Thinking Christian

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Idolatry of Evolution

Posted on Jul 17, 2013 by Tom Gilson

We’ve come full circle and then some since the days of the Israelites. God warned Jeremiah (Jer. 2:27) concerning those

who say to a tree, “You are my father,”
and to a stone, “You gave me birth.”

The error is obvious. These idol worshipers were ascribing great power and personal intentionality to inanimate objects that possessed neither.

We’re much wiser now. Or are we? I wonder about those

who say to random variation, “You are our father,”
and to natural selection, “You gave us birth.”

We’re back to ascribing great power to inanimate processes — which lack even the intentionality that idols were imagined to have.

Why is the error not equally obvious?

127 Responses to “ Idolatry of Evolution ”

  1. SteveK says:

    Why is the error not equally obvious?

    Science!

  2. toddes says:

    Though those who hold to evolution as the process through which ‘life’ or living matter came into existence would deny such it seems to me that they worship at the feet of Chronos (time) and Tyche (luck).

  3. Ray Ingles says:

    We’re back to ascribing great power to inanimate processes

    Because inanimate processes never display great power?

  4. Tom Gilson says:

    What kind of great power?

  5. toddes says:

    Ray,

    What does the quasar have to do with biological evolution?

  6. SteveK says:

    What does the quasar have to do with biological evolution?

    Nothing, but Ray seems to like arguing for the sake of arguing.

  7. Ray Ingles says:

    Toddes – Actually, I was asking the same question Tom Gilson asked. The word ‘power’ is being used rather flexibly here. Not unlike your idiosyncratic use of the word ‘worship’, really.

  8. Victoria says:

    From the online Mirriam-Webster Dictionary definition of ‘worship’ (see here

    chiefly British : a person of importance —used as a title for various officials (as magistrates and some mayors)
    2
    : reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power; also : an act of expressing such reverence
    3
    : a form of religious practice with its creed and ritual
    4
    : extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem

    toddes’ use of the word is not so idiosyncratic at all.

  9. SteveK says:

    Ray,
    What’s so vague about Tom’s use of the word ‘power’? In context it seems clear he is talking about the power to father, or give birth. I suppose that’s why Tom asked his question in #4 that you never answered. The suspense is killing me…

  10. Keith says:

    “Why is the error not equally obvious?”

    That definitely qualifies as an argument from personal incredulity.

    I know it’s difficult sometimes, but can Christians really not give in on this fight?

    Evolution happened. The argument has been over for decades, and “irreducible complexity” is a last-ditch trench so far behind the front-lines of where the war started as to be historically invisible.

    Here’s a cheat sheet.

    Why can’t we agree evolution doesn’t matter the slightest bit to the Christian faith?

    Is God required to perform “creation” the way we might think (and write) about it?

    How can it matter if God used evolution to accomplish His purpose?

    (That’s a serious question, by-the-way, I’d be interested in an answer, if it matters to you.)

    Nobody argues the laws of physics didn’t allow rainbows to happen until after the world-wide flood… so why is it so hard to accept evolution as fact and move on?

  11. Melissa says:

    Keith @10

    The error is not in thinking that evolution as a mechanism happened which renders the rest of your comment irrelevant to the question. Are you deliberately trying to move the conversation away from what is (in spite of the determined avoidance of most atheists) a major challenge to the atheistic worldview?

  12. bigbird says:

    @Keith

    Evolution happened. The argument has been over for decades

    Exactly when was the argument over? What happened at that point that made the argument over? Who decided the argument was over?

    And since when did science mean theories can’t be questioned?

    And BTW, evolution is not like the laws of physics. No matter how much evolutionists love comparing it to gravity, physicists just don’t compare gravity to evolution. One is a law, one is not.

  13. Ananya_p says:

    Mr. Gilson,

    I would say that my father is my father and that my mother gave me birth.

    Do you have any evidence that there are any of “those” who say what you ascribe to them?

    If not, this just looks like an attempt to stack metaphors along with two common misrepresentations. The first is that evolution happens to individual organisms, while the second is that scientists “believe” in evolution in some religious sense, instead of accepting it provisionally as with all theories.

    As for ascribing great power, from your hostility to evolutionary biology, it seems that you are trying to pretend that philosophical arguments and tortured analogies have much greater persuasive power than evidence.

  14. Tom Gilson says:

    Keith, there is incredulity in my question, “why is the error not equally obvious?” With respect to what, however? The argument from incredulity says something like, “I can’t imagine how your position could be true, therefore it isn’t.” That’s not what I was expressing. Rather than spelling it out for you I’ll let you look at it again, and I’m confident you’ll see it.

    Further, as Melissa said, this brief piece wasn’t about whether evolution happened. This was about whether random variation and natural selection are sufficient explanations of where we came from. That discussion is far from over.

    What does it matter whether God used evolution? Nothing, from my perspective. I’m not sure the matter is settled as securely as you say it is, so I’m suspending judgment on it. I get a little concerned about theistic evolution’s tendency to drift into plain-old-naturalistic-evolution with just a dash of God sprinkled on top. Other than that, though, the issue in my mind isn’t common descent or change over time, it’s whether a naturalistic account of it all is adequate.

  15. Tom Gilson says:

    Ananya, this was a piece of figurative language. So yes, in the same or parallel figurative sense that the ancients described in Jeremiah said what was ascribed to them in the first couplet, there are those today who say what I ascribed to them.

    I didn’t represent either of the things you said I had misrepresented; you read that into the metaphors.

    Philosophical arguments are not distinct from evidence; I hope you knew that. But this short blog post wasn’t what you seem to think it was. It wasn’t setting up any analogy against evidence. It was raising a question about whether RV and NS are sufficient to explain our existence. I don’t think they are, but I didn’t make that argument here, I just pointed out an irony in believing that they are.

    I do find, however, that many scientists insist that evolution is “fact, FACT, FACT!” to quote Michael Ruse on the subject. Or as the NAS says, “scientists no longer question whether evolution has occurred.” The only questions they’re raising are about mechanisms and other details. I don’t know what you mean by “some religious sense,” but if you mean unquestioning, then evolutionary beliefs among scientists fit the description equally as well as my religious beliefs do, for I’m not averse to asking questions either.

    I welcome you to this website, and I hope you will stick around. I don’t think you’ll find me hostile.

  16. Ray Ingles says:

    Victoria –

    toddes’ use of the word is not so idiosyncratic at all.

    Toddes – which meaning did you have in mind? Victoria, which meaning do you suppose toddes had in mind?

    (Serious questions, there.)

  17. Ray Ingles says:

    SteveK –

    What’s so vague about Tom’s use of the word ‘power’? In context it seems clear he is talking about the power to father, or give birth.

    Tom Gilson hasn’t corrected you, so I’ll assume that really is what he meant. Which is what I wanted explicitly acknowledged.

    Now, one final question – for you, or Tom, or anyone who wants to tackle it. What is “the error” being referred to in the last line of the post? Can anyone phrase it explicitly?

  18. toddes says:

    Two and four.

    It seemed proper in the context given my use of the Greek gods to represent the foundations of evolution, i.e, immeasurable spans of time and random variation.

    Also, in my mind, due to the great devotion that most evolutionists seem to place on Science (as opposed to the scientific process. They have, in effect, deified the process, the tool as a Giver of Knowledge. “Science has shown…, Science tells us…., Science will reveal…, etc.”)

    Of course, it would be easy to brush this off as just a linguistic shortcut but at the same time it tends to ignore the fallible, human component of scientific inquiry. Science, philosophy, logic, mathematics are not infallible. They are tools for discovery, clarification and understanding. Nothing more.

  19. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Ray Ingles:

    Now, one final question – for you, or Tom, or anyone who wants to tackle it. What is “the error” being referred to in the last line of the post? Can anyone phrase it explicitly?

    Nor random variation nor natural selection are beings with causal powers that can produce anything, much less us. Causal powers exhibit teleology, or otherwise they are not powers at all, since it becomes unintelligible why power X produces Y (or a range of Ys) rather than W or Z. Tom said as much in the sentence before the last one.

    Or are you having us believe that there is a thing out there that goes by the name “random variation” or that “natural selection” is a sort of feral spirit with actual, efficient powers?

  20. Ananya_p says:

    Dear Mr. Gilson,

    Thank you for your reply.

    I’m afraid that both cases you offered were simple assertions that the phenomenon of evolution is true, which don’t constitute worship to me. But even granting that you can stretch assertion into worship, your post asserted that some worship the mechanisms, not the phenomenon. Are you unfamiliar with the distinction? That hardly seems likely, given that it was emphasised in the NAS quote.

    As the NAS noted, don’t evolutionary biologists question themselves about the mechanisms, if not the phenomenon, all the time by testing theories and hypotheses? I’d have to describe that as the antithesis of unquestioning and believing. Or were you referring to someone other than practicing scientists?

    Finally, if your point was to question whether RV and NS are sufficient, wouldn’t that question be better addressed by the evidence? And even if you personally found those mechanisms to be sufficient, how would that in any way exclude the divine?

  21. Ananya_p says:

    Dear toddes,

    I have to say that I’ve never seen anything resembling what you call the “deification” of science in the scientific literature. Surely if this a characteristic of “most evolutionists” (presuming you mean evolutionary biologists), you could provide multiple examples of the same!

    I would also say that not only have I never seen this linguistic shortcut, but I can assure you that the scientific literature is replete with conclusions that other scientists, and sometimes (but less often) the authors themselves, are fallible!

  22. Tom Gilson says:

    Hi, Ananya.

    I didn’t mention worship. You read that in.

    My statement concerning the NAS was for one purpose only: to answer what you said about scientists accepting evolution provisionally. There are aspects that they still question, as I noted, but there is nothing provisional about their acceptance of the overall framework. That’s all I meant to say about that.

    RV and NS exclude God if they are taken to be the entire explanation. If the explanation is RV plus NS with God’s involvement, then that’s a different situation entirely. I was not referring in this post to people who take that to be the case, though; I was referring to those who insist that RV plus NS (and, by metonymy, other related mechanisms like genetic drift) — purely naturalistic processes, entirely — constitute the entire explanation.

    I’m glad you’re asking for clarification, because so far it seems what you’re objecting to in this post are things I didn’t say, or didn’t mean to say at any rate. Figurative language has its ambiguities, so it’s not surprising some things need to be clarified.

  23. Tom Gilson says:

    BTW, I’m unaware of any evidence demonstrating that RV plus NS are actually sufficient for life as we see it. I see suggestions of that in the evidence, but nothing direct. Lenski’s experiments at MSU have failed to produce much direct evidence, for example, and genuine speciation involving the development of new biological structures and functions has never been observed, except in a very limited number of highly controversial cases. There’s a great deal of extrapolation from the observable evidences to the conclusion that RV and NS are sufficient explanations of the phenomena. Further, it would be impossible from the observed evidences to prove God was uninvolved, even if we had seen real speciation.

    Update 7/21: see comment #73

  24. Ananya_p says:

    Dear Mr. Gilson,

    You did indeed mention worship. It’s in the title of your post–idolatry! And we still haven’t been presented with a single case of anyone worshiping, as in idolatry, evolutionary mechanisms.

    I’m not sure what you’re saying about the NAS statement. I asked you about the important distinction between the phenomenon of evolution and the mechanisms, but you didn’t address that at all. The term “overall framework” strikes me as an oxymoron. Can you explain that more specifically? For example, wouldn’t the overall framework of common descent include genes?

    I really don’t think that the distinction between sufficiency and entirety is merely a figurative one. It’s quite substantive, but you seem to be treating them as synonymous.

    And my point about evidence wasn’t to get you to offer your opinion of the evidence, but to get you to reconsider your approach. I’m not sure what your saying that you are unaware of any evidence accomplishes unless you’ve done an exhaustive analysis of the evidence yourself. Is that what you are saying?

  25. Ray Ingles says:

    G. Rodrigues –

    Nor random variation nor natural selection are beings with causal powers that can produce anything, much less us. Causal powers exhibit teleology, or otherwise they are not powers at all, since it becomes unintelligible why power X produces Y (or a range of Ys) rather than W or Z.

    Which depends rather a lot on how one defines “beings”, “causal powers”, and “teleology”. Even Prof. Feser grants that tendencies don’t mean intentionality. A match doesn’t intend to combust! Just so, variation and selection don’t have to intend anything to produce effects. (We’ve talked a bit about this sort of thing before.)

  26. Ray Ingles says:

    Toddes –

    Two and four.

    So… “reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power” and “extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem”?

    The first seems disqualified by the ‘divine’ or ‘supernatural’ adjectives, let alone the ‘reverence’ one. Exactly how is the reverence shown? What sacrifices are presented, obesiances made, rituals carried out, prayers offered?

    How is ‘respect’ shown (let alone ‘extravagant respect’)? ‘Admiration’? ‘Devotion’? Even if you were correct about science (and I’m with Ananya_p and her skepticism on that one) you’ve offered no examples for ‘time’ and ‘chance’.

    (Or am I as free to disbelieve you as I am Tom?)

  27. toddes says:

    I’m sorry to disappoint, Ananya_p, but I am referring to the proponents of evolution that I encounter on blogs and comment boards (and any scientific journal that let such language through would hardly be considered professional) so any examples provided would be individual opinions or anecdotal. (Paraphrasing: “I’ve got a PhD in Biology and anyone who thinks that religion can tell us how life originated is nuts. Only science can do that.)

    I was offering an opinion based on personal experience (thus the use of the term “in my mind”), not attempting to make a universal claim.

  28. toddes says:

    Ray, you can disbelieve me as much as you want. I have never considered your opinion of me or my comments of any consequence.

    As I stated: Two due to the association with the Greek gods I used. Consider it poetic license if you will or must you take everything literally? Please consider the context and the imagery used and stop with the faux obtuseness.

    And definition four due to the unquestioning devotion to the two elements I named. Without either one, evolution as currently understood, falls apart. Try and introduce purpose into the process of evolution and you’re accused of being a non-scientist, a religionist or even worse, a Creationist. (Still wondering what authority Jerry Coyne has in the hiring process or teacher retention of Ball State).

    Also, you have yet to answer what a quasar has to do with evolution?

  29. Melissa says:

    Ananya_p,

    You did indeed mention worship. It’s in the title of your post–idolatry!

    Idolatry in the Christian sense means putting anything else in the place that only God can occupy in our lives, therefore to claim anything else as our creator is to commit adultery in the technical sense.

  30. Melissa says:

    Ray,

    Which depends rather a lot on how one defines “beings”, “causal powers”, and “teleology”. Even Prof. Feser grants that tendencies don’t mean intentionality. A match doesn’t intend to combust! Just so, variation and selection don’t have to intend anything to produce effects.

    You are correct in your first sentence but you missed the thrust of G. Rodriguez point which was that variation and selection are not beings , therefore they cannot “do” anything.

  31. Melissa says:

    @Ananya_p,

    In the last sentence it should be idolatry not adultery, typing on my phone and the auto-correct kicked in. Although it’s not out of line with the language of the prophets in the OT.

  32. Ananya_p says:

    Dear Melissa,

    I’m not sure what distinction you’re trying to make here.

    Idolatry is defined as a form of worship, is it not? Isn’t that the case whether one is using the term in a Christian or even a Hindu sense?

  33. Tom Gilson says:

    No, idolatry is defined as she stated it in #29.

    Or perhaps actually you could say it is a form of worship, but with an extended understanding of “worship.” See definition #4 here. That would be consistent with her definition in #29.

  34. Ananya_p says:

    Dear Mr. Gilson,

    My dictionary starts with the simple “the worship of idols.” As for your definition, #2 applies as well, with the idol as a vehicle.

    Also, you did quite literally mention “worship” in your post in addition to “idolatry” in the title. You used the term “idol worshipers”!

  35. Melissa says:

    Ananya_P,

    I’m not sure what distinction you’re trying to make here.

    Idolatry is defined as a form of worship, is it not? Isn’t that the case whether one is using the term in a Christian or even a Hindu sense?

    Idolatry is defined as I stated in #29. Given this definition, to make the claim that natural selection and random variation created us, is to commit idolatry. Idolatry need not be accompanied by actions that “constitute worship to” you (from your #20). Tom’s accusation in the OP was one of idolatry, your argument that you don’t see anything that would constitute worship according to your definition, is therefore, at best, tangential to the point Tom was making.

  36. Ananya_p says:

    Dear Melissa,

    Has anyone made the claim? If not, what’s the point?

    And Tom did quite literally describe the passage as referring to as idol worship, so I would argue that worship is central to the point Mr Gilson is making.

    The bigger problem is that he appears to be going off on an entirely hypothetical claim.

  37. Melissa says:

    Ananya_P,

    And Tom did quite literally describe the passage as referring to as idol worship, so I would argue that worship is central to the point Mr Gilson is making.

    Just because tom describes the passage as referring to idol worship does not make worship central to the point he is making. Retread the OP and you will see it is quite clear that the commonality that ties the two groups together in Tom’s opinion, is that they both wrongly ascribe great power- the power of the Creator to things.

    Granted, Tom uses some poetic license when he describes the claim of the modern day idolaters (you do understand how figurative language works?) but it wouldn’t take much to find real claims of real people that ascribe the power of creation to unintentional natural processes, some even claim “nothing” has creative power.

  38. Ananya_p says:

    Dear Melissa,

    I’m quite familiar with idolatry, as my mother is Catholic and my father is Hindu. I’m also quite familiar with figurative language for the same reasons.

    Assuming that you or Mr. Gilson found the real claims of real people (of real consequence), wouldn’t you be fair and grant those people the same poetic license you demand I grant Mr. Gilson before condemning them as practitioners of idolatry?

  39. Melissa says:

    Ananya_P,

    Assuming that you or Mr. Gilson found the real claims of real people (of real consequence), wouldn’t you be fair and grant those people the same poetic license you demand I grant Mr. Gilson before condemning them as practitioners of idolatry?

    Let’s look though at a real quote from Richard Dawkins:

    “Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life”

    I read that to mean that natural selection is the explanation for the existence and form of all life. Dawkins is ascribing to natural selection powers that are solely God’s (ie he is committing idolatry). Perhaps you should explain to us how we are wrong.

  40. Tom Gilson says:

    Ananya, you really do seem to be demonstrating a tendency to take figurative speech in a more literal sense than intended.

    Let me get down to hair-splitting now. Since you are leading the way there, it seems I must follow. But I’ll only stay here a moment, since it’s not the level on which this post was written.

    I did mention “idol worshippers.” I did not mention “worship.” When I brought up idol worshippers, it was to highlight the kind of people they were: superstitious animists. I did not refer to their practice of worship, but rather to their mistaken view of their own origins. So here is the literal-form exegesis of the figurative intent of my blog post.

    There was a people in ancient times who ascribed unbelievable and incredible powers to trees and rocks, identifying them and other natural entities like them as the source of their being. Obviously inanimate objects could never do that! Not only were these people extremely and (to our minds) very embarrassingly wrong about the facts of nature, they were even idol worshippers. That places them in a class that is not only erroneous but even ridiculed by anti-religious naturalistic evolutionists.

    But naturalistic evolutionists ascribe exactly the same degree of power — the power to bring all biological nature into being — to the inanimate processes of random variation and natural selection. There’s a parallelism there that invites the reader to consider whether that ascription is any more likely to be true than those ridiculed idolaters’ was.

    Is it clear now?

    Note to other readers: please read the OP; I said it much better there, in spite of some ambiguities that I’ve hoped to clear up in this comment.

  41. Ananya_p says:

    Dear Melissa,

    Let’s look at the obviously metaphorical passages before and after the part you chose to quote, then I’d appreciate it if you kindly answered my question about poetic license.

    I don’t see any hint of worship in the part you chose to quote. Nor do I see anything figuratively resembling “You are our father,” nor “You gave us birth.”

    For that matter, it’s not even technically accurate as it omits the requirement for heritable variation. Selection is utterly powerless without it.

    And finally, would you kindly provide me with an authoritative Christian theological citation for your definition in #29? I’ve never seen such a broad definition before. It seems to include a great many things that I would never describe as idolatry.

    I am fascinated by your last statement: “Dawkins is ascribing to natural selection powers that are solely God’s (ie he is committing idolatry). Perhaps you should explain to us how we are wrong.”

    I would explain to you that unless you are denying the very existence of natural selection, it is necessarily one of God’s powers. Mr. Gilson clearly isn’t denying its existence. Are you?

  42. Tom Gilson says:

    Ananya, I am aware I did not answer all of your #24. Much of it was addressed toward something I had said parenthetically (that’s why I started #23 with “BTW”). I wasn’t sure I was understanding all of #24 correctly anyway. You’re welcome to try again, although I want you to be aware that this blog post was (a) not intended to be treated as a technical work, and (b) probably more intended for people who are aware that, for example, evolutionists’ ascription of creative power to RV and NS is not figurative.

  43. Tom Gilson says:

    My exegesis in #40 is probably also relevant to Ray and Toddes’s conversation.

  44. Tom Gilson says:

    Ananya @#41, your continual nit-picking misses the point. You seem to be trying to defend something you don’t even understand yourself. Anyone who was aware of the literature would know that heritable variation was in the background of what Dawkins said in that quote. I’m really astonished that you would complain that that was left out. Everyone who knows the current public discussion on evolution knows that Dawkins believes that.

    No one with a passing awareness of Christian discussion on idolatry, or with standard English usage of “worship” in non-religious contexts, would demand “an authoritative Christian theological citation.”

    Further, you’re displaying unawareness that this was not that kind of blog post in the first place. It’s not technical literature.

    Melissa, it’s up to you what you do, but from this point on I’m not going to consider myself bound to respond to Ananya’s repeated demands for detailed justifications of common knowledge. It seems more like s/he is trying to keep me busy than trying to help advance a discussion.

    Ananya, you’re still welcome to comment here, but I urge you to do some of your own work, too. You could find that “authoritative Christian theological citation” on your own quite easily. You could find that naturalistic evolutionists really do believe that NS and RV are the total explanation for life (along with some other processes by metonymy, as I mentioned previously).

    And please, do treat this as figurative rather than technical literature.

  45. Ananya_p says:

    Dear Mr. Gilson,

    I’m afraid that your parallelism is anything but clear.

    First, evolutionary mechanisms can only function after there exists a population of replicating entities that vary in heritable ways. They can never explain how that population first came to be. In other words, evolutionary mechanisms only explain the diversity of life.

    I’m confused by your use of the term “inanimate processes.” The first process you cite, heritable (your use of “random” here is incorrect) variation, is not a process but simply a measurable property of populations of animate organisms. I’m not seeing any relevance of “inanimate” to your point anyway, as many of the objects of idolatry are animate.

    As I explained to Melissa, if natural selection exists it is necessarily one of God’s powers. If heritable variation, a property, exists, it must be a result of God’s powers. Are you claiming that it constitutes idolatry because Dawkins doesn’t explicitly attribute these to God? If so, it seems much ado about nothing since he is an atheist!

  46. Tom Gilson says:

    Ananya, I’m afraid it still seems like you are trying to keep me busy turning a short metaphorical parallelism into a technical treatise. I decline to participate in that.

  47. Ray Ingles says:

    toddes –

    Consider it poetic license if you will or must you take everything literally?

    Can I have one of those licenses too? Actually, being interpreted literally would be a step up around here. :-)

    Try and introduce purpose into the process of evolution and you’re accused of being a non-scientist, a religionist or even worse, a Creationist.

    Well, so far all of those attempts have in fact failed. ID’s poster children – the bacterial flagellum, the vertebrate immune system and the vertebrate clotting cascade, etc. – all seem to have evolutionary precursors and are not, in fact, irreducibly complex. It’s not that purpose is completely excluded – it’s that, a la Laplace, we’ve had no need of that hypothesis.

    (Still wondering what authority Jerry Coyne has in the hiring process or teacher retention of Ball State).

    Glad to hear you think like P.Z. Meyers!

    Also, you have yet to answer what a quasar has to do with evolution?

    Sure I did. I was – by means of a rhetorical device – making sure Tom had to be explicit about the kind of power he was talking about. “Consider it poetic license if you will”.

  48. toddes says:

    Ray,

    Mostly off topic so this will be my final comment in this thread.

    There is a significant difference between coming to a similar conclusion in relation to a specific situation and “think[ing] like P.Z. Meyers[sic].” Hopefully, no ill will was intended on your part in trying to compare me with Myers.

    It wasn’t the hypothesis of purpose that Laplace had no need of but God’s intervention at a determinate point.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre-Simon_Laplace#I_had_no_need_of_that_hypothesis

    Finally, Tom was explicit about the kind of power under discussion. The topic was evolution and the powers attributed to natural selection and random variation to create/generate life. Linking to an article about quasars employed no rhetorical device much less the use of poetic license.

  49. Ray Ingles says:

    Melissa –

    …variation and selection are not beings , therefore they cannot “do” anything.

    By that definition of ‘being’, a tornado isn’t real, either. It’s just something air does.

    If a tornado’s headed your way, though, even if it’s not a ‘being’ I still recommend seeking shelter.

  50. Tom Gilson says:

    Ouch. That hurts. (Not necessarily the way you think it hurts.)

    Ray, could you clarify what you think she’s saying is the definition of being? You seem to think you know, and I’d like to hear what you’re thinking.

  51. Ray Ingles says:

    Variation, selection, and tornadoes are all processes. They supervene on things – variation and selection on things that reproduce, tornadoes on air. If variation and selection are not held to be ‘beings’ with ‘powers’, then I can’t see how one could say that a tornado is a being with the power to “‘do’ anything”.

  52. Tom Gilson says:

    I’m afraid you didn’t answer my question, Ray.

  53. Tom Gilson says:

    You might also need to check your understanding of supervenience.

  54. Melissa says:

    Ananya_P,

    I don’t see any hint of worship in the part you chose to quote. Nor do I see anything figuratively resembling “You are our father,” nor “You gave us birth.”

    You do not see a hint if worship because the quote was chosen to demonstrate idolatry as defined earlier not worship. The fact that you were unaware of the the very broad understanding of idolatry that is the common understanding of the word within the Christian community seems to have caused some confusion for you. You are aware now and yet you continue to equivocate over the term which is a fallacy. I’ve explained why those statements are idolatry according to the common Christian understanding of the term and unless you have further points to add that don’t amount to a disagreement over whether they are idolatry according to you definition then there is nothing more for me to say on this.

    I would explain to you that unless you are denying the very existence of natural selection, it is necessarily one of God’s powers. Mr. Gilson clearly isn’t denying its existence. Are you?

    No natural selection is not necessarily one of God’s powers, that would depend on what concept you have of God, but your explanation does not touch on Dawkins insistence that it natural processes are a sufficient explanation for the existence and form of all life, and in fact everything that exists.

    I think though we have done enough nit-picking at the edges if the OP, what do you think about the central point – that the assertion that the existence of all life is explained by reference solely to unintentional natural processes is absurd.

  55. Melissa says:

    Ray,

    You’ve seen some selection and variation pass your way lately have you?

  56. Ray Ingles says:

    Melissa – Yup, in my kid’s antibiotic-resistant ear infection. I really hope he can go back in the pool Monday.

    Tom – I can’t answer it, for the reasons I stated. Melissa could, by actually putting forth a definition of ‘being’ that differentiated between tornadoes on the one hand and variation and selection on the other. She hasn’t taken the opportunity, though.

  57. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, my request was, “to clarify what you think she’s saying is the definition of being. You seem to think you know, and I’d like to hear what you’re thinking”.

    Obviously you have an opinion on what Melissa said. Obviously you think you understand it well enough to produce what you consider to be a defeater to what she said.

    I think you ought to be able to explain what you’re thinking without having to have Melissa explain what she’s thinking first.

  58. Tom Gilson says:

    RE: #56 and #57: what color was this variation and selection that you saw? How many nanometers across was it?

    Or, assuming you couldn’t see it with the naked eye, or you didn’t bother to look in your child’s middle ear with an otoscope, imagine that you did look in there with an otoscope, perhaps a magnifying otoscope (we’re using our imagination here, after all). Does your imagination permit you to assign a color to that variation and selection? Do you suppose it could possibly have been red, or green, or blue, or any mixture of those colors? Do you suppose it would have been as large as the infection itself? Larger? Smaller? Can you imagine variation and selection having any size? Would it be larger in an elephant’s ear than your child’s?

  59. Tom Gilson says:

    Let me now move on to describing the form of the error you are committing. Variation is not a substance, a being with causal powers. G. Rodrigues said that first. You replied that that “depends on a lot on how we define” these things. But there are accurate and inaccurate definitions, and there is no accurate definition by which variation or selection have substantial being. Variation is a property of populations (or genes, or individuals, or whatever) over time (in the case of random variation as used in this context). Properties have being, but only in a causally effete (non-potent, ineffective) mode of being. “Red” doesn’t cause anything. Red light can cause things, but not mere red. Similarly variation cannot cause anything; it is the substances that are varying that cause things.

    Natural selection has (if anything) even less substantial being, as it is merely a name given describing a tautological process, the survival and reproduction of that which survives and reproduces. Having no substantial being, variation and selection cannot in themselves have causal powers.

    Again, that’s not to deny that organisms (genes, populations, whatever) can vary. That “variation” is not, however, the cause of some effect, it is a description of some effect produced by some substantial cause.

  60. Ananya_p says:

    Dear Melissa,

    I’ve seen no evidence that your peculiar definition of idolatry even exists in the Christian community (and yes, Mr. Gilson, I’ve looked). Furthermore, I pointed out that the parallelism isn’t there, independent of your peculiar definition.

    Then you seem to run away from embracing a Christian view of God when I pointed out that natural selection is necessarily one of God’s powers!

    How can this be a parallelism if we have to change our frame of reference in and out of Christianity multiple times to follow it?

    Dear Mr. Gilson,

    You write of accurate vs. inaccurate definitions, but your definition of natural selection is anything but accurate, and your strange insistence on inserting “random” makes your definition of variation inaccurate as well. Variation also does not have the restriction over time as you claimed, as we can both measure and describe it statically.

    I think that these inaccuracies may represent a greater problem with your attempt to construct a parallelism than your overly-broad definition of idolatry.

  61. Melissa says:

    Ananya_P,

    I’ve seen no evidence that your peculiar definition of idolatry even exists in the Christian community (and yes, Mr. Gilson, I’ve looked).

    The fact that two people in two different Christian communities on opposite sides of the globe agree on my “peculiar” definition of idolatry is evidence that the definition exists in the Christian community. If you don’t want to believe members of the Christian community on the topic of what many members of the Christian community believe then there is nothing I can do to convince you. You are obviously going to believe what you want in spite of any evidence to the contrary. I will not be pursuing this topic again. Especially since you either have not grasped the main point or are deliberately going off topic.

    Then you seem to run away from embracing a Christian view of God when I pointed out that natural selection is necessarily one of God’s powers!

    I am running away from nothing, especially not the Christian view of God. I disagree that the process of natural selection is necessarily one of God’s powers. There are several views on how God acts through primary and secondary causes. You seem to be advocating occasionalism which I would disagree with.

  62. Ananya_p says:

    Dear Mr. Gilson,

    I don’t understand your hostility and declining to participate in discussion. After all, you asked your readers at the end of your post, “Why is the error not equally obvious?”

    I am simply trying to answer your question.

  63. Bsquibs says:

    Melissa’s definition of idolatry is one that I’m familiar with. Indeed, it seems to be an important theme running throughout the Bible.

    Also, I’ve not detected a trace of hostility from Tom towards you. That you think otherwise makes me wonder if you aren’t looking to play the the righteous indignation card. People have responded to you in a respectful manner while also refusing to get dragged off on the rabbit trails that you have been busy creating.

    In short, your motives are in question here.

  64. Tom Gilson says:

    Ananya,

    As long as prominent public purveyors of naturalistic evolutionary theory — the persons toward whom this post was directed — use the term “random variation,” and as long as you continue simply to tell me I’m wrong without explanation, I will continue to feel justified in speaking of it.

    Variation may be measurable statically but in the sense that is arguably most relevant to evolution, it occurs over time. (Even static variation, however, is a property, not a substance, so either way it’s causally effete; your objection carries no weight in the overall flow of the discussion, even if it’s true.)

    These things again are common knowledge for those who are familiar with the literature; just like other points you have questioned me on.

    My intent for limiting my participation with you has not hostile. I do not think the manner in which I explained it was hostile either. Although I do acknowledge pointing out to you some illegitimate things I think you have been doing in this conversation, I think you’ll agree I spoke it much less sharply than it could have been said.

  65. Tom Gilson says:

    Ananya, I think it might be helpful for you to review for yourself what you have done here. I’m not directing this toward the argument per se. I’m actually asking you to take a look at yourself instead of the argument for a moment — although of course I do have to refer to what has been written here.

    So let me first call some things to your attention.

    You have called on me to agree with you that “random variation” is strictly the wrong word, or in other words that there is no relevant sense in which the term is correct. That’s a strong claim, and it happens to be one that Richard Dawkins (among others, e.g. at Berkeley) would contradict. Maybe you think they’re wrong; I don’t know, because you haven’t said anything about that. Instead you’ve simply called on me to agree with you, based on nothing but your assertion. Bare assertions are (at least sometimes) fine from qualified authorities, but you have told us nothing about yourself; we have no clue concerning whether you are an authority on this.

    At the same time you have demanded of us that we provide “authoritative citations in Christian theology” to show that the broadly accepted and highly authoritative Merriam-Webster is not wrong in one of its definitions of idolatry.

    Having called that to your attention, I ask you now, do you see the contrast? You act as if we should accept the unknown (to us) person Ananya as an authority on a claim that’s really quite doubtful (in view of its being correct only if every relevant use of “random variation” is wrong, and also in view of prominent evolutionists’ use of the term). Yet you will not accept our word (my credentials are easy to find on this website), or even the much more authoritative M-W’s, on a fairly ordinary claim.

    Your stance here toward us and toward knowledge is highly asymmetrical. It is also demanding. You want us to accept your word simply as is, yet when we make an assertion, you expect us to go deep into the technical literature to prove it.

    Had you noticed that about yourself?

  66. Tom Gilson says:

    BTW, re: idolatry, Colossians 3:5.

  67. JAD says:

    Here’s Panda’s Thumb quoting from a letter by 38 Nobel Prize Lauareates:

    In September 2005 I and 38 other Nobel Laureates wrote the Kansas State Board of Education in defense of science and education. We urged the Board to reject proposed science standards that were to include alternatives to evolution as explanations for the origin of species. I was disappointed that the Board voted to adopt the proposed standards on November 8,2005. As we stated then, evolution is not a theory, as the term “theory of evolution” seems to indicate, but rather is based upon compelling scientific evidence and is the foundation of much of modern biology…

    Logically derived from confirmable evidence, evolution is understood to be the result of an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection. As the foundation of modem biology, its indispensable role has been further strengthened by the capacity to study DNA. In contrast, intelligent design is fundamentally unscientific; it cannot be tested as scientific theory because its central conclusion is based on belief in the intervention of a supernatural agent.

    http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2006/03/-kansas-usd-383.html

    In other words, that’s how 38 Nobel Prize Lauareates understand the process of evolution. “Random Variation” was/is part of their vocabulary.

  68. Walter says:

    So from #29, does that mean that anyone who does not believe that God does all the things you believe He does is an idolater? That seems like such a broad definition of idolatry that many people will misunderstand. As we see in this thread.

  69. Melissa says:

    Walter,

    Idolatry is considered to cover a broad range of actions and attitudes. I think generally misunderstandings happen because we l have a background understanding of various terms and that might vary. For instance your misunderstanding above in thinking my definition was centered on what God does. That is not the case, rather it was centered on who God is and on the powers that are solely God’s.

  70. Ananya_p says:

    Dear Mr. Gilson,

    Let’s go back to Melissa’s claim:

    Given this definition, to make the claim that natural selection and random variation created us, is to commit idolatry,

    Yet when you state,

    What does it matter whether God used evolution? Nothing, from my perspective, and

    BTW, I’m unaware of any evidence demonstrating that RV plus NS are actually sufficient for life as we see it. I see suggestions of that in the evidence, but nothing direct,

    doesn’t your seeing of suggestions make you also guilty of idolatry to a lesser degree?

    What if you examined the evidence and became convinced? Would you then be just as guilty of idolatry?

    Again, keep in mind that you asked why this alleged error was not obvious.

    As for “random variation,” there is an enormous asymmetry as you clearly are using the term in a theologically loaded and highly relevant sense, so you have a greater duty to use it accurately; throwing off a tu quoque doesn’t work here. Those who are quoted are generally using it as shorthand and not theologically. I would further point out that evolutionary biologists are often not geneticists.

    The other thing that I have brought up that still puzzles me was best summarised by Melissa in #11, calling this “a major challenge to the atheistic worldview,” which makes no sense because atheists wouldn’t, nor shouldn’t, care on bit about accusations of idolatry. The only people who should find this theologically challenging are adherents to Abrahamic religions. Yet you haven’t cited any of those saying what you are attributing to them, and Melissa only came up with a quote from an atheist.

    Do you see that if God created life and evolution was sufficient to create us, that random variation and natural selection are NOT sufficient explanations of where we came from?

    Do you see that if God created life through chemical means and evolution was sufficient to create us, that random variation and natural selection are still NOT sufficient explanations of where we came from?

    Do you see that if two natural processes have been found sufficient to produce something, that they have not been shown to be the entire reason, and therefore this cannot possibly exclude the omnipotent, Christian God?

  71. Melissa says:

    ??

    You needn’t be puzzled by my comment at #11, because I was not referring to accusations of idolatry as major challenges to the atheistic worldview. The challenge to the atheistic worldview is that natural selection and variation (or any other natural processes) are not sufficient explanations for our existence.

    The rest I will leave to you, Mr. Gilson.

  72. Tom Gilson says:

    Ananya,

    I think Melissa was referring to the idolatry of believing that RV and NS (with other related factors included by metonymy) were the sole, exclusive, and sufficient explanations of the natural world, sans God.

    As for my “seeing suggestions for that in the evidence,” I’m confused by what I wrote there, and I think I must have dropped something when I wrote it. It doesn’t make sense to me the way it is. I’m having trouble re-creating my intention there, and if I had the opportunity to re-write it now I would just delete that sentence from that comment.

    Nevertheless, there’s nothing idolatrous in the suggestion that God could have used RV and NS as means.

    You still haven’t explained why the term used by the NAS, Berkeley, Dawkins, and others is something I must avoid. I’m not using RV in a “theological” sense; I’m using it in the manner I have read it all over the evolutionary literature. You say evolutionary biologists are not geneticists, but to return to my earlier point, as far as we have been informed here you might be a middle school bus driver on break for the summer. (I’m not saying that’s my guess; I’m just using it as an example to get you to see the point.)

    I’m still not convinced by your reasons for thinking that “RV” is the wrong term, the main reason being that you have not even begun to offer any reasons! If you think I ought to be held accountable to strict accuracy in my use of the term, you could (a) explain, not just assert, that there’s something wrong with my use of the term, (b) explain how that makes any difference in the flow of the argument other than the fact that it demonstrates my overall ignorance, and (c) explain (b) to the Nobel laureates referenced above.

    Otherwise yes, I think we all see that God could have used RV and NS in his life-creating process. This post was directed toward people who exclude God: naturalistic evolutionists. If that term is unfamiliar to you, you can find many previous instances of it on this blog here. I was not directing this post toward evolutionists who believe God guided the process.

    I still hope you will examine your position here as I suggested you do last time.

  73. Ananya_p says:

    Dear Mr. Gilson,

    You did not include “sans God” in the OP. This new formulation appears to be largely synonymous, or at least overlapping, with atheism. Again, I ask: what’s the point in accusing atheists of idolatry? How is that erroneous?

    As for my “seeing suggestions for that in the evidence,” I’m confused by what I wrote there, and I think I must have dropped something when I wrote it.

    Fair enough. What do you see in the evidence?

    Nevertheless, there’s nothing idolatrous in the suggestion that God could have used RV and NS as means.

    I agree. Nor is there if God used them as the only means, so again, I’m not seeing the obvious error you asked about.

    To explain “random,” let me start with three questions.

    Recombination is a huge source of genetic variation in populations. Does it occur at random locations? What happens if recombination is blocked?

    What happens to the triplet repeat tracts that cause diseases including Huntington’s chorea? Can we make accurate predictions?

    What about translocations?

    I think you are using “random” in a theological sense to mean “godless,” allowing you to omit the essential qualification “sans God” in the OP.

    I think that, coupled with your misunderstanding of natural selection as tautological, raises many questions.

    If “we all see that God could have used RV and NS in his life-creating process,” why can’t RV and NS be the only forces God used?

    I have to reiterate that if your post was directed toward people who exclude God, how is there any error, much less an obvious one? I can only see relevance to those who believe in God.

  74. Tom Gilson says:

    Ananya,

    Thank you for beginning at last to open up some explanation concerning “random.” As far as I can see, if I had said “100% completely and totally random,” your criticism would hold. If you could tell me honestly that from a naturalistic perspective, as this post was discussing, evolution does not depend at all on stochastic processes, your criticism would also hold. If you explained why this issue even mattered (see my prior comment to you) that would also contribute to the strength of your criticism.

    But enough. It has taken too many tries even to get to the point where you would begin to explain your position.

    You did not understand the post in the way it was intended (directed toward atheism), or in the way that others understood it. It took this long for you to acknowledge that I was writing it about atheism, even though in #14 I placed it in the context of naturalism, and in #22 I told you quite explicitly that this was written about those who exclude God.

    I think that we would have a better chance at productive discussion when the starting material is more in line with your preference for technical communication, rather than figurative.

  75. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson – Is a tornado a substance?

  76. Tom Gilson says:

    In the relevant philosophical sense of the term, yes.

  77. Ananya_p says:

    Dear Mr. Gilson,

    I keep asking a simple question. Would you kindly answer?

    What is the point in accusing atheists of idolatry? How is that erroneous?

  78. Tom Gilson says:

    Ananya, you keep asking a question built on questionable premises. The error of which I’m accusing naturalistic evolutionists is not exactly idolatry, though it is related. It is something more like a form of nonsense that it holds in common with ancient idolatry.

    Anyway, your question comes on the basis of wrong premises, as I said. I’ve tried as hard as I can to work through definitions and my intentions, and without success. Since any answer I gave now would likely be misconstrued through the lens of your premises and definitions, and since (for reasons already stated) I am done trying to correct that, the answer is no, I am not going to answer your question.

  79. bigbird says:

    @Ananya_p

    If not, this just looks like an attempt to stack metaphors along with two common misrepresentations. The first is that evolution happens to individual organisms, while the second is that scientists “believe” in evolution in some religious sense, instead of accepting it provisionally as with all theories.

    Ananya_p, why don’t we discuss your second point here?

    We can’t observe evolution to any meaningful extent. And yet we have people such as Keith proclaiming it as fact – a common claim. That doesn’t sound provisional to me.

    It seems a matter of faith that the small changes observed with Lenski’s experiments over 30,000 generations can be extrapolated to explain the appearance of the incredibly complex lifeforms we observe. Not to mention we have little idea of how we obtained the first replicating organism. Given how little we know, the strident proclaimations of “fact” sound religious to me.

  80. Ananya_p says:

    So as I understand it, you and Melissa were adamant on using a very broad definition of idolatry to justify your use of the term in the title. Now, you are saying that it is not exactly idolatry, but related. You’ve said that my question has wrong premises, but you can’t really identify those premises.

    As you say, it has taken too many tries even to get to the point where you would begin to explain your position, even though you explicitly asked why it was not obvious.

    I am left with the strong impression that now that you look back on your post, accusing atheists of (something related to) idolatry doesn’t make much sense to you either.

  81. Tom Gilson says:

    You are right on at least two counts, Ananya, with some qualifications.

    I cannot successfully identify what is wrong with your premises, if success is measured in terms of your recognizing and acknowledging what I’m trying to communicate. I’ve tried, and I have not succeeded, and it’s time to stop trying.

    And you are left with nearly the correct impression: if I had accused atheists of idolatry, in the sense that you are thinking of “idolatry,” it wouldn’t have made much sense. It’s just that I didn’t do that.

  82. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    In the relevant philosophical sense of the term, yes [a tornado is a 'substance']

    How? Wind is a process, it’s something air does. It’s not ‘wind’ that causes damage when a tornado (a particular type of wind) hits, it’s (lots of) air molecules slamming into things. ‘Wind’ has no causal powers, it’s a way that we summarize the effect of items that do have causal powers.

    What color is ‘wind’? How many nanometers across is it?

    Just because neither ‘wind’ nor ‘variation’ are measured in terms of color, does not mean they cannot be measured or described. What color is the half-life of an isotope?

    (What color is a mind, anyway? Your philosophy doesn’t include ‘mental substances’?)

  83. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, if you don’t know the definition of “substance” in the relevant sense of the term, you could either ask me what it is, or you could look it up. Simply to contest it without knowledge, as you are here, is to skip an important step.

  84. Ray Ingles says:

    You’re gonna need a post about this. I’ve actually asked quite a few questions about it (count the question marks in #83), and looked up various things, but that doesn’t tell me which variation is your position.

    So, explain ‘substance’, and why all substances must have a color.

  85. Tom Gilson says:

    Good question.

    Substances need not actually have color. That was a red herring of which I was admittedly guilty.

    A substance (in the sense that’s relevant here) is

    (a) some individual thing that
    (b) can possess or exhibit properties (or accidents, per Thomas Aquinas),
    (c) can maintain its identity while undergoing changes in its attributes (properties, accidents) sometimes even to the extent of some properties becoming their opposites (the ermine’s dark fur turns white in winter)has causal efficacy
    (d) is instantiated in one place at a time (as opposed to “red,” for example, which is the same thing wherever it may be instantiated), and
    (3) may have parts, yet remains a unified whole.

    That’s a cobbled-together definition with points that some might quibble with, but it’s pretty close.

    Now let’s return to where this first came up, because this sense of substance is only relevant if it’s relevant.

    Melissa brought up the topic, in the section that you responded to here:

    Melissa –

    …variation and selection are not beings , therefore they cannot “do” anything.

    By that definition of ‘being’, a tornado isn’t real, either. It’s just something air does.

    If a tornado’s headed your way, though, even if it’s not a ‘being’ I still recommend seeking shelter.

    Later I wrote,

    Let me now move on to describing the form of the error you are committing. Variation is not a substance, a being with causal powers.

    The real point of interest here is causal powers. Does variation cause anything? I think not. Variation is a description of what happens to things (like genes, for example) when they are affected in certain ways by other things (whatever cause you can think of: sexual recombination, mutation, etc.). It would be silly to say that variation caused variation, after all.

    Now to your understanding of tornadoes just as processes, and of wind as having no causal efficacy. It seems to me you are viewing wind as a composite of (a) fundamental physical particles and (b) their motion according to natural law. If so, then why not consider water the same way? Why not consider dogs and horses and steel girders and human beings the same way?

    No, tornadoes exhibit processes, but they are not themselves processes. Tornadoes are columns of high-speed circling wind. There are processes taking place in tornadoes, but the tornado is not the processes, or vice versa.

    But variation and selection just are processes. They don’t exist in specific places. They are not things with enduring identity. They don’t have the ability to retain their identity while properties they possess undergo transformation. They don’t have causal powers. That’s why I think it’s silly to attribute the development of life to them.

    There are of course some scientists who are up to speed on these issues, who recognize that when they speak of variation and selection, they are really speaking of abstractions. They know that causal efficacy resides in, for example, the various things that can bring about genetic variation, or in the death or the life-and-reproduction of individual organisms. That brings up a different topic of discussion, which I won’t pursue now.

  86. Ray Ingles says:

    It seems to me you are viewing wind as a composite of (a) fundamental physical particles and (b) their motion according to natural law. If so, then why not consider water the same way? Why not consider dogs and horses and steel girders and human beings the same way?

    Why not, indeed? “People… are not ‘just bags of chemicals'; each person is an extraordinarily special, literally unique pattern and process of chemicals. The raw materials aren’t special, it’s the arrangement thereof that’s unique, valuable, and irreplaceable.”

    No, tornadoes exhibit processes, but they are not themselves processes.

    I don’t really see an argument there, just a bare assertion. Whereas understand them as processes makes better sense of things like the Ship of Theseus (or Farmer’s Ax) problem. Tornadoes, like waterfalls, don’t consist of the same material from moment to moment; molecules are entering and leaving at all times. What continues from moment to moment but the process?

    Does variation cause anything?

    Not by itself, no. It’s how variations interacts with their environment – the selection – that’s really interesting.

    Variation can, of course, have properties – you can measure the frequency of alleles, you can quantify the distribution, etc. Does that make it a substance?

    When you talk about variation you are summarizing a great deal of information about material things, of course. Selection, too is a summary of how reproducing things interact with their environment – in particular, how well they reproduce and propagate in response to a myriad of factors.

    It’s true that variation and selection, considered separately, are quite limited – though selection isn’t as tautological as it’s often portrayed (caricatured?), since it’s a simple word for a relationship between a population and an entire complex environment – but after all, that’s why evolution is invariably described as ‘variation and selection’.

    Does ‘adiabatic shear band formation’ exist? Depleted uranium and tungsten are used a lot in anti-tank projectiles… partly because when they hit armor, they don’t spread and mushroom like a lot of metals. The energy stays focused in a smaller area, and so penetrates more deeply.

    “Adiabatic shear band formation” exists in the sense that it’s a real phenomenon that happens when the rubber meets the road – er, when the kinetic energy penetrator hits the armor. It’s a way of looking at the realities of how some metals interact with others under high-velocity impacts.

    Evolution – variation and selection – is a way of looking at real phenomena that happen when reproducing organisms interact with a complex environment.

  87. Tom Gilson says:

    From your link, Ray,

    I don’t have less respect for people because they are, at root, ‘physical processes'; I just have more respect for what physical processes are capable of.

    That’s not a good start, I’m afraid. It’s not about humanness, it’s about what physics is good for. You go on to claim human exceptionalism in our ability for language and complex thought. Those are physical processes, too, on your view, are they not? Aren’t they just further examples of what physics can do?

    But that’s drifting toward a tangent, so I won’t follow you through the whole “bag of chemicals” thing. I was using humans as an example in making a point. I wasn’t making humans the point. The question is whether variation and selection have causal efficacy.

    You quote me and then respond,

    No, tornadoes exhibit processes, but they are not themselves processes.

    I don’t really see an argument there, just a bare assertion.

    Well yes, you’re right: it is indeed bare, in the same sense that you and I are both naked, if one ignores the clothes we’re wearing. What you’ve quoted here is nothing but bare assertion — as long as you ignore what I said before and after. Which is what you did.

    You’re continuing a pattern of illegitimate discourse here.

    Did you read my following two paragraphs? How could you not recognize them as relevant arguments?What about what I wrote just prior?

    It seems to me you are viewing wind as a composite of (a) fundamental physical particles and (b) their motion according to natural law. If so, then why not consider water the same way? Why not consider dogs and horses and steel girders and human beings the same way?

    So suppose you were right, and humans are poor examples of my point there. What about dogs and horses and steel girders? Why did you choose to ignore those examples in your response? Why did you skip over them entirely, and claim that I had no argument, but mere bare assertion?

    I’ll go ahead and make the accusation: it’s because you couldn’t make your point without ignoring my argument. You had no answer. You recognized that fact. You had an answer to offer that depended on human exceptionalism, and you gave it. When it came to the other non-human examples, you decided that ducking and hiding were the better part of valor.

    In the process, not only did you fail to learn what you could have learned by taking my argument seriously, you accused me falsely and illegitimately of presenting “no argument, just a bare assertion.” I call it an act of cowardice and dishonesty.

    The Ship of Theseus problem is much better solved in Aristotelian terms, recognizing the ship as a substance with a continuing nature or essence, than by viewing it as a process. I mean really, who views a ship as a process?

    Tornadoes, like waterfalls, don’t consist of the same material from moment to moment; molecules are entering and leaving at all times. What continues from moment to moment but the process?

    Duh. The waterfall. The tornado.

    Not by itself, no. It’s how variations interacts with their environment – the selection – that’s really interesting.

    Oh. So what’s interesting is that what survives and reproduces, survives and reproduces. I mean, sure, that’s interesting, but it’s not a cause of anything, it’s just a tautological description, in spite of what you have said here.

    Does ‘adiabatic shear band formation’ exist?

    Does the question have anything to do with whether variation and selection have causal efficacy?

    (I didn’t say they don’t exist. I said they don’t have substantial being with causal efficacy.)

  88. Tom Gilson says:

    But here’s the real question, Ray. Given your penchant for taking things badly out of context, and for contesting categories that are beyond your education while acting as if you know what you’re talking about anyway, why do you do it? What’s your purpose here?

    It seems to me you only want to pick fights, and you’ll do it whether you know what you’re fighting about or not.

  89. Ananya_p says:

    Dear bigbird,

    We certainly can observe evolution to a very meaningful extent.

    How did you calculate that changes observed over shorter times cannot be extrapolated to longer times? What would prevent them from being extrapolated?

    Dear Mr. Gilson,

    What does “development of life” mean? I would agree that it is silly, as the term itself is silly!

  90. Tom Gilson says:

    Thank you for that word of encouragement, Ananya.

    The “development of life” in that context, where I was speaking of what variation and selection were thought to be responsible for, meant the development of the variety of life over time: the various species, populations, individuals, etc.

    I guess it was silly for me to use a shorthand term instead of spelling it out in complete detail. It was silly for me to expect every reader to understand what I meant in context. It was silly for me not to search the technical literature to find the exactly right terminology. Mea culpa.

    It was silly, too, for a University of Wisconsin professor to use the same terms in the same context.

    It was silly when PBS did it, too.

    It was silly for Bob Yirka to use it at phys.org.

    Stephen Hawking himself is not immune to such silliness.

    It was probably silly, too, for Nature to publish an article where “development of life” is applied to the origin of the first life.

    I’ll speak for the rest, trusting they won’t mind: we’re all terribly ashamed of ourselves for the error. And speaking only for myself, I am profoundly embarrassed at having been caught here in an episode signifying silly scientific ignorance mirroring Stephen Hawking’s ignorance in his own similar scientific silliness.

  91. Tom Gilson says:

    Thus we see, Ananya, there was indeed a display of silliness on this blog recently.

    Please read the discussion policies above the combox before you post again.

  92. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    What about dogs and horses and steel girders? Why did you choose to ignore those examples in your response?

    Because I thought by going directly at your strongest example, it was clear that I was also including things like dogs and horses and steel girders. (If that’s not enough, I can at least point to me making the same point, only with lions, almost three years ago on another site – the comment on “September 6th, 2010 | 9:18 pm”.)

    Given your penchant for taking things badly out of context, and for contesting categories that are beyond your education while acting as if you know what you’re talking about anyway, why do you do it? What’s your purpose here?

    I think what’s going on is that we have very different worldviews – ‘paradigms’ if you like Kuhn’s terminology – and we have a lot of difficulty talking across the gap. You assume bad faith, but I’d like to point out that I don’t ‘pick fights’ about Christian doctrine, or simple expressions of opinion. When I think you’re wrong about something that I know something about, I’ll speak up. And, of course, I don’t think this is ‘beyond my education’ so much as my words don’t fit your preconceptions. (And, sadly, often vice-versa.)

    I can address the rest, but if you’re convinced that I lack integrity, there’s little point.

  93. Ananya_p says:

    Dear Mr. Gilson,

    I’m afraid that you’ve made my point for me.

    You used the term to refer to the diversification of life after its origin, but cited Hawking using the term to refer to the origin of life–two different things.

    That’s why the term is silly regardless of the expertise of the person using it. I’m sorry you’re insulted; I frequently say silly things myself.

    You wrote another thing that intrigued me:

    …genuine speciation involving the development of new biological structures and functions has never been observed…

    I have never heard of anything like this.

    What is the source of your notion that new structures and functions must accompany genuine speciation? For example, what mechanisms would prohibit one or more pericentric inversions from being sufficient to produce reproductive isolation between two populations that are not physically isolated?

    Such inversions seem to be common differences between closely related species, and the only driver that must be available to produce structural and functional change between the populations would be genetic drift.

  94. Tom Gilson says:

    Hawking’s first line:

    In this talk, I would like to speculate a little, on the development of life in the universe, and in particular, the development of intelligent life. I shall take this to include the human race

    This was not strictly the origin of life.

    Your criticism here was obviously wrong. Will you acknowledge it?

    Furthermore, I did not say that speciation must always be accompanied by new structures and functions. Is it your contention, though, that it is never accompanied by new structures and functions? Do you deny that this is important in the history of life on this planet? Do you therefore consider it irrelevant whether speciation of that sort (whether it is the only form of speciation or not) is relevant?

    Obviously not.

    I have tried to pull out of these discussions more than once, and now I am indeed going to do it. It’s because you are repeatedly misconstruing what I write, and making repeated obvious mistakes, and in the process you’re resorting to insults.

    I’ll let you have the last word if you wish. If it’s in accord with the discussion policies it will remain. If not I will delete some or all of it. Then this conversation will be over, per the “unproductive discussions” (#9) provision in the discussion policies.

  95. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, I can appreciate your thought that you were going after my strongest example. In some ways it is, except that it’s the one most distant from the point I was trying to make, and human exceptionalism is a special case of its own. The reason for that is that we have to wade through the complexities of (a) knowing that we’re different, but (b) accounting for that difference. If you had addressed one of my other examples I think you would have faced a problem that’s simpler to define but harder for you to solve.

    Different worldviews do not explain your taking my remarks so completely out of context, do they?

  96. JAD says:

    Tom @ #73 wrote:

    yes, I think we all see that God could have used RV and NS in his life-creating process.

    Alvin Plantinga actually argues that same point in his book, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, & Naturalism– that there is no fundamental incompatibility between Christian theism and neo-Darwinian evolution. The conflict only occurs if the advocate of neo-Darwinian evolution argues that NDE is the only possible explanation and therefore we must assume that it is a sufficient explanation. But that approach completely begs the question because it completely by passes the methodological empiricism upon which the physical sciences claim to be based.

    Roger Olsen gives a pretty good overview of Plantinga’s argument in his review on Patheos. He writes:

    I strongly recommend that people read the book; in my opinion, it completely clears away the rubble of false stumbling blocks to faith in God and miracles put there by naturalistic scientists, philosophers and theologians. It does not and does not intend to “prove” the existence of God or miracles. But it demonstrates that there is a large element of fideism involved in the arguments against God’s existence and miracles. There are, in other words, identifiable unsupported presuppositions smuggled into the arguments against them. Plantinga reveals what they are and shows they are not necessary to the integrities of science, philosophy or theology… what Plantinga is demonstrating step-by-step, very logically, is that there is no real conflict between real science and Christian theism, including miracles but only between naturalism and Christian theism and that not only is naturalism not essential to science, it is actually in conflict with science!

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2012/12/a-must-read-plantingas-gifford-lectures-where-the-conflict-really-lies-science-religion-and-naturalism/

    Plantinga, according to Olsen, also argues that “leading evolutionists have wrongly linked evolution with naturalism such that (they have implied if not outrightly stated) the two are inseparable. Leading evolutionary theorists and popularizers of evolution have wrongly taught that in order to accept evolution one must reject God as playing any role in designing and guiding the processes of emergence of life forms. Because this idea, that either atheism or deism is necessary for belief in evolution, has caught on, the believing public has to a very large extent reacted against evolution.”

    In other words, if naturalistic evolution (NE) is the only possible explanation then NE is “God,” or maybe, more correctly, a god. But why should I believe that if it has not been proven to me empirically? Not only has it never been proven to me, it’s never been proven to anyone. IOW it must be accepted by faith , the same way an idol is accepted by faith– blind faith.

  97. SteveK says:

    Has the scientific community ever witnessed one species naturally give birth to a different species? Seems that this a requirement for evolution to have taken place.

  98. bigbird says:

    @Ananya_p

    We certainly can observe evolution to a very meaningful extent.

    Really? Please provide an example. As far as I’m aware, the most meaningful example seen is in Lenski’s experiments – which do very little.

    How did you calculate that changes observed over shorter times cannot be extrapolated to longer times? What would prevent them from being extrapolated?

    We’ve never observed evolution do anything significant. Why should we assume it will do something significant given a longer period of time?

    More generally, the only way we have ever seen complexity arise is via our own creativity. All our experience tells us complex things are not built via blind processes. They might be, but we’ve never seen any evidence of it.

    As far as I’m aware no-one has ever proposed a step by step explanation – mutation by mutation – of how any complex biological feature arose. If we aren’t at the point of even being able to explain a feasible route, then it is a step of faith to believe that it is the result of evolution.

    Let’s take photosynthesis as an example. All our human ingenuity has so far not proved sufficient to even fully understand photosynthesis, and yet we are confident it is the result of random variation and natural selection?

    What about the fossil record? Nope. It shows stasis, not change. You won’t find evidence for the power of natural selection there.

  99. Ray Ingles says:

    SteveK –

    Has the scientific community ever witnessed one species naturally give birth to a different species?

    Do you mean saltationism, or populations diverging over time?

    Bigbird –

    What about the fossil record? Nope. It shows stasis, not change.

    You really want to go over the ossicles again? What kind of ‘stasis’ are you talking about? How come we don’t see any more trilobites? Dinosaurs? Mammoths?

  100. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    If you had addressed one of my other examples I think you would have faced a problem that’s simpler to define but harder for you to solve.

    Perhaps I should refer to this rather than quote long passages of it here.

    As you say, “who views a ship as a process?” But a ship is an arrangement, a pattern. Some patterns are static, and some are dynamic – the latter are processes.

    So what’s interesting is that what survives and reproduces, survives and reproduces.

    Filters are tautological, and have no effect or causal power. I mean, “what makes it through the filter, makes it through the filter”. How could you be any more tautological than that?

    …or, perhaps, you can actually make some predictions about what will and will not make it through a filter?

    I hope “the error is obvious”.

    Different worldviews do not explain your taking my remarks so completely out of context, do they?

    Well, I believe that you’ve ignored the context of my words, but I don’t attribute it to malice. If you have a hard time understanding what someone’s saying, you’re going to miss connections between concepts.

    The solution to that is to ask for clarification and try to clear up misunderstandings. And have a little charity.

  101. JAD says:

    I decided to visit Talk Origins FAQ page on speciation to see if I could find some good examples of speciation. Ironically what I found was a lot of belief in speciation but very few convincing examples. Furthermore, the examples cited were fairly trivial. They were the kind speciation (micro-evolutionary change) that even YEC’s would accept. The author of the FAQ page, Joseph Boxhorn, made this surprising admission:

    The literature on observed speciations events is not well organized. I found only a few papers that had an observation of a speciation event as the author’s main point (e.g. Weinberg, et al. 1992). In addition, I found only one review that was specifically on this topic (Callaghan 1987). This review cited only four examples of speciation events. Why is there such a seeming lack of interest in reporting observations of speciation events?

    In my humble opinion, four things account for this lack of interest. First, it appears that the biological community considers this a settled question. Many researchers feel that there are already ample reports in the literature. Few of these folks have actually looked closely. To test this idea, I asked about two dozen graduate students and faculty members in the department where I’m a student whether there were examples where speciation had been observed in the literature. Everyone said that they were sure that there were. Next I asked them for citings or descriptions. Only eight of the people I talked to could give an example, only three could give more than one. But everyone was sure that there were papers in the literature.

    Second, most biologists accept the idea that speciation takes a long time (relative to human life spans). Because of this we would not expect to see many speciation events actually occur. The literature has many more examples where a speciation event has been inferred from evidence than it has examples where the event is seen. This is what we would expect if speciation takes a long time.

    Third, the literature contains many instances where a speciation event has been inferred. The number and quality of these cases may be evidence enough to convince most workers that speciation does occur.

    Finally, most of the current interest in speciation concerns theoretical issues. Most biologists are convinced that speciation occurs. What they want to know is how it occurs. One recent book on speciation (Otte and Endler 1989) has few example of observed speciation, but a lot of discussion of theory and mechanisms.

    Why this lack of empirical data? Are there any good examples of observed speciation? Is there any kind of observed speciation that represents macro-evolutionary change?

  102. Ray Ingles says:

    JAD – Have we ever observed a mountain eroding away into a plain? (“This is what we would expect if speciation takes a long time.”)

  103. Tom Gilson says:

    Huh?????

    Ray, you are the master of the non-analogous analogy. I think I’m going to go back through your comments here and count them.

  104. Ray Ingles says:

    No, Tom, it’s very analogous. We know of processes like genetic drift, chromosomal rearrangement, etc. Changes which accumulate in populations over time.

    When populations become disconnected – reproductively isolated – these changes accumulate. We see cases – plants, in particular, are prone to doubling up their chromosomes – where those changes make interbreeding impossible. (I know you’re aware of ring species. Lesser black-backed gulls are about as interfertile with Larus gulls as horses are with mules; their offspring don’t seem to breed.)

    We see examples of these processes, and we understand them in both deep theoretical, as well as practical and empirical, manners. Changes accumulate in reproductively isolated species. The end point is separate species. It just takes a while.

    Similarly, we understand erosion and uplift in both theoretical and empirical manners. We haven’t witnessed a mountain eroding away – human lifetimes aren’t that long – but we understand the process. Mountains erode. The end point is no more mountain. It just takes a while.

  105. Tom Gilson says:

    Your second-to-last sentence reveals the problem. Erosion upon a mountain can produce a non-mountain. Something less than a mountain. Something exhibiting considerably more entropy than a mountain.

    The only thing analogous there is the idea that some things happen slower than we can observe. That much I will grant you: your analogy is accurate to that point. But it’s not exactly news. It’s not exactly relevant, either, and it’s not at all analogous to any processes of interest in this conversation.

  106. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    Was it touchy for me to point that out?

    No, no. You didn’t outright accuse me of bad faith.

    I think there’s a difference between people objecting to analogies, and actually identifying problems with analogies, though.

  107. Tom Gilson says:

    Yes, I suppose there is a difference. I leave it to you and other readers to see whether the links I gave here accomplish one or the other. It’s a side issue, any way.

  108. Ray Ingles says:

    Tom Gilson –

    Something exhibiting considerably more entropy than a mountain.

    Living things make a lot of entropy. Check a septic tank sometime, for one example. Nice, organized chemicals digested and broken down to harvest energy and raw materials.

    If you’re going to use the term ‘entropy’, I’m going to insist you use it correctly – and the numbers don’t work the way you’re implying. (Summary here.)

    As the paper points out, “Disorder is a metaphor for entropy, not a definition for entropy.” I’m objecting to your analogy on quantitative, measurable grounds.

  109. Tom Gilson says:

    Of course living things make entropy. Of course entropy can decreased in closed systems, with energy input from outside the system. That too is old news. It still has nothing to do with the topic at hand.

    Further: you’ve objected to one portion of my last comment to you on this. You’ve taken up the LMU approach to blogging. Why not deal with the whole? Why think that singling out one LMU answers the real point?

  110. JAD says:

    Here are some more thoughts:

    Why is Ray’s example disanalogous? It’s because geologic change is for the most part a gradualistic and continuous process. Biological evolution appears, at least according to paleontologists, to be very discontinous with bursts and spurts and lot’s of gaps…

    For example:

    “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,” p.360.

    And…

    “A large number of well-trained scientists outside of evolutionary biology and paleontology have unfortunately gotten the idea that the fossil record is far more Darwinian than it is. This probably comes from the oversimplification inevitable in secondary sources: low-level textbooks semipopular articles, and so on. Also, there is probably some wishful thinking involved. In the years after Darwin, his advocates hoped to find predictable progressions. In general. these have not been found-yet the optimism has died hard and some pure fantasy has crept into textbooks.”

    Raup, David M. [Professor of Geology, University of Chicago], “Evolution and the Fossil Record,” Science, Vol. 213, No. 4505, 17 July 1981, p.289.

    Or…

    COLIN PATTERSON, Senior Paleontologist, British Museum of Nat. History, “You say I should at least ‘show a photo of the fossil from which each type or organism was derived.’ I will lay it on the line-there is not one such fossil for which one could make a watertight argument.” “It is easy enough to make up stories of how one form gave rise to another. … But such stories are not part of science, for there is no way of putting them to the test. … I don’t think we shall ever have any access to any form of tree which we can call factual.”

    HARPER’S, Feb. 1984, p.56

    How do we explain (or, explain away) the apparent discontinuity and gaps?

    I think we could take three possible approaches:

    (1) We could make a “God of the gaps” argument.

    (2) We could argue that some form of naturalistic evolution will someday, maybe, explain the gaps– “naturalism of the gaps”.

    (3) Admit that we just don’t know.

    How is #2 different from #1?

  111. bigbird says:

    @Ray

    What kind of ‘stasis’ are you talking about?

    Species appear suddenly in the fossil record, and exhibit almost no change at all. The fossil record does not demonstrate the power of natural selection. All paleontologists know this.

    You’d think something drastic like climate change might result in speciation? Nope. In fact, “In four of the biggest climatic-vegetational events of the last 50 million years, the mammals and birds show no noticeable change in response to changing climates. “

  112. Ray Ingles says:

    You’ve taken up the LMU approach to blogging. Why not deal with the whole?

    I’m not always ‘dealing with the whole’ ’cause my time is limited. This isn’t my job or anything.

    But I’m not ‘mocking’ you – I’m pointing out a problem with terminology. (Speaking of which, why is a plain ‘less’ than a mountain – ‘less’ by what standard? Which would a farmer want?)

    And why is it not relevant? Having “very few convincing examples” (and I’ll leave ‘convincing’ alone for now) is not the same as zero convincing examples. When you add in the demonstrated phenomena I talked about, like genetic drift, plus the obvious change in species over time we see in the fossil record (sorry, bigbird, you’re wrong on that score) it seems a slam dunk for speciation. Like I said, “It just takes a while.”

    Since we’re arguing over terminology, though, I’ll ask for a definition of “macro-evolutionary change”. What target are we supposed to be shooting for?

  113. JAD says:

    How exactly does one define, or describe, macro-evolutionary change? One of the best descriptions of macro-evolution, even though he doesn’t use the term, was given by the late George Gaylord Simpson in an article he wrote for the 1959 Darwin centennial celebration. He writes:

    “The appearance of a new genus in the record is usually more abrupt than the appearance of a new species; the gaps involved are involved are generally larger, that is, when a new genus appears in the record it is usually well separated morphologically from the most nearly similar other known genera. This phenomenon becomes more universal and more intense as the hierarchy of categories is ascended. Gaps among known species are sporadic and often small. Gaps among known orders, classes and phyla are systematic and almost always large. These peculiarities of the record pose one of the most important theoretical problems in the whole history of life: Is the sudden appearance of higher categories a phenomenon of evolution or of the record only?”

    ( For the record, Simpson was a staunch evolutionist)

    In his book, Evolution a Theory in Crisis, Michael Denton comments that, “In effect Simpson is admitting that the fossils provide none of the crucial transitional forms required by evolution.”

    Denton goes on to illustrate the profound difference between so called “micro change” and “macro change”. He writes:

    “Considering how trivial the differences in morphology usually are between well-defined species today such as rat-mouse, fox-dog and taking into account all the modifications necessary to convert a land mammal into a whale– forelimb modification, the evolution of tail flukes, the streamlining, reduction of hind limbs, modification skull to bring nostrils to the top of head, modification of trachea, modifications of behavior patterns, specialized nipples so that so that the young could feed underwater (a complete list would be enormous)– one is inclined to think in terms of possibility hundreds, even thousands, of transitional species on the most direct path between a hypothetical land ancestor and the common ancestor of modern whales.” (p 174)

  114. bigbird says:

    @Ray

    the obvious change in species over time we see in the fossil record (sorry, bigbird, you’re wrong on that score)

    A simple assertion that I’m wrong is not an argument, especially when I’ve posted a link from a paleontologist, Donald R. Prothero, who is no friend of ID.

    The fossil record shows stasis, not change. And every paleontologist knows that – as Gould said, it’s paleontology’s “dirty little secret”.

  115. bigbird says:

    @Ray

    the obvious change in species over time we see in the fossil record (sorry, bigbird, you’re wrong on that score)

    Really? Stasis in the fossil record is something that all paleontologists know – as Gould said, it is paleontology’s “dirty little secret”.

  116. bigbird says:

    Apologies re the double post. The original posts each went missing for a couple of days and have only just resurfaced – maybe it’s the spam filter Tom has mentioned.

  117. Ray Ingles says:

    bigbird –

    Species appear suddenly in the fossil record, and exhibit almost no change at all. The fossil record does not demonstrate the power of natural selection.

    The second sentence doesn’t follow from the first, and the link you yourself gave explains why. In particular, stasis on the level of individual species does not imply stasis across species.

    You’d think something drastic like climate change might result in speciation?

    Not showing significant changes in bone size does not imply no change in the organism, particularly for homeothermic animals like mammals and bigbirds.

    JAD – I’m not interested in quote mines from 30 to 50 years ago, before the discovery of many transitional fossils like Tiktaalik and Yanoconodon and Ambulocetans natans. If you want to understand the gaps, you could look at the link bigbird posted. That adds at least one more possibility to your list.

  118. JAD says:

    I understand the tactic: When you don’t have an answer or an argument, accuse your opponent of quote mining.

    Here’s something more recent:

    Conventional neo-Darwinian theory views organisms as infinitely sensitive and responsive to their environments, and considers them able to readily change size or shape when they adapt to selective pressures. Yet since 1863 it has been well known that Pleistocene animals and plants do not show much morphological change or speciation in response to the glacial–interglacial climate cycles. We tested this hypothesis with all of the common birds (condors, golden and bald eagles, turkeys, caracaras) and mammals (dire wolves, saber-toothed cats, giant lions, horses, camels, bison, and ground sloths) from Rancho La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles, California, which preserves large samples of many bones from many well-dated pits spanning the 35,000 years of the Last Glacial–Interglacial cycle. Pollen evidence showed the climate changed from chaparral/oaks 35,000 years ago to snowy piñon-juniper forests at the peak glacial 20,000 years ago, then back to the modern chaparral since the glacial–interglacial transition. Based on Bergmann’s rule, we would expect peak glacial specimens to have larger body sizes, and based on Allen’s rule, peak glacial samples should have shorter and more robust limbs. Yet statistical analysis (ANOVA for parametric samples; Kruskal–Wallis test for non-parametric samples) showed that none of the Pleistocene pit samples is statistically distinct from the rest, indicating complete stasis from 35 ka to 9 ka. The sole exception was the Pit 13 sample of dire wolves (16 ka), which was significantly smaller than the rest, but this did not occur in response to climate change. We also performed a time series analysis of the pit samples. None showed directional change; all were either static or showed a random walk. Thus, the data show that birds and mammals at Rancho La Brea show complete stasis and were unresponsive to the major climate change that occurred at 20 ka, consistent with other studies of Pleistocene animals and plants. Most explanations for such stasis (stabilizing selection, canalization) fail in this setting where climate is changing. One possible explanation is that most large birds and mammals are very broadly adapted and relatively insensitive to changes in their environments, although even the small mammals of the Pleistocene show stasis during climate change, too.

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277379112003289

    So, even though the paleontological evidence doesn’t support it, the neo-Darwinian paradigm must be correct?

  119. Tom Gilson says:

    Ray, you asked JAD for a definition of macro-evolutionary change. He gave you one. He added more to it, putting it in context of a larger discussion. You slapped him on the hand for it. Classy.

    You might have at least acknowledged he answered your question before you took off on him for what else you thought he did wrong. Among other things, it would have contributed to advancing understanding on the question you were ostensibly wondering about.

  120. Victoria says:

    It seems premature to crow about (pun intended) alleged transitional forms when PNAS publishes articles like this one:
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100209183335.htm

    The article concludes with

    OSU research on avian biology and physiology has been raising questions on this issue since the 1990s, often in isolation. More scientists and other studies are now challenging the same premise, Ruben said. The old theories were popular, had public appeal and “many people saw what they wanted to see” instead of carefully interpreting the data, he said.
    “Pesky new fossils…sharply at odds with conventional wisdom never seem to cease popping up,” Ruben wrote in his PNAS commentary. “Given the vagaries of the fossil record, current notions of near resolution of many of the most basic questions about long-extinct forms should probably be regarded with caution.”

    see also
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130124091532.htm

  121. bigbird says:

    @Ray

    stasis on the level of individual species does not imply stasis across species.

    Stasis in the fossil record on the level of individual species does not imply stasis across species. But it is an absence of evidence for change across species.

    Not showing significant changes in bone size does not imply no change in the organism, particularly for homeothermic animals like mammals and birds.

    Again, the point here is that whatever change there might be, the fossil record does not provide evidence for it.

  122. JAD says:

    Though he concedes he is “just a layman” when it comes to biological evolution Rice University organic chemist James Tour is as skeptical as I am about macroevolution.

    This is what Tour writes about macro-evolution:

    I do have scientific problems understanding macroevolution as it is usually presented. I simply can not accept it as unreservedly as many of my scientist colleagues do, although I sincerely respect them as scientists. Some of them seem to have little trouble embracing many of evolution’s proposals based upon (or in spite of) archeological, mathematical, biochemical and astrophysical suggestions and evidence, and yet few are experts in all of those areas, or even just two of them. Although most scientists leave few stones unturned in their quest to discern mechanisms before wholeheartedly accepting them, when it comes to the often gross extrapolations between observations and conclusions on macroevolution, scientists, it seems to me, permit unhealthy leeway. When hearing such extrapolations in the academy, when will we cry out, “The emperor has no clothes!”?

    From what I can see, microevolution is a fact; we see it all around us regarding small changes within a species, and biologists demonstrate this procedure in their labs on a daily basis. Hence, there is no argument regarding microevolution. The core of the debate for me, therefore, is the extrapolation of microevolution to macroevolution.
    http://www.jmtour.com/personal-topics/the-scientist-and-his-%E2%80%9Ctheory%E2%80%9D-and-the-christian-creationist-and-his-%E2%80%9Cscience%E2%80%9D/

    Earlier this year Nick Matzke agreed to have lunch with Dr. Tour to explain macro-evolution to him. Apparently this meeting was to take place sometime in June… Has anyone heard if this lunch ever happened?

    http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/professor-james-tour-accepts-nick-matzkes-offer-to-explain-macroevolution/

    Does Matzke have convincing evidence that he isn’t telling anyone else, or is his explanation just a rehash of the same old, same old?

    To clarify my own position: I am not dismissing the possibility of macro-evolution a priori. What I am skeptical about is that the neo-Darwinian mechanism of natural selection acting on random variation is sufficient to account for macro-evolutionary change… I am open to the possibility that some other kind of mechanism might exist.

  123. Victoria says:

    This is an interesting link as well:
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130731133157.htm

    The title is Bird Brains Predate Birds Themselves: ‘Flight-Ready’ Brain Was Present in Some Non-Avian Dinosaurs, CT Scans Indicate.

    What is also interesting are the related articles:
    Prehistoric Birds Were Poor Flyers, Research Shows and

    Feathery Four-Winged Dinosaur Fossil Found In China Bridges Transition To Birds

    Along with some of the other links I posted previously, it seems that there are more questions than answers, more confusion than certainty in interpreting the fossil data using the Neo_Darwinian paradigm.

  124. Ray Ingles says:

    JAD (and Tom Gilson) –

    I understand the tactic: When you don’t have an answer or an argument, accuse your opponent of quote mining.

    In my response in #119, I was referring to comment #112. To respond to your #115, you appear to be defining ‘macroevolutionary’ change as “The appearance of a new genus”. Is that correct? I’m reluctant to proceed until we have that nailed down. (Though I can’t resist linking to this.)

    Bigbird –

    But it is an absence of evidence for change across species.

    Until you include timing information about the span, location, and order of species. Rabbits come after eutheria which come after cladotheria which come after cynodonts which come after therapsids… and 99.9+% of the specieswe see in the fossil record aren’t around now. How is that not change?

    Victoria –

    Along with some of the other links I posted previously, it seems that there are more questions than answers, more confusion than certainty in interpreting the fossil data using the Neo_Darwinian paradigm.

    Questions about details are different from questions about broad strokes. There are a lot of differences between the four Gospels but you don’t argue that that means Jesus didn’t exist.

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