The Trouble With Critical Thinking
August 18, 2008
Those atheists are trying to tell me that bringing a child up in ones faith is like child abuse. Sheesh!
The kids believe what their parents believe, they grouse. They don’t have a fair chance to become …..well….atheists! like us!
Sure, children usually adopt the religious views of their parents. They also adopt every other view. It is in the nature of child-rearing. Children of American homes believe in the supremacy of American life. Children of Chinese homes believe in Chinese life. Children of pacifist parents become pacifist. Children of hawks become hawks. Children of parents who value education likewise value it. Children of parents who don't also don't.
Children of Ford or Chevy fanatics also favor those brands. Even Jakob Dylan is following the old man's footsteps in music, for crying out loud! As young adults some may reassess their values, but as small children they usually are a reflection of their parents.
This is a fact of human family life. And as those atheists don't object to it in any context other than religion, we may take their comments primarily as a statement of dislike (if not loathing) for our faith. Moreover, if you do not train your children, it is not true that they grow up free and unencumbered and subsequently select their values from the great cornucopia of ideas. No. All it means is that someone else will train them, and it is unlikely that the someone else will have the child's welfare at heart to the degree of the natural parents. With religious yearnings nearly universal throughout human experience, it really is a fantastic idea to suggest that failure to break that pattern amounts to child abuse!
Ahh, but I’m not saying one should teach atheism, a certain fellow says, who leans in that direction. (leans pretty hard, I think) No, but what one must do is teach critical thinking, he maintains, confident (am I reading this into his words?) that such thinking will inevitably lead to atheism, as it did with him!
“These tools are very simple,” he says, “critical thinking and scientific evaluation of facts” Ha! Look, these terms sound good, I admit, but they’re usually just buzzwords for seeing the world the way they want you to see it. What “facts” are we to consider? Only theirs.
For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses are heavily influenced by the fantastic improbably of life arising through evolution, but that's not one of the facts we're invited to consider. Mutations, the driver of evolutionary change, are extraordinarily rare. Gene replication seems accurate almost to perfection. "Typically, mistakes are made at a rate of only 1 in every ten billion bases incorporated," states the textbook Microbiology. (Tortora, Funke, Case, 2004, pg 217) So such errors are not only extraordinarily unusual, but also only a similar infinitesimally tiny proportion of such errors are beneficial....that is, useful for evolution. And any winning mutation has to be beneficial enough to confer upon its recipient a significant trump in the "struggle for survival."
Get someone to work out the probabilities of that! It absolutely astounds me that people can nonetheless swallow it. Not only swallow it, but declare that failure to swallow it makes one a superstitious ignoramus.
These “probability” arguments, however (and there are many of them) are entirely inadmissible to science! Not because they are not weighty, but because science has no way to weigh them. They don’t adapt themselves to the scientific method, with its insistence on repeatable experiments. So, sit down with one of these “critical, scientific thinkers,” and you find you’re playing their board game, the rules of which are that you can’t move your pieces!
Thomas Huxley tried to illustrate how accidental mutations might nonetheless produce a masterpiece over time with his typing monkeys analogy: "If you give an infinite number of monkeys and infinite number of typewriters, one of them will eventually come up with the complete works of Shakespeare." Sounds logical, doesn’t it... I guess? Perhaps a good way to convey scientific facts to the dunces? Yet, when they tried that experiment, the monkeys didn’t write a word of Shakespeare. In fact, they didn’t write any word at all, not even a one-letter word. What they did do was pee and defecate on the computer!
The more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that these "critical thinking" guys are the anti-religious counterpart of the Trinitarians. Yes, the Trinitarians….who take literally words and phrases which in any other context would be instantly recognized as metaphor, illustrative or comparative device…to reach the absurd conclusion that two beings that talk to one another, that are in respectively different places at the same time, that have overlapping, but different powers, authorities, and knowledge are in reality the same being (or different forms of the same being)!
The more farfetched your conclusion, the more absolutely compelling your evidence must be. Otherwise the one who accepts it is merely gullible. If there is some scriptural evidence for trinity, surely it is not sufficient to justify that fantastic doctrine which defies common sense and makes God impossible to understand.
It’s the same with evolution. Sure, there is some evidence to support it. But considering the fantastically improbable bill of goods they’re trying to sell us, it has to be a lot more compelling than it is.
That may not be critical thinking, or scientific thinking, but it sure makes sense.
************************* The bookstore
Now come Tom, what's the matter with you? Of course Evolution is true! It's magic! Living matter and organisms simply appear from non-living material *BLAM* just like that! So too, organisms evolve over time without need of design or purpose. Never mind destructive mutations and information loss or the fact that there is no proof of macro-evolutionary change. Don't you believe in magic?
Actually, considering that some scientific disciplines descended from superstition, divination and magic (chemistry and astronomy) it doesn't surprise me that many scientists (and others who admire them) are corrupted by magical thinking. But of course, they disguise it as critical thinking.
Posted by: vargas | August 19, 2008 at 01:17 PM
Tom, as bad as I might want to rub an abrasive against the scab growing on the wound of my past "debates" with a jehovah, I don't have the heart to read this post.
I wish I had the strength simply not to visit your blog (and not be here writing this comment), but the need to get at least a mild scratch is overwhelming.
Your god wouldn't be putting the screws to me, would he?
Posted by: Moristotle | August 19, 2008 at 01:37 PM
Too bad much of what people describe as critical thinking is really a very narrow type of thinking that they have been indoctrinated with through the spoon feeding of "expert academia" at $$,$$$ a pop. Nothing wrong with university, but when you view it as the end all and be all of knowledge it really shows just how narrow your thinking is.
Real critical thinking has no negative conotation to it, and makes judgements based on the evidence at hand.
So where's the evidence at hand for evolution? I hope no one assumes it's the wild theorizing and pontificating done in laboratories and arm chairs. How about the scene of the crime, the fossil record? No proof of evolution there.
And if anyone bothers to bring up the Peking Man, all I've got to say is that I saw the movie Mask with Cher and both Elephant Man movies. Hope no one's waiting a couple thousand years to dig up their bones and pawn them off as amazing discoveries in the evolutionary chain.
Posted by: Showme | August 19, 2008 at 11:50 PM
Vargas: I think it largely boils down to peer pressure. Everyone I know believes in it, so they must be on to something, and I believe in it too.
Moristotle: It will be a sad day for me when you decide to abstain from visiting and posting. I've been to other blogs and seen such atheist/believer exchanges devolve into name-calling. Athiests know their subject, but nothing else. Same with the believers. On the other hand, you present your views cogently and often with formidable background knowledge. We like each other on a personal level....a pleasant factor often missing in the world of blogs.
I don't think my God is putting the screws to you, nor am I. The fellow leaning athiest in my post is not you, but another person I've been trading comments with lately.
Showme: I've actually had similar thoughts. Suppose succeeding generations dig up fossils of the dinka (very tall) and the pigmy (very short) Would they recognize it as variations within humankind? Or would we see charts illustrating how life evolved from short to tall, or vice versa?
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | August 20, 2008 at 11:23 AM
Well, I was raised as a Jehovah's Witness as well as taught "Critical Thinking" in school. I don't accept evolution because I simply don't come to the same conclusion as evolutionists do when presented the same set of facts.
I personally believe that people in general don't want to reject God, but want to reject what the belief in God was produced among most people. I think that it is fair to say that if religion in general produced peace-loving, rational, friendly people, and had a real positive force upon the world, Evolution would remain in the background. However, with religion's history and current societal results, I could certainly see someone grasping onto evolution as the only answer available that makes any logical sense, even if it is only on the illogical emotional level...
Posted by: Screech | August 22, 2008 at 06:01 PM
Tom, how wrong you are. I was brought up in a religious environment and questioned it from the very beginning. Why? Well in my childish mind, it just didn't seem that it could be a true story.
My daughter regularly attends a bible study group. My son, although an atheist like his mum and I, has some very different ideas about life and how he should live it. But this is what critical and indeed rational thought is all about. Allowing people to discover and explore facts and ideas for themselves and allowing them to make their own decisions based on the facts presented and their evaluation of them.
And it's not quite "the same with evolution". As you said, there is at least some evidence to support it, which there isn't for god.
Posted by: plonka | August 23, 2008 at 12:59 AM
Unlike you, I was not raised a Witness. I learned evolution in school and I believed it. I had no reason not to. The reasons for seemed plausible enough. Plus all the smart people believed it. Why would I not?
Studying the Bible created what they call “cognitive dissonance.” The Bible was appealing, made sense, answered the serious questions of life, but was absolutely at odds with evolution. Not being able to reconcile the two, I shelved evolution for a time. Eventually I came to appreciate that the reasons to accept it are not so compelling as I was taught.
It really is philosophical reasons that determine if we accept it or not. The joke is that those in the evolution camp generally imagine that they are deciding on facts alone, unswayed by emotion. They’re not.
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | August 23, 2008 at 07:04 AM
I saw this post and I felt compelled to reply.
To start off I have already stated that I understand that it is impossible to shield a child from a single source of information in his environment. This is not what I think should be done. What I propose is like you said give the children these tools for “critical thinking and scientific evaluation”. What is so bad about that? You think they are buzz words for atheism? Sorry they are used for science, if a person decides there is no higher deity after evaluating his world and seeing a very probable explanation of how it came to be without relying on an invisible ever present and omnipotent being so be it.
Now your first paragraph which we have already covered in the other blog about children adopting their parent’s viewpoints on many different subjects is only a partial truth. You are over simplifying the process of raising a child. The child not only can differ from their parents beliefs through friends and any other environment they are in. They could also see what their parents are doing and choose to never become that person. Just because the people you listed followed their parents in their particular examples does not mean everyone will or has to in every aspect of their parent’s life. Also I do believe religion is a much different issue than what car company the person buys from. Our founding fathers thought it was important enough to put it in the First Amendment of our Bill of Rights.
As for “what “facts” are we to consider? Only theirs”. If any religious person can present non-circular reasoning and scientific evidence to be examined I am sure the scientific community would be more than thrilled to take a look at it. That is the best thing about science; you have the right to change your mind depending on what evidence is discovered.
Let’s get to your examples. First you say mutations are made in 1 of every 10 billion and how many mutations do you need to make it beneficial? Sure if that is all you say then it sounds like evolution is ludicrous. Well let’s examine everything else while we are at it. How many cells are in a single adult human? Well I am glad you asked, it is estimated at about 10-50 Trillion. I can’t even imagine a billion how about 10-50 trillion. Just to quantify this 1 Trillion seconds which is divided by 31,536,000(60*60*24*365) is about 31,688 years! That is in a single individual. And that is only a single trillion turned into years not 10 to 50. So one in every ten billion does not seem so bad anymore does it? The fundamental problem is simply an argument from personal incredulity, just because you or most likely anyone for that matter can imagine those numbers does not mean it cannot happen. Just look at our universe the distance between objects or the speed of light.
Right before your statement “the Trinitarians…who take literally words and phrases which in any other context would be instantly recognized as a metaphor” you talked about Thomas Huxley’s famous statement about monkeys and typewriters. Clearly this is a mathematical statement, monkeys are not necessary especially due to our modern computers and simply having the word infinite should cue to the fact that a few monkeys sitting at a desk for a month hardly qualifies as the experiment being properly run. Computers and random number generators are more up to the task than six monkeys.
Posted by: Okada | August 23, 2008 at 10:21 PM
Plonka: (Osaka, you're next in a day or so)
Glad to hear from you again, though as usual we disagree.
I can answer only for Jehovah’s Witnesses, and not for whatever is taught in churches. I’ve found the JW framework to be internally consistent and philosophically satisfying. I don’t claim it is scientific, but it is logical. I cannot say that for religion outside the JW camp. “Philosophically satisfying” it may or may not be…. that quality is very subjective. But it certainly is not internally consistent or logical, so people who treasure those qualities cannot help but be put off.
Mind you, there are things about Jehovah’s Witnesses that many take exception to, or dislike. Perhaps you have a list of them. But logical consistency is not one of them.
I disagree also regarding your assessment of evidence. I think there is strong evidence for God. This post presents some of the probability sort….by smashing one position, it leaves the other one to stand. However I realize that you do not accept such as evidence, and by the rules you have written for yourself, it is not. Even what constitutes evidence is in the eye of the beholder.
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | August 24, 2008 at 07:55 AM
I, likewise feel compelled to respond to this, though probably not for the same reason that Okada has.
First off, I think it is entirely a false premise to say that we, as atheists, or even just as human beings, do not object to the types of things that parents indoctrinate or inculcate in their children. You list a large array of things that children apparently pick up from their parents. Let me also include racism, fanaticism, hatred, bigotry, zeal, jihadism, strong nationalism, etc, etc.
I indeed object to indoctrination in all of the above cases, as well as in those cases where parents teach their children to not value education and learning, or curiosity, or creativity. I am disappointed in quite a lot of things about the way that children are raised. Religious indoctrination is merely one item. Do I speak for all atheists? No, certainly not, just as I assume that you do not presume to speak for all Jehovah's Witnesses. Most of the atheists that I know, however, would like to not even have to argue about modern religion, much in the same way that we don't have to argue about unicorns, leprechauns, Thor, or Zeus (most of the time). We would like not even to have to label ourselves atheists, in the way that I imagine you do not label yourself an atheist for all the gods that you do not believe in (although, technically, you would be defined as such.)
In fact, I am horribly disappointed my a lot of other atheists, as I am disappointed by my fellow Americans, and my fellow human beings. Atheism is merely one part of my identity, and it is in no way consuming of most of my thought. Unfortunately, however, I feel the need to continually bring it up and argue from the non-religious point of view because religions, now more than in a long time, are encroaching more and more in our laws, government, and public life. Also, there is a very strong belief prevalent in at least America that atheists are somehow sub-human and not to be trusted or sometimes, even allowed to live. That is a viewpoint that I will argue against for as long as I am able. But, likewise, I argue just as strongly against alternative medicines, legal issues, especially those involving the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and scientific topics.
Another important distinction to make about religious indoctrination is that the consequences for disagreeing with your parents is much greater than for other things. My father was very much a Ford man for most of his life. I like Jeeps, and now whatever gets better mileage and will get me where I need to go. Dad has in fact changed his mind as the years passed, and he hardly gave me any problems for not agreeing that Ford made the best cars in the world. I am not as conservative as my parents, as we do debate certain issues, but I have not been disowned for not agreeing with them. However, religion is another matter entirely. There tend to be much more significant consequences, both in the family and in the larger community, for leaving a religion or disagreeing with it. This can range anywhere from constant shame and guilt, to disfellowshiping, to a death penalty. If there are any other groups out there that are willing to kill or completely disown their children just for forgiving them, then I am equally against them. I do not think that any child should have to live with the fear of losing their parents' love, or losing their life, because they disagree with their parents, either on religious topics or otherwise. That is my stance, and hence, one reason that I argue against the religious indoctrination of children.
Likewise, sometimes it in fact is the case that people other than the child's natural parents have their best interest at heart. This is why we have social services, to take children out of homes where they will be abused or neglected. Natural parents do not, always, mean the best parents.
Also, as to:
"With religious yearnings nearly universal throughout human experience, it really is a fantastic idea to suggest that failure to break that pattern amounts to child abuse!"
Racism, for most of human history, has been nearly universal. Should we have, likewise, thought it ignorant, arrogant, or terribly wrong to try to teach children differently? You yourself have often said on your own blog that religions throughout the world have promoted divisions and hatred. I would find it odd that you call yourself an evangelical and yet would not say that you want the very same thing that we do? To "break the cycle" of most of this indoctrination? You want converts to your religion, we want converts out of religion. Whether that means atheism, agnosticism, or just a strong appreciation for humanity, it doesn't really matter to me. I am not horribly tied to my atheism, and if someone could actually convince me of the existence of a god, I would certainly change my mind.
And yes, let me use some buzz words: critical thinking and scientific evaluation. Presumably you want those you are evangelizing to think critically about their own faith. We want people to think critically about everything - not just their religion, but their political leanings, their ideas about medicine, and every scientific study that comes out. No one should get a free lunch.
I completely disagree with the statement that you are not "invited to consider" the fantastic improbability of evolution. In fact, evolutionary biologists, including Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins, have written entire books on this topic, and mention it quite frequently in their books. However, there is another important fact to consider. Let us consider a crystal - any crystal is an incredibly highly ordered arrangement of atoms. Statistically, that any crystal at all should exist by chance in the state it exists is vanishingly improbable - impossible by any stretch of the imagination, you might say. But, the crystal exists. And it has to exist in some state. Therefore, no matter how unlikely any one state is (and they are all equally implausible), one of them has to be correct. There is an entire field of chemistry and mathematics dedicated to this: statistical thermodynamics. I encourage you to read some non-technical treatments of it, as it is quite fascinating. There is another important point, however - crystals, as well as organic compounds like DNA, and evolution, is not governed entirely by chance. Crystals, molecules, and evolution are all guided by physical laws - the laws of physics and chemistry, and by natural selection. Mutation only allows for new variation, as does sexual recombination (otherwise, your children would be nearly perfect clones of you. I assume that you are willingly to admit that your children vary to some degree from you and your wife, and it is that range of variation upon which natural selection acts - as well as numerous other factors. Genes are one level of abstraction back from what selection typically operates on - it is the ultimate cause of evolution, but most often we do not directly see selection happening on the genome itself.)
Are mutations rare? Certainly. I take issue with the rest of this paragraph, however - "Gene replication seems accurate almost to perfection. "Typically, mistakes are made at a rate of only 1 in every ten billion bases incorporated," states the textbook Microbiology. (Tortora, Funke, Case, 2004, pg 217)"
I do not know of any case where only a single gene is replicated. I am forced to guess among several options of what you mean - translation from a gene to mRNA? There are errors that can occur here, certainly. Replication of all the chromosomes when a cell divides in mitosis? There are errors that can creep in here as well. However, the most important one, for the sake of evolution, is the process called meiosis, where germ cells split into gametes, and yes, mutations, as well as recombination, happens here as well, producing a large amount of variability. As for your quote that mutations occur only in 1 for every ten billion base pairs incorporated, this possibly a true but misleading statement, in the same way that moon hoaxers say that Hubble has never imaged the moon to search for the landers or rovers (completely true, but misleading, as Hubble cannot resolve that small of a detail, purely do to the laws of optics). The human genome has about 3.5 billion base pairs. Imagine, for a moment, all the eggs and sperm that are created over a lifetime - each one with another splitting of the genome. At least one mutation, statistically, would have to occur for everything three eggs or sperm. I don't think I need to remind you of the vast number of gametes that are in a typical man's ejaculation. Thus, it is statistically likely that every child (or every other child) will have at least one mutation. However, in fairness, I would like to see the entire context of the quote that you pulled this from, as it seems like a very isolated fact. Is this on average? An average rate for humans? In what kind of cells? Without this kind of information, this fact, in isolation, cannot be evaluated accurately or fairly.
Indeed, a fair amount (perhaps a great amount) of mutations are at least slightly deleterious. The majority of sexual acts do not lead to viable children, and the female body aborts a great number of fertilized embryos before they attach to the uterine wall, after they have attached, or at some time during the progression of the pregnancy. Miscarriages are the most spectacular example of this, but the rate of successful reproduction is statistically quite low. Nevertheless, if you have children, I feel that you will agree that children are born because people keep trying, and those mutations that are only slightly deleterious, or only cause harm later in life, or are completely neutral, or are slightly beneficial, or are very beneficial all get through. Slightly deleterious does not equal inviable, and sometimes, these can lead to beneficial traits depending on the environment. What's the evidence for this, you might ask? Sickle-cell is the most well known. A single mutation that causes anemia, but protects the body against malaria. All those children who did not die of malaria lived long enough to reproduce, and now in areas of the world that are heavily infested with malaria-carrying mosquitoes there are populations where sickle-cell anemia is ubiquitous, despite the costs of anemia.
Thus, "So such errors are not only extraordinarily unusual, but also only a similar infinitesimally tiny proportion of such errors are beneficial....that is, useful for evolution. And any winning mutation has to be beneficial enough to confer upon its recipient a significant trump in the "struggle for survival."" is completely inaccurate. A mutation need not be obviously beneficial to be useful for evolution. We recognize now more than ever the influence of genetic drift - that is, the random drift of genetic differences in a population that can lead to speciation. Likewise, "significant" is a misleading word. Any population model will show you that even a marginal benefit can exponentially spread through a population because reproduction, and things like the weather, are iterative functions, and small differences add up over the long run (this, by the way, is why predicting the weather more than a few days in advance is mostly a futile effort. Initial factors are hard to assess, and any small change can very rapidly spread through the whole system.)
If you need some more evidence for this, I suggest looking up Richard Lenski's most recent paper on his 20 year experiment with E. coli bacteria. He evolved one population to feed on citrate, a trait which no E. coli ever has done before. The process took about 20 years and 44,000 generations, and it only happened in one of his twelve populations. It came about through three mutations - one that was slightly deleterious and decreased the overall fitness of the bacteria, another that was entirely neutral, but set the stage for a third mutation, which in combination with the previous two, allowed the bacteria to create an enzyme to digest citrate, leading to the run-away reproduction of that population of bacteria. And yes, he has documented and copies of every generation of each population for the entire twenty years. He's even willingly to loan out populations, if you would like to run the experiment yourself.
I am not calling you, or anyone else, a "superstitious ignoramus." I think you are probably ignorant of advances in the field of evolutionary biology, but I am likewise. As I've stated on my own blog, ignorance is forgivable. Refusing to educate yourself (and I'm not saying that this applies to you), and then arguing against a position, is entirely unforgivable.
"These “probability” arguments, however (and there are many of them) are entirely inadmissible to science! Not because they are not weighty, but because science has no way to weigh them. They don’t adapt themselves to the scientific method, with its insistence on repeatable experiments." Again, wrong. Science is entirely a probability argument. We are sure that our standard models of physics are probably right, at least mostly. We are sure that our understanding of gravity is probably right, as we as we have been able to study it. We are sure that our understanding of evolution by natural selection is probably correct, due to the evidence that we have thus far, and its strong predictive value. All of these things, as all scientific theories are, are probability assessments of the likelihood of the theory being correct. Every experiment that is conducted, every prediction that turns out to be right (and in the case of evolution, I highly recommend that you look up Neil Shubin's finding of Tiktaalik for such a case), every time we make a prediction into a new area on which we have no previous evidence and it turns out to be right, every time we find new evidence that we previously had no idea about and it falls in line with our theory...these are all cases in which we are made more confident that our theories are correct. But they are always falsifiable, and we are always willingly to give them up (and yes, indeed, sometimes grudgingly) when new evidence comes around that contradicts our theories. Do not take this to mean that a single experiment with a negative outcome will completely overturn a scientific theory. There are a thousand reasons why an experiment could come up with a negative result, and most of them are due to experimenter or methodological errors. If you want to overturn a scientific theory, you have to do it the hard way, the scientific way, and establish a literature as strong (indeed, stronger) than the literature that precedes it. Einstein was not immediately accepted - he had to prove his case. What he had an advantage in was that relativity resolved several problems with observed celestial phenomena, such as the erratic orbit of Mercury. Likewise, Darwin was not immediately accepted - but he had the weight of evidence, a plausible mechanism, and strong predictive value on his side. This is not to say that evolutionary theory has not changed - in fact, Darwin may recognize only a little of it by now, especially since he had no understanding of genetics. The point is that every time we test evolutionary theory (and we do, daily), we find more supporting evidence for it.
Does this mean it is dogma? No. It is always possible to overturn. This is a problem that I often have when arguing with people who are not in the sciences - they think that scientists are all dogmatic thinkers and just toeing the party line. I think this shows that the person has not met too many scientists, been to any scientific conventions, or watched debates. We're contentious people. We love arguing. We love proving other people wrong. If nothing else, you could appeal to human greed - we'd all love to win that Nobel Prize. And how do you do that? Mostly by proving older scientists wrong. Science advances in this way. When you're constantly getting more evidence that you're correct, it gets boring. Every time we confirm Einstein, we're glad to have that confirmation, but we're all a little sad too - they're nothing new to learn. We don't appreciate "Eurekas!" or "Just as I expected" anywhere near as much as we love to hear a "Huh, that's interesting..." or "Man, I don't get this at all!" There's something new for us there, something else to figure out. Plus, it keeps us employed. Trust me, if anyone out there could actually disprove evolution, they would be jumping at the bit - a Nobel Prize, a new field of biology, and all the fame they could ever want. You say most people are guided by their lower emotions and desires, but you don't think that scientists, some of the most contentious people out there, don't want to be right about what they're studying, or to prove someone else wrong? I'm sorry, but it seems that you're arguing for a conspiracy theory involving every scientists who lives. That, I find highly implausible. But, if you have evidence, please show me. That's all I'm asking.
This is also not to say that there are not some major problems with evolutionary theory, but it is incredible to say that the people working in the field do not know of these. In fact, it is the scientists working in evolution who are the most vocal about these problems. Find any debate by scientists in evolutionary theory - read any book about it - read any paper published in the field. They are all quite aware of problems, and are all willing to work on them, or are already busy with it.
As to your example of Thomas Huxley - please. First, will you please find the actual reference of that quote? It is possible that he said it at some point, but most people credit it to him during an 1860 debate. The first commercial typewriter did not come on the market until years after. This is a pedantic point, and really is not the main point of my argument against this. The idea actually goes back as far as Aristotle, and has been very popular throughout the years.
My main point of argument against this point is thus: the example is intended as a thought experiment of an infinitely running random string generator. It is almost tautological that eventually, some string of Shakespeare will emerge from it. Indeed, computer models have already done just that. In mathematical terms, we call this "almost certain." Given an infinite amount of time, a random string generator will almost certainly come across a given string (e.g. "To be or not to be, that is the question.") If you increase the number of random string generators, the statistical time required goes down in relation to a very simple mathematical formula.
But, as I've said before, evolution is not a matter of pure chance. When you take out the purely "random" factor, the time required to match any string drops to quite a low amount.
Another point, though, to what are you comparing the improbability? To the probability of humans arising? Well, it's true that if you run back the evolutionary clock that humans may not ever emerge. No evolutionary biologist argues that humans have to arise from evolutionary principles. It is indeed an incredibly "lucky" happenstance that we are sitting here to argue today. That SOMETHING would evolve out of the chemistry of life is much more probable, and that, at heart, is all that evolutionists argue.
I also find it highly ironic that you take the "infinite monkey theorem" so literally when in the very next paragraph you chastise others for the same error. First off, the "experiment" when you cite was more of a performance art piece, and in no way replicated any of the conditions of the thought experiment. Likewise, it is a thought experiment, and one that can be confirmed mathematically. It also helps that we actually have evidence for evolution and speciation. I suggest you check out the literature, a lot has changed in the past 50 years, and a lot of really exciting stuff has happened in the past decade or less. If, on the other hand, you have some firm evidence that evolution is wrong, please present it. If, however, you merely find it highly implausible, well, I'm sorry, but that is never an acceptable answer. That the speed of light is a universal constant, no matter the frame of reference from which you measure it, seems equally implausible to many people. Unfortunately for them, every bit of evidence we have confirms it.
I feel like I've already dealt with most of your argument in what I've said to Tom. I would like to say, however, that biologists and chemists are indeed working on the issues of abiogenesis, and recently there have been many advances here. Please, again, as I would tell anyone, check the literature. Lastly, no scientist claims that life appeared "BLAM", just like that from nothing. That, in fact, is the creationist stance. Scientists are working out all the numerous complex pathways through which life comes about. Creationists are quite happy to say "There was nothing, then God did it, then life!"
It's funny that you do bring up the fossil record, which is far and away one of the most constant proofs of evolutionary theory. Please, explain to me why you feel it is not. Likewise, Peking Man, and several others, were indeed hoaxes. But, it was other scientists who figured it out when they finally got to look at the actual bones (everyone was given only plaster casts originally, which significantly limits the amount of evidence that you have). Scientists figured out that Peking Man and other hoaxes were completely unbelievable, due to overwhelming evidence of the actual evolutionary pathways of humans. Another major disadvantage to early researchers was they they did not have the use of molecular biology - that is, DNA. If someone tried to hoax us again with bones, it is a relatively simple matter to sequence the DNA and judge just how related the bones actually are. Again, I will ask you as well to check the literature, and tell me what you have problems with.
@ Tom, again,
Again, please, tell me why you feel it is so uncompelling, and we can argue that. Personal incredulity does not mean much to me, one way or the other.
Likewise, I would agree that Jehovah's Witnesses probably have an internally consistent position. But, I would argue, so do most religions, and so do conspiracy theories. Once you allow the premise of a conspiracy or a supernatural entity, ~anything~ can be brought in as internally consistent with a little thought. This is why science is committed to methodological naturalism - if you accept the supernatural position, there is no way to distinguish between various hypotheses for their likelihood of being correct. Consider medicine: it is entirely possible that God or demons are the root cause of AIDS, diabetes, or any number of diseases. However, we have no way to prove this or distinguish between God, a demon, or pixies causing illness. Instead, we search for natural mechanisms and effective treatments (often, effective-enough or what we can do presently to alleviate suffering while we continue to do research). This is the only way science can progress, and I hope you will at least recognize this point. Once science allows for a supernatural explanation, any supernatural explanation, all bets are off for any progress. And this is not an argument against Jehovah. It is equally an argument against Hindu gods, homeopathy, therapeutic touch, chi, etc. I hope we're at least somewhat in agreement on this point.
Lastly, I severely disagree with this: "I think there is strong evidence for God. This post presents some of the probability sort….by smashing one position, it leaves the other one to stand." I think this is a false dichotomy. Even if you could completely disprove evolution (which, again, I'm willing to hear what evidence you want to bring), this does not leave God as the only other hypothesis, much less Jehovah of the Jehovah's Witnesses. It is merely one other possible answer. I think this is a major distinction between scientists and religious people. The scientists job is to come up with as many possible explanations as possible and test each one for plausibility. God is a possible explanation, but only if absolutely nothing else could possibly account for the data. Thus far, we have not run into that point. The religious person typically jumps directly to God as the explanation, without considering all the other innumerate possibilities in between.
Finally, I want to tell you that I'm also posting this reply on my own blog, because it deals with several issues I've been meaning to get around to writing a post for. I also realize this comment is ridiculously long, but I want to be thorough, and I'm certainly willing to continue this conversation here, or on my blog.
As always, I am eager to hear back from you.
Posted by: Ragoth | August 24, 2008 at 06:49 PM
Osaka: (Ragoth next)
“If any religious person can present non-circular reasoning and scientific evidence to be examined I am sure the scientific community would be more than thrilled to take a look at it.”
This argument cuts both ways:
If any person of science can demonstrate how our universal urge to war can be allayed, I’m sure Jehovah’s Witnesses would be more than thrilled to take a look at it.
If any person of science can demonstrate how disaster relief can be accomplished promptly and effectively, eliminating greed and profiteering, I’m sure Jehovah’s Witnesses would be more than thrilled to take a look at it. (these two points harken back to Ragoth’s original post)
If any person of science can supply a satisfying answer to why we grow old and die, and why there is evil and suffering, I’m sure Jehovah’s Witnesses would be more than thrilled to take a look at it.
If any person of science can provide a nurturing model for raising the next generation (marriage being of religious origin, don‘t scientists favor the “four year itch“ theory?), I’m sure Jehovah’s Witnesses would be more than thrilled to take a look at it.
And so forth.
I see no reason to acquiesce to scientists as the final arbiters of how we are to live. I don’t think they have earned that status.
“Well let’s examine everything else while we are at it. How many cells are in a single adult human? Well I am glad you asked, it is estimated at about 10-50 Trillion……So one in every ten billion does not seem so bad anymore does it?”
The number of cells in a single adult human is indeed huge. But is that really relevant? Are they all involved in reproduction? Is it not rather only two cells we are interested in, one from the male and one from the female? More specifically, the DNA molecules within those cells. That’s where mutations arise that can matter to the next generation, is that not so? How many gene pairings are we looking at within the DNA molecule?
Besides, 10 trillion is “only” 1000 times greater than 10 billion. No, I can’t imagine it. But then I can’t imagine 10 billion either. Nor do I trust science to authoritatively state what takes place on that unimaginable tiny scale of magnitude. That’s not to say I reject out of hand whatever scientists may say on such things. But neither do I lap it up as indisputable truth. I accept such findings as tentative and with a grain of salt. Too often science overturns our understanding of the very tiny (and very large), often in fundamental ways, and not merely tweaking.
“First you say mutations are made in 1 of every 10 billion and how many mutations do you need to make it beneficial?”
I didn’t really say that, though perhaps I merely misunderstand your rephrasing. I say that of the 1 in 10 billion mutations, a similarly tiny proportion would be beneficial; all the rest would be harmful. Thus we are speaking of, not one in 10 billion, but one in ten billion SQUARED, which easily trumps your 1 in 10 trillion. Of course, I don’t really know how to arrive at that tiny proportion of beneficial mutations….has anyone researched that? But I think one might reasonably infer the answer from observing, in other spheres, how often random accidents in replication improve the product. How often, for example, do automobile accidents improve the vehicles?
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | August 25, 2008 at 10:44 AM
Hey Tom, one quick change which I just remembered today. "Peking Man," in my response post, should be "Piltdown Man." Peking Man was indeed a Homo erectus fossil. I'm sorry to have made the mistake, but, it's got to happen sometime. Sorry for that confusion, as we can continue to discuss if you feel up to it.
Posted by: Ragoth | August 27, 2008 at 04:41 PM
Noted, Ragoth. Thanks. I had some fun with Piltdown Man a few months back.
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | August 27, 2008 at 05:31 PM
Thanks. Do you want me to comment on that post, as I think I have a slightly different viewpoint that most of the other comments, and a bit of a dispute with the definitions used for "law," "theory," and "hypothesis"? (if so would you prefer it here or there?) Or do you want as a dead or side issue? I'm comfortable either way. I'm also trying to keep some of these comments shorter, as I'm back at work and have less time, so, if anything sounds curt or uncivil, please chalk it up to time issues, not any intended rudeness.
Posted by: Ragoth | August 27, 2008 at 06:40 PM
Up to you, but probably no need. The post is not entirely serious. It is as much a vignette of that time's characters as it is a serious criticism of evolutionists. I'm told that many of the top scientists smelled a rat almost from the get-go.
All the same, Piltdown was allowed to stand for decades. Perhaps it is all the more to their detriment if evolutionists privately thought it was fishy yet publicly allowed it to stand, where it would sway the masses toward a favored theory.
Comment if you like, but it is a side issue. I just inserted it here in response to your Piltdown mention. I didn't intend to start a separate thread.
Still working on the big reply. I'll have your blog done tomorrow morning and mine shortly thereafter.
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | August 27, 2008 at 07:35 PM
“Likewise, I would agree that Jehovah's Witnesses probably have an internally consistent position. But, I would argue, so do most religions”
William Inge, former dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, once said: “All my life I have struggled to find the purpose of living. I have tried to answer three problems which always seemed to me to be fundamental: the problem of eternity; the problem of human personality; and the problem of evil. I have failed. I have solved none of them.”
After 911, you may recall, well-known clergypersons across the country were saying they had no idea what they would tell their parishioners come Sunday.
When a child dies, clergy are stuck with the model of having to sell death as good, a pathway to a better existence. It forces them into the “God is picking flowers” analogy. Can any message be more cruel to a bereaved parent? (Is that what they told Darwin? http://tinyurl.com/5wbcb7 )
These three situations arise because the religions involved are not internally consistent. When the Bible is portrayed accurately, all three are readily resolved.
As to what evolutionists have demonstrated, my reply made on your blog will suffice for this one also:
“There is enough common ground between the Bible and science that I think the two can reasonably coexist as is by “fudging” both sides a bit. For example, no one in our camp has any beef with “microevolution”…..you know, the animal husbandry, Darwin beaks, feathers and feet type, and that is far-and-away the most well-supported aspect of evolutionary theory. All the thinking behind mutations and what they can accomplish….we have no problem accepting this as the likely mechanism through which such changes within a “kind” (the unspecific Genesis word) work. Plus, perhaps you realize that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not among the religionists who insist on creation happening in 24 hour days. “Day” is an unspecific term as used in everyday life and even in the scriptures. We can live with “day” representing a very long time.”
I’ve already conceded my reasons for thinking as I do are more philosophical than scientific. The attractiveness and (in my mind) reasonableness of the first outweigh the mixed reviews of the second. I am content if science does not categorically disprove God, which I think is the present state of affairs. You, on the other hand, defer to science first, before any philosophical considerations. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that science defines your philosophical considerations. For you, science must prove God. But for me, science, at least as it exists now, is too limited of a tool to do that.
“You list a large array of things that children apparently pick up from their parents. Let me also include racism, fanaticism, hatred, bigotry, zeal, jihadism, strong nationalism, etc, etc.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses, to a degree exceeding anywhere else, have freed themselves from these ills, and they’ve done so by applying Bible principles. Their reputation is well established, but I’ll go through the qualities one at a time if you request. That such pervasive ills can be overcome is chief among the reasons I was attracted to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Science speaks of how one day they may be able to overcome these traits through education, critical thinking, etc. If so, they will only be replicating what Jehovah’s Witnesses are accomplishing at present. Of course, some your terms are subjective, such as fanaticism and zeal. You’d have to define further what you mean. Many (most?) famous persons of history might well be described as fanatics in certain respects. It all depends on where you're coming from.
And I speak only for my faith (which is why I have chosen it). As to your observations of the damage done by religion in general, I don’t disagree with that. Jehovah’s Witnesses were intensely critical of religion before today’s scientific atheists were born, and we did it at a time when such criticism took courage.
Today people build their careers on tearing apart religion. When we did it, it was more likely a pathway to career ruination.
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | August 30, 2008 at 07:24 AM
I'm chiming in a little late here ... why is it that science and religion can't co-exist?
While there are certainly some 'zealots for religion' who claim that the earth was created in 144 hours flat, there are also some 'scientists' who claim that the earth is hollow.
There are scientists who embrace religion on a personal level and there are scientists who do not.
There are theists who are strongly convinced of the supremacy of God and there are those who are just in it for the easy work and pinky rings.
The scientists are free to defend the 'hollow earth / flat earth crowd' if they wish, but I'm going to put as much distance as I can between me and the '144 hr / pinky ring' crowd.
My point? Using those extremes as examples I just want to know if our energies wouldn't be better spent looking for areas of agreement than insisting on some empty 'victory' for either 'side'.
For science, the victory of 'what', 'when' and 'how' fails to answer the 'who' or the 'why'.
For religion, the 'who', 'what', 'when' and 'why' leaves the 'how' pleading for an answer.
For instance, it appears that the Bible anticipated the scientific explanation of the evaporation cycle by several centuries. That warrants examination. If not from a Deity, where did the author of that observation obtain his information? That seems like a valid scientific inquiry into religion.
So far as I am concerned, God created the cosmos just the way he said he did. Science consists of trying to figure out how he did it.
Until science can provide a (vastly) better 'first cause', I'm sticking to the documented one.
When I was in high-school, the 'big bang' seemed close to providing that answer ... until one questioned where the mass for it came from. Then, 20 years or so later, the 'contracting universe' idea seemed to provide that answer. Except that current observations show that the universe is not only bigger than we could have imagined, it is getting larger at a rate that is difficult to fathom for reasons totally beyond our (present) comprehension.
Along with that observation came two others popularly known as 'dark matter' and 'dark energy' which postulate a LOT more mass and a LOT more energy to the universe than earlier calculations yielded.
I have a cousin who changes his underwear on that same cycle. Nobody likes him.
Posted by: Bill Canaday | October 19, 2008 at 08:18 PM