I'm from Missouri

This site is named for the famous statement of US Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver from Missouri : "I`m from Missouri -- you'll have to show me." This site is dedicated to skepticism of official dogma in all subjects. Just-so stories are not accepted here. This is a site where controversial subjects such as evolution theory and the Holocaust may be freely debated.

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Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

My biggest motivation for creating my own blogs was to avoid the arbitrary censorship practiced by other blogs and various other Internet forums. Censorship will be avoided in my blogs -- there will be no deletion of comments, no closing of comment threads, no holding up of comments for moderation, and no commenter registration hassles. Comments containing nothing but insults and/or ad hominem attacks are discouraged. My non-response to a particular comment should not be interpreted as agreement, approval, or inability to answer.

Friday, August 15, 2008

More "central to biology" nonsense

Nothing raises my hackles like the outrageous cockamamie notion that Darwinism is "central to biology." The new Florida state science standards say that "evolution is the fundamental concept underlying all of biology."

Troublemaker Olivia Judson is up to no good again -- she wrote in a NY Times op-ed,

Evolution should be taught — indeed, it should be central to beginning biology classes — for at least three reasons.

One can know nothing about Darwinism and not believe in Darwin and be a great biologist. As Dennis Prager put it, one can be a creationist and be a great biologist, one can believe in witchcraft and be a great biologist, one can believe that the earth is on the back of a turtle and be a great biologist. I would add that you can be knighted, lorded, and get a Nobel prize for work in biology without knowing anything about Darwinism.

Without evolution, biology is merely a collection of disconnected facts, a set of descriptions.

What is wrong with that? My own field of engineering is disconnected in many ways, unified in others. The major branches of engineering are mechanical, electrical, civil, and chemical. Mathematics is the main unifier. There are mathematical analogies between electrical engineering and the mechanical engineering branch of heat transfer, and as a result electrical analog computers can be used in heat transfer analysis. Civil engineers are sought after in the aircraft industry because of their knowledge of stress analysis. Even in my narrow specialty of heat transfer, there are no principles unifying the whole field except perhaps the concepts of temperature, heat, and time.

As I have said before, biologists have an inferiority complex as a result of the kind of attitude expressed by Lord Rutherford: "All science is either physics or stamp collecting." Because of this inferiority complex, biologists have been waging a prestige war against other branches of science by boasting that biology has something that the other branches don't have, a grand central unifying overarching underlying principle of everything, Darwinism. The statement that Darwinism is central to biology is also what Kansas Univ. professor Paul Mirecki called "a nice slap in the big fat face of the fundies."

The third reason to teach evolution is more philosophical. It concerns the development of an attitude toward evidence. In his book, “The Republican War on Science,” the journalist Chris Mooney argues persuasively that a contempt for scientific evidence — or indeed, evidence of any kind — has permeated the Bush administration’s policies, from climate change to sex education, from drilling for oil to the war in Iraq. A dismissal of evolution is an integral part of this general attitude.

It is respect for evidence, not contempt for evidence, that causes skepticism about evolution. A lot of the evidence does not support evolution.

But for me, the most important thing about studying evolution is something less tangible. It’s that the endeavor contains a profound optimism. It means that when we encounter something in nature that is complicated or mysterious, such as the flagellum of a bacteria or the light made by a firefly, we don’t have to shrug our shoulders in bewilderment.

What? How does Darwinism eliminate bewilderment at the great complexity of nature?

Instead, we can ask how it got to be that way. And if at first it seems so complicated that the evolutionary steps are hard to work out, we have an invitation to imagine, to play, to experiment and explore. To my mind, this only enhances the wonder.

Well, isn't that a description of bewilderment: "if at first it seems so complicated that the evolutionary steps are hard to work out"? Isn't that statement a contradiction of the preceding statement that "we don't have to shrug our shoulders in bewilderment"? And yes, the evolutionary steps are hard to work out, particularly in the co-evolution of buzz pollination and complex parasitic relationships.

I never said that evolution should not be taught. There are good reasons for teaching evolution:

(1) Evolution is widely accepted among biologists and being familiar with evolution is part of being an educated person.

(2) Biologists may need to know evolution to understand some scientific literature.

(3) Cladistic taxonomy, which has become important in the last few decades, is based on evolution.
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5 Comments:

Blogger Doublee said...

I am a layman and have been intrigued by the issue raised in this post.

Exactly how does the theory of evolution inform science with any practical information? It seems to me that the really practical information comes from how biology works, rather than how particular biological structures originated.

Science gets its knowledge from observation. After all, the small pox vaccine was developed without benefit of the theory of evolution. It began with an observation. The development of penicillin occurred in the same way. The starting point was not the theory of evolution, but the observation that bacteria did not survive in the presence of the penicillium mold.

And if the steps in an evolutionary sequence are difficult if not impossible to work out, this seems to me to be additional evidence that the theory in principle cannot very useful.

Friday, August 15, 2008 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger Jim Sherwood said...

Doublee's points are valid, and well put. And Philip S. Skell, who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and who is reasonably skeptical of Darwinism, believes that Darwinism lacks practical value. Skell did some early research on penicillin, incidentally.

Friday, August 15, 2008 1:17:00 PM  
Blogger Jim Sherwood said...

Philip S. Skell wrote about Darwinism's lack of practical value in biomedical research in his article "Why Do We Invoke Darwin?" in the journal The Scientist, Aug. 29, 2005. You can read it on the Web.

Friday, August 15, 2008 1:57:00 PM  
Anonymous 'Nonymous said...

Part of what is wrong with attacks on evolution is that it invites stupid responses from the Left like this:

The third reason to teach evolution is more philosophical. It concerns the development of an attitude toward evidence. In his book, “The Republican War on Science,” the journalist Chris Mooney argues persuasively that a contempt for scientific evidence — or indeed, evidence of any kind — has permeated the Bush administration’s policies, from climate change to sex education, from drilling for oil to the war in Iraq. A dismissal of evolution is an integral part of this general attitude.

The administration is right about climate change, sex education, drilling for oil, and the war in Iraq. But it would be easier to notice were it not for the destruction of credibility resulting from unnecessary stupidity.

Stupidity is contagious.

Friday, August 15, 2008 9:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Nothing raises my hackles like ..."

Could you be so kind as to post a photo of your raised hackles? I for one would like to see what they look like. Thanks.

Thursday, August 21, 2008 6:58:00 PM  

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