Friday, July 08, 2005

Conservative Evolution

Evolution is such an easy concept to understand. I don't know all the ins and outs, and I've always believed that biology was the worst of all sciences (especially the whole dissecting animals thing, which I always left to my lab partner to do). But the concept of evolution itself is so obvious that it takes practice to avoid it.

I've discussed this a little before, but I'll repeat a little here. Evolution is just a fancy word for Supply and Demand, and it explains tons. Sure, we don't have all the answers yet, but there's no reason to believe it can't explain them. And the main reason why anyone doubts it is because they don't understand it. They act as if evolution is based upon luck or something. Or coincidence. And to a very small extent, it is. But they fail to understand it as a mechanism of change. Without someone at the helm, they imagine evolution to be rudderless fate guiding everything; and who could believe in that? And the reason they don't understand is because they wrongly perceive it as yet another assault on their belief system; so they refuse to even listen to it. Not because they're so sure that it's wrong. But because they fear it's right.

And what of Intelligent Design and creationism. Besides the fact that neither is science, they do a completely lousy job at explaining anything. Intelligent design, my ass. Is this really how an intelligent being wanted to design us? It's horrible. We're like walking booby-traps, with appendix's ready to burst, cancers eating us up, and groin muscles and hamstrings getting pulled right when you need them most. And the system designed to protect us from disease can be the very thing that kills us! I mean, your body tries to heat up to kill off the infection, and it gets so hot it could destroy your brain or kill you! Talk about design flaws. I wouldn't know how to go about making a human, but this isn't it.

And the other big questions is: Why? Why would any supreme being waste his time trying to work out every detail about every species, balancing species characteristics and whatnot to create entire self-contained eco-systems, when he could just let evolution do the job? That's got to be a real pain in the ass. To make a lion fast enough, but not too fast; and balancing that with all the other kinds of creatures in the delicate eco-system. Especially because the creator would have to fight against the forces of evolution anyway. He wants lots of lions so that mankind will learn some character lesson about lions, so he has to make them dominate, but then they eat all their food supply and God's got to get busy making more antelopes and whatnot. It's this giant balancing act that he's got to micromanage with billions of creatures throughout the world. And viruses and bacteria too. He's got to balance all the little organisms, and plants and everything for billions of years. I'm sorry, but that is just not an efficient way of doing things.

We all know that the free-market system works better than a controlled-market system, like the Soviets had. So why go for full control? Why not just leave it up to Supply and Demand to determine which characteristics are important and which species should survive? Even omnipotent beings have to have something better to do than muck around something which so obviously could be done automatically. I suppose all that extra work would explain why God is so angry all the time, but I digress.

Conservative Thoughts

I'm mentioning this because I just saw this article in The New Republic about conservative pundits and evolution. Now, it's one thing for the typical Joe Believer to not understand this stuff. But conservative pundits!?! I'm really surprised. They're supposed to be the brains of this operation. Fortunately, most of them do believe in evolution, though too many also support Intelligent Design (I believe from a misunderstanding) or at least believe that it shouldn't be excluded. And if I thought they were being honest, I'd be a little more offended.

But check this out from Pat Buchanan:
Whether he personally believes in evolution: "Do I believe in absolute evolution? No. I don't believe that evolution can explain the creation of matter. ... Do I believe in Darwinian evolution? The answer is no."

Could he really be this stupid? Evolution doesn't say jackshit about the origins of life or the creation of matter. Those are completely separate theories which aren't even related to evolution. The theory on the creation of matter is called The Big Bang. And while they have a few vague theories as to how life first began, I don't think they've come up with any solid leads. And evolution has nothing to do with either the origins of the universe or life. Evolution is only concerned with what happened after life began. And if people could get this straight, they'd be less likely to doubt it. I've seen this mistake in the typical Joe Believer, but from Pat Buchanan? I'm just hoping he's playing dumb to fool his supporters.

And then there's the Intelligent Design stuff which most of these guys got wrong. Most of them seem to think that Intelligent Design just means that God created the universe and set the conditions for evolution to start working. But that it was evolution which made all the changes afterwards. Ok, it's possible that I'm the wrong one here, but I believe that Intelligent Design doesn't just say that there is a creator. It's that there was a creator and that he actively guides the processes. Not just someone who set it in motion, but who actively worked at this stuff along the line. Or at the least, created a design which would change over time on its own, and not by evolutionary pressures. Am I wrong on that?

And that's the thing. To me, I see no reason to assume that Yahweh or Zeus or aliens didn't create us. I typically refer to myself as an atheist so I don't have to explain myself. But I really count myself as agnostic, giving a big "I don't know" to the whole god question. To me, there can be no other logical answer. So I won't rule out a creator. I wouldn't act as if there was one, but I won't rule it out either. So it's entirely possible that God created evolution. As I said above, evolution is only concerned with what happened after life began, and doesn't rule out the idea of a creator. Evolution can have a creator who designed it, but then stepped back and let the whole thing work on its own. But that's not Intelligent Design. That's evolution with a creator explaining the pre-evolution stuff.

That's what my mom believes. She's Catholic, believes in God, and understands evolution. And I've heard that theory from her and many others long before the term Intelligent Design came into vogue. Hell, I almost wonder if this is part of the Intelligent Designers plan; to convince evolutionists like my mother that they really support Intelligent Design and that we should teach it in school. Because if that's what Intelligent Design was about, I wouldn't necessarily mind it. Just as long as it's still evolution doing the changing, and not the creator. And just as long as teachers don't try to plant the creator idea as being necessary to anything. Because maybe there was a creator, but there is no scientific basis for it, and no requirement for it, so it can't be taught in science class. But it doesn't need to be ruled out, either. Maybe if we said that more often, these people would be more receptive to evolution.

I'd just like to finish up by again restating what I said a few days earlier about Intelligent Design. It's not a theory, it's an argument against a theory. And most of the pundits interviewed in that TNR piece confirmed that. The ID supporters gave a basic definition of ID as a theory which shows problems in evolution. And I have no problem with that. In fact, I insist that we teach children about gaps in the theory, and spots that we haven't confirmed. It's insane to think that we aren't teaching them about any real gaps. But the devil's with the details. Many of the ID arguments I've read are based upon misunderstandings or untruths. And we can't teach the wrong stuff. But I have no problem with teaching kids about the current short-comings with the theory, as long as they're accurate and as long as it's not presented as a separate theory. Apparently, Charles Krauthammer was the only Con pundit smart enough or honest enough to say so.

Conservative Minds

And one last observation about that article. Almost every one of them is scared shitless by this issue. David Brooks, John Tierney, and William Kristol apparently are refusing to even look into Intelligent Design, so they can avoid pissing off their followers. And all of them seemed like they were being a bit coy on the whole issue. Even Buchanan was probably doing his dumb guy routine. I get the impression that he's a fairly smart man who knows how to play dumb to please his supporters. Who knows, maybe he's not even a Nazi.

Overall, I think we learn much more about the way these guys work than what we learned of their true thoughts on evolution. Because I think that they're almost always intentionally deceptive. They're not dumb. And if you work with the theory that these guys know more than they're saying; then you can analyze each of their remarks to see which of these pundits are willing to deceive their own supporters, which ones are willing to be honest, and which ones are too honest to lie but too chickenshit to be honest. Because being a conservative pundit means that you have to deceive. It's interesting to see these guys side-by-side so you can see where they stand on the deception-meter.

Oh, and my favorite quote: Grover Norquist
How evolution should be taught in public schools: "The real problem here is that you shouldn't have government-run schools. ... Given that we have to spend all our time crushing the capital gains tax I don't have much time for this issue."

I'm in awe. Can that man stay on-topic, or what. It's all about message discipline these days.


PublicOrgTheory said...

It's not a theory, it's an argument against a theory.

Are you kidding me? That's an argument? Bugs Bunny was more convincing when he sawed Florida off and let it float out into the Atlantic (not a bad idea at all, physics notwithstanding). You're losing your head here, Biobrain.

To paraphrase Walter Sobchak, ID is not the issue, dude. Read here for an explanation. There's another article I'd like to offer up, but I'm having a hard time finding it. Something in the Times magazine from someone who asks, "who designs stuff this way?" It's a scathing review of biology.

In the meantime, perhaps you'll enjoy this short piece on the man-child Elian Gonzalez. I'm having a hard time forming an argument to disprove that we came from monkeys, especially with this newspaper in hand.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Hey, I was just being polite. And I never said it was a good argument.

Did you click on the link to the earlier post I referenced which had this link:

It gives an excellent recap of an ID argument, and then knocks it to pieces. It shows that ID is more than just basic "creationism", and might make valid points, if those points weren't entirely wrong.

And the main things is that I could never have been nearly as able to debunk the ID argument that this guy is debunking, and I'm a smart guy. So it's no surprise that non-biologist school boards and students can't decipher this stuff. These people want a "We report, you decide" kind of presentation because they know that most students aren't knowledgable enough to make such a decision. As with too many areas, the best we can do is decide which experts to believe and leave it at that. And that is not a valid basis for education.

Here was one of my favorite parts of the article:
The causal specificity argument is also an exercise in nerve. We are, recall, trying to choose between two theories. One says bacterial flagella were built by mutation and selection and the other says they were built by an intelligent designer. And Dembski concludes the first theory lacks historical concreteness? Darwinism suffers a shortage of specificity? When, after all, did Dembski's designer come up with plans for flagella? Just how did he reach out and shape that flagellum? Which protein did he move first or did he touch them all at once? It is the height of hypocrisy for Dembski to complain that Darwinism lacks causal specificity when his own theory lacks any specificity, including one atom of historical concreteness. Dembski may not have much of an argument, but you've got to admit he's got chutzpah.

PublicOrgTheory said... You and I seem to see one important aspect of this in precisely the same light: people seem disturbingly inclined toward believing this fairy tale. I am shaking my head in amazement right now.

I found the thing I wanted to make sure you saw. It's less intellectual than Orr, but it cleverly uses ID arguments to debunk ID:

In mammals, for instance, the recurrent laryngeal nerve does not go directly from the cranium to the larynx, the way any competent engineer would have arranged it. Instead, it extends down the neck to the chest, loops around a lung ligament and then runs back up the neck to the larynx. In a giraffe, that means a 20-foot length of nerve where 1 foot would have done. If this is evidence of design, it would seem to be of the unintelligent variety.

Heh. And:

And why should the human reproductive system be so shoddily designed? Fewer than one-third of conceptions culminate in live births. The rest end prematurely, either in early gestation or by miscarriage. Nature appears to be an avid abortionist, which ought to trouble Christians who believe in both original sin and the doctrine that a human being equipped with a soul comes into existence at conception. Souls bearing the stain of original sin, we are told, do not merit salvation. That is why, according to traditional theology, unbaptized babies have to languish in limbo for all eternity. Owing to faulty reproductive design, it would seem that the population of limbo must be at least twice that of heaven and hell combined.

So, today's NY Times has a front page, above-the-fold story on a Catholic cardinal's recent assertion that Darwinian evolution and Catholicism are incompatible. I hope I'll be able remember what sanity was like.