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Saturday
May242014

Weekend update: You'd have to be science illiterate to think "belief in evolution" measures science literacy

It's been soooo long -- at least 3 weeks! -- since I last did a post on the relationship between "belief in evolution" & "science literacy."

That's just not right!  Plus I have some cool new data on this issue.

But let's start with a reprise of the basics -- because one can never overstate how aggressively ignored they are by those who flip out & let loose with a toxic stream of ignorance & cultural zealotry every time a polling organization announces the "startling" news that nearly 50% of the US public continues (as it has for decades) to say "no" when asked whether they believe in evolution (in addition, if one asks how many of the "believers" subscribe to a "naturalistic" or Darwinian view as opposed to a "theistic" variant, the proportion plummets down all the more-- for "Democrats" as well as "Republicans" blah blah blah).

First, there is zero correlation between saying one "believes" in evolution & understanding the rudiments of modern evolutionary science.

Those who say they do "believe" are no more likely to be able to be able to give a high-school-exam passing account of natural selection, genetic variance, and random mutation -- the basic elements of the modern synthesis -- than than those who say they "don't" believe.

In fact, neither is very likely to be able to, which means that those who "believe" in evolution are professing their assent to something they don't understand.

That's really nothing to be embarrassed about: if one wants to live a decent life -- or just live, really --one has to accept much more as known by science than one can comprehend to any meaningful degree.

What is embarrassing, though, is for those who don't understand something to claim that their "belief" in it demonstrates that they have a greater comprehension of science than someone who says he or she "doesn't" believe it.

Second, "disbelief" in evolution poses absolutely no barrier to comprehension of basic evolutionary science.

Fantastic empirical research shows that it is very very possible for a dedicated science educator to teach the modern synthesis to a secondary school student who says he or she "doesn't believe" in evolution.  

The way to do it is to do the same thing that one should do for the secondary school student who says he or she does believe in evolution & who, in all likelihood, doesn't understand it: by focusing on correcting various naive misconceptions that have little to do with belief in the supernatural, etc., & everything to do with the ingrained attraction of people to functionalist sorts of accounts of how natural beings adapt to their environments.

The thing is, though, even after acquiring knowledge of the modern synthesis-- likely the most awe-inspiring & elegant, not to mention astonishingly useful, collection of insights that human reason has ever pried loose from nature--the bright kid who before said "no" when asked if he or she "believes" in evolution is not any more likely to say that he or she now "believes" it

Indeed, confusing "comprehension" with profession of "belief" is a very good way to assure that those kids who are disposed to say they "don't believe" won't learn these momentous insights.

As Lawson & Worsnop observed in the conclusion of their classic study (the one that presented such amazingly cool evidence on how to teach evolution in a way that excited kids of all cultural outlooks to want to learn it), 

[E]very teacher who has addressed the issue of special creation and evolution in the classroom already knows that highly religious students are not likely to change their belief in special creation as a consequence of relative brief lessons on evolution. Our suggestion is that it is best not to try to do so, not directly at least. Rather, our experience and results suggest to us that a more prudent plan would be to utilize instruction time, much as we did, to explore the alternatives, their predicted consequences, and the evidence in a hypothetico-deductive way in an effort to provoke argumentation and the use of reflective thought. Thus, the primary aims of the lesson should not be to convince students of one belief or another, but, instead, to help students (a) gain a better understanding of how scientists compare alternative hypotheses, their predicated consequences, and the evidence to arrive at belief and (b) acquire skill in the use of this important reasoning pattern-a pattern that appears to be necessary for independent learning and critical thought.

There are actually some who say in response, "Not good enough; it is essential not merely to impart knowledge but also to extract a profession of belief too!"

When someone says that, he or she helps us to see that there are actually illiberal sectarians on both sides of the "evolution in education" controversy in this society.

Third -- and here we are getting to the point where the new data come in! -- profession of "belief" in evolution is simply not a valid measure of science comprehension.

This is very much related to what I have already recounted but is in fact a separate point.

Because imparting basic comprehension of science  in citizens is so critical to enlightened democracy, it is essential that we develop valid measures of it, so that we can assess and improve the profession of teaching science to people.

What should be measured, in my view, is a quality of  ordinary science intelligence -- not some inventory of facts ("earth goes 'round the sun, not other way 'round-- check!") but rather an ability to to distinguish valid from invalid claims to scientific insight and a disposition to use in one's own decisions science's signature style of inference from observation.

The National Science Foundation has been engaged in the project of trying to formulate and promote such a measure for quite some time. A few years ago it came to the conclusion that the item "human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals," shouldn't be included when computing "science literacy."

The reason was simple: the answer people give to this question doesn't measure their comprehension of science. People who score at or near the top on the remaining portions of the test aren't any more likely to get this item "correct" than those who do poorly on the remaining portions.

What the NSF's evolution item does measure, researchers have concluded, is test takers' cultural identities, and in particular the centrality of religion in their lives.

Predictably, the NSF was forced to back off this position by a crescendo of objections from those who either couldn't get or didn't care about the distinction between measuring science comprehension and administering a cultural orthodoxy test. The NSF regularly notes the controversy but prudently distances itself from what the significance of it.

But those of us who don't have to worry about whether taking a stance will affect our research budgets, who genuinely care about science, and who recognize the challenge of propagating widespread comprehension and simple enjoyment of science in a culturally pluralistic society (which is, ironically, the type of political regime most conducive to the advance of scientific discovery!) shouldn't equivocate.

We should insist that science comprehension be measured scientifically and point out the mistakes -- myriads of them -- being made by those who continue to insist that professions of "belief" in evolution are any sort of indicator of that.

I've reported some evidence before in this blog that reinforces the conclusion that "belief" in evolution is a measure of who people are and not what they know.

Well, here's some more.

Following up on a super interesting tidbit from the 2014 NSF Science Indicators, I included alternate versions of the conventional NSF Indicator "evolution" item in a science comprehension battery that I administered to a large (N = 2000) nationally representative sample earlier this month.

One was the conventional "true-false" statement, "Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals.”

The second simply added to thist sentence the introductory clause, "According to the theory of evolution, ..."

The NSF had reported on a General Social Science module from a few years ago that found that the latter version elicits a much higher percentage of "true" responses.

Well, sure enough.   

As the Figure at the top of the post shows, the proportion who selected "true" jumped from 55% on the NSF item to 81% on the GSS one!

Wow!  Who would have thought it would be so easy to improve the "science literacy" of benighted Americans (who leaving aside the "evolution" and related "big bang" origin-of-the-universe items already tend to score better on the NSF battery than members of other industrialized nations).

Seriously: as a measure of what test takers know about science, there's absolutely no less content in the GSS version than the NSF.  Indeed, if anyone who was asked to give an explanation for why "true" is the correct response to the NSF version failed to connect the answer to  "evidence consisntent with the theory of evolution  ..." would be revealed to have no idea what he or she is talking about.

The only thing the NSF item does that the GSS item doesn't is entangle the "knowledge" component of the "evolution" item (as paltry as it is) in the identity-expressive significance of "positions" on evolution.  

Want some more evidence? Here you go:


This figure shows the relationship between the probability of a "true" response to the respective versions of the question conditional "religiosity" & "science comprehension." (The figure graphically reports the results of a regression model. If you want to see the raw Click me--I will make you more science literate, I swear!data, click on the inset to the left!)

The former was measured by aggregating into a scale responses to items on self-reported frequency of church attendance, frequency of prayer, and importance of God (α = 0.87).

The latter was formed by combining the NSF's science indicator battery (excluding the "evolution" one, to avoid circularity) with a set of Numeracy and Critical Reflection Test items.  The NSF indicators, a collection of "true-false" items,  can be seen as comprising knowledge of elementary facts; the additional items assess the sorts of reasoning skills--including, in particular, the disposition and ability to make valid inferences from quantitative and other forms of information--that a person needs in order reliably to acquire scientific knowledge. 

The items cohere nicely, forming a highly reliable unidimensional scale (α = 0.84), which I scored with an item response theory model. 

Indeed, the main reason for collecting data on the GSS and NSF variants of the evolution item was to see what the frequency of "true" responses to them would reveal about the item's relative connection to religious identity and science comprehension.

These data answer that question.

The panel on the left confirms that the NSF item does indeed measure religious identity, not scientific knowledgeable.  

Or maybe one can see it as indicating science comprehension for relatively secular folks, since in them one sees what one would expect if that were the case--namely, that the probability of answering "true" goes up as people become progressively more comprehending of science.

But the probability of answering "true" doesn't go up--if anything it goes down--as individuals who are above average in religiosity become more science comprehending.  That's manifestly inconsistent with any inference that the answer to the question indicates the science comprehension of people with a more religious identity. (In case you were wondering -- and it's perfectly reasonable to -- there was a fairly minor negative correlation-- r = - 0.17, p < 0.01-- between religiosity and science comprehension.)  

Now behold the panel on the right!

Here we do see exactly what one would expect of an item that indicates (i.e., correlates, because it's presumably caused by) science comprehension--an increasing probability of answering "true" -- for both non-religious and religious individuals!

By adding the introductory clause, "According to the theory of evolution," the GSS question disentangles ("unconfounds" in psychology-speak) the "science knowledge" component and the "identity expressive" components of the item.

Gee, Americans aren't that dumb after all!

Or maybe they are; this is too easy a question if one wants to figure out whether Americans or anyone else really knows anything about science: some 80% of the respondents answer it correctly -- a figure that rapidly approaches 100% among those of even middling science comprehension.

So ditch this question & substitute for it one more probative of genuine science comprehension -- like whether the test taker actually gets natural selection, random mutation, and genetic variance, which are of course the fundamental mechanisms of evolution and which kids with a religious identity can be taught just as readily as anyone else.

Or actually, how about this.

Instruct the test taker to reflect on the graph above and then respond to the item, 

"'Belief in evolution' is a valid measure of a person's science literacy," true or false?

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Reader Comments (49)

Good timing. In the Faith and Science discussions that start on 4 June, I get us going by defining 'faith' and 'science.' I need to remember that people will 'believe' things that they do not understand.

May 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEric Fairfield

@Eric:

It's fine to believe things one doesn't undertsand. Being able to recognize what's known by science is a different thing from comprhending what's known. It's also more basic -- w/o it, no science would be possible.

May 24, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Insightful article. There's a big difference between 'believing' a theory and having an intellectual grasp of its argument. We can't see the future of science, so all theories (no matter how convincing) are still "maybes". A scientist can't prove a theory right, he can only provide evidence that it's wrong. Taking it a bit further, most status quo scientific "facts" are based on the assumption of a mind-independent universe. Is that a correct assumption? It may "feel" true, but given that you can't see outside mind/consciousness can you provide solid evidence/logic to support it? It's important that science not become a religion. Encourage students to "understand and deeply consider" rather than to rotely "believe" (and frame scientific literacy questions with that in mind).

May 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSam

Has there been research on understanding of the finer points of evolutionary theory that would distinguish between a well-informed believer in evolution and, say, a believer in intelligent design who thinks that the absent Crocoduck disproves Darwinism? Or any research of a similar kind on climate change, where we've seen what Chris Mooney dubs the "smart idiot" effect?

May 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterZack

@Zack:

I haven't seen research on that in particular.

But I would say -- I said somehting like this once in response to a comment & someone posted a really intereting reply! that led to a really coool discusion-- that anyone who not only says "I believe in the theory of INtelligent Design" but could actually spell out how it works would for sure *get* the modern synthesis & in fact *know* more about evolutionary science that probably 99.43% of the US population. It's a given that the mechanisms of the modern synthesis -- random mutation, genetic variance, natural selection -- impose restraints on the speed at which evolution can take place. Behe purports to catalog biological phenomena that can be accounted for by evolution under any reasonable theory of what the speed limit is. He's wrong-- evolutionary scientists would say -- b/c he variously ignores or unreasonably disputes various pieces of evidence that explain his anomalies (many of which were for periods of time anomalies of the sort that "ordinary science" makes itself busy resolving all the time).

The objection to Behe isn't (or shouldn't be) that he doesn't "believe" in evolution but rather that he is misleading people about what science knows-- w/ the support of politically influential groups that genuniely are opposed to teaching evolutionary science in public schools (to all the kids who say they "believe" but don't understand it, among others).

I'd like to see a study -- maybe there is one! gratitude to whoever points it out will offset my embarrassment for not knowing about it -- that shows that cultural cognition or like forms of motivated reasoning block assimilation or fair-minded engagement with evidence relating to evoution on the part of people who say "I don't believe" in it.

It wouldn't by any means shock me to see such evidence! But it also seems possible to me that there's no such reaction at all. After all, kids who say they don't "believe" evolution *can* learn evolutionary science. I'm 100% certain (seriously) that there are plenty of them who read Science every week & watch NOVA & freak out w/ awe when some bit of evolutionary science generates some amazing insibght. It's not climate change ...

May 24, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

This is fascinating, and I'm struggling to put into words why it bothers me. I think maybe it's this...

If this is the goal: "an ability to to distinguish valid from invalid claims to scientific insight and a disposition to use science's signature style of inference form observation."
How is it any different if I don't understand the theory of evolution or if I do but just don't "believe" it?

May 24, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterchet

@Chet:

2 thoughts on that:

1. The "belief" vs. "knowledge" point is a metaphysical distraction. The issue is how to *measure* a kind of trait that manifests itself in certain patterns of thinking and an awareness of & facility with mechanisms and process in the natural world. The "do you believe in evolution" question -- & all of its absurd variants -- doesn't measure that, at least not in a *very large* segment of the US population.

2. This *isn't* what's going on here--what's going on here, in this boring & repetitive wrangling about "belied in evolution" surveys , is the spectacle of illiberal cultural status competition)--but there's nothing *at all* unusual in science about "comprehending"/"knowing" & "not believing." Ask Einstein. He *got* Newtonian mechanics but didn't *believe* they furnished an adequate account of the basic laws of physics. Likewise, he never *accepted* -- never *believed* -- quantum mechanics, which he called "incomplete," but he sure as hell "knew" it, understood it, etc.

What do you think? Sound right?

May 24, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

One could argue that belief in the conclusions of science is itself unscientific. The scientific method includes a principle of systematic scepticism and challenge, in which all conclusions can be questioned and tested and, if new evidence or arguments merit it, overthrown. To test and challenge an existing conclusion of science, you do have to understand it, but it helps the process a lot if you can manage not to believe it. Maybe the evidence is unreliable? Maybe there's a mistake in our reasoning that nobody has spotted yet?

So there's a difference between 'belief' in the sense of 'I think this is the most likely option, given the information I have at the moment' and 'belief' in the sense of 'all scientists say so, and so you'd have to be anti-science or some sort of idiot to disagree'. There's a difference between believing that science is our best available means of finding the truth, and believing that science is true.

It's a scientific fact that humans make mistakes - and that even the most intelligent and well-informed people can be utterly convinced they are right when they are in fact wrong. It's a matter of recorded scientific history that science and scientists have made many errors, and have accepted and believed theories, sometimes for centuries, that later turned out to be incorrect.

So it would be grossly unscientific to believe that today, finally, for the first time in scientific history, that all of science's current conclusions are correct; that we have no theories today that in a hundred years time people will laugh at. It's not impossible, but is surely highly unlikely.

Thus, some would argue that "science is the belief in the ignorance of experts", and that until you have personally checked every element in the chain of reasoning and evidence, that it would be scientifically improper for you to 'believe' in it, and that even then some element of doubt remains. Pragmatically, you can accept many well-examined conclusions on a tentative basis, but that when challenged with plausible evidence that things might not be so, you have no choice but to suspend acceptance until the matter has been sorted out.

Scientists themselves quite routinely 'don't believe' in selected conclusions of science. That's how we make progress. The question, always, is why you believe or disbelieve as you do. Is it more scientific to believe in evolution "because scientists say so", or to disbelieve because you don't know how a particular issue is resolved and you haven't been shown the evidence that resolves it?

Indeed, could it be that given that most people are ignorant of the detailed evidence and technical arguments, that the only proper scientific conclusion for them to draw is "I don't know", and therefore disbelief for most of the general public is the proper 'scientifically literate' position? Wouldn't that be ironic?

May 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

This is a breath of fresh air amid the legions talking past each other about science and religion. Thank you, Dan, for demonstrating how a scientific perspective--that is respectful of faith--can help us ask better questions about complex issues with exceedingly practical implications for scientific supply and demand.

Science almost always is about the "ordinary" and, notwithstanding ubiquitous and often sensationalistic reporting about exotic phenomena beyond our experience, it helps us see the wonder in the quotidian. Science helps us be present in deeper ways, it helps us see the world before us as it is rather than merely through the lens of convenient presumptions or terminal induction, and it is both bounded and complemented by belief. You have focused your readers on a productive and satisfying agenda:

"Because imparting basic comprehension of science in citizens is so critical to enlightened democracy, it is essential that we develop valid measures of it, so that we can assess and improve the profession of teaching science to people.

What should be measured, in my view, is a quality of ordinary science intelligence -- not some inventory of facts ("earth goes 'round the sun-- check!") but rather an ability to to distinguish valid from invalid claims to scientific insight and a disposition to use science's signature style of inference form observation."

May 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGary Riccio

To say that you believe something is true does not necessarily imply that you therefore think it is absolutely certain, a scientific fact beyond any doubt.

When I say that I "believe in evolution," it basically means that it is my assessment that there is a consensus among experts that the preponderance of evidence is in support of evolution. My belief in evolution also means that I find it to be highly unlikely that a supernatural power that intelligently designed the universe would also create "panda's thumbs," Down Syndrome, or millions of children dying of starvation. That "belief' of mine is not mutually exclusive with my understanding that all humans error, and that the concept of absolute proof is not scientific.

In that sense, it may very well be that my "belief" in evolution does reflect that I am more "knowledgeable" about the state of the science than someone who has a contrasting opinion and in support - irrespective of our understanding of evolutionary theory. I have run into people who are more familiar with some of the technical aspects of evolutionary theory than I, and who then also argue that carbon dating is invalid, or that remnants of Noah's Arc have been found on Mount Ararat. In such a situation, who is more "knowledgeable" about the state of the science?

And it is interesting to think about the problems with generalizing about the relationship between belief and knowledge from an issue like evolution - which is affected by polarization and ideology. For example, I would say that a question that measures "belief in multiverses" would correlate very strongly with scientific literacy, as for the most part, only the most scientifically literate are even familiar with the concept. Along the same lines, if you asked members of an isolated aboriginal tribe about belief in evolution, it would probably track very strongly with scientific literacy, as only those who had been exposed to scientific findings would even have the potential for "belief in evolution."

May 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Thanks for this. I always found it ridiculous that talking heads would shriek about how students in districts that allowed classes to teach intelligent design, or somehow instill some doubt about Darwinism, were turning out students ill-equipped to deal with modern society. In grad school I taught basic biology to undergrads. It was an elective that fulfilled a general ed requirement. Thus, I had a diverse group of students, most of whom had no interest in pursuing any kind of science. I would say, in general, that students have a poor aptitude of science. What's silly is the idea that religious/creationist kids have some disadvantage here. Compared to what? The typical (secular) business major? Uh, no. Fans of every discipline believe that people cannot possibly functional well in life without a solid understanding of their respective field. It's mostly nonsense, of course. Truth is, most people simply have no critical need to understand evolutionary science. They can go on to be competent engineers, writers, accountants, math teachers, and even doctors, without it. That's obvious, isn't it? Evolution has simply become a proxy in the tribal culture wars of our society. And as the author pointed out, even people who are vociferous defenders of [insert controversial topic here] often have little understanding of it, they simply accept what the experts tell them.

May 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCornfed

I wonder where I fit on you scale? Not religious, training as an engineer, and I consider my self scientifically literate.

Accept evolution, as a change in species over time, sure. Accept Darwin, not so much. Way to many holes in observed vs theory results. Darwin supported slow and steady change over time vs those who supported catastrophes as driving changes in the change in species over time. I "believe" that Darwin got it wrong.

Ask if I support evolution, and I will answer yes. Ask if I support Darwin, and I will answer no. Far to many equate failure to support Darwin with a failure to support evolution.

May 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

Interesting. At some point we all have to depend on a belief in the scientific method and the resulting science. For example I have a fairly deep understanding of current theories of evolution including epigenetics. However I base my belief in Hawking radiation emitted from black holes purely based on my understanding of the scientific methods and process.

That being said I find the current conservative practice of not accepting science to be disturbing and perhaps injurious to many people. If a person does not believe in evolution are they fit to become a teacher in the public school system? They can actually harm others by interfering with their learning processes. Individuals must utilize reason in their lives and who is to say that a creationist viewpoint does not inhibit its formation? Many mental disorders are characterized by belief in things that are not true. Certainly disbelief of evolution is rare in the technically adept high earning professions. Scientists, engineers, mathematicians etc. build their life and valuable careers around reason and the scientific method. And those high value members of society contribute a majority of the information needed for the himan race to progress.

So I certainly disagree that disbelieving in evolution is not harmful.

May 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNorEastern

Noreastern,
one does not have to be a creationist to have issues with evolution theory. One does need to also state which particular theory of evolution one subscribes to. Or does one have to subscribe to a specific theory on the mechanism of evolution or be considered "unscientific" ? If so, such belief becomes more of a religious test than a scientific test.

For example, is a proponent of punctuated evolution now considered "unscientific" ? Does one have to fully agree with all that Darwin wrote at the time ? If one points out that Darwin was wrong on certain items, is one in danger of having a fatwa issued against one and risk being stoned for apostasy against the "faith".

May 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

I am an experimental molecular biologist. I have a simple approach to evolution and other topics. I support facts derived from well done experiments until there are better facts. I support theories, on a conditional basis, that do not disagree with the experimental facts.'
(Yes, I know that I have hidden a lot of information in the words 'well done.')

May 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEric Fairfield

Belief in evolution--what does that mean? Belief is the realm of religion. I think many people appreciate the theory of evolution, but they don't believe in it the way they believe in God.

May 26, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteraed939

Wow, thanks, NorEastern, for showing how ingrained the mentality of evolutionism can be, with such a response after reading an article which clearly shows that people who do not believe in evolution have the knowledge and capability to exercise reason and apply the scientific method as well as anybody. G.W. Carver was inspired by his Christian faith and belief that Genesis revealed that God gave us plants for our benefit, including the lowly peanut. He testified, "“The Great Creator taught me to take the peanut apart and put it together again. And out of the process have come forth all these products.” (http://www.christianworldviewnetwork.com/article.php/3036/William_J_Federer
Dr. Joseph Mastropaolo, the physiologist who was the physical trainer of the pilot of the first Kremer prize-winning Human Powered Aircraft (the Gossamer Condor) is a creationist. ( http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/mac0int-4 )
The key pioneer inventor of MRI, Dr. Raymond Damadian, is a creationist (http://web.mit.edu/invent/iow/damadian.html)
The primary inventor of the "gene gun" process, Dr. John Sanford, is a creationist http://hort.cals.cornell.edu/people/john-sanford
There are many more creationists who are contributing in ordinary ways to science, engineering, and medicine. True enough, even the thousands of them are a minority compared to evolutionists, but clearly that is not because creationists can't understand or do science as well as evolutionists.

One thing about the charts that I think was unfortunately overlooked was that the "yes" answers appear to go up faster in the "below-average religiousity" group as well. Perhaps there is a recognition here that making human ancestry from "earlier species" a statement of fact is not scientific. The study as a whole (especially noting the reaction that made the NSF back off from the second version) shows how evolution has become a shibboleth for scientism, as does NorEastern's response, and NiV's, " 'all scientists say so, and so you'd have to be anti-science or some sort of idiot to disagree'. There's a difference between believing that science is our best available means of finding the truth, and believing that science is true." Well, apparently for some people, when they've decided an issue has "been resolved," there precious little difference.

I should very much like to discuss the author's paean to "the modern synthesis-- likely the most awe-inspiring & elegant, not to mention astonishingly useful, collection of insights that human reason has ever pried loose from nature." Clearly, no closet creationist here. And yet I would like to point out that most creationists accept most of this concept: "that populations contain genetic variation that arises by random (ie. not adaptively directed) mutation and recombination; that populations evolve by changes in gene frequency brought about by random genetic drift, gene flow, and especially natural selection; that most adaptive genetic variants have individually slight phenotypic effects so that phenotypic changes are gradual (although some alleles with discrete effects may be advantageous, as in certain color polymorphisms); that diversification comes about by speciation, which normally entails the gradual evolution of reproductive isolation among populations; " (- Futuyma, D.J. in Evolutionary Biology, Sinauer Associates, 1986; p.12 as seen at http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/modern-synthesis.html ) We only part ways when the idea goes from what has been observed to jumping to the conclusion "that these processes, continued for sufficiently long, give rise to changes of such great magnitude as to warrant the designation of higher taxonomic levels (genera, families, and so forth)."

We would also note that the origin of life by non-biological processes, (and, I say, the origin of anything short of life but at least displaying the organized dynamic complexity of a wind-up toy apart from intelligent design) is contrary to the overwhelming tendency of nature, and some 5 decades of experimentation have shown that nothing but the most basic components (often mixed with disruptive similar molecules) are formed by natural, inanimate processes. If life had to begin with some unknown Big Bang event, it may have begun in a way which, like the "time before" the universal Big Bang, is beyond scientific investigation.

More directly related to the great assumption of the modern synthesis, the fossil record clearly does NOT show the gradual diversification of life forms into ever-more-divergent (higher) classifications. The highest classifications (domains) show up first, and the most favored theory now seems to be that there must have been a bunch of overlap through other processes (e.g. symbiosis). Likewise the "Kingdoms" are all represented quite early on, although in the fossil record a couple of those (fungi and plantae) show up out of nowhere somewhat later than might be expected, but in time for animalia to find them on land. Then of course, there's the famous sudden appearance of all the major phyla in the Cambrian. We could go right on up through the fossil record to the Cenozoic, where we find about 40 lineages of mammals and a similar number of birds suddenly appearing, although there are fossils of different although sometimes analogous forms in the Mesozoic.

As for the ability of the observed and posited processes of the modern synthesis to produce this final grand result (a key point in evaluating scientific proposals), we've observed vast numbers of variations and they are overwhelmingly near-neutral, with lots that are mildly deleterious and thus not subject to natural selection. Even the rare beneficial variations are overwhelmingly not the kind which could be combined in any way to increase the organized dynamic complexity of an organism: changes in color, proportion, curvature of integument, overall size, loss of sight, etc. If just the right mutations should happen to occur at just the right times to provide selective advantage, then there's the difficulty of fixing new traits in a population even with selective advantage.

But, insofar as the modern synthesis (and Darwin's "natural selection") is observable and useful, creationists generally accept it.

May 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Bump

NorEastern,

"That being said I find the current conservative practice of not accepting science to be disturbing and perhaps injurious to many people."

It's not just conservative, and conservatives do of course "accept science" as much as liberals do - they just disagree about what science *is* and what science *says*.

"If a person does not believe in evolution are they fit to become a teacher in the public school system?"

As always, it depends on why. If a person believes in evolution for unscientific and irrational reasons, are they fit to be a teacher? If they believe in evolution despite having little to no idea how evolution works, or what the evidence for it is, are they fit to be a teacher? According to your test, where you simply ask if they believe or disbelieve, you'd conclude they were - and that seems to me to be a big problem.

One of the foundation principles of science is it's rejection of the Argument ad Verecundiam - the argument from modesty. As Locke put it: "The first is, to allege the opinions of men, whose parts, learning, eminency, power, or some other cause has gained a name, and settled their reputation in the common esteem with some kind of authority. When men are established in any kind of dignity, it is thought a breach of modesty for others to derogate any way from it, and question the authority of men who are in possession of it. This is apt to be censured, as carrying with it too much pride, when a man does not readily yield to the determination of approved authors, which is wont to be received with respect and submission by others: and it is looked upon as insolence, for a man to set up and adhere to his own opinion against the current stream of antiquity; or to put it in the balance against that of some learned doctor, or otherwise approved writer. Whoever backs his tenets with such authorities, thinks he ought thereby to carry the cause, and is ready to style it impudence in any one who shall stand out against them."

Natural philosophy languished for centuries as a result of its reverence for Aristotle, and the classics. If Aristotle had said it, the matter was settled, and nobody challenged or enquired any further. It took until the Enlightenment for people to realise that he had been wrong about many things, and that if they were to progress they had to question the authority of those who had gone before - often geniuses of towering and very well-deserved reputation. Thus was the birth of science.

So I would argue rather that any teacher whose argument for believing evolution was "a consensus of scientists say so" is (no offence intended) not fit to be a teacher. Any teacher who expects blind acceptance, who asserts authority - their own or that of others - in support, or even who points out that its a requirement of the test that is the gateway to future employment: this isn't teaching science. It's not teaching the questioning, challenging scepticism that is at science's core.

Individuals must utilize reasoning in their lives, and it's far more important that they have an understanding of and faclility with the scientific method than that they have memorised and 'believe' to be true a long list of scientific 'facts'. What possible difference could it make to the average shop-keeper or hairdresser that the Earth revolves around the sun rather than vice-versa? But it matters far more that they know how to tell what products and ideas they're being sold actually work. Learn the method, and how to judge and assess what you're told, and you can find out the other stuff up when you need it.

"Many mental disorders are characterized by belief in things that are not true. [...] Scientists, engineers, mathematicians etc. build their life and valuable careers around reason and the scientific method."

Scientists, engineers, and mathematicians rely all the time on believing things that are not true. Besides the issues I mentioned above regarding lack of infallibility and that present day science no doubt includes many errors yet to be corrected, it's quite normal for scientists and mathematicians to deliberately believe in things that they know not to be true - on a temporary basis and with an eye to the consequences, but nevertheless.

I'm referring of course to approximations, simplifications, models, and assumptions. If you ask a mathematician or physicist to work out a problem in mechanics, they will almost certainly use Newtonian physics to do so. But we know Newtonian physics is wrong! We are told that gravity exerts equal and opposite forces on two bodies proportional to the product of their masses divided by the distance squared. Instantaneously? Is the sun pulled towards where the Earth is now, as Newton said, or where it was 8 minutes ago, when the light by which one can see it set off? It makes a difference! If it was pulled towards the latter point, violating Newton's third law, the imbalance would cause the solar system to fly apart in a hundred thousand years or so! And yet, if it's pulled towards where the Earth is now, how does it know? Does the information propagate faster than light?!

Not one scientist in twenty will even think about it. Everyone knows, for planetary orbits you can use Newton's instantaneous action at a distance. Unless you're talking about things moving very fast, or in ultra-strong gravity, or are being very precise, it works and gives the answers you want, and is mathematically an hell of a lot simpler to do. They know perfectly well that it's wrong. Even Isaac Newton knew it was wrong, and cringed every time somebody connected his name with the theory! But while they're calculating, they suspend disbelief and mentally switch into a paradigm in which it is assumed true.

And there are hundreds of such impossibilities - the rigid body, the infinite plane, the frictionless surface, the ideal gas, the irrotational and inviscid fluid, the uniform gravitational field, smooth surfaces, sharp boundaries, absolute velocities, point particles, elastic collisions, infinitesimals and infinities, continua, rays of light, straight lines, perfect spheres, empty vacuums, opaque solids, black bodies, reversible thermodynamic processes, sums of divergent series, ... all with a long and very respectable history in science and mathematics.

This is a standard characteristic of the human mind that scientists make full use of - the ability to organise their thoughts and beliefs into distinct 'frames', each containing its own set of (comparatively) self-consistent beliefs and assumptions, and when working in it to believe it totally - but be capable of smoothly switching to a different frame where those former beliefs are now known to be false, and feel no conflict.

Scientific theories are models, and as George Box said "All models are wrong, but some are useful."

And it's entirely possible - easy, even - for a scientist to shunt religious beliefs (for example) off into another frame where they won't interfere with the job. In my experience, they're more likely to fill their spare frames with Tolkien or Star Trek, but it serves the same purpose. It's not a problem.

--

David Bump,

"I should very much like to discuss the author's paean to "the modern synthesis..."

I'd be happy to discuss it, but our host here gets irritable when we bring the content of the controversies to his blog, rather than just talking about them and how they are communicated. (Or he does when I do it for climate, at least - I assume it's a general principle...?)

I assume you intended to make the point that you know a fair bit about the evidence and the theory, certainly at a higher level than the average believer in the synthesis. I might disagree about your conclusions (and we could discuss that further), but I'd agree with that point.

May 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

There are many interesting aspects to the discussions about belief and knowledge, and there is no area where these distinctions come so much into play as creation/evolution. As such, it never ceases to amaze me how little some evolutionists/creationists know about evolution/creation. Too many times, the best defense against either side is to delve into their own area of belief - the one they know surprisingly little about. Up to a certain point, a person can learn about things they don't actually believe in. I think it's difficult but the Intel business, by reputation, has people who have memorized portions of the Koran without believing a word of it. It can be done.

Beyond a certain point, however, it becomes easier and more interesting to research what you actually believe in. As well, it would seem to me that there are lines of inquiry which are more interesting if we begin with naturalist assumptions of evolution. For instance, in investigating the genotypical variations of homo sapiens versus chimps, it's much more fruitful to begin with belief in a divergence about 4 millions years ago, rather than starting from a creation perspective where there is no apriori basis for finding linkages. By contrast, if we begin with an assumption they were simply created that way, then any inquiry becomes a search of God's mind - a speculative and not entirely helpful process unless you're a theologian. Following an evolutionary narrative then, provides many more interesting lines of inquiry.

May 26, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterttaerum

To believe completely in either the hypothesis of evolution or creationism demonstrates your: a. gullibility b. lack of critical thinking c. level of indoctrination or d. all of the above. The answer of course is d. , because neither is completely true or false.

May 27, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercken

Thank you for your post. As someone who is consistently referred to as anti-science, your analysis is very refreshing. In fact, I believe my religious faith actually lets me be more objective abut evolution.

My foundational religious conviction is that God created the heavens and the earth. James Hannam, in his award-winning book "The Genesis of Science," clearly documents the consensus view of historians of science that it was the religious conviction that God created nature that led to the development of the natural philosophy of the Middle Ages which then led to the achievement of modern science. He also describes how the Christian theologians of the Middle Ages, whom he refers to as “God’s philosophers,” made the crucial distinctions about how God uses secondary causes or natural laws to affect his will which encouraged the study of nature. Without such distinctions theology becomes fatalistic and no science ensues.

Rodney Stark of Baylor, in his book "For the Glory of God," concurs. He concludes with two points, “First, science arose only once in history—in medieval Europe. Second, science could only arise in a culture dominated by belief in a conscious, rational, all-powerful Creator.”

And, it is with the loss of this conviction that modern science gets in trouble and lets dogmatism—the assertion of opinion as a fact—creep in. Ironically, it is the secular-minded that become dogmatic because they are trapped by their beliefs. Consider evolution, it is the theist who is free to accept or reject evolution; an atheist must accept it. For example, I believe God created the heavens and the earth and after looking at the evidence, I do not believe he used evolution to do it. Other theists, such as Francisco J. Ayala, believe he did use evolution.

Don McLeroy
.

May 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDon McLeroy

I am a right wing extremist with pretty good science and quantitative skills (unreported). I have read a few of Professor Kahan's papers. His issue is perceptions of science. His papers do not re-argue evo, as do most of the readers here.

I respond here because I find the Left to be dangerously anti-scientific (discussed beloiw) and dogmatic (“GloWar deniers should be shot or imprisoned or impaled and flayed and disemboweled or sent to reeducation camps and injected with truth-serum-du-jour drugs, (I exaggerate slightly, for effect), while the Right is merely dubious and quaint.

I despise the Left's attack on Christian religion, summarized in its attack on Creationism. They need a smack-down. I am not a Christian. The language of science will do quite nicely for this smack-down.

Consider Occam's razor: explanatory parsimony. God Wills It – is a single explanatory hypothesis, magnificent explanatory parsimony. WHY NOT create the world with infinite verisimilitude of ancient various cosmologies, piffle to God? So God is cruel, or a galactic graduate student doing cognition research on when people convert science to religion, or the reverse? This is more than intrinsically unknowable and outside of empirical science, it is definitionally unknowable and outside of empirical science.

The rest are details. Few Creationists argue with observable regularities of physics and chemistry etc, reified as Laws.

What is one to believe? Causation at core is only observed and replicable sequence and correlation (until it isn't); all is imputed, WHY does gravity make things fall down, because it is gravity – how much better is this than 'the gravity god pulls things to it because it is hungry and seeks to devour them or incorporate their essence by proximity, often violent and destructive proximity, and is jealous of loss of friends aka the gravity well out of which earth-launched rocket ships must climb.'

Gravity makes things fall down (except when it doesn't, many things don' fall down)- great science there dude).

Evolution, further, presents non-trivial challenges to acceptance, via its own, er, evolution, and superseding views, and internal contradictions. The most severe criticisms are gradualism and stratigraphy, and the unlikely emergence of unlikely complexity from random violence onto complex causal control agents, - 'the wind in the junkyard' objection.

Back to Occam and Parsimony - this can offer a rebuttal, that if/ as we invoke the vast panoply of cosmology and physical science, we 'have no need of the Deity hypothesis, preferring the 'God of Gravity' to the 'God of Creation.'' Such has not been cited, nor is the concept even understood.

Cosmology offers predictability or tests thereof; Creationism, unmodified, does not. Aquinas talked about Primum Mobilum, first mover, ex nihilo, – violates the usual scientific tenets of conservation of mass, primum mobilum?, no problemo. God talking: “Okay guys I did the hard part you take it from here, figure it out, get back to me, or simply have fun. I'm done.”

“let there be light' violates entropy? Piffle! Big Bang? Whose faith is on display now?

Professor Kahan's concern is how democracies make policy decisions on complex science-driven issues, how to teach and how to prevent distortions.

For me, GloWar is offered as raising oceans by thermal expansions of water, by .2 degrees C over 100 years – does anyone know the volumetric thermal expansion coefficients of water (answer VERY low).

Or re GloWar and captured vs reflected sunlight - does anyone even understand albedo and how it is involved?

Or how atmospheric CO2 warms water while leaving no heat trace in air--, temperature is flat for fifteen years?

And why do we trust measurement made one hundred years ago as being accurate to .2 degrees C and on that basis to rewrite the global economy?

If ocean bottom methane is being released, then warmer water should be found at the ocean bottom and so far it is not reported as such. It stays there just long enough to do its methane-melt evil and the rises up to the thermocline?

As for deference to experts – this is a self-certifying expertocracy and is dubious. Expertise does not have a cache of secret East Anglia emails, or have lawsuits per Michael Mann at U Penn?

No scientifically rational person can be a warmist.

Creationism, as one poster here noted, hardly harms our ability to function as a society., It is pretextual for an assault on Christian (mostly) religion – thus parsimony of explanation (parsimony has many of the same letters as paranoia, to be sure), pretextual assault by the snarky new ignoratti over the elder wisdoms.

Me I favor panspermia and/ or adaptive mutation (undefined), as per mitochondrial dna infusion into our own; and of late we learn how dna can be modified, although that might be expression and not intrinsic modification - thus epigenesis

Random collisions within complexity, thus enhancing viability?, offends the esthetic.

May 27, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermartin

Science illiteracy alert.

This is akin to saying "According to the theory of geology, the Earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old."

That humans, like all animals, share common ancestors with other life, or to rephrase it, "evolved from earlier species of animals", is not evolutionary theory. That's been established as fact. The theory part is mechanistic. It's a hard-grounded fact that we evolved.

May 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAsura

The difference between understanding a theory and believing that a theory is correct is in the evidence. And the evidence for unguided Darwinian evolution is simply not that persuasive. At it's core, the believe that life evolved from a single ancestor purely through unguided natural phenomena is based on a philosophical predisposition, not the bare scientific evidence. It's a philosophical predisposition that says that all things in nature can be explained purely through unguided natural forces, and that any other explanation isn't science. When you are unencumbered by such a predisposition, it frees you up to be more open to what the scientific evidence actually suggests: something intelligent assembled the machinery of life. And if you say, "Oh, but your talking about God now. That's not allowed in science!," I say, thank you for proving my point.

May 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterChris Rogers

" It's a philosophical predisposition that says that all things in nature can be explained purely through unguided natural forces, and that any other explanation isn't science."

Are you saying that science denies the existence of the artificial?! That leaves out rather a lot of the modern world!

What I think you might be referring to is the philosophical position of 'Naturalism', of which there are two varieties: 'Ontological Naturalism' holds that everything obeys simple, fixed and knowable laws, and 'Methodological Naturalism' that holds that in order to make progress understanding the world we should act as if Ontological Naturalism was true because otherwise we cannot make predictions or provide non-tautological explanations. Science takes Methodological Naturalism as one of its principles.

To explain in simpler terms, the problem with supernatural explanations is that they can be applied to any outcome regarding anything. If the litmus paper turns red, it's because God said so. If the litmus paper turns blue, it's because God said so. What colour will the next piece of litmus paper turn? There's no way to tell: it depends what God decides.

Science can, of course, cope with the action of intelligence. We know that people exist, and do things, and we can tell a lot about what they do from the evidence they leave behind. There's no particular problem with intelligent design as a hypothesis, and as genetic engineering gets going this is likely to become more of a live issue in future. How can you tell if an organism was engineered? How could we tell if some past intelligent species that left no trace in the fossil record (and there's no reason why we should think it would) genetically engineered organisms? There are a number of ways we could tell. It's a testable, falsifiable hypothesis, and so it is science.

What you can't do is use it simply as an arbitrary explanation for anything currently unexplained. Birds have hollow bones because an intelligent designer designed them that way. Bats have solid bones because an intelligent designer designed them that way, too. So can you tell without looking whether a flying squirrel is likely to have solid bones or hollow ones? How about a Dodo? Since both possible answers can be explained as 'intelligent design', it's not really an explanation. It's just a way of avoiding having to produce one.

The way to test if your God hypothesis is science is to ask what the evidence tells you about God, and what you can predict as a result. So let's take a classic example: the human eyeball. This consists of a lens, a transparent fluid, a layer of light-sensitive cells, and nerves to carry impulses from those cells to the brain. Now any human engineer, even if they're not very bright, can tell you that the sensible way to arrange things is to put the nerves and blood vessels at the back and the light-sensitive cells at the front, where the light is. But in the human eyeball, the nerves and blood vessels are actually located in a layer in front of the light detectors. This gives rise to a problem: how do we get the signal from the nerves past the sensing layer and out of the eyeball? I know, we'll cut a big hole in the light-sensitive layer, and run the optic nerve through that. But that leaves a huge blind spot in the middle of the creature's vision. It will surely notice - there will be complaints! So what we'll do is to fix up a mechanism in the brain to fill in the gap with some generic 'wallpaper' cloned from its surroundings, so the operator doesn't notice.

We can certainly come up with a plausible chain of reasoning by which an engineer might design the eyeball that way - but it rather leads us to the conclusion that God was a cowboy electrician! Nobody with any intelligence would design an eyeball that way. They'd realise they got it wrong, and go back and switch the layers around. They definitely wouldn't repeat the same mistake in every other mammal eyeball they designed! So why did God? What can we deduce about him from this evidence?

There are lots of other peculiarities about the design. Humans, for example, cannot synthesize vitamin C, a substance essential to human biochemistry. It's an odd omission. Lots of other mammals can, so why leave it out? As it happens, humans do have a copy of the gene for the protein that does the job, but it's broken. There's an error in it that renders it ineffective. So why would God not only leave out the ability, but then deliberately insert a broken gene into humans? Why not simply leave out the gene altogether? And why would he insert exactly the same gene broken in exactly the same place (something fantastically unlikely to happen by chance) into chimpanzees and gorillas?

God evidently moves in a mysterious way, but if we want to consider this hypothesis to be science we have to be able to explain all these things. Why do obvious stupid design flaws exist? What decides whether it will be done right or wrong in any given organism? What can the patterns we observe in his mistakes tell us about his methods? Or his motives? You can't put it down to caprice, or an ineffable plan we are too limited to understand. You have to push the explanations into every corner and crevice.

My view of the evolution debate has always been that if schools were teaching science correctly, the religious ought to be begging teachers not to teach religious beliefs in science class, because science properly applied would demolish it. (God created the sun and moon on the fourth day? How does that work?) That this does not happen tells me there is a major problem with the way science is taught. My suspicion is that teachers have come to rely on authority in place of scientific method, and teach a list of conclusions to be memorised, accepted without question, and regurgitated in the exam. This, being fundamentally unscientific, is vulnerable to subversion by alternative authority figures.

However, at the same time, I've always felt that science has no business forcing its methods on people in other arenas. If people want to believe whatever, and it hurts nobody else, then let them. We all live in glass houses on this - everybody believes many things that are not true, and we are all generally pretty ignorant about most science - and so should not throw stones. Science is a useful tool, but we don't have to apply it to everything.

And likewise, I expect religion to leave me alone, not telling me what to do, or begging special exceptions from the rules the rest of us have to follow. Unfortunately, politics doesn't work like that. But it's not a problem specific to either science or religion. As Dan has pointed out, the evolution debate is not about science, it's about politics. Most people don't know how electricity works, either, but nobody makes the same sort of fuss. Leave science out of it, please.

May 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Ah, NiV has provided two more examples of why most evolutionists can't let tests for science knowledge or aptitude use modifiers such as "according to the theory..." First we get the "We have to apply Methodological Naturalism, and there's no Ontological Naturalism involved" claim. And of course a couple of examples where we can clearly demonstrate that there's a natural explanation. The original scientists (or "natural philosophers") would still say that God was ultimately responsible, they merely focused on what could be observed repeatedly _in nature_ and so was clearly part of nature. However, they left questions about the origin of life and events in the past that happened before people started making such observations alone -- those belong to history, mythology, and Divine revelation, if we can know them at all.
It was 100 years or more after Galileo that scientists began to make claims of knowing what happened in the past by studying nature -- but in doing so, they went from the method of studying nature in action, to the philosophical assumption that such actions were all that ever occurred. We don't observe new living things coming into existence, nor animals gradually changing over time into ever-more diverse forms (not even in the sequence of fossils), we never observed ape-like creatures evolving into humans and we don't observe changes such as would account for it, we don't see continents being slowly covered in vast areas of layers gradually forming into rock, etc. All these things are the best explanations we can come up with under what is essentially applied philosophical (ontological) naturalism, and under the current paradigm they're all that can be considered "scientific" but they are not truly "known" or "established" or "facts."
The second thing that NiV illustrates is the way evolutionists play "Heads I Win, Tails You Lose". As he indicated earlier, once you accept that God might have done something, if we can't observe it (repeatedly, consistently, preferably under controlled experimental conditions), we can't say anything about it scientifically. Then later he claims we CAN come to conclusions about what God could have, would have, or should have done, Later again he vacillates more, claiming science properly taught would by itself destroy believe in God, then claiming he doesn't think it's science's business to do so, even though people who don't believe everything it says are wrong, it's okay -- as long as "it hurts nobody else" (Oooh, important caveat, considering what "hurts" could include), and besides religion should leave him alone, too... but it doesn't, so... and it's all politics anyway...
And how about this?
What you can't do is use it simply as an arbitrary explanation for anything currently unexplained. Birds have hollow bones because natural selection favored them in their reptilian common ancestors. Bats have solid bones because natural selection favored them in their mammalian ancestors. So can you tell without looking whether the cognitive ability of a gliding lizard (e.g. Draco sumanatrus) is like bird's? How about a flying squirrel's? (http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_images.jsp?cntn_id=100744&org=OLPA) Since both possible answers can be explained as "evolved from common ancestors through natural selection", it's not really an explanation. It's a "just-so story" that looks like one.
There are many other examples that show that evolutionary explanations can be mixed and matched and substituted and made to fit anything -- besides "convergence" and "parallel" evolution, there's sexual selection, genetic drift, the Founder Effect, and others.

The real reason " the religious ought to be begging teachers not to teach religious beliefs in science class," is because it would not be taught properly, nor would science. People like NiV would use their own, limited views to give one side of the story.
The eye is a classic example -- what a laugh for someone who has no idea how to create a living thing with an eye to claim there are "obvious" design flaws. The octopus has a similar eye, but without the retina in the back, but is that a better design, or just better for the environment it lives in and its uses and capabilities? Build a mammalian eye the way you think is best, and see if it really works better. Have you considered all the factors that need to be? Do you know them? How about the chemistry and metabolism of color vision; how about the way the rods and cones shed? ("Retinal waste disposal"_Nature_, v. 432, 23/30 Dec '04, p. 967) Have you even heard of Müller cells? (PNAS vol. 104, p. 8287, 15 May 2007)
But what this "design flaw" argument really misses is the fact that even if it COULD show that we were designed by an idiot, it would still be better than the ridiculous idea that we came into existence by a tremendous serious of accidents that just happened to create complex systems! Nothing in nature suggests that organized, dynamic complexity arises apart from intelligence or the information encoded in DNA.
Oh, the vitamin C thing isn't even a question of design flaw. As NiV points out, "As it happens, humans do have a copy of the gene for the protein that does the job, but it's broken." The potential for breakage is a natural feature of the unavoidable imperfection of the natural world. And why wouldn't it be in the same place in chimps and gorillas? They're similar to us in other ways. It makes it easy to study. Perhaps we could experiment on them to learn how we could fix ourselves so we didn't need citrus fruit or artificial vitamins to avoid scurvy. And "fantastically unlikely" to have one broken gene in a certain place in several instances? How about the odds against getting ALL the parts needed for a living thing all together in all the right relationships? How about all the cases of similarities that have had to be chalked up to -- no, not common ancestry but -- "parallel" or even "convergent" evolution?

No, if science were _properly_ taught, it wouldn't destroy religion, but it would make more people aware that there's a difference between "what science says" about most things in physics, chemistry, and biology, and "what science says" about the origin and history of life on Earth.

May 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Bump

"First we get the "We have to apply Methodological Naturalism, and there's no Ontological Naturalism involved" claim."

A lot of scientists hold to Ontological Naturalism as the most likely state of affairs in their opinion, but it's not required by the scientific method, or provable by it.

"And of course a couple of examples where we can clearly demonstrate that there's a natural explanation."

Can we? What?


"The original scientists (or "natural philosophers") would still say that God was ultimately responsible, they merely focused on what could be observed repeatedly _in nature_ and so was clearly part of nature."

They probably would have, because it was part of their cultural background. The question is, if they hadn't been living in a religious society, would they have come to that conclusion from the evidence they saw alone? By what chain of reasoning? And is that reasoning valid?

"It was 100 years or more after Galileo that scientists began to make claims of knowing what happened in the past by studying nature -- but in doing so, they went from the method of studying nature in action, to the philosophical assumption that such actions were all that ever occurred."

The issue, as I noted, was that whether or not any other sort of actions ever occurred, you can't study them scientifically. It's not science.

"We don't observe new living things coming into existence, nor animals gradually changing over time into ever-more diverse forms (not even in the sequence of fossils), we never observed ape-like creatures evolving into humans and we don't observe changes such as would account for it, we don't see continents being slowly covered in vast areas of layers gradually forming into rock, etc."

Not seeing new living things come into existence is evidence *for* the single-origin theory. We do see animals changing over time into different forms. There are a few cases in the fossil record, too (there are some transitional forms of ammonites, for example), although since the fossil record is akin to taking a thousand-page encyclopaedia of animals and ripping about 20 random pages out of it to examine, it's not surprising that we miss a lot. And we do see vast areas of land (and more commonly, ocean bed) being covered with silt and turning into rock.

And humans are a variety of ape, so in a trivial sense this one is seen too, but I agree we don't see gorillas turning into humans - not that we would expect to. This one is a straw man.

The idea that animals can change form over time was well-known long before Darwin - selective breeding was the basic model on which most of the theory was based. The breeding of dogs, cattle, and horses, and crop plants dating back to ancient times put this into the category of the blindingly obvious. The singular insight was that survival and breeding success of organisms in the wild can do the selection naturally, without intelligent intervention.

"All these things are the best explanations we can come up with under what is essentially applied philosophical (ontological) naturalism"

None of these things are concluded on the basis of Naturalism - the philosophy has nothing to do with it. We know sediment forms rock (for example) because you can dig down under any river delta and see it happening, or reproduce it in the lab. It's simple physics. Selective breeding has likewise been long observed and understood, and requires no philosophical assumptions.


"The second thing that NiV illustrates is the way evolutionists play "Heads I Win, Tails You Lose". As he indicated earlier, once you accept that God might have done something, if we can't observe it (repeatedly, consistently, preferably under controlled experimental conditions), we can't say anything about it scientifically. Then later he claims we CAN come to conclusions about what God could have, would have, or should have done,"

Not quite. The key distinction is whether the explanation imposes constraints. With a supernatural agency ('supernatural' here meaning not subject to law-like constraints on behaviour) there are no constraints. Whatever happens, you can always say, well, a supernatural agency might have chosen to do it that way.

However, if you instead propose an 'intelligent designer', you clearly *do* have a constraint in that the design must be intelligent, and stupid designs falsify the theory. Being a falsifiable theory brings it into the remit of science.

But if, having looked, and found that there are indeed many examples of stupid designs, science requires that you drop the hypothesis. If you instead revert to type and start inventing reasons why God might have done it that way, then you're back to supernatural explanations again and it's not science. The hypothesis might be true, but we could never tell by looking at evidence because the hypothesis makes no definitive predictions about it we can test. We can never know for sure, or have any evidence one way or the other. So true or false, all we can do is speculate.

"Later again he vacillates more, claiming science properly taught would by itself destroy believe in God, then claiming he doesn't think it's science's business to do so"

There's no contradiction between those positions.

"Birds have hollow bones because natural selection favored them in their reptilian common ancestors. Bats have solid bones because natural selection favored them in their mammalian ancestors."

Quite so.

So clearly, "because natural selection favoured them" cannot be the correct explanation. And it isn't.


"But what this "design flaw" argument really misses is the fact that even if it COULD show that we were designed by an idiot, it would still be better than the ridiculous idea that we came into existence by a tremendous serious of accidents that just happened to create complex systems!"

Agreed! And that's *NOT* how the theory of evolution by natural selection claims to work.

Which is one of the biggest problems in the whole debate. Because people don't understand how the theory claims to work, their arguments for or against it are unfounded. This applies just as well to the many believers in evolution who think natural selection is random. It applies in other domains, for example to the many believers in global warming who don't know how the greenhouse effect actually works.

And debating these things highlights the gaps in the chains of reasoning people use, and ought to prompt them to fill them in (or express a bit less confidence in their answer). This is how science is supposed to work - people try to knock it down, and other people try to defend it, and only theories that survive the process get kept.

May 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

This itches at my brain. It's interesting information, but I feel it fails at clarity regarding what scientific literacy is.

Consider these hypothetical poll questions:

* Your sun sign affects the way your life unfolds in crucial ways.
* Astrologists say that your sun sign affects the way your life unfolds in crucial ways.

Am I 'astrologically literate' if I say that the second is true? I have some awareness of astrology as a presence in society, but is that all 'literate' means here? I find that unsatisfying. Perhaps the question measures something else (social literacy?), but to have astrological literacy I should, I think, know a bit more about the topic than simply having absorbed what the basic meme is.

May 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterClaudia Mastroianni

Claudia,
Annoyingly good point.
I am going to kick off a series of 10 discussions on Science and Faith starting on 4 June and meeting again each Wednesday. As part of my leadoff, I felt the need to try to get good definitions for 'science' and 'faith.' Now, I clearly have to define 'science literacy' and 'faith literacy.' These are key terms. Thank you for getting me to think a bit more clearly.

May 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEric Fairfield

"Am I 'astrologically literate' if I say that the second is true?"

It's a positive indication. But just as the science literacy has a lot more questions than just the evolution one, so an 'astrology literacy' questionnaire would have to ask more questions too. Can you name the thirteen constellations of the zodiac, and how do the twelve signs relate to them? How fast do equinoxes precess? What is the point of Aries? And in which constellation is it? Do you know the difference between the Quincunc and the Semisextile? What personality traits does the planet Ceres rule? Which zodiacal sign is half fish, half goat, and derived from the Sumerian God Enki?

But there is also a more significant difference between knowing various facts and bits of trivia about astrology, and being able to cast an actual horoscope - it's the difference between understanding the principles and the superficial appearance. If you only know the trivia, then anyone with a spangly robe and the right vocabulary can fool you into thinking they're a proper astrologer.

The thing about science that makes it useful in life is the method. There are a few other bits that are commonly applicable in everyday life - mathematics, statistics, mechanics, electricity, medicine, perhaps a few bits of household chemistry - but for the most part, the things discovered by the methods of science are not of much use to the average hairdresser or lorry driver. The method itself, on the other hand, is quite widely applicable. The sort of literacy I think we want is the latter.

However, "literacy" implies one is a reader, rather than a writer, and so one could argue that it's referring to familiarity with what others have written on the subject, rather than any ability to usefully apply it oneself. So I don't know. But however you define literacy (whether scientific or astrological), the fact remains that the vast majority of people are not.

May 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Claudia, Eric -- You seem to be missing the point of the article! It's not that accepting the second statement shows one has scientific literacy, it's that it shows that not accepting the first statement doesn't necessarily show a lack of scientific literacy. Suppose you studied all about astrology, knew how to cast anybody's chart, but then realized you knew several people who clearly weren't affected by their sun sign in the way it was supposed to. So you know all about astrology, maybe even still believe there's something to it all -- but you only accept the second statement, because that's true even if you don't believe (that part of) astrology. Now suppose you take a test with the first version, and someone looks at that one answer, even though you've gotten all sorts of answers about astrology right, and claims you don't know about astrology? Clearly untrue -- and how does that make you feel? Suppose someone "grades" the astrology literacy of your school or your whole state on a few questions like that, regardless of most people also getting most of the questions right? Now add to that again that they say astrology literacy is vital to our country's interests, that businesses shouldn't locate in a state with such low astrology literacy, and people not having such science (oops!) astrology literacy are a danger to the future of our country. Get the picture?

May 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Bump

NiV, congrats on getting your response to Claudia's comment in while I was still working on mine. Glad to see the similarity; it shows author Kahan's article can be understood by people with differing views about evolution itself. I also want to thank you for the time and effort you've put into your extensive exchange with me. I hope everybody understands that there's nothing personal in this, simply a civil examination of an issue from different viewpoints. I could be debating with any one of a number of evolutionists who have said the same or very similar things. You are a true child of Darwin's legacy.

"Ontological Naturalism ... [is] not required by the scientific method, or provable by it."
Agreed! My contention is that in certain areas, modern "science" departs from the traditional scientific method and proceeds in a way that assumes ontological naturalism.

[Regarding "examples where we can clearly demonstrate that there's a natural explanation."]
"Can we? What?"

I was referring to the examples you chose for why we don't use supernatural explanations instead: "If the litmus paper turns red, it's because God said so. If the litmus paper turns blue, it's because God said so. What colour will the next piece of litmus paper turn? There's no way to tell: it depends what God decides."

As I pointed out, one can easily assert that God ultimately decrees these two different changes, without concluding "there no way to tell" what will happen next. On the contrary, this was the basis of modern science: that God established the laws of nature and does not change them whimsically. Granted, one COULD always claim supernatural intervention of some sort in every case, but when you or I or anybody can dip litmus paper in an acid or a base and get the same result every time, and we can study the chemistry and physical properties behind the chemistry of acids, bases, and indicators and see exactly what mechanism produces those results, the natural causes are demonstrated as well as possible, regardless of any supernatural component might be involved.

The same thing can be said of almost all other science. I was rather surprised, if not a bit shocked when you claimed that the scientific method was more important for the average person than what has been discovered by it. It certainly is important in evaluating some claims, but for the most part people can get through life with little difference if they never personally apply the scientific method. "There are a few other bits that are commonly applicable in everyday life - mathematics, statistics, mechanics, electricity, medicine, perhaps a few bits of household chemistry - but for the most part, the things discovered by the methods of science are not of much use to the average hairdresser or lorry driver." How can you so cavalierly wave aside mathematics, mechanics, electricity, medicine and chemistry, household or otherwise? Go to a third-world country where there is a lack of mechanics, electricity, medicine, and chemistry, and see how your life changes! What hairdresser today is going to be happy giving up electric clippers and hair dryers and the dies and shampoos provided by chemistry? And lorry drivers would be without work or driving horse-drawn wagons!

"The question is, if they hadn't been living in a religious society, would they have come to that conclusion from the evidence they saw alone? By what chain of reasoning? And is that reasoning valid?"
No, that is precisely NOT the question. The question is, can the scientific method be applied to determine unique events in the past that have not been observed? To what extent? Can claims about supernatural events in the past be tested by science? It IS good reasoning to conclude that there may have been supernatural events in the past which would make the assumption that there were not unsafe. There are also many things to which we cannot truly apply the key aspects of the scientific method (repeated observation and experimental demonstration).

"The issue, as I noted, was that whether or not any other sort of actions ever occurred, you can't study them scientifically. It's not science."
Agreed! But the proper response is NOT to assume such actions did not occur, think up stories that seem plausible enough, given that assumption and available traces of the past, and call that science.

"Not seeing new living things come into existence is evidence *for* the single-origin theory."
I never saw anything change from green cheese into rock, is that evidence "for" the theory it only happened to the moon once? How can you say never having seen something happen is evidence for something, because you posit that it only happened once? Besides, current studies make it seem pretty difficult to get the three main kinds of life from one origin, but it's looking like it's beyond science to tell what happened before them, because the explanations for their origins involve things other than common ancestry and natural selection.

"We do see animals changing over time into different forms. There are a few cases in the fossil record, too (there are some transitional forms of ammonites, for example)"
All of the changes we've observed are merely variations in color, size, proportion, or shape of existing parts in ways that cannot be accumulated to produce dynamic, organized new parts. Many changes are degenerative. In the fossil record, we can't even be sure if we're seeing changes or simply different forms at different places. Regarding the infamous spottiness of the fossil record, that doesn't explain away its failure. If you have a theory that people have been dying because butlers gradually poison a moderate number every year, and the first or second page of your history book scraps says a vast plague killed millions of people, and the next scrap says a great war killed millions of people, and the scrap says another war killed millions of people, where's your theory? Likewise when we look at the fossils, we see a bunch of very diverse animals in the Cambrian, later we see a bunch of diverse new fish in the Age of Fishes, soon followed by a range of diverse new amphibians, then ... well, for all the possible transitional forms that have been brought forward, there's always a much larger number of new forms without any sign of the gradual diversification that would produce them by evolution. It's like claiming humans can fly because out of a series of photographs of a man running, you can find a few where both feet are off the ground.

Where do we see vast areas of land being covered with silt and gradually turning into rock? The size of the Morrison or other formations laden with land animal remains? Perhaps in the sea bed, but how do you explain the huge deposits of fossils as well? Oh yes, there are explanations, but have they been tested? Are they really reasonable to explain over 40 Ichthyosaurs of the same family but four different species being buried in the same place, or seven of the largest dinosaurs ever found, or the vast numbers of belemnites preserved in Grand Canyon? Extraordinary conditions are often evoked, but would even such ordinary extraordinary conditions suffice?

"humans are a variety of ape" -- only by modern definition, based on emphasis on assumption of common ancestry, focusing on similarities and downplaying the unique qualities of humans by (for instance) calling poking a stick in a termite mound "tool use." (For an example of a new-found difference or two, see http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/28/science/stronger-brains-weaker-bodies.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&smid=tw-nytimesscience&_r=0)

"...we don't see gorillas turning into humans - not that we would expect to. This one is a straw man."
It's true that we don't expect to see such changes over the time since scientific studies began. Or since the dawn of human civilization and record keeping. Maybe something like a hundred thousand times that. But that's just my point -- most of science depends on seeing things over and over again, better yet seeing them under controlled conditions that demonstrate the sufficiency of theories about them, rule out other explanations, and would likely show if the theory was wrong. We can't do any of that with evolution.

"The singular insight was that survival and breeding success of organisms in the wild can do the selection naturally, without intelligent intervention."
Quite, but all that explained was the diversification of the basic models into various specialized species. Even at that, Darwin apparently felt he had to downplay the intelligence of farmers and animal breeders, ignore all the positive things they can do to protect and promote variations, and virtually anthropomorphize natural selection into an intelligent, ubiquitous, ever-watching spirit of progress. Of course, this was to subtly slip in jumping to the conclusion that ALL the diverse forms of life came about from some simple blob formed in a quiet pond somewhere, long ago and far away.

"We know sediment forms rock (for example) because you can dig down under any river delta and see it happening," Yes, but we see it forming river deltas, we see rivers and streams eroding channels all over, mountains and hills and valleys here and there, rising up and eroding away, one kind of soil in South Carolina, something different in Ohio, etc., But in the strata of the rocks below we find many layers one above the other for miles and miles without interruption, without sign of having been parts of hills or mountains or even river deltas, just vast "inland seas" -- and we recognize them and give them the same names all over the world!

"However, if you instead propose an 'intelligent designer', you clearly *do* have a constraint in that the design must be intelligent, and stupid designs falsify the theory. ... If you instead revert to type and start inventing reasons why God might have done it that way..."
1) As I pointed out, when it comes to design anyone who claims something is a "stupid design" should be required to prove it by producing a better design for the exact same purpose. 2) Even without positing a supernatural intelligent designer, ANY intelligent designer may have had reasons for designs which might seem stupid to those unaware of them. 3) As I pointed out later, even if something looks like a stupid design, intelligent design is still a better explanation than one which has never been shown to have the power to produce such things.

<<"because natural selection favoured them">> cannot be the correct explanation. And it isn't."
Did you see an early version that I corrected later? I didn't think that was possible. Anyway, what I actually put as the conclusion was, "Since both possible answers can be explained as "evolved from common ancestors through natural selection", it's not really an explanation." However, in evolution, "because natural selection favored it" is ALWAYS the explanation for similar features in different organisms, even if the feature was inherited from a common ancestor. If natural selection hadn't favored it, it wouldn't have been part of an organism that was extant at the time. The point is, "common ancestry" is assumed to be the explanation for similarities as far as possible, and yet there are many cases when such similarities have ended up being chalked up to convergence. Likewise, if natural selection can't explain something, sexual selection can be appealed to, or just random genetic drift and the founder effect. In short, no matter what it takes, some such natural, evolutionary explanation is, as you say, the ONLY explanation that is allowed to be called scientific. The problem is, that gives people the impression that it's the same thing as explaining how electricity is generated and provides light when you flip a switch, when really it's more like a mystery story-telling game where one explanation is always the answer.

<<the ridiculous idea that we came into existence by a tremendous serious of accidents that just happened to create complex systems!>> "Agreed! And that's *NOT* how the theory of evolution by natural selection claims to work."

Well, it does and it doesn't, and that's been the crux of the matter ever since Darwin's magnum opus of rhetorical tricks and mental gymnastics. Well, Darwin downplayed the contribution of random effects in inheritable change, but it was quickly decided he was wrong about the nature of inheritance and variations in living things. Now we know that random changes are the only things which could provide for significant differences in living things. (With the caveat that "random" is a contentious word even among mathematicians, I think we understand we're using it in a somewhat commonsense or colloquial way.) But as I said, we're also told evolution by natural selection isn't random (well, I think it depends on which evolutionist you ask, even among the leading ones). However, in what way is it not random? Oh, because it is "guided" by natural selection? You didn't explain that. Clearly you don't want to turn natural selection into an intelligent agent, and you aren't going to say that God guides natural conditions. What does provide guidance in natural selection? What guides the rise and fall of mountains, the formation and drying of lakes and seas? Who or what is holding a stopwatch to time the droughts and storms and asteroid strikes? Does the regularity of the seasons, the phases of the moon and the rising and falling tides act as conductors to tell organisms how they should change? How were all the phyla directed to diverge in secret as soft-bodied animals until the conditions suddenly caused fossilization, and later non-randomly "chose" various animals to remain unchanged for hundreds of millions of years while the Earth went through great changes and vast numbers of creatures went extinct? You do realize that whatever you say about the effects of natural selection, it can only work on changes produced by recombination, which only mixes up existing traits, or by mutations, which happen at random. Or do some mutations, perhaps quite a few, happen as part of the design of living things, as cases of rapid adaptations have indicated? Oh, but how did that design get there?

This is the real reason why the debate goes on and evolutionists don't want teaching that might introduce doubts and questioning -- NOBODY really knows how evolution works, beyond the "blindingly obvious" sort of changes that are observed and accepted by creationists. Nobody knows because nobody knows IF natural processes of inheritance and natural selection can produce much more than that. If they claim to know that, they don't know it from using the scientific method, but by a philosophical choice disguised by using scientific techniques to gather data that is always interpreted according to that philosophy. Tell me, what idea or concept could possibly replace gradual evolution as a scientific theory? No supernatural explanation is allowed. Panspermia merely puts the start off. Anything not fairly gradual quickly becomes clearly too improbable to believe. Once you say only natural explanations are allowed, and claim that it is scientific to proceed without clearly observing something or demonstrating it is fully capable of what you say it can do...

One thing that bothers NiV is the idea of offering supernatural explanations and calling it science. I agree that it is not. However, creation science acknowledges that it is not -- it is a framework, one version within which science began and creationists continue to work. Offering explanations which cannot be observed or demonstrated to be true should also not be considered scientific, but it is now considered to be scientific as long as the explanations use only natural processes.

May 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Bump

"I also want to thank you for the time and effort you've put into your extensive exchange with me. I hope everybody understands that there's nothing personal in this, simply a civil examination of an issue from different viewpoints."

Indeed. My position has always been that scientists should welcome well-informed challenges from people who are motivated to disagree - it's an excellent exercise for deeper understanding oneself, and helps to catch one's own misunderstandings (of which, humans being fallible, there are always a few). For the same reason, I'm also interested when people propose perpetual motion schemes and other paradoxes, because they often highlight some subtlety that is easy to miss. If someone offers an argument with a crazy-sounding conclusion but for which you cannot spot the flaw in the argument, that implies there is something in one's own understanding that needs correction. (Either a subtle flaw in your understanding of the argument, or that the conclusion is not as crazy as you first thought.) It's extremely useful and ought to be encouraged.

"Agreed! My contention is that in certain areas, modern "science" departs from the traditional scientific method and proceeds in a way that assumes ontological naturalism. "

Indeed - but "proceeding in a way that assumes" is not the same thing as "is confident in the truth of". Methodological Naturalism says one ought to proceed as if Ontological Naturalism was true without asserting that it actually is; only that one cannot make useful progress without it.

"On the contrary, this was the basis of modern science: that God established the laws of nature and does not change them whimsically."

Exactly. There are laws of nature that everything we can observe obeys and they're unchanging. That's Naturalism.

There's a distinction to be made between what's commonly described as Deism - the position that God (or Gods, or Godesses) created the universe and its laws and then left it to proceed without further interference - and Theism - the position that God(ess)(e)(s) created the universe and continually act in it, responsible for the seasons and the harvests and the weather, night and day, sickness and health, and so on, and that acts of nature are direct and deliberate acts of God(ess)(e)(s), that can potentially be altered with prayer and sacrifices.

The latter position is a scientific hypothesis, because it's falsifiable. If it follows known fixed rules, it's not happening at the whim of a deity. You can easily test whether prayer and sacrifices make a difference. The former is not - since whether the deity exists or not the observable universe would look exactly the same, and therefore science makes no statement on it.

Science does not deny the existence of a 'Deist' deity, who stands back from creation. You can believe or not believe as you choose. Such a belief is not 'scientific', but beyond that it expresses no opinion or criticism. It's only arguing with the 'Theist' deities, which is what most ordinary believers believe in.

(I'm aware that these are not the precise philosophical definitions for Deism/Theism, and as with all things in philosophy things are more complicated than that. For example, Aquinas's 'Esse Subsistens' concept argues continual interaction is required for there to be unchanging laws of nature. But we could argue in circles forever down that path.)

"I was rather surprised, if not a bit shocked when you claimed that the scientific method was more important for the average person than what has been discovered by it."

Not quite. What I intended to say was that knowing the scientific method is more important than knowing a list of discoveries. The products created from those discoveries are of course enormously important, but the average person can buy them in the shops pre-made - they don't have to understand them themselves to benefit from them.

"How can you so cavalierly wave aside mathematics, mechanics, electricity, medicine and chemistry, household or otherwise?"

I was doing the opposite - I was waving aside everything but.

Knowing enough about electricity to wire up a new light, or fit a switch, is a useful everyday skill. But what use are Maxwell's equations to the average guy on the street? Yes, they'll buy things that depend on them, and were designed using them, but all they need to know for those is to press the switch. What scientific knowledge do they themselves need?


"It IS good reasoning to conclude that there may have been supernatural events in the past which would make the assumption that there were not unsafe. There are also many things to which we cannot truly apply the key aspects of the scientific method (repeated observation and experimental demonstration)."

True. I agree with both of those statements.

It's like saying that we might be living in a computer-simulated world, and the scientific method is powerless to tell if we are or if we're not. Things would look exactly the same, either way.

Logically, it's an unsafe assumption to presume that we're not, and that the world and all the other people in it are not illusions. They might be. But is it a useful theory? If you assume instead that the people around you don't really exist and therefore don't matter, where does that lead you?


"All of the changes we've observed are merely variations in color, size, proportion, or shape of existing parts in ways that cannot be accumulated to produce dynamic, organized new parts."

Why not? What are dynamic, new parts, if not variations and modifications of existing parts?

Or to put it another way, how can you tell the difference?

"most of science depends on seeing things over and over again,"

Not really. Once can be sufficient, to eliminate the alternatives.

"1) As I pointed out, when it comes to design anyone who claims something is a "stupid design" should be required to prove it by producing a better design for the exact same purpose."

If it's a sufficiently stupid design, the better design will be obvious. As I said, anyone with any sense would have switched the layers around.

"2) Even without positing a supernatural intelligent designer, ANY intelligent designer may have had reasons for designs which might seem stupid to those unaware of them."

That's true, but for the argument to carry any weight would imply that we have no means of judging whether any design is intelligent or not. Not only does that cut at the root of the argument from design in the first place, I don't think it's a plausible thesis anyway. Human designers can always miss things, but they're pretty good.

I think that if something has every appearance of being stupid (or just plain nasty), the burden of proof should be on those who claim it is not.

"3) As I pointed out later, even if something looks like a stupid design, intelligent design is still a better explanation than one which has never been shown to have the power to produce such things."

And do you think evolution by natural selection has never been shown to have the power to produce such things?

It was precisely that demonstration that led to natural selection's success. That's why people switched to it. Now it may be that you don't think the demonstration was convincing, but a lot of other people did.

"However, in evolution, "because natural selection favored it" is ALWAYS the explanation for similar features in different organisms, even if the feature was inherited from a common ancestor."

"Because natural selection favored it" isn't an explanation, without explaining why (and demonstrating) the property leads to improved survival/reproduction. But it's not the only explanation the theory allows. Sometimes something is accidental, or an 'unintended' consequence of something else.

If the only birds of a multi-coloured species to survive the plague happened to be yellow ones, then all their descendents will be yellow. That doesn't mean natural selection favoured being yellow.

"In short, no matter what it takes, some such natural, evolutionary explanation is, as you say, the ONLY explanation that is allowed to be called scientific."

The only explanations that are allowed to be called scientific are falsifiable ones. What falsifiable alternative would you like to offer?

"Well, Darwin downplayed the contribution of random effects in inheritable change, but it was quickly decided he was wrong about the nature of inheritance and variations in living things. Now we know that random changes are the only things which could provide for significant differences in living things."

It's not that random changes are the only things that can result in significant changes in living things, it's that we know random changes do occur, and that the theory does not require that they be otherwise.

"But as I said, we're also told evolution by natural selection isn't random (well, I think it depends on which evolutionist you ask, even among the leading ones). However, in what way is it not random?"

Excellent question!

There's an analogy I sometimes use to explain the concept. Imagine we pour some treacle onto a table top. The treacle spreads out in all directions. Then we take a cloth, and everywhere the treacle crosses the edges of a complicated design, we wipe it away.

After a while, somebody comes along and observes that the spilt treacle is laid out in a complicated and intricate design on the table. How did this happen? Did a designer come along an push the treacle around, into all the corners and convolutions? No, the treacle itself spread in all directions, completely undirected. Individual bits of treacle wandering 'randomly' would have that effect.

No, the design comes entirely from the process of wiping the treacle up. The design is carved from the undirected spread. The spread of the treacle is random, but the wiping up is not, and it is the wiping up that results in the clever design.

In the same way, evolution by mutation and natural selection does not result in random designs, because while mutation is random, natural selection is not. The organism designs bad at surviving/reproducing are eliminated, carving out the pattern of the survivors. The 'design' is implemented by death, which is selective about what it kills. And it is this very selectivity that results in an organism so supremely adapted to evade it.

It's no more suprising than it is to see the lush reeds and water plants follow the windings of the river across the plain precisely, in intricate detail. It's not that reeds have any intelligent 'river-following' mechanism by which they locate the river, it's simply that all the reed seeds that land too far from the river will die. The dry land carves the pattern. And it results in an organism that requires plentiful water to survive being found everywhere that plentiful water is available, and only there. The fall of seeds is 'random', but the result of the natural selection by water shortage is not.

I agree, absolutely, that an immensely long chain of random accidents leading to such complex and well-adapted designs is incredible. But that's absolutely NOT how evolution by natural selection is claimed to work. It's only because selection isn't random that it can yield the results it does.

"Anything not fairly gradual quickly becomes clearly too improbable to believe."

The 'carving' process, which is the source of the design, does not have to be gradual. You can let the treacle spread for a bit, and then wipe away those parts that fall outside the design. The spreading of the treacle is gradual, the wiping away, and hence the appearance of design, is not.

May 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

The best reason that the response to "human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals," is an astoundingly poor measure of whether anyone understands and/or "believes in" evolution is that development and evolution are two different processes. Development occurs during the life of single individual organisms, evolution happens from generation to generation at the population level.

Anyone who understands biology would correctly judge the statement to be false. How is this response to be differentiated from the same response from a religious fundamentalist ?

May 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Apps

I almost decided to say I just can't keep taking the time on this, and say goodbye, regardless of giving you the last word, but I peeked and it looks too interesting to leave without further exploration. Unlike some exchanges, this doesn't seem to be getting bogged down in repetition and such. Still, we might be wrapping up soon.

"There are laws of nature that everything we can observe obeys and they're unchanging. That's Naturalism."
In a nutshell, as formulated in the 18th century or so. I think it is significant that the standard model now holds that the forces of nature were once unified, that the universe underwent a period of hyperinflation and then stopped (both for unknown reasons), that the universe had a beginning beyond which we can't investigate scientifically, that there are event horizons in the universe today also barring further investigation, and that we have made observations demonstrating the relativity of time due to acceleration and gravity, equivalence and wave-particle duality of energy and matter, and evidence suggesting most of the universe is made of matter and energy we know little about other than the matter having gravitational effects and the energy causing the current expansion of the universe.

"Theism - the position that God(ess)(e)(s) created the universe and continually act in it, responsible for the seasons and the harvests and the weather, night and day, sickness and health, and so on, and that acts of nature are direct and deliberate acts of God(ess)(e)(s), that can potentially be altered with prayer and sacrifices.[paragraph] The latter position is a scientific hypothesis, because it's falsifiable. If it follows known fixed rules, it's not happening at the whim of a deity. "

Falsifiable? No, in fact, this sort of supernaturalism is exactly what we've said cannot be examined scientifically and falsified. If it follows known, fixed rules, we can treat it as a natural event, especially if we can find the cause and event within our scope of investigation, but who's to say that there isn't a deity of unchanging nature at work beyond our ability to detect, just as we once were unable to detect atoms, and subatomic particles? How can you "easily test whether prayer and sacrifices make a difference" when there are so many variables involved, and the "whim" of a supernatural being who does not follow known, fixed rules, and may not wish to be treated like a celestial ATM or lab rat, and most likely would have reasons and logic beyond our comprehension?

"If you assume instead that the people around you don't really exist and therefore don't matter, where does that lead you?"
I'm more interested in what happens when everybody truly believes that we are neither unique beings with divinely given spirits nor the pinnacle of evolutionary progress, but a variety of ape, no more nor less. Those who hold that idea now are doing as well as anyone so far, but the culture as a whole has a long way to go, and larger groups often behave quite differently from what the vanguard of cultural pioneers expected. From what I hear about things going on in schools these days, I'm not optimistic.

"What are dynamic, new parts, if not variations and modifications of existing parts? Or to put it another way, how can you tell the difference?"

Suppose you have two mechanics who say they can build a vehicle that uses a new variety of engine. You observe one at work going to a drawing board, planning how to mold and cast parts you've never seen before and put them together, and actually builds a V-8, a Wankel rotary, and a jet turbine engine. Now the second guy comes along and shows you a collection of the same engines he claims he's made, but when you ask him to demonstrate his work, he goes to a car and paints the engine a different color. Then he replaces the air intake with a larger model pre-made for that engine. Then he hammers on some parts until they are dented. Do you really think he's going to make something that operates in a different way? Doesn't it seem more likely that he could slightly improve an engine's performance at best, and would probably make it worse?

<<most of science depends on seeing things over and over again,>>
"Not really. Once can be sufficient, to eliminate the alternatives."

Perhaps under controlled conditions, however, it's usually not satisfying to everyone. You get comments like "This is very promising, but more research is required." Did you have any particular instance(s) in mind? Most of science has involved repeatable things, and it's this very regular, dependable repetition which has made science the source of so many modern blessings in technology, medicine, and chemistry.

"As I said, anyone with any sense would have switched the layers around."
And as I said, you don't even everything about how the eye works, let alone what considerations may have gone into the design. It's like someone in 1915 getting a look at a jet from the future and laughing at the silly metallic swept-wing contraption with fan blades on the inside. Everybody knows it would work better if they put those blades out in the open air where they could really dig in.

"That's true, but for the argument to carry any weight would imply that we have no means of judging whether any design is intelligent or not."
Ultimately, perhaps, but in general and for practical purposes we can 1) consult with the designer, 2) actually create a design for the same specific function and situation that does everything the original does without any apparent drawbacks after extensive testing 3) If we want to say it wasn't designed at all, we must find a process that produces the design without artificial input or pre-set conditions not known to exist in nature.

"Human designers can always miss things, but they're pretty good."
Not at building living things.

" And do you think evolution by natural selection has never been shown to have the power to produce such things? It was precisely that demonstration that led to natural selection's success. "

When Franklin bled an electric spark from a lightning storm, that was a convincing demonstration. When Edison got a light bulb to burn for days, that was a convincing demonstration. When the Wrights made controlled turns in the air and landed safely, that was a convincing demonstration. Darwin? He pointed to some acknowledged variations and jumped to a conclusion, based on false ideas about inheritance and biological variations. Yet before the true nature of inheritance had become known (Mendel's lone beginning having been all but forgotten), and the source of novel variations understood, many leading scientists had "switched to it." Therefore I conclude that there never was a convincing demonstration, but rather a setting forth of a rhetorical and philosophical substitute that would allow no real alternative and could not be falsified within its new way of "practicing science." It was exactly what a number of scientists wanted -- a way to make the origin and history of life on Earth a field of scientific investigation, and for quite a few it was all the better that it seemed to endow the prestige of "scientific fact" statements contrary to the Bible and possibly theism in general.

""Because natural selection favored it" isn't an explanation, without explaining why (and demonstrating) the property leads to improved survival/reproduction. But it's not the only explanation the theory allows. Sometimes something is accidental, or an 'unintended' consequence of something else."

I was wrong to assume that a demonstrable (or reasonable) explanation was included implicitly with the reference to something being "favored." However, often different solutions for the same function are both favored by natural selection, which after all does not do anything for improved designs unless they lead to increased reproduction, which isn't a sure thing.

"Sometimes something is accidental, or an 'unintended' consequence of something else."
Ah yes, but we're only concerned with evolution as a non-random process, so we must find the explanation for its purported power in other aspects.

"The only explanations that are allowed to be called scientific are falsifiable ones. What falsifiable alternative would you like to offer?"
None. It is my contention that the origin and history of life on Earth is not a fit subject for pure scientific investigation.

"It's not that random changes are the only things that can result in significant changes in living things,..."
Currently some (well, one or two whom I know via e-mail) creationist scientists are investigating indications that quite a few mutations are not entirely random, but are designed to have a certain probability of occurring, in order to provide a set of variations for unusual circumstances, or as latent coding from an original larger, less specialized gene pool. However, what non-random things in evolutionary theory can cause significant changes that weren't seen in the given population, nor its ancestors?

Treacle, eh? Do you live in the United Kingdom? We call it molasses on this side of the pond. Anyway, I think you need to work on your analogy. The two most obvious flaws are that it begins with a decorated table cloth (a designed object) and operates by "wiping up" (action by an intelligent agent). More subtly, all it reproduces is "a complicated design" which consists of nothing more than an intricate, essentially 2-D pattern.

Of course, you're not dealing with an actual mechanism for producing design, you're simply presenting a general (vague) analogy of subtractive production; damn the details, mutations produce all sorts of changes and only the working ones survive, therefore it's not "random" because survival demands functionality. However, this assumes that your treacle will spread to all the possible (or known) design-spaces, at the times when they will fit the requirements for survival. The flowing of the treacle over the pattern represents mutations reproducing all possible configurations, including those that otherwise would look like they were designed -- so we're back to random mutations producing design, and all natural selection does is eliminate the mutations that don't look designed. The reeds and river analogy doesn't work because there's nothing particularly designed in one thing becoming confined to the region of another, e.g. the water in the river flowing in the bed of the river, the fish swimming in the water of the river, etc.

What evolutionists have to show is how three-dimensional, active and interactive parts made of diverse sub-parts can be formed by natural processes in the first place, so that natural processes can "select" them by not killing the organisms that have them.

June 2, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Bump

I'm a layman. I believe in evolution. I cannot explain evolution. I believe in evolution because roughly 100% of scientists who CAN explain it affirm that it is the prevailing scientific theory on the diversity of life. I understand that a scientific consensus approaching 100% means there's more than a bit of merit to a theory. I'll admit that if 100% of scientists across the globe told me Intelligent Design was the best explanation for life then I'd probably subscribe to that theory. So I guess what I'm saying is this article doesn't make much sense to me. But then again, I'm not an anti-vaccer or a creationist, or a climate change denier, so I guess I have common sense even if I'm not particularly scientifically inclined.

June 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJon Kanders

People who spend a lot of time "doing" science, or studies which model themselves on science, tend to grossly overestimate its importance in most people's lives and the degree to which it can influence their thoughts even -in potentia-.

For example, a lot of people here haven't even picked up on the fact that the common definition of "belief" corresponds more or less to what a scientist would mean by "theory", while the demotic meaning of "theory" is more like what is technically known as "unsubstantiated hypothesis".

June 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterS.M. Stirling

David Bump: You write as if you're the only person who has ever thought about these "problems" in evolutionary theory. Me thinks you need to keep up with the literature a little. Write your "thesis" up, try to get it published, and you might receive a little humble pie.

S.M. Stirling: Please understand what a scientific theory means. Evolutionary theory is a FACT and a THEORY. WHAT?? How can that be? We know for a FACT animals have evolved. Overwhelming evidence from the fossil record and genetics have proven this. Evolution is a THEORY because there hasn't yet been a unifying MECHANISM for evolution (there may never be). Natural selection, although very powerful, is but one MECHANISM. Genetic drift, neutral selection, kin selection, group selection, etc are all different MECHANISMS that generate genetic diversity.

An example I use sometimes, although admittedly imperfect, is Music Theory. Can you argue that music does not exist? Of course not. Music is a FACT. It is called Music Theory, though, because there are all sorts of MECHANISMS (or "styles") that generate music. Jazz, classical, rock and roll, blues, hip hop are the equivalent of natural selection, kin selection, genetic drift in the FACT of evolution.

The core issue to all this discussion is what is supported by evidence and what is not. If you have an alternative to evolutionary theory, one must present a theory that generates testable hypotheses. Intelligent design, despite some very vocal proponents, has failed to produce even one!, not to mention a reputable scientific publication.

One of my first biology professors, when first introducing evolutionary theory, always made sure it was clear that "One does not BELIEVE in evolution, evolution IS."

June 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRyan Andersen

Jon nicely illustrates how someone who merely bows to the consensus of authorities might (given a quiz filled with questions similar to the first example) be rated as "scientifically literate" while not really understanding how science is supposed to work. Ryan Anderson fittingly provides one more good example of how someone can, in the name of science, take on more of the role of a high priest defending a dogma, having been indoctrinated by a biology professor who apparently was better at slogans than explaining the difference between a real fact and a scientific theory. Mr. Anderson, however my style may come across to you, I am quite aware of the work of others, I'm probably about as much "up" on the latest literature as you are, and if you thoroughly read and understand what I've written, you will know it makes no sense to advise me to try to publish my "thesis." The problems I have set forth are well known to the scientific establishment, they simply choose to ignore them.
One thing is for certain, "The core issue to all this discussion is what is supported by evidence and what is not." Evolution as shifts in the ratio of alleles in a given population is clearly a (demonstrable) fact. Stories connecting fossils in quasi-ancestor-descendant lineages are not facts. You can't make a big fact out of a bunch of stories.
The comparison with "music theory" is so, uh, admittedly "imperfect" I see no need to comment further.

June 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Bump

The core foundation of true science is direct quantitative observation, repeatedly confirmed. Such observations, along with details of the measurement methods, are facts. "Science" conducted over large expanses of space and/or time is largely extrapolation, considering that we have made direct scientific observations over a very short period of time (< 500 years?) and over a very small volume of the universe (a small fraction of our solar system). We must always be skeptical and question scientific extrapolations. Fortunately, most of this type of scientific extrapolation has little direct, immediate impact on mankind, except for affecting our philosophical world views. However, mankind's world views can certainly have tremendous impact over a period of time. I fear that should the public become blindly accepting of this type of "philosophical science" and discount the possibility of God, the long-term impact could be devastating. Thankfully we have not yet reached that point in American society.

June 6, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterinfantphysicist

And on a lighter note for a new consensus study on natural selection using the same methods as Cook for CAGW :-)

http://ecologicallyoriented.wordpress.com/2014/06/07/our-new-consensus-study/

June 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

The real question is whether someone who rejects a well-established scientific consensus for ideological reasons can really be called scientifically literate without devaluing the term. If you genuinely understand that science is not just a collection of facts to be memorised but a project to model reality, then you cannot in good faith "deny" scientifically accurate statements. What would we make of someone who didn't "believe" in thermodynamics? The entire motivation for researching and teaching thermodynamics is that it provides an accurate and useful model of certain aspects of reality; to introduce ideological considerations into this is to dilute science with nonsense. In such ways pseudoscience is born. Put another way, you don't just need to know "what scientists say" in order to be scientifically literate; you need to understand why they say it (i.e. the scientific method; how to distinguish science from pseudoscience).

Consider the difference between the following questions in a test for "historical literacy":

A) Hermann Goering was not involved in war crimes
B) Hermann Goering denied involvement in war crimes

Clearly these are not equivalent statements. But would anyone doubt that "revisionists" who considered (A) to be correct, are fundamentally wrong on the history?

The take-home message is that if you are willing to put ideology before reason and facts, you are ill-equipped to form an objective opinion on scientific topics. This is what scientific illiteracy means. I have noticed that many evolution "skeptics" tend to be also global warming "skeptics", a pseudoscientific position with perhaps even more disastrous results.

June 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGavin Kirby

The Faith and Science discussions, about 25 people, are continuing once a week. Filtering the results through cultural cognition is very useful.
The biggest insight this week is the number of people who will not let scientific results alter their faith beliefs, essentially the same thing that is said here about ideologies and climate science results.

June 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEric Fairfield

The real question is whether or not "a well-established scientific consensus" should be regarded as unquestionable scientific fact? It may turn out to be well-established as a consensus, but not established at all by the scientific method. There are a lot of things about evolution that creationists may have no quarrel with, including evolution itself as far as I've seen any authority describe as the scientific theory. It turns out that all of the major points of contention are in areas where the "scientific consensus" depends on philosophy or ideology, unlike most of science, where claims are expected to be demonstrated to be true by observations and experiments that anybody (with the right equipment) can do. If you've read Bacon's Novum Organum you know that the scientific method was developed explicitly to avoid "establishment" of anything by consensus, even consensus of experts, and also to avoid the pitfalls of proceeding by building upon putting together facts with reason alone -- everything was to be established through independent observations and the rigorous testing of carefully-designed experiments that essentially treat cherished reasonable conclusions as hostile witnesses.

June 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Bump

"The real question is whether or not "a well-established scientific consensus" should be regarded as unquestionable scientific fact? " from David Bump is an award winning oxymoron; any fact that is unquestionable falls outside science.

June 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Apps

I am confused by the results shown in the first graph. It seems to me to show the results you would get if those (or the type of person) who answered "False" to the belief question did not in fact understand the theory of evolution.

My reasoning being that if these participants were asked to state true/false belief in something they did not understand they would answer false, at least in this case, due to their belief in an alternate answer (e.g. intelligent design). If these same people were asked the second question, again not understanding the theory of evolution would you not expect them to perform at chance: 50/50 split for both true and false.

If this is the case would you not expect half of the 45% who answer "False" in the first case to answer "True" in the second case? That leaves the expected "True" replies to the second question to be 77.5% of respondents. Not very far from 81%.

Have I missed something in the details, or is this explained by the religiosity information and I simply haven't quite understood? (Not very unlikely I admit).

July 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLiam

@Liam:

I'm not quite following. I'll clarify a bit & then you tell me again what you make of things.

The first graph is, I take it, the one at the very top that compares the % of "true" respones to the "NSF" & "GSS" versions.

Likely you understand this, but just to be sure: the survey participants responding to the two versions are separate groups of people. They are both drawn randomly from an appropriately constructed nationally representative panel. So we can assume they are otherwise alike. Thus we infer that adding the phrase "According to the theory of evolution..." in effect "causes" some fairly substantial number of people who would have said "false" to say "true" in response to the proposition.

The question of *why* that made a difference has to be answered on the basis of information independent of anything we get out of the experiment itself.

You make claims about how you would expect people to respond if they "do no understand" the evolution or the "theory of evolution." Actually, I don't quite follow your reasoning; you seem to suggest those who "don't understand" would answer "false" w/ (or close to) probably 1.0 in the "NSF" version but "false" w/ (or close to) 0.50 in the GSS version. Why exactly?

I am relying on information independent of *this* experiment that shows that the correlation between answering "true" to the "NSF" version & "understanding" the "theory of evolution" is not meaningfully different from zero. that is, people who say "true" aren't any more likely to understand -- no more likely to be able to give an accurate account of -- the mechanisms of evolution then those who say "false." By the same token, the % of those who actually do "understand" the mechanisms of evolution is the same among those who answer "false" as among those who answer "true."

I don't know if all those answering "true" *think* they understand; probably many of them do! But the same for is likely true for those who answer "false": that is, they think (incorrectly) that they "understand" but simply don't accept or believe.

The only reason that the % would be higher in the GSS question is that some fraction of the participants who *would* have answered "false" are aware that they are rejecting something that they either believe or are willing to guess is a position associated with "the theory of evolution." But whether they "know" that this is the position associated with this "theory" or are guessing, we know that they would have said "false" based on disbelief in evolution had they been asked the GSS question.

We can then see that the GSS question is poorly worded: it is confounding knowledge of somehing -- a position associated with a scientific theory -- with accepting that position.

Tell me what I'm missing.

July 5, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Dan Kahan

My thoughts were simply: If we assume those who believe evolution to be untrue -those who answered "False" to the NSF question- do not understand the Theory of Evolution then would we not expect the results shown in the GSS version of the question.

e.g. The NSF question is answered thusly:
55% answer "True" - They believe in the Theory of Evolution as expressed by the question.
45% answer "False" - They do not believe the statement. They instead (for example) believe in Intelligent Design: they believe that "Human Beings were designed by an all-powerful creator" thus they will answer "False" here even without and understanding of the Theory of Evolution.

If we then assume all those who would answer "False" to the NSF question do not comprehend the Theory of Evolution and those who would answer "True" do comprehend it:

GSS question is answered thusly:
The 55% proportion who would answer "True" to the NSF question answer "True" here - They understand the Theory of Evolution as expressed by the question.
The 45% proportion who would answer "False" to the NSF question do not understand the Theory of Evolution as expressed in the question and thus guess with one of the two options - they perform at chance: 22.5% answer "True"; 22.5% answer "False".

If the GSS question is answered according to these assumptions you get 77.5% answering "True" and 22.5% answering "False". These estimated results are quite similar to the actual results of the GSS question.

I hope this is clearer. I'm not particularly good at explaining I'm afraid.

I should stress I do not actually believe this is the case, I fully agree with the conclusions of your posting. I was just wondering if the comparison of these results can be applied as evidence for universal evolutionary comprehension, a purely methodological question.

Edit: Upon re-reading of the post I realise I hadn't fully considered the comparison of religiosity and likelihood of answers which now I realise already adequately denies the assumptions I made. Thanks for your time, Dan.

July 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLiam

@LIam:

I see how you are reasoning now-- very clearly explained. It is logical way to make sense of the results, for sure.

But as you note at the end of your responxse, we additional evidence that we can use to make sense of the discrepancy. This includes the the religiosity- nonreligiosity response differentials, but also the existing work showing that in fact there is no correlatoin between answers to the question NSF question (& I suspect the GSS version too) & comprehension of the theory of evolution.

This exchange is a nice illustration, though, of the inevitable *overdetermination* of observations with respect to theories & *underdeterimation* of theories w/r/t observations. That is, there will always be more than one theory that fits all the data; and no theory can ever be conclusively established w/r/t the observations it fits.

So it is always the case that the best we can do is find as much reason as we can for judging the relative plausibility of competing theories & never expect anything we ever find to be definitive.

July 6, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

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