Sunday, June 08, 2008

So Far Today.

I have a cold, and so I skipped fishing today (Friday night was great- I caught the jackpot fish, a 6 lb baracuda).

The Texas Board of Education is loaded with creationsits, and is coming up on their renewal of the science standards. I have been watching, and commenting on the Houston Chronicle website.

“David Bradley, R-Beaumont, told the Chronicle, "Evolution is not a fact. Evolution is a theory and, as such, cannot be proved."

The common confusion regarding fact, hypothesis, and theory may seem to be a distraction. But let me try to clarify this so that we can at least agree to terms. First, a hypothesis is a statement that makes a specific observable prediction that is the test of the hypothesis. “Atoms are made of neutrons and protons and electrons, therefore an atom can be separated into these objects.” The observations made constitute the “facts” used to test a hypothesis. A theory is a general statement that provides a explanation for a number of confirmed hypotheses, and suggests new hypotheses that can be tested. Another popular error is that a “Law” is more powerful than a theory. In fact an empirical law, let’s say Ohms Law, is a mathematical statement of relationships between observations. This is far weaker than electromagnetic theory because the theory can be used to derive the “law” but the law does not derive the theory. Philosophers of science like to point out that a theory can only be falsified, and never proven. This is probably what confused Mr. Bradley. The atomic theory can not be “proven,” nor the germ theory of disease.

Evolution is a fact because we can observe variation within populations, and the reproductive isolation of populations (species), and the change in populations (species) over generations. We have observed the change in populations over time produce newly reproductively isolated populations (new species). These are facts. These facts are confirmation of hypotheses generated from the Theory of evolution.

The classic statement of evolutionary theory by Charles Darwin had two main parts, that the obvious physical variation between individual plants and animals would have consequences for their ability to thrive and reproduce, and that because of this species would over generations separate into two or more new species. This is “selection and common descent.” The mechanism that produced the obvious variation within populations was unknown to Darwin, but he saw several sorts of selection in action; environmental (Darwin’s “natural selection”), behavioral (Darwin’s “sexual selection”), and the already well known artificial selection by breeders known even in ancient times.

The independent discovery of genetics as the means by which physical change was introduced into populations was at first seen as a direct challenge to Darwin’s theory, and for thirty years biologists were in separate camps. British scientists and mathematicians resolve the problem in the 1930s, formulating the “new synthesis” of genetics and evolution. This added the independently confirmed theory of genetics (the “random mutation” part) to the equally confirmed theory of evolution (the selection and common ancestor part).

Mr. Bowman, and probably many of the Texas SboE, thinks this is all somehow in doubt.

It is not.

The current effort in evolutionary biology is to produce a new “new synthesis” of developmental biology (embryology) and evolutionary theory. So while the TSBoE is fighting for creationism, they are denying what was resolved over seventy years ago, and totally missing what is right in front of their faces.

“Washbasin” wrote, “One would have to wonder where you would include the factual findings of science that suggests Divine Creationism. Every one is ready to pick up the theory of evolution without enough facts available to make a final conclusion. In fact, some who have fine credentials, fail to have common sense. If a leader or educator; why would I allow him to push his conclusions on to me. He is not a survivalist, he is weak, he spouts science but does not use final scienctific documentation to complete the theory propect to a final scienctific conclusion without taking the same liberties that a Creationist view point has to use.
In fact, a Creationist viewpoint will do better in and among Nature. Nature can be cruel. But it is what we have here on this Planet, we call Earth. Nature will render all things to you. Even lessons that point to intelligent design or what some have tired to dirty a line of science which can be called, Creationism.”

Mr. Washbasin, your notion that scientists “can not learn enough to survive on his own in Nature.” is not relevant to the discussion. It is moreover incorrect. All the biologists, archaeologists, geologists, and paleontologists I know are very competent in the field. We all need the skills necessary to not only survive (well) but at the same time conduct our research. Since we need to be able to work where ever there is data to be had, from the bottoms of seas to the tops of mountains, we have (or rapidly gain) the skill set required. In the last decade I have worked with students in tropical jungles, deserts, mountains, caves, on the ocean, in tiny villages and urban slums. We all got our jobs done without any serious casualties while dealing peacefully with rattlesnakes, mountain lions and drunks. (Dang those mosquitoes though).

Personally, I have collected data that helped confirm evolutionary theory for over 35 years now. I have used guns, hunting dogs, fishing rods, backhoes, front loaders, trucks, microscopes, computers, shovels, picks- both pickaxes and dental, nuclear reactors, chemistry labs, and even the kitchen sink. This is not unusual for a field scientist.

Finally, you are mistaken that there is any data supporting creationism.

Carpenter wrote, “The fossil record does not show macroevolution but a series of extinctions followed shortly (in evolutionist terms) by new life bearing no resemblence to the former. This is not religion but observation of the scientific data. Darwin who observed microevolution (intraspecie change) made the massive leap of faith (YES FAITH) to macroevolution (interspecie change). He predicted innumerable transitional life forms would be discovered but ifr any have been the record is paltry at best. By Darwin's own admission, this would disprove macroevolution.

The problem with teaching creationism is that this is meant young earth/universe creationism, which is biblically unnecessary and scientifically absurd. The Hebrew "yom" can mean anything from a 24hour day to an eon. If yom is translated "period" instead of "day" there is no conflict with a 4+ billion year old earth and a much older universe.

It is this form of creationism which should be taught as an reasonable alternative. The scientific consensus is that the universe began with a hot big bang and has continued to expand. If it had a beginning it had to have a "beginner" or you are left with the proposition that nothing plus nobody equals everything.”

Mr. Carpenter, I am going to make a big guess that you have never personally studied the fossil record of any taxonomic group in any detail. I will guess that you have never worked in field recovery of fossils, or in laboratory preparation of fossils, or in the systematic analysis of fossils. I will bet that you have never published or taught college level courses about fossils.

How am I doing?

I have done each of those things, and I am not that unusual. There is more than ample evidence for smooth change (Darwin’s gradualism) in the fossil record. Large land animals are more difficult to fossilze, find and prepare, and so those data will never match that available for tiny marine critters like foramifera or even mollusks. It doesn’t matter because the general principles are identical.

Here is the big difference between the manure that, “Students need to be able to jump to their own conclusions." (David Bradley, R-Beaumont) and giving them the skills they need to know how evolutionary theory has successfully met all challenges for 150 years. In the sciences, you can simply say, “Go out into the field, or into the laboratory and show me the evidence.” “Teach the controversy,” and the equally dishonest slogan “teach the strength and weaknesses” won’t educate.

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