Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A convergence of our two positions


NAL (from the Atheist Experience) has made an astonishing assertion:

The evidence for evolution does not depend, even a little, on observing macroevolution directly.
This is a brilliant escape hatch. I keep asking for observed evidence that would support Darwinism and all I get is references to the fossil record and assumptions that natural selection and mutations could over time cause lizards to turn into birds. I mean, hey, after all, mice evolve thicker fur over time!

So I'm gratified to see this admission. Science requires observing stuff happen, experimenting on it, and then trying to draw justified conclusions based on those observations. Maybe others disagree, but hey, NAL has an atheist blog and is apparently among the most fundamentalist of atheists! What do you got?

And it's great that NAL and I both agree that Darwinism is unscientific. It's always nice to find common ground.

16 comments:

NAL said...

rhoblogy:
Science requires observing stuff happen, experimenting on it, and then trying to draw justified conclusions based on those observations.

Well not always.

Conclusions about the heliocentric nature of the solar systems have been drawn even though no one has ever observed the earth revolving around the sun.

No one has ever observed a wolf turn into a Chihuahua. Does this mean the Chihuahua is not descended from the wolf?

There is direct observation of an event and there is observation of the consequences of the same event. You don't have to directly observe the earth revolving around the sun, you observe its consequences and make the heliocentric conclusion. The fossil evidence is an observation of the consequences of evolution. The DNA evidence is an observation of the consequences of common descent.

G-man said...

Nal seems to have cleared this up. Hopefully my recent comment in your previous post was also helpful.

Call dinosaur-like animals (not lizards, dummy) Point A, and modern birds Point B. There is a trail of footprints (metaphor here, remember) leading from Point A to Point B. The only way you can say something did not move from A to B is by proposing some means by which the gradual progression of foot steps can be stopped or reversed.

There's a good thing for IDers to work on to actually produce some science. They can falsify many claims of evolution and natural selection in one fell blow - is there ANY possible way for the accumulation of beneficial mutations to be stopped or reversed, such that one species does not develop from another? Because until then, you're in the intellectual red zone, Rho.

And Nal is absolutely correct on the nature of science. Imagine a scientist performing a lab experiment in front of a video camera. He eventually publishes a paper, but Rhology immediately moves to discredit it - "This stuff happened in the past! All your tests were in the past, they're not real science anymore!"

As the scientist shows Rhology the video of the experiment, Rhology responds "No, no, that's not real evidence. Just like fossils aren't evidence of past events, we can't draw conclusions from a video tape either."

Rho, you might be starting to grasp how ludicrous some of the things you say sound to me.

Chris Severn said...

We know that Pluto revolves around the sun, even though nobody has ever seen it make a complete revolution.

The observations which enable us to say that Pluto revolves around the sun are not required to be an actual observation of Pluto making a full revolution around the sun.

You're misunderstanding what an observation is. Using your own example of fossils, we observe that fossils exist, we observe their characteristics, we observe that the radioactive dating of their surroundings gives us a certain date for their placement.

Rintintin said...

Science does not require direct observation to be considered scientific - as I've told you repeatedly on other posts

If you consider indirect observation unscientific, then any claim about the world about anything older than the oldest living observer is therefore unscientific in your book. Following on from that anything older than around 100 years or so is pure speculation if direct observation is what is required.

even in modern lab science that is observed and repeated by numerous researchers involves indirect observation - noone has watched the inner workings of the cell directly, rather they have made inferences from indirect results.

A more everyday example is that noone has watched a tree grow from the point of the seed being planted until it is fully grown but I don't know anyone that would conclude that the extension is due to some force sticking bits of tree together when noone is watching.

Its also worth noting that not all evolutionary biologists could be described as Darwinists (a Darwinist being someone that believes evolution is explicable by reference to natural selection acting on sources of variation only)

Simply repeating the mantra that because noone has watched macroevolution (and some would consider speciation to be macroevolution - Douglas Futuyma certainly highlights it in his textbook as straddling the boundary between micro- and macro-) it is therefore unscientific does not make it so.

Matt said...

In support of Rhology, I think that it is important to make a distinction here between direct observations, general principles drawn from direct observations, and general principles applied to direct observations. I would posit that in science, general principles are derived from direct observations of phenomena, and ideally confirmed by repeated experimentation/observation. Scientific explanation of various specific phenomena are then given by applying the accepted general principles to the specific phenomena at hand.

Much has been made about planetary motion in the last few posts. The principles of planetary motion began in the observation of the motion of the planets and other celestial bodies, by astronomers such as Tycho Brahe. Next, general principles were derived from these observations. As a case in point, Kepler derived his laws of planetary motion from Brahe's observations. Today, we apply these principles to various phenomena that we observe. For instance, we have observed Pluto, and have observed the objects that would significantly effect its motion through space. Based on our observations of Pluto, the objects in its surrounding space, and the accepted principles of planetary motion, astronomers have calculated its orbit, and we have no reason to assert that Pluto does not circle the Sun according to the orbit that astronomers say that it follows. Indeed, we would require explicit observations to believe otherwise, for this would be an exception to the general principles that we have observed govern the motion of celestial bodies. The same can be said about other evidentiary sciences where only physical evidence is found. This evidence must be interpreted according to certain principles, and for these principles to be scientific, they must have a ground in direct, repeated, observations made at some point, that led to the establishment of those principles. If an interpretive principle of evidence is not grounded in repeated observation/experimentation performed at some point, then that interpretive principle is merely speculative, and not scientific.

So, the question for this post comes down to whether or not asserting macroevolution is scientifically justifiable, since it has not been directly observed. It should be noted that if macroevolution had been directly observed at some point and identified as such, that it would not be necessarily unjustifiable to apply it to various fossils as an appropriate explanation for changes in the fossil record. However, no such direct observations of macroevolution have ever been made. Now, science is replete with observations of DNA changes and mutations producing variations from the various "archetypes" of species, but no organisms in one species have ever been observed to mutate into another new or separate species. We have plenty of mutants and variants of species X, but have never seen X transition to Y.

So, I think that Rhology's argument (and he can correct me if I am wrong) is that the observations of microevolutional change are not sufficient to assert an explanation of macroevolutional change to the origin of the various species. It is not that change has never been observed, but that the change observed is of a different category from the change posited in macroevolutional theory, and as such, that the observed changes do not ground any general principles sufficient to explain species origin in terms of macroevolution. So, given this, the matter in question is whether or not a general principle of macroevolution can be legitimately derived from the observations and principles of microevolution. Since in the many thousands upon thousands of mutations observed in the last 100 years, not one new species has developed, I would say that it is much more reasonable to say, at this point, based on our body of experimental evidence, that such trans-species changes do not occur. This is not to say (on the basis of experience and observation alone) that such a change won't be observed in the future, but as for what we have done and seen to this point, it is more reasonable to conclude that changes in species stay within a certain standard deviation from the species "mean," and do not deviate so far away as to form new species. To say otherwise is to declare an exception to the rule that has been thus far consistently observed.

Thus, while not all scientific enquiries and inferences depend immediately upon direct experimentation, all scientific enquiry and inference must ultimately be based upon experiments performed and/or observations recorded at some point, usually in the form of general principles derived from those experiments and observations. Any inference that is not ultimately based upon a direct observation or experiment is not empirical, but merely speculative, and mere speculation is not science.

Carrie said...

Well, I was going to say something similiar to Matt, but much more simplistic. Good work, Matt.

Evolution is a decent theory based on random pieces of evidence stringed together, but it really can't be tested by proper scientific method.

From Wiki (scientific method):

Scientific method refers to the body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. It is based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. A scientific method consists of the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.

Although procedures vary from one field of inquiry to another, identifiable features distinguish scientific inquiry from other methodologies of knowledge. Scientific researchers propose hypotheses as explanations of phenomena, and design experimental studies to test these hypotheses. These steps must be repeatable in order to predict dependably any future results. Theories that encompass wider domains of inquiry may bind many hypotheses together in a coherent structure. This in turn may help form new hypotheses or place groups of hypotheses into context.

Among other facets shared by the various fields of inquiry is the conviction that the process must be objective to reduce a biased interpretation of the results.


What I see with evolution is a process that cannot be observed directly nor tested (as a whole) and a strong bias not to test a hypothesis, but prove it. These types of things seem to happen in much of science, but that doesn't make it proper science.

NAL said...

There is an everyday example of macro evolution, the varieties of dogs. If the differences between a Chihuahua and a Great Dane are not "macro" enough for you, then I don't know what is. The breeds of dogs were created by selecting individuals with certain genetic mutations, that occurred naturally, to breed. The time to create these macro changes was relatively short.

Dogs are an example of macro evolution. One can argue that dogs are all the same species, and one can argue that the macro changes did not occur by natural selection, but those arguments avoid the fact that the macro changes exist.

Rintintin said...

Evolution is a decent theory based on random pieces of evidence stringed together, but it really can't be tested by proper scientific method.

A whole world of wrong here :)

1. You seem to be conflating 'theory' with 'guess' or at least 'untested hypothesis'
2. The evidence for both natural selection, mutations (and other sources of heritable genetic variation) as well as common ancestry) is again far from just random guesswork (look up pseudogenes, endogenous retroviruses, ubiquitous genes and transposable elements as 4 examples of molecular evidence for common ancestry). Even slightly less conclusive things like all life having both the same genetic material as well as the same genetic code is slightly more than coincidence if all species are unrelated don't you think?

Scientific method refers to the body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. It is based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. A scientific method consists of the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.

I see no mention of the requirement of direct observation mentioned there, or the banning of extrapolating or inference from current data

Although procedures vary from one field of inquiry to another, identifiable features distinguish scientific inquiry from other methodologies of knowledge. Scientific researchers propose hypotheses as explanations of phenomena, and design experimental studies to test these hypotheses. These steps must be repeatable in order to predict dependably any future results. Theories that encompass wider domains of inquiry may bind many hypotheses together in a coherent structure. This in turn may help form new hypotheses or place groups of hypotheses into context.

Evolution doesn't break any of these rules either. If you think evolution is the explanation for diversity of life you can propose a hypothesis as to what happened. This allows testable experiments to be designed about what should be observed in nature if our hypothesis is correct eg if we think tetrapods are descended from fish, and this took place over a certain time period, we believe rocks in a certain part of the world (obviously I'm trying to keep things simple here) should show fossils with features intermediate between fish and tetrapods. That is what was found, thus the hypothesis was supported. I'm fairly certain Rho will mention hnery Gee at this point, so I'll quote Dr. Gee himself:

" "The Discovery Institute has used unauthorized, selective quotations from my book In Search of Deep Time to support their outdated, mistaken views."

"Neither does this mean that fossils exhibiting transitional structures do not exist, nor that it is impossible to reconstruct what happened in evolution."

- Henry Gee (emphasis mine)

remember this guy is a paleontologist/evolutionary biologist who is the editor of the world's most popular science journal Nature - realistically is it likely then that he doesn't accept fossils as evidence of descent from a common ancestor?

Among other facets shared by the various fields of inquiry is the conviction that the process must be objective to reduce a biased interpretation of the results.

What I see with evolution is a process that cannot be observed directly nor tested (as a whole) and a strong bias not to test a hypothesis, but prove it. These types of things seem to happen in much of science, but that doesn't make it proper science.

Nothing in your description of the scientific method rules out indirect observation or inference.
As an example, I'm 27 years old - is it therefore impossible for me to work out anything about the world that is older than 27 years as I could have had no way of observing it directly?

Secondly, there are around 20 papers a day published on evolution, with both a null hypothesis and experimental hypothesis detailed in each one, as well as an outline of how they will test these - what are these people doing that is dogmatic or biased if they are actively proposing and conducting experiments that can potentially falsify some or all of the theory?

G-man said...

Matt -

Very thoughtful response. However, you began by discussing *laws* and then saying macroevolution might become a law. That's what you must have meant by "a general principle of macroevolution."

Laws are facts. Theories are explanations. Macroevolution is a theory, but you seem to be suggesting that it is a Law that one species does not evolve into another - and that we can derive this from observation. Let me counter that as abruptly as I can: Speciation has indeed been observed.

While human beings have studied the subject, entirely new species of animal and plant have been observed to develop, such that the new population is unable to reproduce with the original population in the wild. Macroevolution is a theory, yes, and it has been confirmed by direct observation of natural speciation.

The only significance of Laws drawn from observation is this: any theory that violates established laws (principles) must be taken with a grain of salt and must, as in the Pluto example, be directly and unarguably observed.

Carrie -

Please recall that biological evolution is based on observed evidence and repeatable tests. Macroevolution over a larger time scale is an extrapolation of the directly observable results when applied to the fossil record.

Also key: note the distinction between gathering observable data, and actually observing the data as it happens. A footprint is observable data, just as much as a foot is.

Nal -

I think the term macro-evolution is usually applied to evolution from one species to another.

Rintintin -

Thanks for the quotes from Gee. It's not surprising to find Rho quote-mining in a morally irresponsible fashion. A person with a real devotion to learning truth would be more careful when he throws around and (mis)represents the ideas of others.

John Morales said...

Rhoblogy posted: "I keep asking for observed evidence that would support Darwinism and all I get is references to the fossil record and assumptions that natural selection and mutations could over time cause lizards to turn into birds."

Rhoblogy is being disingenuous again - a simple web search yields many examples he does not acknowledge.

Furthermore, I recall, last time he queried this isssue, pointing him to the sickle-cell anemia example.

NAL said...

g-man:
I think the term macro-evolution is usually applied to evolution from one species to another.

This is true. However, the physical differences between the Chihuahua and Great Dane, same species, are more significant than Darwin's finches, different species. Darwin's finches, with only minor beak differences, are different species because of their geographic isolation.

Determination of what constitutes a different species, leaves a lot to be desired.

The Chihuahua and Great Dane example was meant to show that large changes that are close to speciation has been observed. That these two breeds are more different than some other pairs of different species, indicates that macroevolution is not such a far fetched concept.

Rhology said...

Diff kinds of dogs are examples of MICROevolution.
I'm looking for a dog turning into a human. Something like that. Lizards into birds.

If the differences between a Chihuahua and a Great Dane are not "macro" enough for you, then I don't know what is.

For one thing, you don't know that they descended from the same organism. You assume it.
And they're both still DOGS.



Even slightly less conclusive things like all life having both the same genetic material as well as the same genetic code is slightly more than coincidence if all species are unrelated don't you think?

Why should it? That's easily accted for in a YEC model, so why is that evidence in support of Darwinianism?

I see no mention of the requirement of direct observation mentioned there, or the banning of extrapolating or inference from current data

Fine, but I don't grant the inferences you're making.
And it says this:
A scientific method consists of the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.

"Neither does this mean that fossils exhibiting transitional structures do not exist, nor that it is impossible to reconstruct what happened in evolution."

That's not really what his book says.
I'm a bit inclined, really, to think that he's been whipped into shape by the establishment.
Indeed, the whole point of the book is to tell us that Deep Time is too deep for such judgments. I can't imagine why he'd contradict his book like that except that he's been "asked" to do so.

realistically is it likely then that he doesn't accept fossils as evidence of descent from a common ancestor?

I'm not gonna imagine and speculate; I'll just cite what his book says.

is it therefore impossible for me to work out anything about the world that is older than 27 years as I could have had no way of observing it directly?

In the same way as you are able to do repeatable experiments, absolutely yes.
This is just common sense.

there are around 20 papers a day

If they all fall prey to the same problem as I've described here, whoopie do.
And how does that help us in our argument over whether macroevolution can occur?



It's not surprising to find Rho quote-mining in a morally irresponsible fashion.

Read the book, G-man.
You're dealing in sophistries to accuse me of doing so when you haven't even read it. Pitiful.


Furthermore, I recall, last time he queried this isssue, pointing him to the sickle-cell anemia example.

And I believe I had a response for that, didn't I? As long as we're not being disingenuous, John, you might want to bring that part up too!

Chris Severn said...

Diff kinds of dogs are examples of MICROevolution.
I'm looking for a dog turning into a human. Something like that. Lizards into birds.


So, Rhology. Here's how I see your definitions. Microevolution is evolution that can be observed over a human lifetime. Macroevolution is evolutions that happens over considerably more than a human lifetime.

Then, you declare that there's no proof for macroevolution because nobody has ever seen it happen over a human lifetime!!!!

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

Rhology said...

Haha, I love it. Yes, you're right.
So I'm calling for NOT ASSUMING things that haven't been observed, and you're complaining? Go ahead, assume away. See if it bothers me.
Apparently you prefer that we assume that sthg happens that we've never observed b/c it fits your pre-existing structure.
But you're inconsistent b/c you'd complain if I assumed that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ happened. Why the inconsistency?

Chris Severn said...

Rhology, evolution isn't assumed. It comes from the evidence. Mountains of independant confirming evidence.

That's why Darwin came up with his theory relatively recently. It was up until that point assumed (even by him) that the Genesis account was right.

New evidence and better theories came along.

G-man said...

A couple of points from me:

First, why shared genetic material is evidence for Darwinism but not for Creationism -

The key thing here is falsification. If we found that any life did NOT share the same genetic material, we would prove Darwinism false. Not so with Creationism, since it is not falsifiable. If everything was completely genetically unrelated (the opposite of what we observe), it would still support Creationism.

When facts indicate a conclusion, they are evidence. When they do not, they are just facts.

Second, I love how you're hiding behind the skirts of an evolutionist, Rho.

No, I haven't read Gee's book - but I'm not the one quote-mining. You are. From the moment you referenced him, I said you were misrepresenting/misunderstanding him. Turns out he publicly said that people like you would do just that. Need I say more?

"I can't imagine why he'd contradict his book like that except that he's been "asked" to do so."
Ah yes, the "I can't imagine conclusion X, therefore conclusion Y" persuasion. Nice.

I'm feeling a little better now. It's like I was in a room with a very smelly person and now that I've had a few weeks of fresh air, I can dive back in.