Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Discovery Institute Disingenuousness Noted

When Mike Fair needed help in trying to get neo-creaionism into South Carolina's schools he called the Discovery Institute. This is a group who is promoting the idea of Intelligent Design (ID), the concept that all that we can not yet explain in evolutionary biology is because God did it.

They supplied Mr. Fair with a couple of people to pretend they were experts on evolution and speak to the EOC about why the new standards that would allow ID into the classroom were a good idea. Mr. Fair joined with Mr. Bob Staton, who is running as a Republican for the position of SC Superintendent of Education , and crafted some new language for the biology standards to serve as his Trojan horse in this battle. This is the same method that had been used in a number of other states, and is a calling card of the Discovery Institute.

Who is the Discovery Institute? They are the engine behind the drive for ID across the nation. They have been involved in Ohio, and California, Kansas and Dover Pa. The are active nation wide in the effort to make sure our science is religiously correct.

The make grand claims about their scientific efforts, and those who are working with them. One of the tools they have been trying to use is a petition signed by 514 'scientist and engineers'. They feature it regularly and it is often referenced in press releases.

The NY Times has taken a look at this petition and it turns out to be even less impressive than it first appeared.

Of those who have signed only a few over 100 are actually involved in sciences that touch on evolution. Many of those who signed, when questioned, admitted it was their faith, not science, that led them to sign. While many who did sign are respected in science, few are respected in sciences dealing with evolutionary theory. This is like asking a Nobel laureate in literature for an experts opinion on a brain tumor.

Like everything else that come up when ID is involved, when you looked at it closely you find scientific distortion or religion at it's base. They are driven by an agenda, not to find scientific truth, but to defend their religious truth from various scientific discoveries.

And this group is the driving force behind Mike Fair and Bob Staton efforts to define what sciences are taught to the students of SC.

What is the statement the DI is having these scientist sign on to, and what does it mean? Dispatches from the culture war explaines.



JFH said...

I find it quite humorous that the NYT's cites that "only a quarter of the signers are biologists, whose field is most directly concerned with evolution". To be blunt, biologists are the "civil engineers" of the physical science world. For example, it's funny how they hint that the 63 physicists aren't qualified to discuss evolution, despite the fact that Crick the co-discoverer of DNA was a physicist.

In addition, the reporter throws out a completely unscientific statement: "But random interviews with 20 people who signed the petition and a review of the public statements of more than a dozen others suggest that many are evangelical Christians, whose doubts about evolution grew out of their religious beliefs." What is his definition of "evangelical Christian"? How many is "many"? The 12 public statements have to be thrown out as that is not a random sample... Etc.

I've always claimed that it's not the science of evolution that is questionable (i.e. it is POSSIBLE), but it's the statistical evidence that makes it a questionable theory. How many statisticians/mathmaticians or simulation experts/engineers have signed on? It's these areas of math/science that can show the improbability of the theory of evolution through random mutations the best.

Of all the generally accepted scientific theories developed over in the 19th century, Darwinian evolution is the least challenged by modern science. It's almost as if believing in evolution is a ... religion.

NotVeryBright said...

Interesting links. Glad you're still on top of this issue. I get discouraged by it sometimes and have to just sigh and move on.

And as for JFH, why do people go to such extremes to try to discredit NYT stories? This story struck me as particularly sound. A survey of the supposed experts to determine whether they are, in facts, experts in the relevant subject matter. Lawyers do this in cross-examination every day.

Engineers have something to say on this subject? Something worth listening to? Give me a break.

And claiming that there is something suspicious about "Darwinian evolution [being] the least challenged by modern science" is, well missing the point. That point is that it explains an awful lot of things remarkably well. I'm sorry so many people find this threatening to their belief systems, but it's hardly the outcome of some sinister conspiracy.

JFH said...

NVB (and John), look you're very worthy and intelligent adversaries on this subject...

That said citing a NYT article on a scientific subject ain't the best defense for you to use as evidence. Using the legal system to defend their process of determining facts is weaker. As has been noted by many, the legal system is a poor way to diffientiate between good and bad science. Let's be honest, this story, like most reporting these days (uh, make that since the beginning of journalism) reflects the reporter's bias of an assumed conclusion before the investigation was started.

Additionally, I find it remarkable that NVB would dismiss engineer's opinions so quickly when they are far more versed in computer simulation of potential events in the long term (e.g. statistical probablity of events aligning to create catastrophic results) than most biologists.

Finally, NVB, even as a Christian, I believed in Darwinian evolution as it was taught in HS. It wasn't until I understood DNA mapping and advanced statistics that I questioned this theory, it's on a scientific basis not a religious standpoint.

Statistically and experimentally, micro-evolution can easily be proved. There has got to be some "driver" to make macro-evolution possible. This doesn't imply an "intellegent creator" but it does mean that there must be, at a minimum some AI at work at the DNA level.

John said...

Actually I think the best answers can be found at Dispatches from the Culture War or Panda's Thumb.

The various posters there (and there are hundreds, not just 2 or 3 we find here) spend tens of thousands of words discecting ID, and it's many failings.

This is not so much pro evolution (but I do think that it is the only scientific theory of life that has stood up to testing)but anti ID.

It is a religious driven batch of hokum

John said...

And, I do think that as we study more we are seeing that Macro evolution is being validated.

We may be a could of generations away, but I suspect the theory of evolution we see then will only be slight different than the one we see now, and will be much more validated.

In the testing the are to many steps moving down the projected path for the macro side thesis to be very wrong.

JFH said...

John, I'm not a big fan of ID either, but there has to be another mechinism that drives macro evolution than RANDOM mutations... Perhaps DNA acts like a rudimentary computer with some AI, in other words, it learns what markers work best...

John said...

there is far more in play that just random selection. Enviromential response and sexual selection come into play. In addition enviromentialist study the effects of neutral drift, speciation and endosymbiosis.

My view, with my limited education on the issue, is much of macro evolution is just micro evolution on a much longer time scale.

The funny part is, it is probably the dream of many evolutionary scientist to find the proof that destorys the theory of evolution. That would put their name up with Darwin, Newton, Einstine, etc.

But they want to do this via real science, not religion attempting to deny science.

JFH said...

I'm not talking about random SELECTION, but random MUTATIONS. Most people assume that environmental conditions and sexual selection are stimuli in evolution theory, but this is wrong under the theory. A genetic mutation is the stimulus, the positive effects of this mutation are the responses when changes in the environment occur or sexual attraction is pronounced.

The time scale for macro evolution just doesn't make sense for macro evolution if it's based on these minor mutations especially during the Cambrian Explosion.

John said...

The Cambrian Explosion ran from what, from 530 million years ago to 500 million years ago.

A period of 30 million years is a long time, even in macro evolution. I have always wondered why people point point to this as an indicator against evolution. This period does seem to indicate the development of a wide varity of sea creatures. To me a indicator of evolution, it also appears to be a very interesting period for the global enviroment.

The physical changes in the earth ( warming and oxygen stalbelization ) could well have served as a catalist, ferring a once restrained evolutionary engine.

and remember that the radiation of mammals that has led to the current diversity also occured in a periof of time of about 30 million years long, the same length of time as the Cambrian, but it appear to get much less focus.

The Cambrian Explosion, appear to me, to be just a breakout point in time where an enviromential change removed a block on evolution allowing for quick (if 30,000,000,000 years is quick) diversity.

It in no way appears to bring into question the overall theory.

There s a very interesting story in the current scientific American.

It looks at a fatal mutation in chickens called talpid2. When present the bird dies in egg, but prior to it's death it starts to develop alligator type teeth.

well, it turns out that the chicken and the alligator have a common ancsetor, the archosaur.

a intersting indicator of macro evolution

John said...

about random mutations.

Dawkins makes a wonderful statement on this:

Mutation is random in the sense that it’s not anticipatory of what’s needed. Natural selection is anything but random. Natural selection is a guided process, guided not by any higher power, but simply by which genes survive and which genes don’t survive. That’s a non-random process.

It seems to address the how very well. He also make this frightening statement.

I was truly shocked to be told by two separate religious leaders in this country a few weeks ago--they both said something to the effect that, “I’ll believe in evolution when I see a tailed monkey give birth to a human.”

That is staggering ignorance of what evolutionary science is about; if they think that’s what evolutionists believe, no wonder they’re skeptical of it.

The process is not quick, not are the vast majority of changes radical, but flowing one to the next to the next.

JFH said...

Actually, 30 million years is an unbelievably short time in macro evolution, but I cannot argue the suggestion that the environmental changes could have caused genetic mutations which had been constantly supressed or merely "allowed", to actually show superior survivorability in this age.

Still, unless we are at the pinnacle of evolution effectiveness, the rarity in the number of positive mutations today compared to the ones required in the Cambrian Explosion to be statistically viable are like the chances of you and I BOTH winning the Powerball at the same time.

.... Actually, I've got to admit that my exception clause in my last statement may very well support classical Darwinian theory. What if genetic mutations were much more common than they are today and that evolutionary selection has weeded out these "transitional species" that allowed macro evolution to occur... It's a long shot as, if they were weeded out during they're transitional phase, what made these attributes come out later in another transistional species (recessive genes?)

John said...

30 million years, in this you also have to consider life cycle and generations.

we have what, 5 generations every 100 years. In the Cambrian period we could see 500 generaions per every 100 years, making that 30 million years offer the same number of evolutionary oppertunities that 30 Billion years is now needed to match.

just a thought.

and from a laymans point of view your last twp paragraphs make good sense at first glance.