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08/15/2005

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Palooka

"there are two assumptions here: first, that the ID position is credible; second, that assuming it is, it could be beneficially taught to children."

Well, I don't know if the entire "position" is credible. Remember, I did criticize the conclusiosn of ID proponents. I said the critiques of evolutionary theory could be taught.

Here is a hypothetical: A biology teacher does a lesson on ID theory. He explains the various criticisms (which to him have at least some merit), and then counters it with what the best in the field (Dawkins, et al) have to say to those reponses. He asks why might the conclusions of ID be subject to criticism that it's not true science--that is, it seeks a supernatural explanation via an "intelligent designer." Would a lesson like this be beneficial or not?

It's my understanding that the Scopes trial was fought by the ACLU on the basis of academic freedom, not establishment issues. Yet today the ACLU would rob our teachers and our children of exactly that, the academic freedom to explore alternatives to orthodoxy.

nate


maybe it is providence that kept it from posting

we may need a 10 commandments (guidelines) for blogging

nate


One more: thank you for pointing me to Hume. I never heard of his work prior to this blog.

Robert Schwartz

Corey wrote: "Well settled or not, its pretty easy to critique and unmask the motivations of the people who settled PI in Slaughterhouse. Its pretty common Con Law meat in law schools."
The motivations and political leanings of one or more Justices are not grounds for criticizing a judgment of the court. If a professor lets his law students make that type of argument in class, he doing them a severe disservice, because that type of argument presented to a court will get the proponent nothing but a tongue lashing from the judges.
The problem with the rejection of SCOTUS' interpretation of PI, is that it was a well reasoned reading of the words of the 14th Am. This is probably why SCOTUS has let it stand for the last 120 years, and when they have wanted to find a way around it they have relied on other interpretive techniques such as substantive due process.
"You quoted a latin maxim of interpretation, but what about the one that says basically "don't read a clause so as to be practically meaningless"?"

Practically meaningless" Not having the meaning you want and meaningless are different things entirely. Perhaps you should wish to review the list of rights that Justice Peckham set forth above:
to come to the seat of government to assert claims or transact business
to seek the protection of the government or to share its offices;
free access to its seaports, its various offices throughout the country, and to the courts of justice in the several States
to demand the care and protection of the General Government over his life, liberty and property when on the high seas or within the jurisdiction of a foreign government
to peaceably assemble [with others] and petition for a redress of grievances
the writ of habeas corpus,
to use the navigable waters of the United States, however they may penetrate the territory of the several States;
all rights secured to our citizens by treaties with foreign nations
the right to become citizens of any State in the Union by a bona fide residence therein, with the same rights as other citizens of that State,
the rights secured to him by the Thirteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the Constitution.
This catalog is neither insubstantial nor meaningless. As I pointed out the PI clause gives every American Citizen the right, when confronted by a foreign power, to call on the aid of the United States of America. It doesn't get anymore meaningful than that. To the newly freed slaves, the last two items on that list were priceless. I note that the list includes neither abortion nor sodomy, but that does not make it meaningless.

CTW

"I don't know if the entire "position" is credible ... I did criticize the conclusiosn ..."

the issue under discussion (at least I thought) is the credibility of the scientific content of ID; its conclusion is theological and thus clearly inappropriate to a science class.

your hypothetical not only ignores my conditional (on the assumed scientific credibility of ID) concern, viz, the feasibility of presenting the science at the prescribed educational level, but exaccerbates the problem by postulating yet a third phase, the rebuttal ("dawkins et al") to the ID rebuttal (to repeat, using non-existent materials) of the evolutionary theory, which, I assume, must be presented since ID - being largely a counter to evolution - can't exist independently of its target. if my concern is well founded, then the answer is "no, it won't be beneficial". it will be even more a waste of time and might actually discourage confused students from pursuing anything so hopelessly convoluted. and as suggested above, presentation of theological aspects in a science class would be inappropriate.

"the ACLU would rob our teachers and our children of ... the academic freedom to explore alternatives to orthodoxy"

what, pray tell, has the ACLU got to do with this discussion? I can imagine them being involved in the school board debates, but (to repeat) I thought we were addressing the science. in any event, this exemplifies a seemingly widespread confusion between willful disregard for contrary opinion (what I assume you mean by "orthodoxy") and concensus within a community based on current evidence. obviously, not only can such concensus be wrong, any theory will almost certainly be incomplete. but in science, corrections and extensions typically will be accepted if they successfully run the gamut of research, conceptual development, peer review, etc. according to the "experts" (whom I have no reason to doubt, as noted earlier), that has not happened with the ID thesis. its proponents want to go directly from concept to general acceptance without going thru these hurdles. what justifies this free pass?

since you throw in a lot of relevant jargon, I'm curious - was my inference of lay status wrong?

Matt

Palooka

..but this seems to me a great error. One cannot extrapolate microevolution into macroevolution (which requires the creation of NEW genes, not just rearranging existing gene frequency).

All of this is incorrect. Macro- and microevolution are consistent with changes in gene frequencies and neither requires new genes per se. Microevolution can be extrapolated to macroevolution because no mechanism has been found to prevent genetic differences within a species from accumulating over time (microevolution) until a new species can be defined (macroevolution).

The number of known new genes created by random mutation is quite small. Maybe you (or Dawkins) can provide a list of the known random genetic mutations which created a new, viable gene. When you get that list, then be my quest and "extrapolate" on it.

Palooka, this is just a request to jump through hoops which bears no obvious relationship to your original objection. What purpose does it serve?

I have interpreted "viable" to mean "beneficial" to its carrier in a given environment. Known examples of random genetic mutations which created a new, viable gene are described at these links:
http://www.talkorigins.org/origins/postmonth/apr04.html
http://www.talkorigins.org/pdf/faq-intro-to-biology.pdf at p. 9
http://sickle.bwh.harvard.edu/malaria_sickle.html
http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/information/apolipoprotein.html
http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/information/spetner.html
http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/mutations.html#append_2

All but one of these links is to talk.origins archive. It is an extraordinary resource which I highly recommend to you. I can almost guarantee your every objection to evolution and every reason for believing ID is addressed in this archive with references to the literature.

Matt

Palooka

..but this seems to me a great error. One cannot extrapolate microevolution into macroevolution (which requires the creation of NEW genes, not just rearranging existing gene frequency).

All of this is incorrect. Macro- and microevolution are consistent with changes in gene frequencies and neither requires new genes per se. Microevolution can be extrapolated to macroevolution because no mechanism has been found to prevent genetic differences within a species from accumulating over time (microevolution) until a new species can be defined (macroevolution).

The number of known new genes created by random mutation is quite small. Maybe you (or Dawkins) can provide a list of the known random genetic mutations which created a new, viable gene. When you get that list, then be my quest and "extrapolate" on it.

Palooka, this is just a request to jump through hoops which bears no obvious relationship to your original objection. What purpose does it serve?

I have interpreted "viable" to mean "beneficial" to its carrier. Known examples of random genetic mutations which created a new, viable gene are described at these links:
http://www.talkorigins.org/origins/postmonth/apr04.html
http://www.talkorigins.org/pdf/faq-intro-to-biology.pdf at p. 9
http://sickle.bwh.harvard.edu/malaria_sickle.html
http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/information/apolipoprotein.html
http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/information/spetner.html
http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/mutations.html#append_2

All but one of these links is to talk.origins archive. It is an extraordinary resource which I highly recommend to you. I can almost guarantee your every objection to evolution and every reason for believing ID is addressed in this archive with references to the literature.

Palooka

"All of this is incorrect. Macro- and microevolution are consistent with changes in gene frequencies and neither requires new genes per se. Microevolution can be extrapolated to macroevolution because no mechanism has been found to prevent genetic differences within a species from accumulating over time (microevolution) until a new species can be defined (macroevolution)."

Microevolution (usually defined as evolution within a population) is quite distinct from Macroevolution (speciation) in what is required to propel it. The former is due to a well understood, well supported fact. The latter is less understood, and because of its reliance on random mutations to produce great changes (the difference between prokaryote and eukaryote or reptile and mammal must require the addition of many, many new genes, created by random mutations), it is a very different picture. Most of the small scale evolution we observe, for example the breeding of dogs and plants, is due to merely manipulating the content of a species' current gene content rather than the creation of new genes. This is what I meant when saying one can't extrapolate microevolution into macroevolution. The former does not require random genetic mutations and the latter does, at least to explain the great changes.

I want to point out I have no "objections" to evolution. And I don't "believe" ID. I made that very clear in the first post. My point is that while the conclusions of ID seem to fall outside of the history and tradition of science, I don't see every one of ID's critiques as totally without merit. The strongest critique is that found in the challenge to evolution to produce evidence that random mutations are a sufficient mechanism to produce the amount of genes necessary, even given billions of years. The easiest way to do demonstrate this plausibility is by listing the thousands (even millions) of known genetic mutations which have created a beneficial gene. Right now, I see evolutionary theory as falling short in this area. Sorry. I am well aware of the handful of examples, but that is kind of the point. They're a handful of them. I didn't check out your links, but I see you have listed sickle cell anemia. It's a very interesting example, yet it's not a very good one. Yes, sickle cell anemia provides resistance to malaria. It is also a death sentence if you're lucky enough to be homozygous. The heterozygous condition is also debilitating, though it is not a death sentence. Relying on that sort of mutation to demonstrate the enormous potential of evolution is, dare I say, pretty weak.

I would like to point out that in other areas, typical creationist/ID theory is very, very weak. In particular I have in mind the ill-informed assault on radioactive dating methods. But not all ID theory relies on a young earth, so it's wrong to paint with a broad brush.

Palooka

CTW,

Maybe you are right that our teachers and students are just too stupid to digest the debate. Maybe we should keep it simple for them. I do understand where you are coming from. I do NOT think there should be equal time given, or that they should at any time be treated as rivals. But so many speak of ID as some sort of heresy. Really. It's kind of spooky coming from the ACLU and from a scientific community which is supposed to welcome challenges to orthodoxy. I guess I do understand many scientists reluctance to discuss or address ID because they feel it would lend some credibility to it. Maybe it does, but ignoring it seems to me a worse alternative, especially considering its prominence among the population. BTW, your inference of my lay status was not wrong.

Matt

Palooka,

Microevolution (usually defined as evolution within a population) is quite distinct from Macroevolution (speciation) in what is required to propel it...one can't extrapolate microevolution into macroevolution

Well a good number of experts in evolution disagree with that. Dawkins is among them (I apologize for the length of the quote, but it goes directly to your concern). Dawkins writes:

I must mention the alleged distinction between macroevolution and microevolution. I say 'alleged' because my own view is that macroevolution (evolution on the grand scale of millions of years) is simply what you get when microevolution (evolution on the scale of individual lifetimes) is allowed to go on for millions of years. The contrary view is that macroevolution is something qualitatively different from microevolution. Neither view is self-evidently silly. Nor are they necessarily contradictory.

...[I]s macrogrowth the sum of lots of small episodes of microgrowth? Yes. But it is also true that the different timescales impose completely different methods of study and habits of thought. Microscopes looking at cells are not appropriate for the study of child development at the wholebody level...I have no quarrel with a working distinction between microevolution and macroevolution. I do have a quarrel with those people who elevate this rather mundane practical distinction into one of almost - or more than almost - mystical import. There are those who think Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection explains microevolution, but is in principle impotent to explain macroevolution, which consequently needs an extra ingredient - in extreme cases a divine extra ingredient!

...I have discussed the theory of 'punctuated equilibrium' before...so I shall only add that its advocates usually go on to propose a fundamental 'decoupling' between microevolution and macroevolution. This is an unwarranted inference. No extra ingredient needs to be added at the micro level to explain the macro level. Rather, an extra level of explanation emerges at the macro level as a consequence of events at the micro level, extrapolated over unimaginable timespans...I have never seen any good reason to doubt the following proposition: macroevolution is lots of little bits of microevolution joined end to end over geological time, and detected by fossils instead of by genetic sampling. - Ancestor's Tale, pp. 603-5. [emphasis his]


Palooka: I see you have listed sickle cell anemia. It's a very interesting example, yet it's not a very good one. Yes, sickle cell anemia provides resistance to malaria. It is also a death sentence if you're lucky enough to be homozygous.

Yes, but that's the point. Whether a mutation confers advantage depends on the environment its carrier is in, not according to some external yardstick. The persistence of sickle cell anaemia in malaria-infested regions beautifully illustrates this.

Sparrow

I have a hard time with the idea that public schools spend 60% more per child than private schools. In my county, the FY2006 budget calls for $8,423 per pupil. Area private schools generally charge between $10,000 and $15,000. I suspect the fundraising might be a little more expensive on the private side as well.

As far as the ID controversy, ID offers nothing but critique. It has no theory of its own other than some complex'designer' intervened for the things they deem too complex to have evolved. But what designed the designer, which must have been much more incredibly complex than the eye or the flagellum to which IDists often refer.

Matt

I managed to fluff the formatting in my last post. The fourth and fifth paras are Dawkins' words, not mine as implied by the lack of italics.

Palooka

Matt,

I am well aware of the imprecision of referring to micro and macro evolution, when both describe the same process but to different degrees. Even the concept of speciation is slippery and has changed (and is even a subject of debate among scholars).

But none of this has much to do with my point, which I am quite sure you understand, Matt. Small scale evolution, evolution we often observe, is predominately due to changing allele frequency, and not because randomn mutations are occurring all the time and creating new genes. The lack of examples of beneficial random mutations, then, is a real problem in explaining the major, macro-level evolutionary change posited by evolutionary theory. How did a prokaryote become a eukaryote, etc. A lot of NEW genes must have been created, yet we really don't have many examples of beneficial genes occurring from random mutations. That's an inadequacy whether or not you're willing to admit it.

You wrote regarding my comment on sickle cell:

"Yes, but that's the point. Whether a mutation confers advantage depends on the environment its carrier is in, not according to some external yardstick. The persistence of sickle cell anaemia in malaria-infested regions beautifully illustrates this."

Yes. All true. But sickle cell is a DISEASE which happens to have a benefit. That certainly explains its prevalance among Africans, as they were exposed to malaria. But one would have to be pretty deluded, I think, to conclude the sickle cell gene is powerful evidence of the kind of creative potential evolution is supposed to command. This is the process which created the intricate, highly complex animals (including ourselves). Again, I do not quibble that sickle cell demonstrates the concept of natural selection excellently. That is different than saying it's an excellent example of how random mutations can propel evolution forward to ever-greater and more complex designs. Yes, I understand that evolution can be regressive, too. And I understand the incrementalism involved, but I nevertheless believe sickle cell, especially considering its prevalence in discussion, is a rather weak example of a "beneficial" mutation.

CTW

"Maybe you are right that our teachers and students are just too stupid to digest the debate."

a nit - I distinguish ignorant and stupid. my concern is that young students and many HS teachers will be too ignorant (as am I) to properly handle the scientific arguments; that in no way implies that I think these same students and teachers are "stupid" (as I am not).

as in a previous exchange, I don't think we are actually very far apart, but in any event this exchange has helped clarify the issue for me. there seem to be separable issues being subsumed under the catchall "should ID be taught?":

1. should evolution be taught at all
2. should evolution be taught as proven fact
3. should debatable issues about evolution recognized by the relevant scientific community be taught
4. should specific scientific conclusions reached by ID proponents (eg, the complexity argument) be taught
5. should the theological conclusions reached by ID proponents be taught in science classes

there may be legitimate reasons to answer "no" to 1, but objection on religious grounds clearly isn't one. my impression is that the answer to 2 should be "no" for general epistemological reasons as well as due to the status of evolution theory specifically. in principle, the answer to 3 is perhaps "yes", but the final decision should be up to individual teachers, who presumably are best positioned to judge their students' and their own capabilities and the best use of the time available. for reasons stated before, I would answer "no" to 4. and I can't imagine any credible argument for answering other than "no" to 5.

according to the article in today's NYT, some Discovery Institute staff claimed to be leaning towards roughly the same position (at least in the near term), but I'm skeptical since that would seem to be snatching defeat from the jaws of (at least some) victory.

Matt

Palooka

Even if small scale evolution, as you put it, is "predominantly" due to changes in allele frequencies, we can agree at least some positive number of beneficial mutations have been observed to have occurred. So your dispute, I think, is that beneficial mutations are not sufficiently frequent to believe new phyla and complex creatures can emerge in only two billion years.

There is in fact a parallel test of whether "small scale evolution" holds at macroevolutionary timescales in the form of the molecular clock. Observed genetic mutation rates are combined with comparisons of so-called junk DNA between species to estimate the date at which the last common ancestors of two modern species lived. This technique has been extraordinarily successful, and in fact used to predict the existence of fossils, a nice independent test of the technique. Because most living organisms on the planet share at least some DNA, the technique can in principle be used to test for the age of the last common ancestor between any pair of species which possess DNA. So, for junk DNA at least, observed "small scale evolution" holds at macroevolutionary time scales.

The question remains as to whether beneficial mutations can account for all diversity in nature. I think junk DNA and the molecular clock establishes it does. My reasoning is this: because the molecular clock works to a good approximation, it independently confirms the hypothesis that a pair of species once had a common ancestor, and since that common ancestor two unbroken sequences of re-production have come down through the ages side-by-side to eventually produce the pair of species we observe today. Given the existence of a common ancestor and unbroken parallel sequences of ancestry leading up to the two species, it must be the case that all differences between the species are the combined result of mutations - whether beneficial, junk or unhelpful. This, I think, establishes that beneficial random mutations can explain major, macro-level evolutionary change, at least in instances for where the molecular clock works (of which there are many).

Palooka

"Even if small scale evolution, as you put it, is "predominantly" due to changes in allele frequencies, we can agree at least some positive number of beneficial mutations have been observed to have occurred. So your dispute, I think, is that beneficial mutations are not sufficiently frequent to believe new phyla and complex creatures can emerge in only two billion years."

Yes. Again, I am not an ID adherent. I believe evolution is a strong theory supported by a lot of evidence. I have always been fascinated by the subject. But that is not to say there aren't weaknesses with it. I would never advocate ID theory be taught as a peer to evolution, but I just don't believe discussing the theory or various critiques of evolution should be off limits in or out of public school. ID, in my opinion, can't be "taught" in the same way as evolution can be, because there is simply no coherent theory, no scientific consensus. Discussing ID, its weaknesses and even some critiques which may have some merit, seems to me something which can be done in schools.

Brief response to your technical point:
Junk DNA could be used, I think, to estimate the frequency of total random mutations but it doesn't seem to be instructive to the specific question of the quantity of beneficial mutations.

CTW, I think we do pretty much agree.

It's been a good conversation, Matt and CTW. I may check this thread for any further responses, but I think this will be my last post. Ciao.

Palooka

"So your dispute, I think, is that beneficial mutations are not sufficiently frequent to believe new phyla and complex creatures can emerge in only two billion years."

I wanted to clarify one thing. It is not so much I don't believe beneficial random mutations are not frequent enough to explain the origins of new phyla. I believe evolutionary theory is lacking support for that contention.

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