Sunday, November 14, 2004

Was Darwin Wrong?...

That’s the title of an article from the November 2004 issue of National Geographic, and it appears not only on the cover, but on the title page of the article itself. Whether intended to be provocative or merely teasing I do not know, but when one turns the page he is presented with an emphatic, one word sentence “NO.” (the font of which is so large that it takes up fully one-third of the page). The next sentence is, The evidence for Evolution is overwhelming. This post is not intended to be a comprehensive review of the article but, instead, a synopsis of the biased manner in which the evolutionary community addresses data. You may want to refer back to a post I wrote in July titled, DarkSyde debate (part 1), in which I discuss the concept of Evolutionary Lensing and the practice of unwarranted extrapolation. I’ve coined the term Evolutionary Lensing to describe the act of viewing a phenomenon through evolutionary spectacles. In other words, the evolutionist is already committed to the fact of evolution when observing the data his research provides. In the article, after linking evolution to Einstein’s relativity theory, as well as the notion that the Earth orbits around the sun, continental drift, and the structure of atoms, we read,
Each of these theories is an explanation that has been confirmed to such a degree, by observation and experiment, that knowledgeable experts accept it as fact.
Besides clouding the judgment of the scientist, “accept[ing] it as fact” provides easy access to the next step of error – that of the unwarranted extrapolation. It should come as no surprise, then, that data which is viewed through the evolutionary paradigm is so readily attributed to the workings of evolution. Indeed, the extrapolated conclusion is, The evidence for Evolution is overwhelming. But let’s take a look at some of the visual evidence presented in the article and see if we can also identify the instances of Evolutionary Lensing and unwarranted extrapolations. The Jacobin pigeon. From the article,
Domestic breeding of fancy pigeons like the Jacobin… was [Darwin’s] analogy for selection in the wild.
Consider that domestic breeding is an phenomenon guided by intelligent action. Why should an activity guided by the intentions of a mind be used as an analogy for a supposedly mindless and purposeless activity of nature? We’re shown an image of a naked mole rat (links to a Macromedia presentation). The text states,
The naked mole rat shows that mammals can evolve, like social insects, to include specialized workers and queens.
If by the phrase, that mammals can evolve, they simply mean “change,” then they have a point. Change within a species is easily observed. But consider that, despite its “evolution,” the naked mole rat is still a mole rat. That it can eventually develop entirely new structures, such as fins instead of legs, is left to the realm of unwarranted extrapolation. A rendering of a flying fish is displayed, and we read,
Although the fish’s wings are rudimentary compared to a bird’s, [Darwin] realized that they derive from the same evolutionary process: They enable the fish to soar to escape predators. (emphasis added)
Note the connection being made here, for it is resplendent within the evolutionary paradigm. Similar structures connote either a similar derivative process or common ancestry, or both. The Madagascan sphinx moth, with its 11 inch long proboscis, is displayed as an example of “coevolution” with that of the Madagascar orchid Angraecum sesquipedale which has an 11 inch long nectar receptacle. From the article,
Such mutual adaptation – moth to the flower, the flower to the moth – is called coevolution.
Such “mutual adaptation,” a phrase inherently biased, could also be called a pre-designed system. Under the heading of Survival and Adaptation: Natural Selection, we read,
Insectivorous plants such as the Venus flytrap occupy nutrient-poor soils, where competition is less severe, and survive by supplementing their diet with captured insects.
Are we to infer that because the Venus flytrap occupies nutrient-poor soils that it survived only because it evolved the ability to eat insects? A skeleton of an orangutan is shown, along with a detail of the bone structure of its hand and that of a human hand. The text,
Similarities of anatomy imply common origins. The orangutan has long arms, but its paired forearm bones resemble the radius and ulna in a human. The orangutan hand is so similar to ours that it might fit in a first-baseman’s mitt. (emphasis added)
Turning the page we see a skeleton of an extinct whalelike creature called Dorudon and read,
Dating back 40 million years, it had a detached pelvis near the end of its tail and useless little legs. Like the human hand, an early whale’s front foot retains a five-fingered bone structure; a vestigial rear foot has lost several toe bones, but its very existence testifies to the whale’s descent from a four-legged ancestor. Illuminating by spotty, the fossil record is like a film of evolution from which 999 of every 1,000 frames have been lost on the cutting-room floor. Still, Gingerich and others have found dozens of intermediate forms – missing links that are no longer missing. (emphasis added)
Intermediate or transitional? Do we gloss over the speed with which a supposedly wolf-like creature evolved into a whale simply because we have fossil evidence of whalelike creatures? Do similarities of structure imply common origin or do they imply common design templates? Look for examples of common templates in the world of intelligently designed objects – they’re all around you. A photo of six dead finches. Notable for the diversified sizes and shapes of their beaks, these finches are presented as evidence for evolution because,
…isolation – plus time, plus adaptation to local conditions – leads to the origin of species. It seemed more logical than assuming they had been created and placed in the Galapagos individually.
Yet a logical analysis of the finches reveals that the changes found insure that they remain finches. Convergent Evolution – we see photos of a Jamaican twig anole, a Puerto Rican twig anole, and the Hispaniolan twig anole. All share a similarity in structure, yet DNA analysis reveals that they are not genetically related to each other. Conclusion? -
…such adaptations have evolved independently on the separate islands. …The lesson: Although variations occur randomly, similar ecological circumstances sometimes yield uncannily similar adaptations.
Evolutionary lensing demands that we only consider evolution as the creator of the phenomenon. Unwarranted extrapolation results in the conclusion, or “lesson,” that uncannily similar adaptations are the product of evolution. In other words: 1) evolution is fact, 2) we see a particular phenomenon, 3) explanation? – Evolution. Finally, we see a photograph of a TB-infected patient, and the heading, Medical Research: How Evolution Touches You. The text,
Bacteria and viruses evolve too. Infectious agents such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes tuberculosis, adapt quickly and acquire genetic resistance to drugs.
Rather than point out the blatant Evolutionary Lensing and unwarranted extrapolation in this set of "evidence," I will leave it for the reader to discern. The final sentences of the article succinctly reveal the overarching conclusion we must logically draw from Darwin’s theory.
Peter Kibisov, a former convict in Russia, carries two enduring remnants from his prison time: a Crucifixion tattoo and drug-resistant TB. He hopes God will help him, but evolution-based science is what guides the search for an earthly cure. (emphasis added)
At worst, God is dead; at the very least, he's unnecessary. How interesting it is that the author thinks the research for an earthly TB cure is driven by evolution-based science. Has he not considered why we humans should even care whether a weaker member of the species dies off? UPDATE: The Discovery Institute's Jonathan Wells has a review (of the National Geographic article) titled, National Geographic Ignores The Flaws in Darwin's Theory Also, check Phil Steiger's post, National Geographic and Evolution vs. Intelligent Design, at Every Thought Captive; and thanks to Greg Wallace's link at What Attitude Problem? UPDATE II: Another link / review at Everything I Know Is Wrong, and thanks to Touchstone Magazine's Mere Comments blog for the link.


DarkSyde said...

Yeah Wells is a real good source for info. You know how unbiased Moonies are :)
Now seriously Rusty, why are you trying to destroy science?
And oh hey, did you see that your creationist pal Schenko is up on charges for stealing 500g's from a fund for deaf kids? There's some values!

Anonymous said...

Let's see, we can take up an opponent's arguments and refute them, or we can just call him a name. That's convincing.

386sx said...

Yeah Wells is a real good source for info.

I don't agree.

Wells: All three categories are rife with problems that Quammen overlooks. For example, the Galápagos finch story is complicated by the fact that many of what were originally thought to be thirteen species are now interbreeding with each other -- even though Darwinian theory regards inability to interbreed as the distinguishing feature of separate species.

Not only do I not agree, I think he's a big bleeping sleazeball.

Paul said...

An interesting article showing your obvious bias Rusty. One point I picked up on:

"Has he not considered why we humans should even care whether a weaker member of the species dies off?"

There is no should.

Rusty said...


Why should I believe that?

Paul said...

You believe it, or you don't believe it. There's still no should.

Your belief, of course, doesn't affect whether it's true or not. And my belief in your god doesn't affect whether it exists or not.

Rusty said...


You believe it, or you don't believe it. There's still no should.That's just another way of answering with the word: Because!

Your appeal fails because if there is no 'should,' then there is no coherent reason for me, or anyone, to believe your statement; therefore, I don't believe it. While if there is a 'should,' then not only have you failed to provide any reason as to why that particular 'should' should be followed, the very existence of the 'should' negates your position. This is why you cannot answer my question, "Why should I believe that?" If you attempt to provide a rational answer, then you've violated the rules of your system. If you refuse to answer, then I have no basis to believe your statement.

Why is this so difficult for you to see Paul? You make an assertion, but somehow fail to notice that decisions must follow. Decisions involve choosing; choosing involves rational discernment of various options. Are you claiming that all of this occurs through strictly deterministic means?

Paul said...

There is no contradiction here, and why is that so hard for you to understand. Should implies that there is a path that you need to follow. There is no path that you need to follow. You can believe in something, or you can not believe in it, either is entirely valid, but often one of those decisions will be right and the other wrong.

There are reasons why we might want to protect weaker members of the species. There are reasons why we might want not to. You pick a reason and live by it. That decision might lead to your gene line prospering, where others fail, with some chance that the inclination towards whatever choice you made will be carried on and even amplified down the generations. But there's still no should - there's just stuff you do, and stuff that happens because of it.

The key thing here is consequences. You are free to do anything that you are physically capable of doing. All of those things will have consequences, and some of those consequences will be ones you don't like. But there's still no should.

Rusty said...


Okay, you make a pretty convincing argument as to why I should believe that there is no should… so I guess I should believe that.

On the other hand, since there’s no should then there’s no reason I should believe what you’re saying… so I won’t.

Sigh! Why should I bother discussing what I should do when I should just accept the fact that I shouldn’t continue believing that I should follow a path that isn’t there?

Paul said...

I think your need for a should that manifests itself in your faith is clouding the issue here, just as my initial confusion did when I thought that absolute morality implied that a range of things would always be considered morally wrong.

Certain things are fact, for example the sun rises in the east, my hand is larger than my daughter's, or gravity brings bodies with mass together. If you accept the concept of a fact, then it makes sense to believe in these things (or you might say 'accept' them as fact). But there isn't any should involved - believe them or not, it won't affect whether they are facts, and you're free to do as you like. Now if you don't believe in gravity and try to levitate aross a canyon there will be some consequences. But you're still free to do that.

So you don't have to accept my argument - if you don't you won't burn in hell forever, and even if you did that doesn't mean you 'should' accept my argument, it would just mean that you would prefer it if you did.

How about we try to clarify this a little - what is your understanding of the word "should"? For me I'm assuming that there are two meanings here. The first is the trivial everyday meaning, e.g. that I should eat healthier. The reason I should is that I will live a longer healthier life. That would be good, so there's an implication of should *for me*.

But there's a larger definition, which I understand in theory but don't accept as a practical reality, which is 'should' as in 'have to but won't ultimately be compelled'. It's difficult to think of an example that isn't religious - if you're a Christian then you 'should' worship your god, which is clearly qualitatively different from the idea that I 'should' brush my teeth twice a day.

It is this second idea that I'm arguing against. I think my argument is a good one (of course), and there's good reason to believe it, but there's no absolute obligation, and hence no 'should'.

Rusty said...


I think your need for a should that manifests itself in your faith is clouding the issue here

If you mean that my noetic structure influences my thoughts on this matter then I agree, it does (in the same manner your noetic structure influences your worldview). However, my argument is based not on my faith, but on the logical incoherence of your claims.

I think you are confusing "ought" in the free will sense with "required" in the deterministic sense. Being obliged to is not necessarily the same as being required to. One is not required to believe in the law of gravity, but one should (i.e., obliged) believe in it IF one wants to fare better in life. There is a consequence of the decision to believe or not believe in the law of gravity (you've said as much yourself). While everyone is free to believe or not believe in it, most everyone has decided one way or the other. Unless you are advocating that our decisions are based solely on determinism, then they are made by free will choices. A choice can only be made when there is more than one option. If there are multiple options, then a rational person will weigh the various options. The consideration given to the options is typically based on a desired outcome. The whole process reeks of "ought."

You state, I should eat healthier. The reason I should is that I will live a longer healthier life. That would be good, so there's an implication of should *for me*.

While it appears you believe in this "smaller" definition of "should," you relativize it with the *for me* clarification. What does that mean? Say I decide the following: "I should eliminate Paul. The reason I should is that I will live a longer healthier life (since Paul is consuming resources that I desire). That would be good (for me), so there's an implication of should (for me)." What do we do now? Appealing to some governmental or societal system is pointless because of the *for me* qualifier (unless, of course, you want to omit the *for me* qualifier... but then we're dangerously close to your "larger" definition).

In your "larger" definition of "should" I think you are repeating your earlier mistake of re-defining it to mean "required." You argue that it is difficult to think of an example that isn't religious, but the initial example I used in my post was the question: Has he not considered why we humans should even care whether a weaker member of the species dies off? There's no mention of religion in that question. It's based off of the altruistic actions of those who, for the most part, hold to the philosophy of naturalism. I think it's a valid question, and one whose answer you're skirting by calling the use of "should" a foul.

Here are some other examples of should that do not require religion (keep in mind that the statements are true becasue of the consequences involved):

People should believe in the law of gravity. = People have to, but won't ultimately be compelled to, believe in the law of gravity.

People should help those in need (e.g., TB patients). = People have to, but won't ultimately be compelled to, help those in need.

Husbands should remain faithful to their wives. = Husbands have to, but won't ultimately be compelled to, remain faithful to their wives.

People should refrain from murder. = People have to, but won't ultimately be compelled to, refrain from murder.

How about I call your bluff? Since your initial post claimed there is no "should" in my question regarding the treatment of TB patients, then I propose that instead of attempting to help these people, we perform genetic experimentation on them.

Paul said...

Please feel free to call the bluff. Perform the experiments, get put in prison or put to death. That's your choice.

You yourself said, there is only a 'should' if there's an 'if'. That's a pretty easy thing to go along with - I hope you understand that I acknowledge that the word 'should' exists, and that it does have a recognizable meaning. My argument is that the question of why humans should or shouldn't care if a weaker member of the species dies off isn't a 'should' question, any more than why gravity pulls bodies together is a 'should' question. People either do, or they don't. Individually they will have reasons, and those reasons will be 'should' reasons (I love this person, He hasn't finished telling that amusing story, I don't want to have to clean up the mess), but they're not humanity's reasons.

Humans have a tendency to protect the weak because that's what they do. Why should my arms be the same length? There is no should, my arms just developed that way. There are good reasons for *how* they got that way, but some obligation wasn't part of it; at no point did humanity say "Why should I keep my arms at this length". Similarly there are good reasons for why we might look after weaker members of society (which I've covered before, but might include protecting young, prompting reciprocity in nascent communities, etc) but these aren't questions of should, they're questions of how.

Rusty said...

Okay Paul, I'll let you have the last word on this thread.

While I think your argument is fatally flawed, I must admit that I've not heard such an argument before. As such, it has caused me to think about the topic in new light.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting that evolution deniers complain about the so-called fact that scientists haven't proven the fact of evolution (really it is the deniers' willing ignorance or unwarranted dismissal of the evidence), but fail to prove the existance of God.

If you are so sure that ID is right, prove God exists scientifically. If you cannot, you simply show that your denial of evolution is a religious precept. That's okay, but it doesn't make ID science.