Sunday, April 8, 2007

Faith and Science

In my last blog on the MySpace version, I had the following comment:

"None of this can ever be proven. So what must you have in your theorys? FAITH. You really have no evidence of transitonal fossils, Have not found the missing link between human and ape....."

My rebuttal was scathing, and rightfully so. First, Science does not deal in proof. Never has, never will. Science is about explaining observations, coming up with a provisional explanation which explains the data. As to this person's assertion that there are no transitional fossils, that's baloney. Go to any museum of natural history and you will see (literally) tons of them. There are many lineages which have demonstrated the progression to new forms. The development of the horse, dinosaurs to birds, the whale from land to sea mammal, and many others have been clearly delineated. Indeed, Evolutionary Theory predicted that such intermediary forms existed and where they would be found in the fossil record. This is the ultimate test of any theory and in this the Theory of Natural Selection has been astoundingly successful. The human evolutionary lineage is also remarkably fleshed out, despite this person's belief. It is very difficult to find such fossils, though we have and continue to add to our knowledge when a new fossil is found.

This commentor also ignores (or is perhaps unaware of) the fact that while the fossil record is of great interest in the verification of Evolution, it is not all that important. Darwin did not have fossils to work from when he wrote his great opus, the 'Origin of Species'. He was using comparative morphology. Just as important has been the development of molecular genetic techniques to look at and even time branching in the phylogenetic tree. Using the molecular clock, for instance, molecular genetics has shown that champanzees and man have a common ancestry which split some six million years ago. All of this data fits together elegantly. When you have different techniques from completely different areas fitting together like that you know you have a very robust theory.
Could the Theory of Natural Selection be wrong? Yep. What is the likelihood of it being wrong? About the same as a tornado going through a junkyard and spontaneously assembling a 747. ToE is correct far beyond any doubt, let alone reasonable doubt. Any protestations by those that take the a literal interpretation of the Bible are simply the weak, desperate cries of those drowning in a sea of the untruths they seem incapable of divesting themselves of.

But I did say one thing in response that was incorrect: that there is no faith in Science. As Sam Harris has pointed out, there is faith at some level in Science. But this kind of faith can not be equated with religious faith. Let's take a look at a couple of examples to illustrate this point. Let's say that I want something from a department store and I need it by this evening, but I have no time to go out and get it. So, I ask a reliable friend to take some of my hard earned cash and buy it for me. I certainly would not ask a complete stranger to do this, so why do I ask my friend? Simple. This friend has a track record of doing similar things for me. This is faith. I have faith that my friend will accomplish the task that he/she has agreed to do.

Now, let's take a look at the second example. Let's say the manual for my SVT Focus says that my car can fly. Truly fly long distances, not just when going over hilly terrain. But it also says that it will only do this when there is no one in the car, and no one is looking. Any reasonable person would be skeptical about this, wouldn't they? But if you take a literal interpretation of the manual, you would say that it does. Why? Because it says so right in the manual, of course! The correctly skeptical person would require evidence that the manual is correct, but a literal interpretationist does not. Is this literal interpretation faith? Absolutely not. It is BLIND FAITH, a completely different animal. It is belief without substance, and is therefore totally unreliable. Can blind faith ever be correct? Sure it can. By accident. But look at the number of faiths in the world today, which falls in the thousands. Let's say that one is correct. Even if you are a believer you have only a small chance of being right. Those odds drop vastly farther when dead religions are included in the calculation.

There is a vast difference in the type of faith that is in Science from that which Believers hold. In fact, we have confidence in Theories (note the use of 'T' here) because they explain observations, make testable predictions, and are falsifiable. Faith is more about the methodologies used in Science, not in the actual theories themselves. Blind faith can be correct only by accident, and is NEVER right.

5 comments: said...

Let the scientists speak for themselves ...

... on missing links.

‘Palaeoanthropologists seem to make up for a lack of fossils with an excess of fury, and this must now be the only science in which it is still possible to become famous just by having an opinion. As one cynic says, in human palaeontology the study of fossils the consensus depends on who shouts loudest.’

J.S. Jones, Department of Genetics and Biometry, University College, London, in a book review. Nature, Vol. 345, May 31, 1990, p. 395.

‘… I fully agree with your comments on the lack of direct illustration of evolutionary transitions in my book. If I knew of any, fossil or living, I would certainly have included them. You suggest that an artist should be used to visualise such transformations, but where would he get the information from? I could not, honestly, provide it, and if I were to leave it to artistic licence, would that not mislead the reader?
’I wrote the text of my book four years ago. If I were to write it now, I think the book would be rather different. Gradualism is a concept I believe in, not just because of Darwin’s authority, but because my understanding of genetics seems to demand it. Yet Gould and the American Museum people are hard to contradict when they say there are no transitional fossils. As a palaeontologist myself, I am much occupied with the philosophical problems of identifying ancestral forms in the fossil record. You say that I should at least “show a photo of the fossil from which each type of organism was derived.”? I will lay it on the line- there is not one such fossil for which one could make a watertight argument. The reason is that statements about ancestry and descent are not applicable in the fossil record. Is Archaeopteryx the ancestor of all birds? Perhaps yes, perhaps no there is no way of answering the question. It is easy enough to make up stories of how one form gave rise to another, and to find reasons why the stages should be favoured by natural selection. But such stories are not part of science, for there is no way of putting them to the test. ‘So, much as I should like to oblige you by jumping to the defence of gradualism, and fleshing out the transitions between the major types of animals and plants, I find myself a bit short of the intellectual justification necessary for the job …’

Dr Colin Patterson, a senior palaeontologist at the British Museum of Natural
Ref: Patterson, personal communication. Documented in Darwin’s Enigma, Luther Sunderland, Master Books, El Cajon, CA, 1988, pp. 88–90.

Did you catch the part about "I will lay it on the line- there is not one such fossil for which one could make a watertight argument."

And finally on Faith and Science:

Dr Scott Todd, an immunologist at Kansas State University:

‘Even if all the data point to an intelligent designer, such an hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic’
Todd, S.C., correspondence to Nature 401(6752):423, 30 Sept. 1999.

Shamelessly Atheist said...

LACK OF FOSSILS?!?!?!? That's laughable! You find a couple of people (and really, they are an vanishingly insignificant minority) and quote mine them. I'm SOOOOOO impressed. When even ONE fossil becomes an insurmountable problem for fundamentalist creationism, we have COMPLETE lineages for so many lines of evolution (eg, dinosaurs to birds, land mammals to whales, etc.), such protestations are just whining.

As to Science using only naturalistic explanations- I make absolutely no apologies for that. Why? IT WORKS!!!!!! Period! I mean, when we observe something that has yet to be explained, how far would Science get if we just took the easy road and invoked 'Goddidit'? Nowhere. If you invoke it in one place, why not everywhere? It's pathetic and I feel nothing but derision for that kind of intellectual laziness.

God is supposed to be a big, BIG effect, yet every where we look we find explanations for what we see that have no need of the miraculous. There is not one shred of evidence for 'intelligent design'. Not one. All the Discovery Institute can seem to produce is disingenuous attacks on ToE, which in no way is positive evidence for ID.

God was invented to explain natural phenomena, such as our existence, lightning and thunder, etc. In this, it has FAILED. QED. said...

{There are many lineages which have demonstrated the progression to new forms,} you've said. Let's take a look at some of these. Dinosaurs to birds: hmmm, Archaeopteryx is said to have existed 140 to 150 million years ago, while its ancestors are said to have existed 120 to 136 million years ago. Land mammal to whales: Pakecitus no longer is the transitional fossil it once was. Originally shown as a sea creature, it now looks like a giant rat ( Hardly transitional. What about human evolution? Homo habilis is now going the way of the monkey, no longer homo but now Australopithecus - possibly an ancestor to apes only, according to wikipedia. Remember Lucy? You can go see her models of her in musuems, walking on two feet, amazingly human feet. They never found her feet, actually. Now it has become evident that other animals in her her Genus were not human like and weren't bi-pedal. I hope you relize the truth about Piltdown man (hoax) and Nebraska man (pig's tooth). How about Neanderthals? Fossils in Europe are showing that they weren't a seperate species, but they interbred with 'modern' looking humans ( Horses, once shown as the most straightforward and convincing case for evolution, has gone from a straight line to bushy, with more reshuffling and gaps as more evidence is found. The orgininal horse, Eohippus or dawn horse, isn't the beginnings of a horse, but a rock badger or coney at best as shown by Gerald A. Kerkut in Implications of Evolution (page 146-149). It's classification, Hyracotherium, is more of a rodent. The variations in the horse fossils can be found in modern horses, even three toed horses, which are said to be ancestors to the modern horse, have been seen alive (O.C. Marsh, ‘Recent polydactyle horses,’ American Journal of Science 43:339–354, 1892).

{When even ONE fossil becomes an insurmountable problem for fundamentalist creationism} ... like what?

{I mean, when we observe something that has yet to be explained, how far would Science get if we just took the easy road and invoked 'Goddidit'?} Western science flourished because of Christianity. "However, the whole basis for modern science depends on the assumption that the universe was made by a rational creator. Dr Stanley Jaki has documented how the scientific method was still-born in all cultures apart from the Judeo-Christian culture in Europe [Stanley Jaki, Science and Creation (Edinburgh and London: Scottish Academic Press, 1974)]. An orderly universe makes perfect sense if it was made by an orderly Creator. But if there is no creator, or if Zeus and his gang were in charge, why should there be any order at all?" ( Creation science doesn't say, "I farted. God did it. Excuse him."

{It's pathetic and I feel nothing but derision for that kind of intellectual laziness.} Tell that to the Christian scientists in the following fields:

Physics: Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, Kelvin
Chemistry: Boyle, Dalton, Ramsay
Biology: Ray, Linnaeus, Mendel, Pasteur, Virchow, Agassiz
Geology: Steno, Woodward, Brewster, Buckland, Cuvier
Astronomy: Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Herschel, Maunder
Mathematics: Pascal, Leibnitz

Yep. Lazy. All of them. Believing in a rational creater. Expunge their contributions to science. After all, they believed God made the Earth!

Let's take a look at some rational science. Proteins are said to last in the best possible conditions, one million years, through operational science. That is testable, falsifiable, repeatable science. Then, protein is discovered in partially fossilized dinosaur bones said to be over 65 million years old. What's the conclusions? The operational science, which can be tested, is wrong. The bone cannot be less than a million years old. For an interesting article on this, check out < >. Humour me.

Shamelessly Atheist said...

You use Archaeopteryx as the sole member of that linkage? Try again to learn about the very well represented lineage. What about the transition from land mammal to whale? What I want to know from you is how fleshed out a fossil lineage has to be before a creationist finally caves in and accepts it. My experience with creationists (especially the YEC type) is that no such line exists. Unless there is such a well-defined point its hard to take you seriously. You can always say 'where are the transitional fossils' to the ones already there, but it's utterly disingenuous. You can always make moves like that, but don't expect me to listen. No scientist makes any claim that the data is perfect. In fact I would be suspicious if it were. But creationists jump on that and ignore that the only explanations are naturalistic ones. Check my latest blog on jumping to suprenatural conclusions without evidence. This is a prime example.

Western Science flourished BECAUSE of Christianity? PLEASE! It was suppressed continually by Christianity. Ask Galileo. He was a Christian for most of his life (debatable at the end, but I'll be generous and give it to you...), but he went against the Church's teachings and paid a hefty price for doing Science. Science came about DESPITE religion, and most certainly not BECAUSE of it. That the founders of modern Science (excluding the ancient Greeks) were Christians is not even relevant. Everybody back then was a Christian or you were executed. Your quote, "However, the whole basis for modern science depends on the assumption that the universe was made by a rational creator. Dr Stanley Jaki has documented how the scientific method was still-born in all cultures apart from the Judeo-Christian culture in Europe [Stanley Jaki, Science and Creation (Edinburgh and London: Scottish Academic Press, 1974)]. An orderly universe makes perfect sense if it was made by an orderly Creator. But if there is no creator, or if Zeus and his gang were in charge, why should there be any order at all?" Are you trying to tell me that the ancient Greeks had nothing to do with this? The Romans had no Science? That's a LAUGH! And no, a creator is unnecessary to the formation of the universe. Sorry. There are a number of known processes which occur without any cause and the universe at the beginning had all of the properties necessary for the same event to occur.

As to those scientist you list, they were (in their respective fields) not lazy at all. But when it came to their religious beliefs, indeed the sloth overflows. What evidence for their position did they have? Where did they look? Newton (he was in point of fact, quite heretical, by the way) developed his laws of motion from observation. Where did he get his theology from? The Bible. Word of God? There is no substantiation for this whatsoever. THAT IS LAZY. They just accept it without question, something they would NEVER do in their respective fields.

On to the T. rex protein. Science is replete with examples of being wrong about possibilities. No one thought that adaptive optics was possible till someone actually did it, for example. But did you bother to read the original paper? "We hypothesize that these molecular fragments are preserved because reactive sites on the original protein molecules became irreversibly cross-linked, both to similar molecules and to mineral or exogenous organic components. These
cross-linking reactions may have been initiated by unstable metal ions that formed free radicals, which in turn reacted with organic molecules to form polymers. We propose that the unstable metal ions were derived from the post mortem degradation of iron-containing dinosaur biomolecules such as hemoglobin, myoglobin, and possibly cytochromes. Once stabilized by these cross-linking reactions, the
molecules were no longer available as substrates for further degradative reactions." A plausible mechanism for the (partial) survival of protein was given.

And, yes. Creation Science (as if these two words can be linked together in a positive fashion) has no evidence for its position, makes no predictions that can be tested, and amounts to 'Goddidit' and no more.

Shamelessly Atheist said...

Actually, I'll take back that Kelvin was lazy. He actually tried to show that the age of the Earth was in line with a young Earth. He was just a victim of being wrong. He was missing a mechanism for heating of the Earth's core, but even after the discovery of radioactivity and its implications on the effect of core heating, he maintained that his estimates were correct.