Biology Education Evolution Science

“Strengths and Weaknesses” –> Creationism –> Religion –> Unconstitutional

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Here’s an interesting article in the NYTimes regarding science education in Texas. Laura Beil, the author, outlines the long-standing (pre-Dover) attempt by critics of evolutionary theory to teach the theory’s “strengths and weaknesses.” Although mandating that the weaknesses of evolutionary theory be taught falls well short of attempts to mandate the teaching of intelligent design, this too is unacceptable with hardcore evolutionists such as the National Center for Selling Evolution (NCSE). Their strategy to counter it? Treat any attempt to teach weaknesses of evolutionary theory as stealth creationism, therefore as religion, and therefore as unconstitutional.

This approach, however, may backfire. The NCSE cannot simply deny that there are any known weaknesses to evolutionary theory, because laundry lists outlining failures of the theory to match up with data are well known and widely circulated. But to engage in a discussion about why, for instance, the Cambrian explosion does or doesn’t count as negative evidence against evolutionary theory underscores that there is a legitimate scientific controversy here. The temptation will therefore be for the NCSE to argue, though they’ll be sure to soft-pedal it, that there can be no weaknesses to the theory. But that will raise the question whether anything could count as evidence against it. Haldane’s “rabbit fossil in the pre-Cambrian” doesn’t go nearly far enough here. Either the NCSE will have to outline the types of evidence that could count against evolutionary theory, or they’ll have to deny flat out that any evidence can count against it.

But if no evidence can count against a claim, how can it be scientific? Scientific claims, it would seem, must minimally be open to confirmation or disconfirmation in light of evidence. Unlike mandating the teaching of ID, mandating the teaching of evolution’s strengths and weaknesses may hold some promise for breaking the scientific materialists’ stranglehold over America’s public school science curriculum.

By the way, check out www.strengthsandweaknesses.org.

24 Replies to ““Strengths and Weaknesses” –> Creationism –> Religion –> Unconstitutional

  1. 1
    GilDodgen says:

    Evolutionary biologists, and especially evolutionary psychologists, should be required to study math at least through combinatorics, and to have practical experience writing complex computer programs that produce results comporting with reality.

    Without such experience one cannot say anything of interest about the evolution of living systems, which are fundamentally based on information and information-processing machinery.

    The default position should be design, until it can be convincingly demonstrated that dumb stuff can produce smart stuff, and not the other way around, which is the way most stuff works.

  2. 2
    Charles says:

    The NCSE cannot simply deny that there are any known weaknesses to evolutionary theory, because a laundary list outlining failures of the theory to match up with data are well known and widely circulated.

    I would like to have a copy of that ‘laundry list’ if someone could please post a link to it?

    I’d also like to see any list of any predictions made by modern (neo___) evolutionary theory; ideally genuine predictions published before the fact of any discoveries, not merely later claimed the discovery was “predicted” (I’ve often seen such claims but I’ve never been able to find the prediction itself dated before the discovery).

  3. 3
    specs says:

    Well, there are weaknesses and then there are weaknesses. Not every weakness or gap in evolutionary theory is necessarily evidence against it.

  4. 4
    JunkyardTornado says:

    Gil Dodgen:

    “Evolutionary biologists, and especially evolutionary psychologists, should be required to study math at least through combinatorics, and to have practical experience writing complex computer programs that produce results comporting with reality…The default position should be design, until it can be convincingly demonstrated that dumb stuff can produce smart stuff, and not the other way around…”

    “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% prespiration.”

    Is it pathetic for me to glean serious immuatable truths from cliches?

    Is intelligent design 99% energy and 1% design?

    Most programming projects I have been involved in have been humbling experiences – Why did this take so incredibly long. The lasting impression looking back is one of inordinate time, energy, headaches, exhaustion, repitition, and oversights – not flashes of insight translating into finished products.
    And that is not at all necessarily because of the complexity of the goal. The goal could barely be CSI if at all. Take the goal “to fly”. Does that objective contain CSI? And yet the goal “to fly” + time + energy = actual flight for the Wright Brothers. This post doesn’t necessarily justify a response.

  5. 5
    JunkyardTornado says:

    If you take the Wright Bros. plane, complexity was not their goal, so any complexity it had was coincidental wrt their actual goal of flying. IOW, the Wright Bros. would just as well have their machine not be complex. Their only goal was to fly, so any other attribute of their machine (e.g. complexity) was random with respect to their actual goal. (Just like a fractal can have a goal, not of complexity, but of some simplisitic formula.)

    If this were Zen instead of biology maybe the above would be relevant.

  6. 6
    RRE says:

    JunkYardTornado,

    The songbird has a body that is a machine. The machine that is the songbird’s body already has the capability of flight. So the machine body of the songbird once reaching maturity does not have to be modified in order to achieve the goal of flight, it is inbuilt.

    The human has a body that is a machine. The machine that is the humans’ body does not have the capability of flight, even in maturity. Fortunately for the humans’ body, when combined with the humans’ mind, can add concept onto matter in the form of a machine that can then be augmented so as to give the human body the ability to fly.

    The goal to fly does require a machine and a mind together, not just the mind (‘having a goal’). This can occur from just a mind with its biological body alone, or from a mind creating an augmented machine that must be compatible with its biological body, as is the case for humans.

    Humans are the only species that are known to augment machines so as to add new abilities (i.e. flight) to their own species.

    JunkYardTornado says:
    “And yet the goal “to fly” + time + energy = actual flight for the Wright Brothers.”

    Many people had the goal to fly before the Wright Bros, along with time and energy, yet they could not achieve flight. You should restate it such that in order to fly, you must have:
    mind + machine(s) + time + energy = flight.

  7. 7
    JunkyardTornado says:

    RRE:
    JunkYardTornado says:
    “And yet the goal “to fly” + time + energy = actual flight for the Wright Brothers.”

    Many people had the goal to fly before the Wright Bros, along with time and energy, yet they could not achieve flight. You should restate it such that in order to fly, you must have:
    mind + machine(s) + time + energy = flight.

    So it sounds like you’re saying those previous individuals didn’t have minds – or machines(?) Didn’t you say the human body is a machine:

    The human has a body that is a machine. The machine that is the humans’ body does not have the capability of flight, even in maturity. Fortunately for the humans’ body, when combined with the humans’ mind, can add concept onto matter in the form of a machine that can then be augmented so as to give the human body the ability to fly.

    So individuals previous to the Wright Bros. didn’t have minds or bodies???

    Also you said,

    “The goal to fly does require a machine and a mind together, not just the mind (’having a goal’).”

    Seems like you’re ruling out disembodied designers.

    Just to emphasize, I realize that the Wright Bros. had to possess certain quantifiable physical attributes to achieve their goal, so that with a certain degree of brain damage, they would have been unable to.

  8. 8
    toc says:

    JunkyardTornado:

    “Most programming projects I have been involved in have been humbling experiences – Why did this take so incredibly long. The lasting impression looking back is one of inordinate time, energy, headaches, exhaustion, repitition, and oversights – not flashes of insight translating into finished products.”

    Did you accomplish the goal of your programming project or did it come about by random mutation and natural selection? I am also a programmer and experience the same issues you mentioned. No line of code that I write came about by anything other than my mind guiding my fingers on my keyboard.

    Is it plausible that such a program could have ever come about without one’s intent to solve a problem in the first place? Unguided natural processes seem utterly absurd in this case do they not? Yet, we must grant that the possibility exists even in the most remote sense.

    To use Plantinga’s argument, “that a case can be made for a possible cause does not in fact make it a cause.

    As for Dr. Dembski’s post I am reminded of Allan Bloom: “The liberally educated person is one who is able to resist the easy and preferred answers, not because he is obstinate but because he knows others worthy of consideration”.

    The secular vatican cannot consider it since, as everyone knows, they will be out on their keisters.

  9. 9
    GilDodgen says:

    Charles:

    I would like to have a copy of that ‘laundry list’ if someone could please post a link to it?

    Pick up a copy of The Design of Life.

  10. 10
    JunkyardTornado says:

    toc:

    “Did you accomplish the goal of your programming project or did it come about by random mutation and natural selection? I am also a programmer and experience the same issues you mentioned. No line of code that I write came about by anything other than my mind guiding my fingers on my keyboard.

    Is it plausible that such a program could have ever come about without one’s intent to solve a problem in the first place? Unguided natural processes seem utterly absurd in this case do they not? Yet, we must grant that the possibility exists even in the most remote sense.”

    When you say that programming only took place through a “mind” I think it is not coincidental that you did not choose the term “brain” instead. It is presumably because as an ID proponent it is crucial to you that a nonmaterial process, i.e. that of a nonmaterial “mind” be present in any design activity, even programming. Whereas my emphasis was to protray something like programming in a natural context. Specifically I would see programming as a process of pattern matching, pattern duplication with modification, constructing prototypes and testing them followed by modification and so on. I don’t see a “mind” at work here. I see a brain and sensory apparati.

    I can look at the brain’s ability to model the external world where such ability can serve as leverage in making predictions about the external world. As far as programming there’s a lot of building of protypes and testing them, because what your brain predicts will happen is rarely ever exactly the case, so you’re continually testing, modifying and retesting with no end in sight. IOW, you can’t rely on the seeming magical ability of your mind to tell you what is going to work – your physical mind just gives you a general direction in which to proceed, and the actual tested results of what you created guide further development. And to look at a piece of running software and say, “this isn’t doing what I wanted it to do”. That is not some nonmaterial mind at work.

    My larger point was that the complexity of the programming project isn’t necessarily related to the complexity of the goal. The current thing I’m working on I could describe the original goal in two or three sentences. There’s something quite specific that you’re trying to achieve. Then once you achieve that however, and you have the capability sitting in front of you, inevitably you think of new features you want to add to it. So it is the actual physical existence of some limited piece of funcionality that you can perceive in front of you which serves as the impetus for additional development.

    But as far as mysterious mind entity somehow guiding the whole process- Take some debugging example. The program is crashing or not working right and the question is why. Surely someone will proceed in some stereotypical fashion which he has successfully followed before to try to locate the bug. Its a search process, and maybe you’ll use some heuristic that has proved successful in the past to narrow the search to start with, but if it proves unsuccessful, and you have no other recourse, exhaustive search might come in at some point. But you have memories of past debugging experiences, various tools to facilitate the process, etc.

    Not sure if I’m completely getting my point across here, but I would not personally use the word mind, because I think that term is intentionally invoked to imply at least the possibility of some quasi-spiritual nonmaterial process which is purported to be necessary even in programming, and to me such a notion is ridiculous.

    And I don’t think that a program could come into existence stochastically, i.e. for no reason or cause at all. I think Dembski’s probability calulations do rule that out. But I am throughly committed to viewing humans and human design capability as a material mechanism, because there is no other coherent way to explicate it.

  11. 11
    GilDodgen says:

    The absolutely-no-concessions policy of Darwinists is a tightrope walk. Irreducible complexity, for example, is a real problem for random variation, natural selection, and Darwinian gradualism. Making up fanciful stories like co-option — which defies simple probabilistic analysis and doesn’t pass the analytical-scrutiny smell test in many other ways — and then announcing that the problem has been solved, can only last so long. As Paul Nelson pointed out in Expelled, challenges that are not adequately addressed tend not to go away.

  12. 12
    poachy says:

    challenges that are not adequately addressed tend not to go away.

    Conversely, ideas that are dearly held tend not to go away even when adequately challenged.

  13. 13
    RRE says:

    JunkYardTornado,

    mind + body + airplane (airplane and body are machines) + time + energy = flight

    Another machine was required for the human body to fly. The airplane. The goal to fly could not be realized without that machine, and any machine would fit the definition of something that is both complex and specified.

    There is no way to make a machine and fly with a disembodied mind. The mind must have a body that can then make another machine which would be the airplane, air balloon, or helicopter in order to fly if the body did not already possess that ability.

  14. 14
    JunkyardTornado says:

    RRE:
    “mind + body + airplane (airplane and body are machines) + time + energy = flight

    Another machine was required for the human body to fly. The airplane. The goal to fly could not be realized without that machine…”

    if the goal is an airplane its redundant to put it on the left side of the equation. An airplane is what you’re trying to achieve. What’s the point of saying you can’t have an airplane without an airplane. Also a physical thing by definition is what flies, so you don’t need to stipulate it requires a body to fly either.

    The following is a thought experiment that might clarify my original point.

    Suppose you can identify something that flies and something that doesn’t, by mere observation. Now suppose you’re convinced for some reason that there’s a toy airplane hidden in a large room somewhere, so based on that conviction you’re going to start searching in that large room and keep searching until you find the airplane. Now supposing there is in fact a toy airplane hidden in that room. Then given enough time you WILL find it, because a) you have enough time and b) because you’re capable of identifying something that flies when you find it. I would say its pretty trivial to identify something that flies and something that doesn’t. So time and energy is the only real limiting factor here.

    Any design process is a search process pretty much directly analagous to the aforementioned scenario. The only question being, is your search criteria going to lead you to a solution in the amount of time you have. Design would actually entail building prototypes and testing them. So a slight modification of the aforementioned capability to be able to identify things that fly is the following – given two prototypes can you identify which one flies better than the other. This seems to be a pretty trivial task as well, and would seem to be a good enough heuristic to potentially guide you to a solution. Of course, there’s also a concept of being able to identify (through careful observation over time) the common denominator in one set of protoypes that make them fly better than those in a second set. I’m just trying to demystify the whole process a little bit.

  15. 15
    JunkyardTornado says:

    RRE I do see your point. You couldn’t fly with just the goal of flight and time and energy – it would require the actual plane, which is complex and specified. But my point was you preserve some solution because it flies, not because its complex and specified. You can tell something flies just by observing it. We can end this discussion if you want.

  16. 16
    JunkyardTornado says:

    My final point is this- there’s no basis for saying that what is needed in a search or design process is a nonmaterial concept called “agency”. Rather what is crucial is the level of discrimination an entity possesses, which would be tied to its physical attributes. To compare one prototype to another an entity has to be able to distinguish them, and to be able to distinguish these prototypes you have to have physical perceptual capabilities that exceed a certain level, otherwise the two objects will appear to be the same (even though they’re not), and thus their diverging flight capabilities will appear to be random and baseless. The term ‘perceptual’ merely alludes to the variability of an entity’s behavior in the presence of varying stimuli or environmental conditions. If the entity acts the same in the presence of multiple stimuli its perceptual acuity is limited.

  17. 17
    JunkyardTornado says:

    As far as being able to compare one prototype to another and be able to distinguish them –

    A basic computer operation is to compare one value to another for equality. How quickly can you compare one n bit value to another n bit value for equality. That’s a basic determinant of how quickly you can search and what sort of design operations are feasible for you. These are basic questions of capacity. So its capacity, not agency, which is the crucial factor in design.

  18. 18
    EndoplasmicMessenger says:

    Charles:

    I would like to have a copy of that ‘laundry list’ if someone could please post a link to it?

    If you would like a deep analysis of the shortcomings of modern evolutionary theory with virtually no “intelligent design” spin, I highly recommend:

    Evolution Under the Microscope

  19. 19
    toc says:

    JunkyardTornado:

    Regarding your post to my attention, # 10,

    People have been bickering over the issues you address since Heroclitus and Parmenides; I hardly think you and I will bring the argument to a successful conclusion. You might find THE SPIRITUAL BRAIN by Mario Beauregard and Denyse O’leary (noted often on this blog) informative. I am simply a software developer, Beauregard is a neuroscientist.

    I will offer this rhetorical question however:
    How does Darwinism successfully answer the question that when phenomena occur, all observers can recall by memory essentially the same manifestations of the phenomena?
    How is it that we can ascertain abstract concepts and postulate them coherently while another can process those concepts and agree or disagree within the realm of an ongoing argument?
    How is it possible to make predictions of future events and participate in the process of inductive and deductive reasoning?

    Darwin himself asked whether the thoughts of man, or even his cousins the primates, could be thought of as true. It is almost, but not quite, a self-stultifying question.

    Naturalism, evidently your philosophical worldview, does not cogently answer these questions, at least for me.

  20. 20
    RRE says:

    This article does a great job exposing the hardcore secularist strategy and their illogical use of evidence to create unfalsifiability. Learning about ‘strengths and weaknesses’ of biological and chemical evolution is a perfect strategy that is logically consistent with what science is supposed to be doing, which is not to be used to dogmatically support a trenchant ideology that seeks only to include change over time without an intelligent cause.

  21. 21
    RRE says:

    JunkYardTornado,

    I was just trying to tell you it requires a machine to be present in order to fly if the body does not do so on its own. From your perspective, if you do not think the mind is a real separate phenomenon from the body, then it takes a
    brain with its associated body + machine + time + energy = flight

    The machine has to be there.

    What’s more striking is that it turns out we are the only species known to produce machines. Humans are unique in this respect. It sort of proves that humans are exceptional, at least with the species on this planet.

    The paradox then becomes apparent when you see that the bodies of biological organisms also fit the definition of a machine.

    It’s all of sudden like, ‘Wow, I guess we aren’t the only species that can make machines, but we are the only species that can make them on this planet’.

  22. 22
    Larry Fafarman says:

    The NY Times article says,

    Although the state education board is free to set aside or modify their proposals, committee members will recommend that the “strengths and weaknesses” phrase be removed, said Kevin Fisher, a committee member who is against the teaching of creationism.
    “When you consider evolution, there are certainly questions that have yet to be answered,” said Mr. Fisher, science coordinator for the Lewisville Independent School District in North Texas.

    But, he added, “a question that has yet to be answered is certainly different from an alleged weakness.”

    Mr. Fisher points to the flaws in Darwinian theory that are listed on an anti-evolution Web site, strengthsandweaknesses.org, which is run by Texans for Better Science Education.

    “Many of them are decades old,” Mr. Fisher said of the flaws listed. “They’ve all been thoroughly refuted.”

    This shows the double standard of Darwinists. They say of unanswered questions about Darwinism, “we don’t know the answers now, but we are working on finding the answers and we may find them someday.” They say of criticisms of Darwinism, “they have all been refuted and no new ones or revisions of old ones are going to be introduced.”

    Yes, I remember reading intelligent-design and irreducible-complexity arguments many decades ago, but a lot of the evidence is of recent origin. Recent discoveries have shown that cells are not just amorphous blobs of protoplasm as previously presumed but contain remarkably complex nanomachines (e.g., bacterial flagella), biochemical factories (e.g., the blood-clotting cascade), and data-processing systems (e.g., genetic codes).

    “[A] question that has yet to be answered is certainly different from an alleged weakness”? If the question could be answered, it wouldn’t be a weakness.

    Darwinists’ paranoia towards any criticism of Darwinism is stifling scientific inquiry. For example, the Florida Citizens for Science blog has banned me from discussing co-evolution there.

    I discuss co-evolution in several articles in the following post-label group on my blog —

    http://im-from-missouri.blogsp.....0evolution

  23. 23
    LeeBowman says:

    PRE:

    “This article does a great job exposing the hardcore secularist strategy and their illogical use of evidence to create unfalsifiability. Learning about ’strengths and weaknesses’ of biological and chemical evolution is a perfect strategy that is logically consistent with what science is supposed to be doing, which is not to be used to dogmatically support a trenchant ideology that seeks only to include change over time without an intelligent cause. “

    I like the use of ‘trenchant ideology’. How ’bout we say it’s an ideology with a ‘trenchant penchant.’

    From the article:

    ” … committee members will recommend that the “strengths and weaknesses” phrase be removed, said Kevin Fisher, a committee member who is against the teaching of creationism. ”

    “When you consider evolution, there are certainly questions that have yet to be answered,” said Mr. Fisher, science coordinator for the Lewisville Independent School District in North Texas.”

    “But, he added, “a question that has yet to be answered is certainly different from an alleged weakness.”

    You don’t feel that 150 year old unanswered questions conundrums constitute a weakness? Maybe we should go a little further:

    When does the hypothesis of speciation via natural selection of random mutations graduate to the status of a falsification?

    Karl Popper said,

    ” … the criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability.”

    Perhaps we’re being generous in even allowing that hypothesis to linger as ‘valid science’, Mr. Fisher.

  24. 24
    tragicmishap says:

    From the NY Times article:
    “The Cambrian Explosion was a period of rapid diversification that evidence suggests began around 550 million years ago and gave rise to most groups of complex organisms and animal forms. Scientists are studying how it unfolded.”

    Oh really? Who? Stephen J. Gould?

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