Micro-evolution vs. Macro-evolution

My post on the positions various candidates took on evolution and evolutionary theory spawned are rather large number of comments. Several initial ones tried the old Creationist chestnut of, “Yeah, sure organisms change at a genetic level (micro-evolution), but macro-evolution (change at or above the species level), why that is just plain crazy talk.”1 This, of course, is just errant nonsense.

While biologists do draw a distinction between micro-evolution and macro-evolution it really is a distinction without much difference. Or to put it another way, the distinction is a rather artificial one imposed by biologists. The simple answer is that the process at work in macro-evolution is precisely the same one at work in micro-evolution. So to say I believe micro-evolution, but not macro-evolution may sound erudite to the uneducated, but to those who are familiar with the topic you sound like a boob. It is like saying I believe in molecules, but not in atoms, electrons, protons and neutrons.

So please, if you don’t like the idea of evolution and evolutionary theory makes you feel slightly ill, fine, but don’t use the argument about micro vs. macro evolution. Please. Simply say, “I just can’t bear the thought that I am a descendant from a primate that roamed the African plains.” I might disagree with you. I might think you are scientifically ignorant. But if you use the above argument I will know that you are scientifically ignorant.

Odds and Ends:

One commenter disliked by comparison of gravity, evolution and their respective theories. The problem is that there is huge amounts of evidence in favor of both theories. The thing with gravity though is that its very easy to observe in real time (drop a penny) and its implications are easy to understand (again, drop a penny and make some reasonable extrapolations). Evolution and evolutionary theory on the other hand do not have this same “immediateness” to it. You can’t easily see evolutionary process in real time…well you can, you just don’t know it. Sexual selection is one process and one example of that is male-to-male combat. So evolution is at a disadvantage when compared to say gravity and its theories.

Commenter Tlaloc wrote:

Saying “Evolution occurs, but, philosophically speaking, I believe God has a hand in it” is perfectly reasonable.

This is one of the things I like about posts on evolution. It is one of the instances where I and the more liberal commenters often agree. Politics and strange bed fellows and all that. And regarding the above, I agree with Tlaloc, it is perfectly reasonable as well.

Commenter Anderson wrote:

I dunno, Tlaloc. Saying God intervenes in a random process — that the Lucretian particles swerve this way rather than that b/c of the Nudge of God — may be a lot of things, but I’m not sure how “reasonable” it is.

Well you may not like it, but there is nothing that says it isn’t true…or that it is true. It is a position that is fairly well insulated from empirical verification…one that requires faith. And evolutionary processes are not random. Sure mutations might be random, but natural selection is anything but random. So evolutionary processes are not purely random processes. That is actually a fallacy many creationists fall into.
_____
1While I put that in quotes, it isn’t a direct quote from anyone, but it does capture the gist of several comments.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Science & Technology, US Politics, ,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.

Comments

  1. G.A.Phillips says:

    Man I cant even view the History channel any more because they start off every fricking show about stuff like this with millions of years ago as if it were fact……

    Used to be one of my favorite channels till I checked both sides of the argument.

    This is one of the things I like about posts on evolution. It is one of the instances where I and the more liberal commenters often agree. Politics and strange bed fellows and all that. And regarding the above, I agree with Tlaloc, it is perfectly reasonable as well.

    only if its the made up generic Liberal God.

    Well you may not like it, but there is nothing that says it isn’t true…or that it is true. It is a position that is fairly well insulated from empirical verification…one that requires faith. And evolutionary processes are not random. Sure mutations might be random, but natural selection is anything but random. So evolutionary processes are not purely random processes. That is actually a fallacy many creationists fall into.

    I really do not get what your trying to say, all mutations are harmful so even if they are not random they lead to things getting weaker not improving, that the law of the jungle is programed into DNA kind of messes with natural selection, you are making the case for creation again and that you have faith in a religion not a science.

  2. Michael says:

    Saying “Evolution occurs, but, philosophically speaking, I believe God has a hand in it” is perfectly reasonable.

    I actually disagree with Tlaloc here. Sure you can’t disprove it, and so you might think it reasonable to believe in it, but the concept is scientifically useless exactly because it cannot be disproven, and therefore it is an unreasonable belief to me.

  3. Leisureguy says:

    “All mutations are harmful”??? Where on earth is the justification for that (totally erroneous) statement?

    BTW, typo in the above post: “errant” s/b “arrant”.

  4. Tano says:

    Steve is absolutely right about the meaninglessness of the distinction between micro and macro evolution.

    Interestingly, in biology there are actually two contexts in which this distinction is used – both being more just general categories of inquiry rather than meaningful scientific concepts.

    One of those contexts is the one under discussion here – where microevo refers to allele frequency changes in a population, and macroevo refers to speciation. As an aside, it should be noted that the most frequently occuring mechanism of speciation is not the gradual divergence that was referenced with the example of dogs (in the previous thread). Rather it is what is referred to as “vicariance” – the geographic separation of two parts of a population. If the microevo process proceeds in two halves of a population that are no longer able to interbreed, because they are separated by distance or a geographic feature, then the microevo will cause them to diverge – eventually to the point of reproductive incompatability.

    The other context in which the distinction is made is between small scale changes in features (a species’s average size gets bigger, or a wingspan gets longer, for example) vs. large scale changes, such as to a body plan. A mutation in genes that control development, or a doubling in the number of copies of a gene or a doubling of the whole chromosome set) can have far ranging consequenses to the eventual phenotype, and some of those can survive (what was once referred to as “hopeful monsters” but for which there is a fair amount of evidence).

    In both contexts though, the distinction is just a heuristic categorization of phenomena. The persistence of evolutionary novelties by surviving the selection filter is the same.

  5. Anderson says:

    Ah, Michael puts the objection better than I can. It’s like we’re watching to see which of two unmolested houseflies takes off first, and when one does so, Reasonable Theist says, “see, God made that happen!”

    Of course, natural selection isn’t random, but it makes use of what are for practical purposes at least random inputs. So I don’t think I disagree with Steve there.

    Now, above the quantum level, arguably nothing is RANDOM random, b/c we could in theory examine, say, the neurobiology of the housefly and the details of the setting (faint breezes, etc.) … but in practice, most such things will be “random” to you and me, and thus ascribable to God’s will. Except that Tlaloc’s reasonable theist might disagree, and say that God really is committing itsy-bitsy miracles that we can’t see.

    That to me is little better than “there’s an elf who turns off the refrigerator light,” but apparently “reasonable” minds may differ.

  6. Tlaloc says:

    I actually disagree with Tlaloc here. Sure you can’t disprove it, and so you might think it reasonable to believe in it, but the concept is scientifically useless exactly because it cannot be disproven, and therefore it is an unreasonable belief to me.

    It is scientifically useless, but the point is the statement expressly declares that it is not a scientific matter (i.e. it say “philosophically speaking”). If you want to argue that anything outside of science is useless in general then we do indeed disagree.

    My issue is that I want people to respect the difference between science and mysticism and to understand the place each can meaningfully occupy.

  7. Tlaloc says:

    GAP:

    all mutations are harmful

    where on earth do you get that nonsense?

    Anderson:

    Ah, Michael puts the objection better than I can. It’s like we’re watching to see which of two unmolested houseflies takes off first, and when one does so, Reasonable Theist says, “see, God made that happen!”

    So long as the Reasonable Theist doesn’t say “I can prove that god made it happen” or “scientifically speaking, that was cause by god” what is the problem?

    That to me is little better than “there’s an elf who turns off the refrigerator light,” but apparently “reasonable” minds may differ.

    We can set up a camera to determine in fact if an elf turns off the light. It isn’t at all the same. Christianity is based on a god that breaks all the rules. It is outside of anything we could remotely consider testing for. I find it to be extremely unlikely because I see it as having far too much basis in human psychology, suggesting that it is a product of us, and not vice versa. But I could be wrong.

  8. Grewgills says:

    all mutations are harmful so even if they are not random they lead to things getting weaker not improving

    When viruses mutate to overcome our immune systems are they getting weaker? When bacteria mutate to overcome antibiotics are they getting weaker. When moths mutate to more successfully mimic their surroundings and avoid predation, are they are getting weaker? The list goes on but you should get the point.

    We can set up a camera to determine in fact if an elf turns off the light. It isn’t at all the same.

    Anderson of course forgot to mention that said elf is undetectable much like the undetectable fairy that turns the lights on or off whenever I flip the switch (sometimes she demands a new bulb in tribute or she refuses to make light) or the undetectable monster that sucks the water out of the tub when I pull out the stopper (he occasionally demands a tribute of Drano).

    With regard to whether saying God did it is reasonable, that entirely depends on your definition of reasonable. If you mean being in accordance with reason then it is not reasonable, if on the other hand you mean not problematic in daily life then it is perfectly reasonable.

  9. Anderson says:

    the undetectable monster that sucks the water out of the tub when I pull out the stopper (he occasionally demands a tribute of Drano)

    OMG!!! YOU TOO???

    –Creepy! And obviously, only explicable by supernatural causes. Or so I reasonably choose to believe.

  10. floyd says:

    michael;
    “”the concept is scientifically useless exactly because it cannot be disproven, and therefore it is an unreasonable belief to me.””
    “”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””
    If you believe this statement generally, then I have questions out of curiosity….
    [1]Why insert the modifier “scientifically”?
    Do you find the concept useful outside of science?
    For instance, have you ever believed it when someone said “I love you”?
    If so does this make you prone to unreasonable beliefs?
    Tlaloc may feel a touch of consternation here but I think he is right.

  11. Tlaloc says:

    Anderson of course forgot to mention that said elf is undetectable much like the undetectable fairy that turns the lights on or off whenever I flip the switch (sometimes she demands a new bulb in tribute or she refuses to make light) or the undetectable monster that sucks the water out of the tub when I pull out the stopper (he occasionally demands a tribute of Drano).

    In that case, and as odd as this may sound- I have no problem with the belief at all. Again with the proviso that the person who holds the belief understands that it is inherently unprovable and a matter of faith.

    I can show the person the electrical schematics of their refrigerator and even take the thing apart to show them the mechanical workings, but if at the end of the day they want to believe something mystical is *also* involved I can’t gainsay them.

  12. floyd says:

    Tlaloc; I wrote the above before reading your reply, pardon the redundancy.

  13. Tlaloc says:

    Tlaloc may feel a touch of consternation here but I think he is right.

    You and Steve?

    Up is left. Black is zebra. Has the whole world gone mad?!

    🙂

  14. Grewgills says:

    In that case, and as odd as this may sound- I have no problem with the belief at all…I can’t gainsay them.

    Okay, but can you honestly say that it would not change your opinion of either that person’s ability or willingness to think rationally?

    For instance, have you ever believed it when someone said “I love you”?
    If so does this make you prone to unreasonable beliefs?

    Yes and yes*.

    * The actions of the people I believe love me do not run contrary to that belief. Reason could lead me to change that opinion if evidence showed that they did not act like someone that loved me and unreasonable as it is I would continue to love them.

  15. there is a big difference between believing in molecules but not atoms; there is no religion that suggests that molecules were made some other way, but there is a major religion that says God created the various species, including man

  16. Michael says:

    So long as the Reasonable Theist doesn’t say “I can prove that god made it happen” or “scientifically speaking, that was cause by god” what is the problem?

    It’s a perfectly harmless belief, I just said it was unreasonable. It’s useless in both science and philosophy though.

    Christianity is based on a god that breaks all the rules

    Which makes it’s very inclusion into scientific thought corrosive.

    [1]Why insert the modifier “scientifically”?
    Do you find the concept useful outside of science?
    For instance, have you ever believed it when someone said “I love you”?
    If so does this make you prone to unreasonable beliefs?
    Tlaloc may feel a touch of consternation here but I think he is right.

    I used the modifier because that was the topic we were on. Many seem to find the concept of God intervening helpful in their personal lives, I personally don’t find it particularly helpful. Love, on the other hand, it a useful concept because you can reasonably depend on it influencing certain situations in a predictable way.

    I can show the person the electrical schematics of their refrigerator and even take the thing apart to show them the mechanical workings, but if at the end of the day they want to believe something mystical is *also* involved I can’t gainsay them.

    To continue to believe something after being made aware that it is false is a very dangerous form of ignorance. I am ok with people believing in God, because I can’t prove that they are wrong. But once you are proven wrong, you _have_ to stop believing, anything else isn’t sane.

  17. Michael says:

    there is a big difference between believing in molecules but not atoms; there is no religion that suggests that molecules were made some other way, but there is a major religion that says God created the various species, including man

    So if I started a new religion that said God made molecules out of nothing, then it would be reasonable to stop believing in atoms? No, whether there is a religion that says how animals got here or not is irrelevant, all that matters is what can make accurate predictions. Saying “God did it” as an explanation for anything removes

  18. Steve Verdon says:

    Michael and Anderson,

    Sure the “I believe in evolution, evolutionary theory and God/intelligent Design” (a position taken by prominent biologist Kenneth Miller) is scientifically useless (at least the God part), but I wasn’t claiming it was scientifically useful, just that one could believe in that position and still be totally in accord with science.

    You and Steve?

    Up is left. Black is zebra. Has the whole world gone mad?!

    🙂

    Nope. 🙂 Sound science is simply a good thing, IMO.

    Okay, but can you honestly say that it would not change your opinion of either that person’s ability or willingness to think rationally?

    So if a person holds a belief that cannot be empirically verified then it is always and everywhere irrational? I’m not sure why that has to be the case. I’ve known many people whose thinking is quite rational yet believe in God and go to church/synagogue/temple/etc.

    It’s a perfectly harmless belief, I just said it was unreasonable. It’s useless in both science and philosophy though.

    Is it though? In the philosophy of science most of the philosophers make regular use of probability, and for many that probability is completely subjective…i.e. it doesn’t exist. And as Anderson noted, not much in the real work is purely random…hence are philosophers all irrational even when working in high level mathematics?

  19. Grewgills says:

    So if a person holds a belief that cannot be empirically verified then it is always and everywhere irrational?

    No, but if a person holds on to a belief that has been empirically shown to be false it does call into question either their willingness or ability to be rational.

  20. floyd says:

    “”Love, on the other hand, it a useful concept because you can reasonably depend on it influencing certain situations in a predictable way.””
    ””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””
    Now, prove it exists.

  21. Michael says:

    Now, prove it exists.

    Prove what exists? Love? Love isn’t a thing it is concept, like patriotism or fraternity. Somebody’s actions will provide evidence to how dedicated they are to these concepts.

  22. Michael says:

    Sure the “I believe in evolution, evolutionary theory and God/intelligent Design” (a position taken by prominent biologist Kenneth Miller) is scientifically useless (at least the God part), but I wasn’t claiming it was scientifically useful, just that one could believe in that position and still be totally in accord with science.

    I guess that depends on if you consider “God did it” an explanation or an attribution. As an attribution it neither benefits nor harms science. As an explanation it is undeniably harmful.

    So if a person holds a belief that cannot be empirically verified then it is always and everywhere irrational? I’m not sure why that has to be the case. I’ve known many people whose thinking is quite rational yet believe in God and go to church/synagogue/temple/etc.

    To believe in something provable is reason.
    To believe in something unprovable is faith.
    To believe in something disproven is insane.

    In the philosophy of science most of the philosophers make regular use of probability, and for many that probability is completely subjective…i.e. it doesn’t exist. And as Anderson noted, not much in the real work is purely random…hence are philosophers all irrational even when working in high level mathematics?

    Probability != Randomness.

  23. floyd says:

    “We have no heart for the fishing — we have no hand for the oar —
    All that our fathers taught us of old, pleases us no more.
    All that our own hearts bid us believe we doubt what we don’t deny —
    There is no proof in the bread we eat nor rest in the toil we ply.”
    Kipling

  24. Tlaloc says:

    grewgils

    Okay, but can you honestly say that it would not change your opinion of either that person’s ability or willingness to think rationally?

    No, not really. The person’s ability to be rational is shown by their recognition of the belief being faith based and unprovable.

    Michael:

    It’s a perfectly harmless belief, I just said it was unreasonable. It’s useless in both science and philosophy though.

    Why useless philosophically? I can’t think of any philosophies that are directly provable. they are all based on faith to some extent.

    Which makes it’s very inclusion into scientific thought corrosive.

    no doubt. God has no place in science. But life is more than science. The Christian God has no place in my life but I have my own private spiritual beliefs. these beliefs are utterly unprovable, completely non-scientific, and intensely personal. They have no place in any scientific work I do, and I wouldn’t even consider trying to convince others my personal beliefs were right. But at the same time they enrich my life.

    Grewgills again:

    No, but if a person holds on to a belief that has been empirically shown to be false it does call into question either their willingness or ability to be rational.

    ]I think you are talking about something different than me and Steve. What we are talking about is a person accepting the physical evidence but believing in some manner of mysticism *outside* of that. That mysticism is not empirically provable.

    I.e as in the original example: saying something to the effect of “Evolution occurs, but, philosophically speaking, I believe God has a hand in it” is not holding a belief that is empirically false.

    on the other hand saying: “I deny the physical evidence and insist the world is only 10,000 years old and all animals were created in the first week by God in their current forms” is a very different thing. That is letting the mysticism interfere with the science such that you come to a very definitive incorrect conclusion. That seems to be more what you are talking about, and on that score we all agree.

  25. Grewgills says:

    Tlaloc,
    In the example above it is not reasonable (ie being in accordance with reason) to believe that an elf is responsible for the light. It is harmless, an acceptable eccentricity, not empirically disprovable, but it is not reasonable.
    If the person denies that it is possible that the light will turn off without the intervention of the elf then I begin to question their willingness or ability to think rationally.

    on the other hand saying: “I deny the physical evidence and insist the world is only 10,000 years old and all animals were created in the first week by God in their current forms” is a very different thing.

    But how different is it? If they simply add the proviso that God or the Devil placed the misleading evidence there, either as a test of faith or to lead us astray, then their belief cannot be empirically disproven*. This is a common enough gambit and those who make it generally not only admit but embrace that it is based on faith. Are they being reasonable? If they then object when public schools unfairly discriminate against their religion by teaching that their beliefs are false are they still being reasonable?

    We agree that religious belief that does not directly conflict with physical evidence is not problematic. Where we have disagreement is its reasonableness. Here our difference may only be semantic. If that is so then all of us who have commented here with the exception of GA are more or less in agreement.

    *God and the Devil being beyond our ability to detect and capable of breaking all of the rules

  26. Anderson says:

    Could we please have an example of a divine intervention in evolution that is reasonable to believe?

  27. So if I started a new religion that said God made molecules out of nothing, then it would be reasonable to stop believing in atoms?

    If you can get 80% of this country, and 1/3 of the entire world, to embrace your new molecule/atom religion I will consider disbelieving in atoms

    No, whether there is a religion that says how animals got here or not is irrelevant, all that matters is what can make accurate predictions. Saying “God did it” as an explanation for anything removes

    Evolution scientists have never been able to point to the creation of a new species (Macro), just examples of adaptation of a species to its environment

    Could we please have an example of a divine intervention in evolution that is reasonable to believe?

    Genesis 1:3 There is light. Genesis 1:26 You are here

  28. Grewgills says:

    If you can get 80% of this country, and 1/3 of the entire world, to embrace your new molecule/atom religion I will consider disbelieving in atoms

    Really?

    Evolution scientists have never been able to point to the creation of a new species (Macro), just examples of adaptation of a species to its environment

    Several examples were given in the previous thread. Look them up.

  29. Tlaloc says:

    In the example above it is not reasonable (ie being in accordance with reason) to believe that an elf is responsible for the light. It is harmless, an acceptable eccentricity, not empirically disprovable, but it is not reasonable.

    You’ll have to establish that, because I don;t see how it is true. What you are essentially saying is that it is reasonable to say there can not be an elf, and yet that proposition has no more proof than the opposite.

    in other words reason is not a factor when discussing matters that are inherently unprovable.

    If the person denies that it is possible that the light will turn off without the intervention of the elf then I begin to question their willingness or ability to think rationally.

    They may not think that there *has* to be an elf, they may simply believe that there is.

    But how different is it? If they simply add the proviso that God or the Devil placed the misleading evidence there, either as a test of faith or to lead us astray, then their belief cannot be empirically disproven*.

    The difference there is that they are arguing that their mysticism INVALIDATES the physical evidence. That is very different than a mysticism that is compatible with the physical evidence.

    Saying god left fossils to fool us is inherently anti-reason because it is a fundamental attack on the basis of all reasoning. Saying that god is there amongst the watch gears is not.

    Where we have disagreement is its reasonableness. Here our difference may only be semantic.

    I suspect it is mostly semantic, with a few interesting/semi-important distinctions thrown in. 🙂

  30. Tlaloc says:

    Could we please have an example of a divine intervention in evolution that is reasonable to believe?

    Well if you take the “god as watchmaker” view then god put in place all the physical rules of the universe such that it produced evolution that worked as we now see it work. That’s the deist view, god sets the whole thing in motion and then sits back with the popcorn.

    For views that have a more active god you could say that god has a hand in determining which animals breed together, which alleles get passed on and which don’t, where and when mutations arise, environmental conditions that favor some genes above others, and so on.

    Anytime there are a lot of ways things could go you could see god as the one saying “hmmmm, that one!”

  31. Tlaloc says:

    If you can get 80% of this country, and 1/3 of the entire world, to embrace your new molecule/atom religion I will consider disbelieving in atoms

    Now this is a perfect example of anti-reasonable position. This person, assuming they are serious and not trolling, is willing to set aside the physical evidence. Not only that they are willing to set it aside not out of faith (which is still irrational) but out of a herd mentality.

    the Asch conformity experiment leaps strongly to mind.

  32. Michael says:

    If you can get 80% of this country, and 1/3 of the entire world, to embrace your new molecule/atom religion I will consider disbelieving in atoms

    Then you’re an idiot, and prove my point better than I ever could.

  33. Grewgills says:

    What you are essentially saying is that it is reasonable to say there can not be an elf, and yet that proposition has no more proof than the opposite.

    Not at all. (1) I am saying it is not reasonable or rational to insist on the existence of the elf. Neither is it reasonable or rational to deny the possibility of the elf. What is reasonable and rational is to look at the available evidence and conclude that while there may or may not be an elf, there is no necessity of an elf for the light to turn off or on. At that point the most parsimonious answer does not include the elf. Parsimony has proved quite useful in previous decision making so I choose to believe that the likelihood of the refrigerator elf is quite slim and offers no real utility*, though it cannot be disproved.

    They may not think that there *has* to be an elf, they may simply believe that there is.

    If, however, they choose to believe that there must be an elf, I doubt their willingness or ability to think rationally.

    The difference there is that they are arguing that their mysticism INVALIDATES the physical evidence. That is very different than a mysticism that is compatible with the physical evidence.

    We agree that as long as faith remains compatible with physical evidence it is not problematic.

    Well if you take the “god as watchmaker”…and so on.

    Repeat (1) with appropriate substitutions.

    Now this is a perfect example of anti-reasonable position.

    To further illustrate or difference; one need not be anti-reasonable, they can simply be not reasonable. Mr. Singleton gives us an excellent illustration of the extreme position.

    * If it gives someone a warm fuzzy to believe in the elf then I guess it provides some utility to them and I don’t begrudge them that belief, but I see no other value added. There may be a reason for this belief (the warm fuzzy) but it does not rely on reason and so is not reasonable or rational.
    BTW not being reasonable or rational does not mean without value. I think this assumption is why so many have argued so vociferously that their faith is based on reason.

  34. Michael says:

    Evolution scientists have never been able to point to the creation of a new species (Macro), just examples of adaptation of a species to its environment

    Speciation, or “macro” evolution as you like to call it, is actually easier to accomplish than genetic drift (the “micro” you believe in). Take a school of fish, put one half in one lake and the other half in another, unconnected lake, and suddenly you have two different species of fish, when previously they were one.

  35. Grewgills says:

    Speciation, or “macro” evolution as you like to call it, is actually easier to accomplish than genetic drift (the “micro” you believe in). Take a school of fish, put one half in one lake and the other half in another, unconnected lake, and suddenly you have two different species of fish, when previously they were one.

    Actually at that point you have two different populations of fish that may over time develop into two or more different species.
    There have been documented cases of speciation both in and out of the lab.

  36. Tlaloc says:

    Not at all. (1) I am saying it is not reasonable or rational to insist on the existence of the elf.

    Well assuming by “insist” you mean that the person is saying others must also believe in the elf then I certainly agree. And in any matter of faith I prefer a healthy respect for the possibility of error.

    What is reasonable and rational is to look at the available evidence and conclude that while there may or may not be an elf, there is no necessity of an elf for the light to turn off or on.

    No argument with that.

    BTW not being reasonable or rational does not mean without value. I think this assumption is why so many have argued so vociferously that their faith is based on reason.

    Agreed, I just also stipulate that the presence of faith does not automatically disqualify a person as reasonable- provided the person understands and respects the difference between having faith and having evidence.

  37. Tlaloc says:

    I still like my dog example for macroevolution.

  38. Grewgills says:

    I still like my dog example for macroevolution.

    You and Hitchens. It is a nice visualization of the process.

  39. hln says:

    Steve, darling, if you’re going to post about a topic and then proceed to take a pompous tone, follow my mother the high school English teacher’s three-word advice:

    Defend. Justify. Explain.

    You failed to do this. It’s a topic probably best left alone because all you’re doing is taking a general skeptic’s stance – which anyone can very easily do and about pretty much any topic besides math – and then interjected emotion to give it some oomph. It’s a blog – you’re allowed. But it doesn’t make for good writing.

    That being said, I’m certainly not qualified to debate you publicly and afford you and this blog to much respect to be, well, disrespectful beyond a chiding comment.

    hln

  40. BobC says:

    “Evolution occurs but I believe God has a hand in it” equals “Evolution occurs but I believe it was magic”, and it’s as idiotic as saying god has a hand in gravity.

  41. Boyd says:

    I realize I’m coming very late to the game, but I feel compelled to comment on the “reasonableness” issue.

    Since we know that there are many different connotations of “reasonable” (and, necessarily, “unreasonable”), I submit it’s not conducive to a productive discussion to claim that your “opponents” in the debate aren’t reasonable. Even understanding what you mean, I still take exception to being accused of being unreasonable.

    And that harms the discussion rather than enhancing it or moving it forward.

  42. Grewgills says:

    I submit it’s not conducive to a productive discussion to claim that your “opponents” in the debate aren’t reasonable. Even understanding what you mean, I still take exception to being accused of being unreasonable.

    Thus I felt it necessary to say.

    BTW not being reasonable or rational does not mean without value. I think this assumption is why so many have argued so vociferously that their faith is based on reason.

    Faith based decisions are not based on reason and so are not reasonable. I’m sorry if that hurts feelings but it is an issue of the definition of the term not bandying about insults.
    Again saying that an opinion does not rest on reason does not mean that it cannot have personal and subjective value and in some cases it can have societal value. As floyd mentioned above love is not based on reason, but I would hazard a guess that all of us involved in this discussion place great value in it.

  43. Steve Verdon says:

    grewgills,

    No, but if a person holds on to a belief that has been empirically shown to be false it does call into question either their willingness or ability to be rational.

    True, but aren’t we talking about beliefs that are beyond empirical testing and hence neither provable nor disprovable? As such, we can’t comment on a person’s rationality/sanity given this.

    Michael,

    Not bad, but you forgot the part about probability being subjective…i.e. something the individual makes up in their head. I can make up the elf in the fridge in my head too, doesn’t make it real though, does it?

    BobC,

    “Evolution occurs but I believe God has a hand in it” equals “Evolution occurs but I believe it was magic”, and it’s as idiotic as saying god has a hand in gravity.

    I disagree Bob. There is at least one position that isn’t idiotic, that of the blind watchmaker. That is somewhat analogous to an experiment. The watchmaker creates the universe and its physical constants, then does nothing but observes what transpires. Thus, the incidence of “magic” is at a very minimum and there may not even be “magic” at all since our understanding of how reality works prior to the creation of the universe is rather limited. Granted all this is way outside the bounds of science, but I wouldn’t consider somebody holding the above view to be idiotic or even irrational.

    I submit it’s not conducive to a productive discussion to claim that your “opponents” in the debate aren’t reasonable. Even understanding what you mean, I still take exception to being accused of being unreasonable.

    And that harms the discussion rather than enhancing it or moving it forward.

    Well said Boyd, well said.

  44. Grewgills says:

    True, but aren’t we talking about beliefs that are beyond empirical testing and hence neither provable nor disprovable?

    Yes. Those beliefs may or may not be true, but belief in them is not based on reason and so they are not reasonable nor are they rational. They are not problematic and people should certainly be allowed to believe in them and make whatever obeisance to them they feel appropriate, but that does not make those beliefs rational.
    If someone insists that the elf, fairy, monster, or god is necessary for said events to occur in spite of evidence to the contrary then I question their willingness or ability to be rational.

    As such, we can’t comment on a person’s rationality/sanity given this.

    That is only true if the person does not insist that said entity must be there in spite of the evidence, rather than simply that they believe said entity to be there and exerting some influence.

    Most people in our society would view someone who believed in the elf, fairy, or monster to be a loon or at the least an eccentric, yet they give a pass on belief in an entity with equally strong evidence for its existence. In fact not only do they give that belief a pass they laud it and discriminate against those who do not share that belief.

    Sanity is a distinctly different proposition. I have not said that people with magical, mystical, or religious beliefs are insane nor have I implied it. I have merely said that those beliefs are not based on reason and thus are not reasonable. Do you really disagree on this point? If so is that disagreement based on you using a different definition of reasonable?

    There are plenty of irrational people that are sane and productive members of society.

    None of us are Vulcans so we are all prone to a bit of unreasonableness and irrationality. Often it is not problematic. When it impacts policy in contravention of physical evidence is when it becomes problematic.

  45. Michael says:

    True, but aren’t we talking about beliefs that are beyond empirical testing and hence neither provable nor disprovable? As such, we can’t comment on a person’s rationality/sanity given this.

    No, we are talking about evolution, a science that can be and has been proven to be an accurate description of how species change over time. Disbelief in that, or belief with unnecessary qualifiers, is unreasonable.

    To go back to the refrigerator elf, if your theory of mechanics and electricity can explain the operation of the refrigerator light without the need of an elf, and can make verifiable predictions (no power=no light), then either disbelieving the electormechanical theory, or believing that “the elf has a hand in it”, is unreasonable.

    Reason dictates that you believe the explanation that provides verifiable, repeatable predictions without unnecessary assumptions or additions (Occum’s Razor)

  46. Michael says:

    Not bad, but you forgot the part about probability being subjective…i.e. something the individual makes up in their head. I can make up the elf in the fridge in my head too, doesn’t make it real though, does it?

    Probability isn’t subjective. Probability is predictive, role a 6-sided dice and you will average any specific number 1/6 of the rolls. It doesn’t matter if you do it, I do it, or a computer does it, the more you roll the closer you get to a 1/6 average.

    “Love” is something an individual makes up in their head, I’ll grant you that. But again, I can make predictions based on the existence of that or similar concepts in someone else’s head. If you believe there is an elf in your refrigerator (or God in heaven), I can make predictions based on you having that belief. Your belief is therefore something real, what you believe in is not necessarily real.

  47. mannning says:

    So the elf rides in the power line, and won’t turn on the light if he can’t ride through to the frig.

  48. Grewgills says:

    manning,
    I have to admit that your argument is about as convincing as most arguments for the presence of a god.

  49. Michael says:

    So the elf rides in the power line, and won’t turn on the light if he can’t ride through to the frig.

    Calling electrons “elf” doesn’t change the nature of electricity, just the nature of the elf. Calling evolution “God” doesn’t change the nature of evolution, it changes nature of God.

  50. mannning says:

    Why, Michael, I didn’t call my pet elf an electron (he would be quite insulted by that), and obviously, my elf can have whatever properties and capabilities he wants to have, such as being invisible, silent, orderless, and massless, etc. Undetectable, in other words, when he wants to be. Where God = mere Evolution came from I have no idea. That is ridiculous.

    GG, I have no idea where your God argument came from either, but it couldn’t have been from my elf. After all, he is merely an elf. He can’t compete with a real God, don’t you agree?

  51. Michael says:

    Why, Michael, I didn’t call my pet elf an electron (he would be quite insulted by that), and obviously, my elf can have whatever properties and capabilities he wants to have, such as being invisible, silent, orderless, and massless, etc. Undetectable, in other words, when he wants to be. Where God = mere Evolution came from I have no idea. That is ridiculous.

    You are assigning all of the properties of an electron to your “elf” such that any test that would confirm the electromechanical theory would also confirm your elf theory. In doing this, you are confirming the same theory, just using the term “elf” instead of “electron”. If you do the same to your definition of God such that he fits the predictions of Evolution theory, that doesn’t change Evolution theory.

  52. mannning says:

    So my massless elf is in reality what you call an electron? Tsk, Tsk! Who knew?

  53. Michael says:

    So the elf rides in the power line, and won’t turn on the light if he can’t ride through to the frig.

    You didn’t specify massless until after my comment about giving the elf the properties of an electron.

  54. mannning says:

    I did mention that my elf could have massless properties in the prior post, but you are right, I didn’t out and out specify that. The difference is not very big, though, perhaps 10exp-28g or so.

    My elf is named Maxwell, and he plays with electrons all the time.

  55. Steve Verdon says:

    Yes. Those beliefs may or may not be true, but belief in them is not based on reason and so they are not reasonable nor are they rational.

    I’m not sure the is true. The unstated assumption here seems to be that for something to be reasonable or rational it must also be subject to empirical verification, yet many things in such fields as philosophy aren’t subject to empirical verification, yet I’m hesitant to call them non-reasonable or non-rational.

    If someone insists that the elf, fairy, monster, or god is necessary for said events to occur in spite of evidence to the contrary then I question their willingness or ability to be rational.

    But we don’t have evidence to the contrary. At best you can only say that such assumptions are not warranted (given all that we know so far), not that they aren’t true.

    Michael,

    Actually, what you are talking about is the Principle of Parsimony which is a stronger variant of Occam’s Razor. And further, it does not have the empirical verification that you seem to elevating to such a high position. Sure it is a spiffy metaphysical concept…damned useful and I myself like it probably as much as you, but there is not much more going for it other than the logic of the position and…your (and my) emotional attachment to it. :-p

    Probability isn’t subjective.

    Tell that to a Subjective Bayesian and he’ll have a good laugh. Of course it is subjective.

    Probability is predictive, role a 6-sided dice and you will average any specific number 1/6 of the rolls. It doesn’t matter if you do it, I do it, or a computer does it, the more you roll the closer you get to a 1/6 average.

    That is a very nice “frequentist” definition of probability. Now, what is the probability of the New England Patriots winning their next game? How can one make valid probability statements about one shot events? According to your definition you can’t. In fact, you can’t make any valid probability statements since you can’t verify empirically that they are true. You can’t perform an infinite number of trials so you make an appeal to limits. Hence your definition of probability really doesn’t exist anywhere but in your mind. Granted, many people share your definition, but then again popularity of a view or argument doesn’t make it true either. Heck, even the “objective” view probability that people like Keynes had was based on the “reasonable” man argument and common knowledge.

    You are assigning all of the properties of an electron to your “elf” such that any test that would confirm the electromechanical theory would also confirm your elf theory.

    Right, and it also makes it very resistant (invulnerable?) to empirical verification. Now, in science we usually toss aside such “theories” since they are better explained by simpler theories. Still, just because such a view is worthless in science doesn’t mean it is worthless everywhere.

  56. G.A.Phillips says:

    “All mutations are harmful”??? Where on earth is the justification for that (totally erroneous) statement?

    name one thats not.

    When viruses mutate to overcome our immune systems are they getting weaker? When bacteria mutate to overcome antibiotics are they getting weaker. When moths mutate to more successfully mimic their surroundings and avoid predation, are they are getting weaker? The list goes on but you should get the point.

    lol reach farther into nothingness and you pull out what?

    OK so a harmful virus gets stronger by mutating and and it some how is the same as every other living thing getting weaker buy being killed buy mutating viruses and such lalalalalalalala what are you talking about?

    and if you have not learned that your moth example has been shown to be a fiction I’m not sure if I can help you, or are you talking about “little chum”?

    oh ya I forgot that you believe that humans and such are just the ancestors of viruses, lol.

  57. G.A.Phillips says:

    Uniformatarian evolutionism, what a religion.

  58. Grewgills says:

    The unstated assumption here seems to be that for something to be reasonable or rational it must also be subject to empirical verification, yet many things in such fields as philosophy aren’t subject to empirical verification, yet I’m hesitant to call them non-reasonable or non-rational.

    Not really, though making predictions that are subject to empirical falsifiability is a reasonable framework.
    Any philosophy that is not orderly, consistent, and logically defensible is not reasonable or rational.
    Many attempts have been made to make such a defense of the existence of God or for belief in God*, but to date all have fallen flat. The choice to believe in a god is not based on logic and every attempt I have seen made at a logical defense of that belief has been undertaken in an attempt to integrate a personal faith into an otherwise logically ordered world view** and as stated above all such attempts have, to this point, failed. This is not to say that faith in any particular religious world view is ultimately false. I can no more prove that it is false than they can prove that it is true.

    But we don’t have evidence to the contrary.

    Well you have finally come full circle and are arguing against Bailey’s and by extension your original stance. If you don’t think we have evidence that it is not necessary to have an undetectable elf for the working of refrigerator lights (whether he actually participates or not), then you cannot logically also believe that we have evidence that the world is more than 6,000 years old. Welcome to Huckabee world.

    OK so a harmful virus gets stronger by mutating and and it some how is the same as every other living thing getting weaker buy being killed buy mutating viruses and such

    Yes, when the viruses and bacteria mutate in a way beneficial to them (as in the case of antibiotic resistance) they get stronger. These stronger organisms survive to reproduce when the organisms that do not have these beneficial mutations (say antibiotic resistance) do not.

    lalalalalalalala what are you talking about?

    I guess that is the noise you make when you are sticking your fingers in your ears so you can ignore evidence counter to your opinion.

    * name the enlightenment thinker and he probably tried
    ** please point me to any counter examples