Home » academic freedom, Darwinism, Evolution, Free Speech, science education, Society » How to Talk to Your Professors About Your Darwin Doubts

How to Talk to Your Professors About Your Darwin Doubts

There are two regular tragedies in the Intelligent Design movement. The first tragedy is the student who airs his or her doubts about Darwin, and a faculty member then makes it their life mission to block that student from a degree, or, if they get a degree, prevent them from getting any further. This sometimes happens via a bad letter of recommendation or a notice in their file or sometimes even calling other programs to tell them not to include the student.

The second tragedy is the student who plays it safe, presuming that some day in the future they will have the position, stature, or whatever to present their doubts about Darwin. Many people counsel this procedure – keep your head low, and don’t say anything until you have tenure. The problem with this course, however, is that we do what we practice. It takes 10 years of schooling at least to get all the way through. If you have spent ten years practicing cowering in the corner, that is exactly what you will do when the time comes for you to speak out. You will not come out as Zorro prancing from the shadows with you blade. You will instead do what you have always done – find one more thing that you have to do first.

“I have to graduate.”
“I have to finish my postdoc.”
“I have to get tenure.”
“I’m working on a grant for a big project.”
“I’ll come out when I retire.”

I don’t mean to offend – I realize just how high the stakes are – but I don’t know of any other way to say this. When you follow this path, what you’ve done is practice being a coward. So, when the epic moment comes for you to say the right thing, do the right thing, or even help out some other person who believes the same way you do, you will instead do exactly what you’ve practiced doing for ten years – run and hide. Even if you did manage a Zorro moment – what use is it? Your colleagues will feel betrayed, and rightly so. They will feel (rightly so) that you’ve been lying to them the whole time – because you have. People will criticize you because your new work, rather than building on your old work to this time, seems to have a sudden break with it – and they would be right.

So what is one to do? Well, thankfully, our friends the evolutionists have given us a way out. In their zeal to claim consensus on the “fact of evolution,” they have had to steamroll together such a large diversity of opinion into the single term “evolution”, that the word “evolution” no longer has the grand meaning it used to. The only real meaning everyone can agree on is “change in allele frequency over time” – and that is a definition that literally everyone can agree with.

In other words, even if you are a young earth creationist, if your professor asks if you believe in evolution, the legitimate answer is “yes”. Given the common definition of “evolution,” the only thing they are really asking with that question is, “do you believe in genetics?”

Therefore, here is how you can, and, I say, should frame yourself – you believe in evolution. However, there are a few parts of the theory that you disagree with. Don’t be obnoxious, but don’t be overly shy either. Just be frank. Do you believe in evolution? “Yes, but I disagree that common ancestry is universal.” Do you believe in evolution? “Yes, but I don’t think that natural selection alone as a mechanism sufficiently explains life’s diversity.” You don’t even have to put the “yes” and the objection in the same sentence. What do you think about evolution? “The study of evolution is fascinating!” How do you think multicellularity evolved? “I think that multicellularity is a fundamental property of certain organisms, and can’t be evolved piecemeal from the presumed single-celled ancestors.” But you do believe in evolution? “Yes, of course.” Do you think multi-cellular organisms evolved? “Certainly!” From what? “Other multi-cellular organisms.”

If someone challenges you on the definition of evolution, simply challenge them back. What definition of evolution are you using? “I’m using the standard population genetics definition of evolution as the change in gene frequencies over time.” That’s not what evolution is. “What is your definition of evolution?” Evolution means natural selection and common ancestry! “Well, that’s a pretty narrow view of evolution in modern biology. So, while I agree with evolution in general, I don’t agree with your specific view of it.” What’s your specific view? “I’m still learning! But I do find it interesting that….[put your favorite evolutionary or non-evolutionary feature of biology here]”

As you can see, if you are well-studied enough, you can state your mind honestly without tying your own noose. Will this work every time? Obviously not. There are in fact people whose inner, personal hostility is beyond any reason. But you will probably run into those people anyway, and better to meet them openly than have them against you behind your back.

Now, in addition to all this, you must remember that, especially when you are in school, you are there to be the student, not the teacher. It is good as a student to learn – and there is much you can learn from people even though they are Darwinists. Some of them have been doing biology for longer than you’ve been alive, and they deserve your respect and attention for that. And so do their ideas. Spend most of your time listening and learning, but don’t be afraid to speak your mind when it is appropriate. Just remember that when you do, speak it wisely. And, given the modern definition of evolution, there is no reason to paint yourself as being an “anti-evolutionist”.

  • Delicious
  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • RSS Feed

17 Responses to How to Talk to Your Professors About Your Darwin Doubts

  1. 1

    And don’t write articles to the student newspaper advocating intelligent design under your real name.

  2. 2

    Since they will end up online without you knowing, making sure that anyone who googles your name for the rest of your life will find that article.

  3. 3
    David W. Gibson

    Far and away the best way to express doubts is to propose a testable alternative that fits the known observations better than what is doubted.

    After all, nobody doubts any explanation, no matter how tenuous, unless they have in mind some explanation they consider superior. Doubts do not happen in a vacuum, they happen because some other explanation seems better.

    And what better way to establish this than by finding points of difference that can be tested (that is, current models predict A, your model predicts B), and then going out and testing. If the result is B, you have cause to doubt. If the result is A, your doubts are resolved.

    Just bear in mind that in science, doubts are not matters of philosophy, they are matters of observation. If you doubt the current best-fit explanations of the evidence for reasons not based on evidence, you have left the world of science where only evidence matters.

    It’s very true that the current theory of evolution encompasses a vast body of observation, experiment, and test. And as a result of this broad scope, it’s necessary to make doubts explicit. At the cutting edge, there is always debate and disagreement, and this is always eventually resolved through evidence and test.

    So what’s happening here isn’t a game of trying to trick people into thinking something you don’t. The idea here is, use your different model to identify explicit differentiating tests, and perform those tests. If you are right, these tests will SHOW that you’re right. If you’re wrong, these tests will improve your ideas. You can’t lose.

    (And to save time, it’s useful to research what tests relevant to your points of doubt have already been performed. It’s quite likely someone has already performed the test you’re looking for.)

  4. johnnyb,

    Darwinism has become a state-sponsored religion. The high priests of this religion tolerate no dissent (although they typically preach diversity and tolerance ad nauseum as high virtues).

    Evidence and logic are not allowed, if such evidence and logic undermine the transparently ludicrous proposition that random errors can produce highly sophisticated, functionally integrated, information-processing machinery and the information upon which the machinery operates.

    When I read the defenses of Darwinian orthodoxy by the most prominent — and supposedly most intellectually sophisticated — apologists for Darwinism, all I can do is shake my head in amazement at the fact that indoctrination in Darwinian “theory” can essentially perform a lobotomy on otherwise perfectly useful brains.

  5. 5
    David W. Gibson

    And yet, historically, the early investigators didn’t approach evolution or geology tabula rasa, they began with the confident expectation of creation and a young earth. At that time, most of them WERE creationists, and they found the evidence on the ground deeply disturbing. It simply could not be reconciled with their beliefs.

    Today’s scientific establishment didn’t yet exist – most of these people were amateurs and we would call them part-time naturalists. No religion, no state sponsorship, no high priesthood, and nearly all of them would today be regarded as “dissenters”. Creationism bergan as the default.

    Given that starting point, how could current scientific understandings have developed so wrongly, especially to the point where anyone could consider the entire scientific enterprise (of hypotheses, null hypotheses, careful methodology, neutralizing of conformation bias, detailed publication, peer review, replication, consiliance, etc. etc. etc.) to indicate a worldwide conspiracy of closed minds?

    How could it ever have come to pass that tens of thousands of the most intelligent humans in the world, after decades of detailed study, could STILL fall victim to the “transparently ludicrous”? How could it be that those who can see through this transparency are ALL members of a single religious sect, and have nothing else in common? There sure isn’t much money in bilogy!

    And all of that notwithstanding, I notice that the dissenting argument presented is nothing more than simple unwillingness to believe what science has determined. It sounds fantastic, therefore it must BE fantastic. Centuries of scientific progress can only be explaned by mass insanity. Does that work for you?

  6. Folks:

    Don’t we see where the reigning orthodoxy and its coercion games are headed? Will we stop the madness before we crash and burn?

    (And, BTW, DWG, the issue is not genuine, humble provisional science that recognises the inherent limitations of inductive logic, but a priori materialist ideological imposition censoring freedom of thought while dressed up in the holy lab coat and passing itself off as science.)

    KF

  7. Nice topic- In the 70s I got into a fight with one of my biology professors over evolutionism, said the heck with biology and went into technology.

  8. David -

    “Far and away the best way to express doubts is to propose a testable alternative that fits the known observations better than what is doubted.”

    This is true and has been done. The problem is that, in natural history, there is no tests. So, despite the fact that tests on modern organisms show what IDers say it does, people refuse to take that as evidence for the past.

    As an example, most evolutionists point to mutations which give benefit to the organism. Of these, only a few are interesting (i.e. they give benefit without causing major deficits elsewhere). The few that are interesting actually seem to be generated from specific mechanisms that are geared towards generating them (i.e. VDJ recombination). Likewise, population genetic models show that natural selection, if it is the main operating force, will not build complexity but destroy it.

    “After all, nobody doubts any explanation, no matter how tenuous, unless they have in mind some explanation they consider superior.”

    This is simply not true. I don’t even see why someone would say this. I doubt things all the time based on the simple reason that the explanation given is simplistic and ignores basic reality. To give a general example – without proposing alternatives, I can usually find sufficient reason to doubt most sweeping claims by any political party. Many people in biology doubt the Darwinian story without having one of their own. Why? Because the idea simply doesn’t add up. It is simplistic, and demonstrably false.

    “And what better way to establish this than by finding points of difference that can be tested (that is, current models predict A, your model predicts B), and then going out and testing. If the result is B, you have cause to doubt. If the result is A, your doubts are resolved.”

    And this has been done over and over. In fact, I would argue that every major development of biology over the last century has been in ID’s favor. Evo-devo, neutral theory, and other major biological insights all point to the fact that for variation to give benefit, it must rely on pre-existing information.

    “Just bear in mind that in science, doubts are not matters of philosophy, they are matters of observation.”

    This is a very naive view of science, and the history of science contradicts you. This is, of course, what scientists usually think themselves, but in that case it would force you to side with the geocentrists in the Gallileo affair.

    If you doubt the current best-fit explanations of the evidence for reasons not based on evidence, you have left the world of science where only evidence matters.

    “It’s very true that the current theory of evolution encompasses a vast body of observation, experiment, and test. And as a result of this broad scope, it’s necessary to make doubts explicit.”

    Here we are certainly agreed!

    “At the cutting edge, there is always debate and disagreement, and this is always eventually resolved through evidence and test.”

    Not as agreed, and, in addition, I will point out that the “cutting edge” is coming back to some fundamental aspects of evolutionary theory! You sound like you are using “cutting edge” to mean “periphery”, but I contend that the issues in the modern evolutionary questions actually cut to the heart of the very idea itself.

    “So what’s happening here isn’t a game of trying to trick people into thinking something you don’t. The idea here is, use your different model to identify explicit differentiating tests, and perform those tests. If you are right, these tests will SHOW that you’re right. If you’re wrong, these tests will improve your ideas. You can’t lose.”

    Except that, as has been pointed out over and over again, it doesn’t work that way. In addition, most ideas take lots of time to develop. So, if I have idea X, it will sometimes take 10-15 years to develop a program sufficient enough to test X over Y – perhaps even to fully flesh the idea out enough. During that time, you *won’t* be able to test. But, the DarwinBots (not all Biology professors, but enough that there seems to be one at almost every campus), will make sure that your career won’t last long enough.

    But, in the specific case of ID, experiments show that (a) many mutations are generated by diversity-inducing machinery, and (b) most interesting mutations make use of this machinery.

  9. Having studied under a prominent anti-ID professor, James Trefil, I asked him in a public Q&A, where I identified myself as a creationist and his former student, whether it was OK to give him answers he wanted on an exam even though we didn’t believe what he said.

    He basically said he was fine with that. He has to assign grades based on what you answered, but he has no domain over ones personal belief. He was kind enough to also tell the audience I got an A in his class. :-)

    I don’t mean to offend – I realize just how high the stakes are – but I don’t know of any other way to say this. When you follow this path, what you’ve done is practice being a coward.

    It is more subtle than that. There was a time when the Apostles fled jerusalem under persecution, only to be martyred another day. It would seem there is a time God will call his people to flee persecution and then ask the same people to be martyred later…..

    It is also strange who gets through the system, and who gets punished. 3 creationists got their PhD’s in biology at George Mason University (Gordon Wilson, Tim Standish, Tim Brophie), yet 1 ID proponent was dimissed (Carline Crocker).

    Some are hated after they graduate, some are still on good terms. Stephen Gould never spoke ill of his creationist student Kurt Wise. That’s certainly not the case with Bill Dembski and his teacher Jeff Shallit!

    My thoughts. If you really want to get good at creation science or ID, there are other disciplines than biology where you can still study biology. Get your BS, MS, or PhD in a field where the Darwinists will be hard pressed to hold your finances, your career, your wife, kids, and loved ones hostage to the Darwinist inquisition. Maybe it is wise to go where you can be free. If you really want to do the biology thing, perhaps consider double-majoring or something, just so you have an out. Even the Apostle Paul was known to flee at times despite being quite eager to be martyred. There is a time and place for everything.

    As far as specific non-biology disciplines, consider the founders of the modern ID and modern creation science movements:

    A.E. Wilder-Smith : Chemistry and Pharmaceuticals
    Henry Morris : hydraulic engineering
    Walter Brown : Mechanical Engineering
    Duae Gish : Bio chemistry
    Charles Thaxton: Physical Chemistry
    William Dembski: Mathematics and Theology
    Michael Behe: Bio Chemistry
    Michael Denton: Bio Chemistry
    Fred Hoyle: astro physics
    Walter Bradley : materials engineering
    Roger Olsen: geo chemistry
    Phil Johnson : Law

    The astonishing thing, the minority discipline is biology.

    If you want to be martyred for ID, you may have some choice in how you want to be persecuted. It doesn’t necessarily mean taking classes with the Paul Mirecki’s of the world to by martyred in a way that you’ll be forgotten.

    Personally, I’m glad about those who’ve kept their mouth shut. Its nice to hang out with PhD creationist biologists who are in hiding. ID circles would otherwise be a lonely place without the stealth support of those in hiding.

    I will mention, creationists applying to grad school from undergrade creationist schools like Liberty have had success in being open about who they are in grad school interviews if they have sufficiently good qualifications.

    Furthermore, almost all diciplines in biology are agnostic to evolutionary ideas, so even in some cases it never becomes an issue. But perhaps a little caution is always wise. Don’t go around looking for trouble, especially if you have family that might be counting on you for their food and shelter.

  10. Sal -

    You should start a new thread with some of these experiences rather than letting them get buried in the comments.

    More to the point, I think I wasn’t altogether clear. I am not against keeping your mouth shut – nor even giving the professors the answers required for the class – after all, the point is whether or not you know the material, not whether or not you agree with the material.

    My point is that, at some point, the question always comes around – “what do you think?” It is precisely at this point where you need to be ready to speak. And my point is that when you do speak, you must be honest, but the evolutionists themselves have given you – wide open – a door to walk through.

    I also agree entirely about going about it via the various other disciplines. In addition, knowing a second discipline will give you insights not available to those who specialize in only one.

  11. point, I think I wasn’t altogether clear. I am not against keeping your mouth shut – nor even giving the professors the answers required for the class –

    Thanks for the clarification. I’ve had to keep my mouth shut and give test answers. If the professors asked about what I believe, I would tell the truth.

    Now, if I gave the correct test and homework answers, and the professor said he’s still going to flunk me because I didn’t believe what he said, I might file a law suit. That crosses the line. That would be like a professor of religion insisting you believe the religion he’s teaching about.

    Some bio profs at GMU reportedly refuse to allow students in in biology classes unless you make a confession of faith. Like I said, it’s strange how some creationists make it through the system, and others don’t. A lot depends on who you end up dealing with in a University system, and the cultural context.

    The problem is the laws are ambiguous as to whether professors can deny diplomas based on what you believe versus how you answer test, homework, etc. Personally, I no longer trust the judiciary much to defend the rights of innocent students and faculty. The Darwinists have been violoating constitutional rights for decades and getting away with it.

  12. David -

    Just in case you didn’t notice, but were tracking this thread, your second comment has gotten a thread of its own.

  13. David, you sound like an earnest fellow, but you need to bone up on intellectual history.

    Darwinism was not new. It was Darwin’s way of formulating it that was new–his great power as a story-teller. Lucretius articulated a primitive version of the theory of evolution over two millenia ago. He was well-known and popular in certain circles.

    The eighteenth century was full of nascent evolutionism. I know Darwin wanted you to believe that he was an innocent creationist when he set out on his voyage, but it hardly seems credible that he did not know the ideas of his own grandfather.

    Further, the mid-1800′s saw the birth of a new ideology called Nihilism. A reaction against Transcendentalism, it required the negation of the transcendent. Darwin’s theory was tailor-made to this end. He did not become popular in his time because the facts supported him. He became popular because his interpretation of the facts suited the spirit of the age.

    Darwin was the right man at the right time. He was not a brave pioneer who made discoveries that overthrew his own worldview. He was part of an emerging worldview who found a way to obtain a starring role in the great narrative of history.

  14. 14
    David W. Gibson

    allanius:

    You make some very good points, I think. While I would classify Darwin with Newton, both of them stood on the shoulders of giants. In fact (or at least I read it somewhere), ideas and inventions always happen when the critical mass of context is reached – and the history of science and technology is filled with simultaneous discoveries and inventions. Darwin had his Wallace, of course, but if you’re referring to the age-old practice of selective breeding, then evolution was at least de facto recognized since before written history.

    And while I’ll have to take your word for it that Darwin’s ideas suited the spirit of the age, I also have read that his ideas were quite roundly rejected at first (except for a handful of supporters), and were not widely accepted until well after his death, and perhaps not until the 1900s. And even then, his ideas were accepted not because of the tenor of the times, but because they withstood rigorous testing by people who didn’t wish to accept them, or had different ideas.

    johnnyb:

    You sound like you are using “cutting edge” to mean “periphery”, but I contend that the issues in the modern evolutionary questions actually cut to the heart of the very idea itself.

    No, I’m talking about current research – the cutting edge being the edge of knowledge, the boundery beyond which lies the unknown.

    As for “the very idea itself”, I thought we agreed that the modern theory of evolution is a broad collection of a lot of related ideas. Which ideas specifically do you mean?

    And this has been done over and over. In fact, I would argue that every major development of biology over the last century has been in ID’s favor. Evo-devo, neutral theory, and other major biological insights all point to the fact that for variation to give benefit, it must rely on pre-existing information.

    You have two different ideas expressed here. I understand the second, and I agree. All scientific advancements are incremental – they add a little bit to what is already known. In fact, inheritance, lying at the core of evolution, relies on pre-existing information. How could it be otherwise? And of course if natural selection is true (and models based on it give excellent predictions), then the environment itself is the designer, and the biosphere we know is what that environment has designed.

    I don’t understand your first point, though. Just because replication-with-variation is mostly replication with only a bit of variation, doesn’t imply intelligent design. It only implies continuity.

    Except that, as has been pointed out over and over again, it doesn’t work that way. In addition, most ideas take lots of time to develop. So, if I have idea X, it will sometimes take 10-15 years to develop a program sufficient enough to test X over Y – perhaps even to fully flesh the idea out enough. During that time, you *won’t* be able to test. But, the DarwinBots (not all Biology professors, but enough that there seems to be one at almost every campus), will make sure that your career won’t last long enough.

    I must say that your experience has been extremely different from mine. Granted, big ideas take time to develop, but it’s nearly always possible to break them down into smaller ideas that can be tested. As I understand it, the Big Picture has accumulated over the course of many decades of tiny, almost pointillistic results. Entire careers are spent making small incremental improvements to large theories.

    The size of most academic research efforts depends directly on the size of the research grant. Lately, such grants have been drying up, so that there are far fewer grants and those granted are much smaller in dollars. The good news is that if your ideas are well operationalized, your results are surprising, verifiable and useful, you will continue to get grants to follow up along productive lines.

    If you could show that some important aspect of evolutionary theory is WRONG (not just incomplete, but incorrect), your career is assured. And it does happen from time to time.

  15. “No, I’m talking about current research – the cutting edge being the edge of knowledge, the boundery beyond which lies the unknown.”

    Actually it seems like you are agreeing with my characterization, since you are putting the cutting edge at the boundary of the known and the unknown – that would be the periphery. My point is that the latest research is undercutting much of what was already thought to be known!

    “As for “the very idea itself”, I thought we agreed that the modern theory of evolution is a broad collection of a lot of related ideas. Which ideas specifically do you mean?”

    Yes, the evolution word has been thrown around so much for so many different purposes, it is true that sometimes I falter and equivocate on its meaning too! I should have said “Darwinism” as that is much more specific. The meanings that I meant were that natural selection is the creative force and that there is such a thing as a universal common ancestor. In fact, one journal changed its logo to an *unrooted* phylogenetic tree just to make that point!

    As for my point about ID, I think you have misunderstood what I mean. My point is that mutations that produce interesting results are not the result of haphazardness, but are usually fairly tightly regulated within the cell. For instance, mutations in response to antigens are focused on the correct half of the correct gene (the part that attaches to the antigen, not the part that signals the immune system). There is a noncoding element upstream of the antibody which literally targets the mutations to the correct spot on the gene. And that’s not nearly as cool as the interchangeable-parts mechanism that builds the antibody gene in the first place.

    And this is what we find over and over again. Evo-devo basically just means the most important parts of the genomic information is presupposed (how to connect tissues, how to make a well-formed body, organ information, etc.), and that what we call “evolution” is just mixing and matching pre-existing well-specified parts. It is not about the origin of biological information, but rather simply presupposes a vast body of biological information.

    If you want some background reading on these ideas, you should take a look at the following links:

    Thoughts on Parameters vs Open-Ended Evolution and the Production of Variability

    Responding to Merlin’s Defense of Darwinism

    YouTube video of a talk I gave on the subject

    And, since you’re new here, you might like to see an old discussion we had a while back on ID and Common Descent. It has some relevant information.

    My own work recently has been on adapting Dembski/Marks Active Information metric from computers to biology, so we can measure how much information a cell contributes to the direction and success of its own evolution.

  16. 16
    David W. Gibson

    Actually it seems like you are agreeing with my characterization, since you are putting the cutting edge at the boundary of the known and the unknown – that would be the periphery. My point is that the latest research is undercutting much of what was already thought to be known!

    Good to get this clarified. I personally would put the boundary between the known and unknown at the very core of science. This is where the method is applied. What is (provisionally and conditionally) already known is the historical by-product of the method. Far from the core, as I see it. And of course, the purpose of applying the method is to extend, refine, modify, or correct what is considered provisionally known. It is a tenet of science that this process continues indefinitely, and if it stops, it’s because science is no longer practiced.

    I should have said “Darwinism” as that is much more specific. The meanings that I meant were that natural selection is the creative force and that there is such a thing as a universal common ancestor. In fact, one journal changed its logo to an *unrooted* phylogenetic tree just to make that point!

    Hopefully we can agree that Darwin relates to the theory of evolution as Newton relates to the theory of gravity. Seminal historical figures, interesting in the context of their times, and long since sent out to pasture. Many mechanisms of biological change over time have been identified, and Darwin suggested (part of) one of them. And even Darwin doubted there was a single universal common ancestor, and suggested that there might be several. Recently a whole new kingdom was discovered!

    I don’t think selection acting alone is a creative force, but selection never acts alone. I once knew a songwriting team – one person generated all the material, in huge quantities, nearly all of which was crap and the rest was disorganized. The other person never wrote a note, but had the sense (or musical taste) to discard the crap and arrange the good stuff. The result was a successful team. So which of these people was the “creative force”?

    My point is that mutations that produce interesting results are not the result of haphazardness, but are usually fairly tightly regulated within the cell. For instance, mutations in response to antigens are focused on the correct half of the correct gene (the part that attaches to the antigen, not the part that signals the immune system). There is a noncoding element upstream of the antibody which literally targets the mutations to the correct spot on the gene. And that’s not nearly as cool as the interchangeable-parts mechanism that builds the antibody gene in the first place.

    Your knowledge here is much more extensive than mine. I had read what seems a slightly different perspective, namely that mutations act on all aspects of all genes, all the time (though there are “hot spots” that mutate more frequently). But very few of these mutations are useful and so are not retained, and many are harmful and wash out immediately. The result is like watching a highlight reel where every hitter hits a home run.

    Not that the final selected results aren’t marvelous in their interlocking complexity, of course. But I think it’s like that songwriting team I knew – there’s a source of a whole lot of differences uncorrelated with utility, and there’s an editor process that throws out the crap and keeps the good stuff. We see the final result, and it’s all good. But I may be wrong about this.

    Evo-devo basically just means the most important parts of the genomic information is presupposed (how to connect tissues, how to make a well-formed body, organ information, etc.), and that what we call “evolution” is just mixing and matching pre-existing well-specified parts. It is not about the origin of biological information, but rather simply presupposes a vast body of biological information.

    This is not my understanding, but we may be saying the same thing in different words. To me, “evo-defo” is the study of development, from fertilized egg until independent viability. It’s concerned with which genes turn on and off at which times, and which genes determine which of these switches to throw and how and when, etc.

    Now, clearly no two individuals are absolutely identical, not even clones. Where sexual mixing happens, there are many unique combinations in every individual. Whether all of these unique combinations should be described as “original biological information” strikes me as a semantic issue. Yes, it’s original – never before instantiated.

    Consider selective breeding. Selective breeding is mostly the process of culling for certain characteristics. I think it would be accurate to say that such breeding limits the breeder to the variation already available in the genome, and he’s just concentrating certain existing alleles. But mutation extends beyond sexual mixing, and includes copying “errors” (that is, the copying system evolved to be imperfect because imperfections promote survival).

    Combine characteristic selection and inexact copying with breeding isolation and retain this combination for many generations, and you get something distinctively new, eventually. Evolutionary time is millions of years, in a lot of cases, so visibly unique morphological changes aren’t going to happen within a human lifetime, or (for most sexual critters) within the lifetime of the human race itself.

    Anyway, thank you for the links. I’ll read them as soon as I can.

  17. “I once knew a songwriting team – one person generated all the material, in huge quantities, nearly all of which was crap and the rest was disorganized. The other person never wrote a note, but had the sense (or musical taste) to discard the crap and arrange the good stuff. The result was a successful team. So which of these people was the “creative force”?”

    This is an excellent point. But the fact is, it did in fact have a lot to do with the person who generated the material. In other words, there are a lot of people who *all* they write is crap. So, selection can’t really help them. In order for selection to work, there has to be a workable system to generate beneficial mutations at a rate sufficient for selection. Likewise, your selection in that example was intelligent. Natural selection, however, is passive. In other words, lets say that instead your songwriting team made records of all the songs, and then only re-released the ones that the market liked. Well, the market wouldn’t have taken the time to get around to liking any of them.

    “namely that mutations act on all aspects of all genes, all the time (though there are “hot spots” that mutate more frequently). But very few of these mutations are useful and so are not retained, and many are harmful and wash out immediately. The result is like watching a highlight reel where every hitter hits a home run.”

    This is one of the reasons why ID people get frustrated by the establishment. This view of mutations is simply out-of-date and wrong, and, even though there is study after study going against it, it is still propped up in textbooks and in the media as the “official view”. This is why us ID’ers like Shapiro so much – despite being a Darwinist, he levels with people about what the data of molecular biology is showing.

    It isn’t that all the stuff produced is good (a lot of it isn’t), but rather that the mechanisms target the mutations to where good mutations are likely to be, and an active sensing process (as opposed to natural selection) tells it when to stop. In the case of the immune system, the mutations skip well over 99.99% of the genome to target the right half of the right gene. Now, within this 0.01%, the mutations do in fact appear to be randomized. But the selection process waits until a good fit is found to turn off the mutation process. So, design accounts for 99.99% of the equation, selected happenstance for 0.01%.

    “Whether all of these unique combinations should be described as “original biological information” strikes me as a semantic issue. Yes, it’s original – never before instantiated.”

    Again, you should read the article on parameterized vs open-ended evolution. The difference is not mere linguistic – it is at the heart of the controversy.

Leave a Reply