books ("If they can see it they will believe it!"), sympathetic media headlines, and MoveOn.org level debate ("You're a moron!!! Ha, ha, ha!!!")...

    Don't worry, though. There are many flat-earthers who are now firmly in the 'the earth is a sphere sitting on the back of a turtle' camp. They are making progress, so can you.

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  7. The Red Rocker12/16/2006 3:26 PM

    That's an interesting idea. Let me know how your theory pans out...
    -Touchstone


    Exactly.

    (Exactly as I want it to pan out...)

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  8. Pano said...
    "It has just become untenable to keep telling people fish turn into racehorses and that the fossil record supports your theory when its your worst witness."

    Huah? Really? Pano, what kind of fossil record would it take to turn you into an evolutionist? My guess would be none, because you hold to a strict *literalist* interpretation of the creation account, but that being said, do you think it is any easier to tell people that there were literal trees called the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" and the "tree of life"? What about Satan in the form of a talking snake? Is that based on science or theology? I say, not science. Do you really think that telling people that ALL of the creation account should be taken in a hard wooden literal sense is the best thing to do? How is this any different from how you understand evolution in your opinion?

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  9. Again, we note that Touchstone mkes a good point regarding the arguments for evolution. Or any arguments of this sort, for that matter. Just as Mrs. Beaton's famous cookery book directed in its recipie for jugged hare: 'first catch your hare;' so it might be noted that Touchstone's rule books starts: 'first assume the correctness of your argument.' Which is all very well, but let there be no appeals to science as if it were infallible.

    Touchstone's example, like the monkeys and Shakespere example, assumes the correctness of the theory. What if the series is in fact a mangled coded message, and the relationship of the numbers the sheerest coincidence, misdirecting the reader? It appears to be a list of integers, but in fact the numbers relate to pages and columns in an agreed publication (see Sherlock Holmes for this trick), warning of danger. You may very well produce a series counting up to seventeen. But that may equally be the wrong answer, no matter how satisfying it may appear.

    This is the situation I believe the evolutionsist to be in. Where he should be reading a message about the existence and glory of God and the fall of man, leading to the need for a saviour; all of which should prepare him to receive the Gospel, he looks at the message and misinterprets it. He sees the series, not the urgent message. Accordingly, while contemplating the wonder of his intellect in reconstructing the series, he will be overtaken by destruction.

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  10. Touchstone,

    You've made a fine assertion, but where's the argument? You've asserted there's a pattern in the fossil record which is best explained by the theory of biological evolution. But you've given no supporting evidence for why one should read the fossil record in the way in which you read it. (Re: the finches. This is an argument for variation, but it is not an argument for evolution from one species to another.)

    Yet the argument against evolution is whether there is a pattern in the first place. No one denies fossils exist. No one denies there's a fossil record. But the question is whether there is a discernible pattern in the fossil record. And if so whether the pattern is best explained by the theory of evolution.

    In other words, sure, everyone can see the leaves in a cup of Chinese tea. The difference is you claim to see a pattern in the tea leaves. You claim that there's an augury to be read. That the augury spells out "all life evolved from protozoa." Or whatever. But based on what you've said up to this point, all we see are, well... um... tea leaves.

    What's more, in the past Steve and other commenters have pointed out deficiencies in the theory of evolution which you've never fairly addressed.

    Also, the pattern you've used as an example is conveniently linear. However, the theory of evolution itself is not so straightforward. In a sense there's not even necessarily a single, universally agreed upon theory of evolution. One can read some of the in-house debates among evolutionists to see that different evolutionists "connect the dots" of the fossil record in different ways. Of course, and as far as I'm aware, none would deny the theory of evolution as a general, workable theory; they'd agree that natural selection is the sole explanation for the entirety of life on earth. But the point is that different schools of biological evolution have different ways to explain how natural selection works. So even among other evolutionists, there's no uniform consensus. At any rate it's not nearly as simple and as elegant as you've attempted to depict it in your numerical scheme.

    Moreover as a theistic evolutionist, you're in a particular bind. You want to have your cake and eat it, too. I suppose the only real difference between the atheistic evolutionist and yourself is that the atheistic evolutionist states that natural selection is the sole explanation for the entirety of life on earth whereas you would place God right before the beginning of the statement. You invoke God as having initiated natural selection and the process of biological evolution. Perhaps God created the first amoeba. Or perhaps He created the conditions for life to develop out of the primordial soup. For all intents and purposes, though, it would seem your God is a deist in regard to life on earth. Well, except when it's convenient for you to invoke Him again so that it better fits with your idea of the Bible. Such as when you believe God placed a soul in a proto-human or ape-man, and thus the proto-human or ape-man became Adam and Eve. Anyway, we could go on about how theistic evolution contradicts the Bible in several ways, but since we've already covered this ground, I'd point readers to the Triablogue archives.

    BTW, you're quite incorrect to say that "All theories are based on faith." Perhaps the theories you subscribe to are based on faith. But among other important things, actual scientific theories conform to scientific rules of evidence such as empirical observation and experimentally testable hypotheses. Therefore, methodologically speaking, scientific theories are or at least should be empirical in nature. But is the theory of evolution as you've described it based on empirical evidence and an experimentally testable hypothesis? For example, again, we see fossils, but does the existence of fossils imply that the theory of evolution is the best explanation for the existence of these fossils? And we see variations in finches and we see bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics, but does this then mean that natural selection is the sole explanation for how the entirety of life came about on earth?

    In addition it seems to me that there's a good deal of philosophical speculation (about the origins of life and so forth) that's not connected to the empirical evidence at hand in the theory of evolution. Perhaps sort of like certain ancient Greeks conjecturing that the world consists of four and only four elements: earth, wind, water, and fire. As such the theory of evolution is also open to criticism on philosophical grounds.

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  11. The Red Rocker said...
    "That's an interesting idea. Let me know how your theory pans out...
    -Touchstone

    Exactly.

    (Exactly as I want it to pan out...)"

    Oh, you're in the camp that believes that scientist are in cahoots with one another in an effort to do away with God any way that they can? This is utter non sense. No one is holding a gun to any scientist head in an effort to keep him or her in line with the orthodox scientific norms of the day. The fact is, many scientist propose many theories and other scientist will put them to the test. Of course everyone wants to make a ground breaking discovery but this is what keeps scientists experimenting and coming up with new ideas. Science is skeptical by nature. There are no free passes in science, theories are forced to sink or swim.

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  12. Patrick,

    1. Reading the fossil record. The "evidence" for why one should read it the way science does is that provides the best fit with the data, and the most depth of explanation over any other theory. If you've got a better theory how Darwin's finches became 13 (or 14 depending on how you count) species, point me to it.

    And reading through Steve's post again, I don't find the words 'species' or 'speciation' even used in his post. He makes references to "adaptation[s]", which is what I was addressing. Believe it or not, I think Steve was suggesting there is no evidence for beneficial adaptations.

    2. Tea Leaves. Darwin predicted, long before anyone had the dirt evidence in hand, that more primitive organisms would be found in older strata, and more developed, complex organisms would be found in older strata. Time and a lot of digging have validated Darwin's "tea leaves" resoundingly on this issue.

    You can tell the guy who can predict the last digit of the winning lottery number time after time after time that he's just imaging "tea leaves", but eventually his success starts to make your dismissals look pretty silly. You can find plenty of reading "beyond tea leaves" here on the web, if you're interested.

    3. Deficiencies in theory of evolution. Well, let's see: Steve's a normative authority, and Steve expects *complete* sequential evidence to warrant consideration, and oh, by the way space-time is a smooth continuum (!) with no practical metrics. I don't think Steve thinks the earth is flat, but it's clear he might as well, for all the bearing he has on scientific stuff.

    [Steve, insert obligatory defense of scientific solipsism here...]

    Patrick, you and Steve wouldn't know "fairly addressed" if you saw it. You're mystical minds are made up. Life's too short to work at getting blood from a stone.

    That said, evolution is incomplete, across the board. That's a feature it sports along with every other theory. Theories are just measured in degrees of evidentiary support. Evolution has a long and broad base of evidentiary support behind it. Don't ask for a 50 Gb cut-and-paste job here -- just check out a beginner level textbook on the subject if you want more.

    We recently witnessed the discovery of a fine fossil specimen that introduced us to Tiktaalik, as perfect an example of a "transitional" form that anti-evolutionists claim cannot be produced as one would ever hope to find. But it's just tea leaves.

    Chromosomal fusion (Hillier, et al, 2004)... tea leaves, eh? Shared vitamin C deficiency in primates? Tea leaves, gosh darn it!

    On and on it goes. And your alternative science is... what?

    If evolution's "deficiency" is that you and Steve aren't buying it, I can't even get a little surprised or bothered, given what I've read from you. If it's that you think you have evidence that I or the science community hasn't seen that falsifies the theory, then give us a link!

    Otherwise, spare me the search for an opening in a closed mind, OK?

    4. Empiricism and faith Apparently, you haven't been following this running discussion at *all*. Empiricism itself is based on a leap of faith -- in its own abilities! You think readers here are *stupid*??? Oh, empiricism, right, I forgot about that... that's objective all the way down. No "turtles" there.

    Gimme a break, you're wasting my time even typing this up. Go ask your favorite philosophy instructor if empiricism requires a presupposition -- a epistemic leap or not, and get back to me.

    Sheesh.

    You say:
    And we see variations in finches and we see bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics, but does this then mean that natural selection is the sole explanation for how the entirety of life came about on earth?

    In terms of science, it's the best theory going. It may be the *only* theory going. Do you have a better theory?

    5. Abiogenesis. Abiogenesis is not part of Darwin's idea. His hypothesis doesn't come into scope until organisms are available that are capable of reproduction. Evolution is not proven or disproven by our ignorance of how the first living organisms came to be.

    As for Greeks and the four "elements", I think that is a good example of how you see science *now*. It ain't the case.

    -Touchstone

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  13. The Red Rocker12/16/2006 11:09 PM

    >Oh, you're in the camp that believes that scientist are in cahoots with one another in an effort to do away with God any way that they can?

    I think the politically-correct coersive environment that forces at least a nominal or formalist allegiance to evolutionism that scientists are forced to work and exist in, coupled with the general nebulous nature of the 'theory of evotuion' itself and the many sophistical schools of explaining and defending it, make for an atmosphere that forms a collective group think or something effectively resembling this.

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