Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Confronting the Creationists With Science...

Alright, with the release of Expelled looming like on the horizon like some big ridiculous monster, I thought it'd be fun to post a video about the relationship of humans to our great ape cousins. For added emphasis, I'm referring readers not to an atheist biologist like Richard Dawkins, but instead to devout Catholic biologist Kenneth Miller, holder of a Ph.D. in biology and a professor at Brown University. This is a fascinating video taken from a much longer 2 hour talk available here. In this clip, Miller talks about the evidence of chromosome fusion in humans, explaining why humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes while great apes have 24. Were there no evidence of a fusing of chromosomes in human beings, the theory of common descent between humans and great apes would be disconfirmed. On the other hand, mapping of the human genome shows an anomalous placement of centromeres and telomeres in the human genetic code that provides powerful evidence of chromosome fusion and, therefore, of common descent. Enjoy.

13 comments:

Jason said...

Thanks for posting this! I was actually looking for the entire clip. I want to show it to my Creationist friend who is on the fence right now. This will be very helpful.

Skippy said...

Full clip is here:
http://youtube.com/watch?v=JVRsWAjvQSg

Hope this helps with your friend. Miller is a powerful spokesmen for the fact that no one of any religious stripe needs to have their head in the sand about biological science.

JAK said...

Good link, Skippy. One of the big sticking points for a lot of Christians is that they've been conditioned to think that Evolution is inherently atheistic. Being able to show unambiguously that this isn't the case is a powerful tool.

Skippy said...

I just suggested over on Ray's blog that some of the creationists there should try looking up Ken Miller on youtube. I bet, however, that I won't make it past the moderation on that one.

Garret said...

YAWN. How did they get fused, why would a designer NOT do this, specifically? He says He doesn't believe in a God that would try to fool us( did he read Chap 1:18-31 of 1 Corinthians?)? He mistakenly assumes that God should be concerned about how He creates so that it does not appear that it fits common ancestry. But we do have common ancestry- God made all things! The answer that Miller mocks is in fact the answer period. That man declares findings of Gods' creation to fit a specific theory about how God was not involved at all is amusing. It is still philosophical- can God use evolution, of course- but He didn't- He used the building blocks, DNA, and when man pokes around there and sees commonality he does see just that- commonality! We have visual and microscopic similarity to the extreme with primates....common descent or common creator-this aspect is philosophy, not science. Science shows the physical similarities, philosophy deals with the info given and paints a portrait of reality and its parameters. Science deals with the physical, the info processed seen through different philosophical lenses is what is being debated here. A good argument arises that macro-evolution and common descent is true, but I don't see it that way, my "lens" is different-
Thanks Skippy and others-
Garret

JAK said...

Garrett -

Have you actually ever read a real biology textbook? One that you'd find in a college-level biology class? There's a lot more to evolution than you've apparently been led to believe. (Hint - Ray doesn't have a clue what he's talking about.)

Garret said...

Hi Jak
Yes I took biology 101 at CSUN and Bio lab there. Small changes and adaptation within phenotype- are different than the large, macro changes proposed. I am aware of speciation- they are still fruit flies and the are still chilid fish.
Now a question for you- do you understand the point I was making about philosophy? it is a reference to metaphysics.
Science has not proven that this is a "closed system"- it is a philosophical proclamation, that when accepted, influences the way you see everything- the how and why and the who and the what of life. When you claim closed system, you proclaim that it is not the doing of God, but this is not proof- it is a belief-
Thanks

Skippy said...

Garret, I have to say I'm kind of disappointed. You've used several paragraphs spanning two posts to make the argument of "I choose not to believe in evolution, and thus it didn't happen regardless of what evidence you show me".

I'm curious as to your objections to theistic evolution. Miller is clearly not arguing that evolution disproves or invalidates the existence of a deity. In fact, he believes in exactly the same God as you. He is making an argument for the reality of evolution based on the convergence of all biological, archaeological, ethnographic, and geological science, though he believes that all of these things are created and made possible by the God you yourself worship.

How is it, then, that you can claim to know the will and processes of God with such certainty? How is it that you are comfortable stating that you know -as fact- that Almighty God created human beings in their present form with a fused second chromosome -a trait giving EVERY INDICATION of a shared ancestor between man and other great apes- just for the sake of fucking with people?

I thought one of the big Christian virtues was meant to be humility in the face of God (See Job, for example), but you seem to be making some broad proclamations that you know His mind and methods.

Oh, and one final thing, since you like to note that God doesn't have to explain Himself to man and that he was not obligated to give up the goods on every little thing in the Bible (Remember our discussion of Biblical Pi, when you made a big point of how maybe God didn't want to tell people the value of Pi in that particular verse.) - Since Biblical Pi is obviously hokum, but maybe God just didn't want to reveal Pi, do you have a good explanation as to why Biblical Creation mightn't be hokum as well, given to man by God because He didn't feel like explaining telomeres and centromeres and natural selection to the author of Genesis? Hell, maybe instead of making up a fused chromosome 2 to mess with people, God made up the Genesis account just to mess with our heads.

Since you know Him so well, I'm sure you've got a perfect answer for that lined up.

JAK said...

Garret -

OK, 101 level classes generally don't get too deep. I've got several years worth of bio classes, so perhaps I can help. Let's start with a definition:

Biological evolution is:
(C)hange in the propeties of groups of organisms over the course of generations. (Futuyma, Evolution, 2005, pg. 2)

That's it. When we talk about evolution, that's what we're talking about. If you use another definition that is significantly different from Futuyma's, you're talking about something else. Under this definition, which is the one working scientists actually use, evolution is an indisputable fact.

Now, common descent, interestingly, isn't a necessary consequence of evolution. One could construct a scenario (indeed many creationists have) of evolution within kinds (although the term kind is never precisely defined), where given a finite set of discrete starting species, related species branched off. In a scenario like this, if you map species relationships you get what looks like a bunch of short trees - discretely nested hierarchies - that often get pointed to as examples of microevolution.

The reason that we have such strong confidence in the idea of common descent is that we have literally mountains of consilient evidence to suggest that it has occurred. This evidence is reflected in DNA of extant species, in the morphology of extant species, and in the fossil record (which necessarily means that it's also reflected in the Geologic column), and in the biochemistry of extant living organisms (just to name a few). The net result of common descent is a single nested hierarchy (vice a bunch of them). One very easy to understand example is the evolution of the tetrapod limb. The fossil record shows precisely the pattern of evolution of the tetrapod limb that we'd expect - the fixing of the bone pattern - one big bone articulating with two bones, articulating with a bunch of little bones, terminating in an array of radial bones. (Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish is an excellent discussion of this, and very readable.) This is testable, and it's observable - it's the reason why your doctor doesn't prescribe penicillin for sinus infections anymore.

Now, you could certainly attempt to argue that God just set everything up to look like life descended from a common ancestor, and if that helps you sleep better at night, fine. But it's not scientific. We can't test it, and by attempting to explain everything, it really explains nothing. In science we try to minimize the number of entities - adding something we don't need isn't a good thing. Adding God into the mix isn't something we need. (In fairness, God is outside the realm of science, so having God in the mix doesn't really hurt anything, either, so long as you're objective about the evidence. You'll see people state that science is neutral with respect to God. That's why.)

That's why I find your philosophical/metaphyiscal rationale to be, well, irrelevant here - you've brought in something we don't need to explain the observed data.

Now, you hinted, by way of saying "macro changes" at a distinction between microevolution and macroevolution. As a practical matter, the only difference between the two is time - the mechanisms in play are exactly the same - and our knowledge of geology gives us around 4.5 billion years to work with.

The bottom line, here, Garret, is that your understanding of evolution is so distorted that it's not even right enough to be wrong. Until you actually learn what the scientific community defines evolution to be, we're talking at cross purposes.

Garret said...

Hi Skippy...
"Garret, I have to say I'm kind of disappointed. You've used several paragraphs spanning two posts to make the argument of "I choose not to believe in evolution, and thus it didn't happen regardless of what evidence you show me".

That misportays what I said- read it again- I see evidence, I interpret what I see differently than you because I reject the godless premise of modern science, its metaphysic is not my metaphysic.

"I'm curious as to your objections to theistic evolution. Miller is clearly not arguing that evolution disproves or invalidates the existence of a deity."

True. But Theistic would be guided evolution, not an unguided process. A purposeful manipulation of the genetic structure toward an "end". A deistic argument would be a self sufficient system, incompatable with biblical worldview. Either way this would be very different than the closed system construct of the modern hard sciences. I am somewhat "open" to that- a problem arises in regard specifically to the creation of man.

"How is it, then, that you can claim to know the will and processes of God with such certainty?"

The bible is special revelation-different than the physical things we can see and know and explore easily. The unseen realm is different and needs a special "revelation".

"that Almighty God created human beings in their present form with a fused second chromosome -a trait giving EVERY INDICATION of a shared ancestor between man and other great apes- just for the sake of fucking with people?"

No- in fact, consider this- it is you who sees problems with the biblical creation account, not me. Anybody who rejects the biblical account because of a fused chromosome etc will feel f'ed with, but you are the one who chooses what to believe. Maybe there should be no choice, maybe it should be obvious, as you would want it to be or expect it to be. It is apparently the will of God that the lowly idiots, or those who would be called idiots, are the "chosen ones" or at least the ones who will defend Him. It will get worse, year by year.

"I thought one of the big Christian virtues was meant to be humility in the face of God (See Job, for example), but you seem to be making some broad proclamations that you know His mind and methods."

As I stick with the bible in this age, you can see by how I am treated here, looking like a backwards ignoramus who ignores "the obvious", that humilty is given to me, free of charge. I would not know His mind and intentions were it not for the bible.

"do you have a good explanation as to why Biblical Creation mightn't be hokum as well, given to man by God because He didn't feel like explaining telomeres and centromeres and natural selection to the author of Genesis?"

Yes- good point. I agree with you with a twist- "didn't feel like explaining" change to " did not expect to understand".

"Hell, maybe instead of making up a fused chromosome 2 to mess with people, God made up the Genesis account just to mess with our heads."

Like I said, He is not messing with my head, it is those who reject Him that feel deceived by such things- I merely accept that that is the details of how we were made.

Okay, Peace Skippy- call me an Idiot, I don't mind, but Peace to you.

Garret said...

Jak thanks for the long discourse.

Biological evolution is:
(C)hange in the properties of groups of organisms over the course of generations. (Futuyma, Evolution, 2005, pg. 2)

That's it. When we talk about evolution, that's what we're talking about. If you use another definition that is significantly different from Futuyma's, you're talking about something else. Under this definition, which is the one working scientists actually use, evolution is an indisputable FACT.

There are aspects that are under dispute, none the less. The statement is very vague, I am sure he proceeds to fill it in, as it were. For instance, change in what properties? Change as in the variety of dogs and other animals, or change into different animals all together given enough time- I come to see that is what you mean.

"Now, common descent, interestingly, isn't a necessary consequence of evolution. One could construct a scenario (indeed many creationists have) of evolution within kinds (although the term kind is never precisely defined), where given a finite set of discrete starting species, related species branched off. In a scenario like this, if you map species relationships you get what looks like a bunch of short trees - discretely nested hierarchies - that often get pointed to as examples of microevolution."

This would seem to fit the world more accurately in my opinion than common descent given the Cambrian explosions "geologically sudden" plethora of plants and animals.

Re common descent
"This evidence is reflected in DNA of extant species"
and the rule that "code" can't be re-used in many plants and animals is where- certainly not in the mind of computer programmers who do it all the time- it only makes sense.

"in the morphology of extant species"

Design baby, design.

"and in the fossil record (which necessarily means that it's also reflected in the Geologic column)"

Lots of dead plants and animals to guess who they "belong to"- what happened to stasis being an observed phenomenon in fossils? did that disappear?

"and in the biochemistry of extant living organisms (just to name a few)"

Design baby, design. You go ahead and make an mind bogglingly complex micromachine- and then go and never use it in anything ever again!

"it's the reason why your doctor doesn't prescribe penicillin for sinus infections anymore."

micro changes- with you there.

ON GOD IN SCIENCE

"We can't test it, and by attempting to explain everything, it really explains nothing."

You can't test that statement scientifically, yet you expect it to have meaning, you intend it to be an explanation.

"That's why I find your philosophical/metaphyiscal rationale to be, well, irrelevant here - you've brought in something we don't need to explain the observed data."

Your statement above merely DEFINES one of the metaphysical parameters, it is itself stuck in its own metaphysic, assuming itself to be true. Outside of its metaphysic, it is seen for what it is, a meaningless statement in a world that God has created. Now I just dragged you into my metaphysic. Yours does no work in a God world, mine does no work in a Godless world. ( I remember you are Catholic agnostic though). This metaphysical two-step happens all the time in these discussions.

"As a practical matter, the only difference between the two is time - the mechanisms in play are exactly the same - and our knowledge of geology gives us around 4.5 billion years to work with."

This is exactly what has been at dispute the whole time, and now you throw out the "you know there really is no difference to the micro/macro distinction that you cling to" line. You gave me an example, but largely have made only confident assertions that evolution is true, and capped it off by saying its true- the small changes are the large changes over time. This is exactly the way I understood evolution to be the whole time, no new info has been added. I have seen examples, I have looked at evo-devo- I remain a skeptic on the evolutionary picture as a whole. You call the metaphysics insignificant and portray them as having no influence- I have shown you that your statement (about metaphysics/philosophy) as such is a philosophy, and the fact that you did not catch that is telling. I acknowledge here and have many times that aspects of evolution are true and obvious, but are extended beyond the obvious- small changes are not of nessesity the larger changes in species that you make it to be.

Skippy said...

"Like I said, He is not messing with my head, it is those who reject Him that feel deceived by such things- I merely accept that that is the details of how we were made."

Again, I must point this out: Biblical Pi is -3-. You know that Pi, as observed in the real world, is not 3. We do not know Pi exactly, only to a few million decimals, but we know that it is -not- 3. You yourself accept that.

Ergo, you are faced with 2 choices - either the Bible is errant, or God has intentionally not revealed the value of Pi (for whatever reason). You choose the second option, which for our purposes at the moment is fine.

Likewise, though we do not have the complete "book" of the evolution of life on this planet, the fact of evolution and, indeed, large swathes of "branches" in the "tree of life" have been revealed to us by careful study, often conducted by your co-religionists. Likewise, while the location on earth and exact cause of biogenesis is not yet know to us, we have good evidence for the sequence in which various forms of life emerged after the fact. This knowledge is at odds with the Biblical account.

For example, the first chapter of Genesis states that plants existed on earth BEFORE GOD MADE THE SUN. We know this not to be the case.

As another example, the first chapter of Genesis says that the Earth (and plant life) was made before any of the stars. We know that, in terms of the rest of the universe, the Earth is relatively young. It certainly did not exist before all the stars.

Much like the value of Pi, the observable reality of the world, while not the complete picture, of course, contrasts starkly with the portrayal given in the Bible. Note that I have not even selected evolutionary topics - I have simply noted that we know that plants do no pre-date the sun and that the earth does not predate all the other stars. Reality and the Bible clash here, just like over the value of Pi.

Once again you face a choice - is the Bible errant, or has God intentionally deceived you towards some unknown end? With Pi, you sided with observed reality over the Bible - you know Pi's not 3, ergo the Bible does not reflect reality, either by accident or intentional design.

What will you choose when it comes to cosmology and botany? Whichever way you decide, how do you take it upon yourself to make value judgments on individual passages of a tome you say was conveyed to man by God Himself? Conversely, if every passage of the Bible might be literal, might be allegorical, might be an error or fabrication by man, or might be an intentional fabrication by God, what value can it possibly have? How do you argue with others who would choose interpretations apart from yours? Universal application of that logic makes anyone capable of getting the Bible to say anything through sheer naked assertion. What use is that as a guide to humanity?

Indeed, if the Bible is not correct in its entirety, as you have already conceded regarding the value of Pi, mightn't it be false in its entirety? Now granted, by your logic that doesn't preclude the existence of a god, even your specific God. As with Pi, He could have felt that humans should figure things out on their own (Via, perhaps, the sciences, as was the case with Pi). Perhaps, indeed, the Bible is an intentional ruse by the Creator of the Universe, not out of a cruel desire to mislead, but rather out of a desire to -hint- a various ends that it would be to the betterment of man to study. Might God be a cosmic Mr. Wizard?

I ask you this not because I seriously think it to be the case, but because once you open up the Bible to human interpretation, such as admitting that the value of Pi is not 3 or that maybe, just maybe, it's not okay to beat your slaves as long as you don't blind them or break their teeth, you end up in a situation where you can make the whole thing mean whatever you want it to mean. You can make it unfalsifiable - any apparent error, be it in math or morality, is something that God wanted us to figure out. You've empowered your Bible, your God, to mess with your head ad infinitum. What explanatory power can that arrangement possibly have?

I suggest that your deciding factor in how to interpret the Bible may have a great deal to do with how you emotionally feel about the issue at hand. Surely you've no personal stake in the value of Pi, nor do you keep slaves whom you may have need of beating in a specifically prescribed way. Therefore you feel no compunction about ignoring the Bible with regard to these subjects by explaining their treatment away as metaphor, human corruption or Godly prank.

On the other hand, with regards to evolution, perhaps you can't stand the thought of standing shoulder to shoulder with our primate cousins, not as one of the chosen people among a uniquely ensouled species, but simply as a species of African ape who made it big. Or perhaps you have some aversion to the very first story in your holy book being wrong. Perhaps you have some odd understanding that if we're related to other animals we've no reason to be moral. One way or another, something is stopping you from taking the last step with the evidence for evolution that you've already taken with Pi. It is not for lack of evidence - We know more about the mechanisms and reality of evolution than we know about how gravity works.

I suspect that you've thought by now of turning this logic on me, but I assure you that my support of evolution and antagonism of creationists has nothing to do with my atheism. As Ken Miller illustrates, accepting the reality of evolution does not proscribe the existence of God. Likewise, I take no particular pride in being related to orangutans, gorillas, and big ol' snarling baboons. I can also assure you that my day-to-day decisions about what to believe and what not to believe are quite removed from the influence of your Bible. When it comes to evolution, I truly came to accept it neutrally. I accepted it when I was a Catholic, and I've seen no compelling evidence to abandon it now that I'm an atheist. My ire towards creationists is not that they are religious (If that were the case, why would I argue with the UFO "Seeder" nuts?), it is because they shrilly assert a demonstrably wrong version of reality. I assure you that I have quite enough other concerns about religion to occupy my time on that matter.

In any event, brother, I'm interested to see your reply.

Love and peace,
-Skippy

Garret said...

Hi Skippy
I have given my reply- you know the answer. Your portrayal of Pi not being part of the directions given in the making of the bronze sea is unimpressive.
A. possible error in transmision of the original text (yes- corruption)
B. Moses transmits the rough dimension, not being a craftsman, craftsmen apply Pi to go from the approximate to the accurate. From either of these, I am unconcerned that the "big picture" is altered in the least.

"You can make it unfalsifiable - any apparent error, be it in math or morality, is something that God wanted us to figure out."

The math, see above. Debates over meaning happen all the time- it is logical to do so, and untroubling in the least.
the morality- people turn their backs on what they know is right all the time as a self serving action, this is in the nature of man. In fact, the bible demonstrates time and time again that the Hebrews keep turning away from what is right and did what was right in their own eyes- group punishment from the God who loves them is the response (as a father punishes his child).

certain aspects of "evolution" are obvious, however much of it is not. Don't try to confuse the issue and blur the line between that which is observed and that which is taken to be an implied extension of that which is observed.

People twist scripture to their purposes all the time, I attempt to read it plainly, I could be mistaken in my interpretations, I have discussions with others to hash that out. If I find a good reason to change my position scripturally I will.

Easy answer to Genesis vs science.

Science shows through natural laws what happens sans interference with natural law. Natural law would create a universe in a specific order. Without going into details, the creation of a solar system has its governing principles within the laws of physics.

Genesis however, is not science. Only because it violates science as it is currently defined, a closed system. The God of the universe does not always use the natural law, as miracles are violations of those laws-
The God that made the universe could make it in any order He wished to outside of the natural law, which are laws set up by Him in the first place- see anthropic principle.

As a matter of faith, believing that God not natural law is the creator of all things, is anti science as science defines itself. Sciences definition of itself is arbitrary and subject to a defined metaphysical view of reality, one to which I do not subscribe.

Love ya, Skippy- Peace!