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The Fact of and Facts About Evolution - Comments

Philoctetes                                        's Avatar Comment 1 by Philoctetes

Noah's Ark? I know some people do take it literally, but surely the majority of judeo/christians do not. It is irritating when believers recognising the bollox apologise with "It's only an allegory" as they cherry pick in their psychoanalysis of their god. Now I was a church-goer when I was young, but I can't ever recall believing any of the rituals and readings and (this is the point) assumed that no one else did either. So when the idiotic stuff like Noahs Ark came up, I just took it for granted that this was clearly not true but was a parable/allegory or a myth, there to explain some sort of truth. But the trouble with these obscurantist "truths" is they are pretty weird. The problem with confronting people of faith is that we can get all but the most cretinous to shrug at the supernatural, but we cannot get them to see that the "Truth" behind the allegory shows the OT God to be a total arsehole (to paraphrase P. 31 of the God Delusion)

Mon, 04 Oct 2010 21:56:59 UTC | #528950

Charisma's Avatar Comment 2 by Charisma

Wonderful! Was this filmed? Any chance it will be posted here on RDFRS or on Youtube?

Mon, 04 Oct 2010 21:59:18 UTC | #528952

bird on the wire's Avatar Comment 3 by bird on the wire

I am full of admiration for Richard Dawkins and his seeming untiring patience. The sheer fact of STILL having to explain generally accepted facts on par with that the Earth really isnt flat and that the holocaust really did happen. I would go ballistic!

Mon, 04 Oct 2010 22:05:56 UTC | #528953

MauiHorse's Avatar Comment 4 by MauiHorse

While it never seemed necessary to engage a campaign to call atoms a fact or gravity a fact, I understand why it sometimes it seems warranted to stop calling evolution a theory and call it a fact (atoms, gravity and evolution are certainly all facts in the colloquial sense).

Of course chemists and physicists don’t have to constantly battle Bible literalists the way biologists do, but I think part of the problem has to do with phrasing. We say atomic theory, not the theory of atoms, gravitational theory, not the theory of gravity. Why not make a concerted effort to encourage the use of “evolutionary theory” instead of the “theory of evolution”. Also, it doesn’t help when biologists and other scientists use the word “theory” for ideas yet tested when they really intended to use “hypothesis” and should probably be more careful given the wanton misunderstanding among the ranks of the religious as well as many lay people.

Mon, 04 Oct 2010 22:14:58 UTC | #528959

Daisy Skipper's Avatar Comment 5 by Daisy Skipper

Comment 1 by Philoctetes Noah's Ark? I know some people do take it literally, but surely the majority of judeo/christians do not.

From my experience, this isn't true. My family are 'weak' christians and most never go to church. But when asked questions like that, they awkwardly admit they do believe. Cognitive dissonance to be sure. The trick that my family and many others I know use, is to just not put too much thought into it. That way, you spare yourself the uncomfortable feeling of having to evaluate facts you've known since a child.

I prefer to think of it as mental laziness rather than stupidity.

Mon, 04 Oct 2010 22:26:37 UTC | #528965

Musicmancz's Avatar Comment 6 by Musicmancz

It seemed that this reporter spun his talk in a negative light. Especially with her portrayal of the last questioner, to whom Dawkins didn't explicitly say no, but did have the caveat of the motivations behind secular and religious aid.

Mon, 04 Oct 2010 22:31:49 UTC | #528967

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 7 by AtheistEgbert

I must agree with bird on the wire, that we owe so much to Professor Dawkins for his passionate and tireless campaign against religion and for science and reason. I really hope he enjoys what he is doing while feeling proud of just what effect he is having in the world.

There seems to be a great tide turning away from religion and a kind of momentum generated by this great number of atheists, who are not only interested in truth but want to actively change our civilisation for the better.

And this is an important thing to recognise: we want to actively do something for the better, generate a legacy that provides a better life than the horror of the religious legacy.

Mon, 04 Oct 2010 22:47:50 UTC | #528972

Daniel Schealler's Avatar Comment 8 by Daniel Schealler

Comment 4 by MauiHorse :

While it never seemed necessary to engage a campaign to call atoms a fact or gravity a fact, I understand why it sometimes it seems warranted to stop calling evolution a theory and call it a fact (atoms, gravity and evolution are certainly all facts in the colloquial sense).

Of course chemists and physicists don’t have to constantly battle Bible literalists the way biologists do, but I think part of the problem has to do with phrasing. We say atomic theory, not the theory of atoms, gravitational theory, not the theory of gravity. Why not make a concerted effort to encourage the use of “evolutionary theory” instead of the “theory of evolution”. Also, it doesn’t help when biologists and other scientists use the word “theory” for ideas yet tested when they really intended to use “hypothesis” and should probably be more careful given the wanton misunderstanding among the ranks of the religious as well as many lay people.

Unfortunately, I think you've side-stepped the point.

Preachers, priests, imams, and various evangelicals love to announce:

All the textbooks, they call it the theory of evolution. Never the fact of evolution. Not the law of evolution. Evolution is only a theory.

That is what we're combating against. Calling it 'evolutionary theory' won't do anything to discourage this kind of claim.

I've found from my own experience discussing this issue with creationists that a good way to frame it is something like this:

We can show a set of hard evidence that demonstrates that all living organisms fall within a hierarchal structure that branches over time into a set of nested clades. I will give this evidence in a moment. This evidence will verify what we can call the fact of evolution.

(explain what 'set of nested clades' means here)

When we try to explain why evolution happens in a way that leads to testable, falsifiable, and accurate predictions, that's when we start dealing with the theory of evolution.

As regards to the fact of evolution, we have the following mutually reinforcing lines of evidence: Comparative taxonomy, geographical distribution of species, molecular biology, developmental biology, paleontology, observed instances of speciation in the lab and in nature, etc, etc, etc.

The theory of evolution have led to predictions X, Y and Z which were validated successfully. Potential plausible findings that could easily disprove evolution include P, Q, and R, but they have never come up.

This kind of framing typically gets a much better response. Patiently explaining that 'theory' in the context of science doesn't mean 'idle speculation' is usually interpreted as evasion.

Tying it back directly to facts and evidence is the way to go. Once that's been done, then we can explain the difference between the folk and the scientific uses of the word 'theory'.

(For any creationists falling through here, I'd be happy to elaborate the glossed-over portions of this argument if requested).

Mon, 04 Oct 2010 22:49:06 UTC | #528974

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 9 by Alan4discussion

If any one is interested in the realistic origins of the Noah's Flood Myth, there is a good article on this link to the National Geographic Magazine site. The stories of various floods seem to be mixed up in the Bible version of the story, but this one has some evidence. The flooding of the Black Sea basin happened about 7000 years ago.

Flood myths and the theory of Noah and the Black Sea Flood

Mon, 04 Oct 2010 22:50:36 UTC | #528975

alaskansee's Avatar Comment 10 by alaskansee

@ Alan4dis

I was amazed when I first heard about the black sea flood event. What an amazing geological occurrence, it would have been incredible to witness it. Clearly no need to incite a deity.

It reminds me of the River in Pakistan/India that recently changed direction, another chance to see something truly geological happen in front of our eyes.

Mon, 04 Oct 2010 23:06:03 UTC | #528979

InYourFaceNewYorker's Avatar Comment 11 by InYourFaceNewYorker

Blessing of the pets? Uh... scusie? That IS a joke, right?

And as for Richard, here's a succinct quote from Albert Einstein:

"The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives."

Julie

Mon, 04 Oct 2010 23:36:28 UTC | #528985

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 12 by Neodarwinian

I do not care much for calling the theory of evolution by natural selection a fact. Facts have their uses but are dull and uninteresting. Theories encompass facts and explain them. Why chuck a perfectly good name for a explanatory frame work supported by much evidence for something that explains nothing? That is fact. Keep the honorable name theory and shove it down creationist throats if they insist on the vulgar meaning. My dictionary, and any good dictionary, has as its primary meaning the scientific meaning of theory.

Mon, 04 Oct 2010 23:47:57 UTC | #528987

Philoctetes                                        's Avatar Comment 13 by Philoctetes

An excellent book on floods and flood mythology is Stephen Oppenheimer's "Eden of the East". Basic premise is that the end of the ice age caused rising sea levels and floods which were locally significant, no where more so than in SE Asia round about 7-8,000 years BCE. He postulates that these people played a major role in the genesis of subsequent Middle Eastern myths. Good scientific evidence including genetic anomalies with darwinian insights, and sound anthropology. Can't recommend it too highly

Tue, 05 Oct 2010 00:00:26 UTC | #528992

Daniel Schealler's Avatar Comment 14 by Daniel Schealler

Comment 12 by Neodarwinian :

I do not care much for calling the theory of evolution by natural selection a fact. Facts have their uses but are dull and uninteresting. Theories encompass facts and explain them. Why chuck a perfectly good name for a explanatory frame work supported by much evidence for something that explains nothing? That is fact. Keep the honorable name theory and shove it down creationist throats if they insist on the vulgar meaning. My dictionary, and any good dictionary, has as its primary meaning the scientific meaning of theory.

The problem here isn't so much the creationists themselves (although that is a problem).

The problem here is the audience of the creationists.

They are the ones that we're trying to reach, and they are the ones that find the distinction between 'fact' and 'theory' to be persuasive.

If the creationist claims: "Evolution is not a fact, it's only a theory."

Response A) "You don't know what theory means - use your dictionary."

Response B) "Actually, evolution is a fact, and here's a whole bunch of evidence to back that up. Also, you don't know what theory means - use your dictionary."

You're correct that A) is all we need to give if we want to demonstrate to a scientifically literate audience that the creationist's argument is false.

But if we want to appeal to an audience of people that are not scientifically literate - which we can infer given that they are persuaded by the notion that 'facts' are more important than 'theories' - then B) must be more persuasive than A).

It depends on the ultimate goal. If we just want to tell creationists to buzz off, then we can do things your way.

If we want to appeal to the audience of the creationists, we need to be a bit more cunning.

Tue, 05 Oct 2010 02:15:52 UTC | #529021

Roedy's Avatar Comment 15 by Roedy

"He spoke about the family trees that linked all animals and how some would argue that "God deliberately deceived us." Maybe God did, Dawkins conceded. But if so, "I'm not sure if that is the kind of God you want to worship," he said."

You could also answer for the incorrigibly Christian, "If God tried to fool you, who are you to try to disbelieve him? He wants you to stay fooled! It would be like shouting 'The rabbit is in his pocket' at a magic show."

Tue, 05 Oct 2010 02:33:22 UTC | #529028

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 16 by Neodarwinian

Actually, Daniel, evolution, the change in allele frequency over time in a population of organism, is a fact. The theory of evolution by natural selection is the theory that goes a long way in explaining that fact.

To confuse the two, I think, is to confuse those " fence sitting '' scientific illiterates you seem to think worthy of reaching. My only ultimate goal is that science triumph over superstitious nonsense, whether of the religious right creationist, or over the secular creationist left. A bit of education in the subtleties strikes my fancy better than a bit of cunning.

Tue, 05 Oct 2010 03:29:31 UTC | #529040

SteveN's Avatar Comment 17 by SteveN

Just to emphasis Neodarwinian's point, evolution is both a fact and a theory in the same way that we have the 'fact' of gravitational effect and a 'theory' (albeit rather weak) of how it operates. I suspect that even if there had never been a Darwin or a Wallace and nobody else in the intervening 150 years had come up with their 'dangerous idea', we would still have the overwhelming evidence for the fact of evolution but no solid theory of the mechanism.

Tue, 05 Oct 2010 04:46:02 UTC | #529052

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 18 by Jos Gibbons

Wikipedia gets in on the act with a full article on evolution as theory and fact and even makes the gravity comparison. I'm so glad they drop that NPOV nonsense with evolution (even if they deny doing so).

Tue, 05 Oct 2010 06:00:43 UTC | #529061

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 19 by Stevehill

OK, I've never done postgraduate science, but what's to stop some great and good scientists all agreeing that henceforth they will refer to the Theory of Evolution as the Law of Evolution?

A handful of hired guns on the Discovery Institute payroll would object, but they shamelessly sold their souls ages ago and can be safely ignored: surely weight of numbers would prevail? Then the popular press etc would fall into line, and we can simply ditch the (frankly unhelpful) "theory" word.

(It's only unhelpful because idiots misunderstand it. But changing the word is easier than educating three billion idiots).

Tue, 05 Oct 2010 06:43:19 UTC | #529072

Greyman's Avatar Comment 20 by Greyman

Comment 19 by Stevehill :

OK, I've never done postgraduate science, but what's to stop some great and good scientists all agreeing that henceforth they will refer to the Theory of Evolution as the Law of Evolution?

Because the terms "Law" and "Theory" have an agreed and very definite meaning in all branches of science, and changing either because cdesign proponentists deliberately conflate it with one common usage in order to bamboozel the willfully uneducated is arse backwards.

Tue, 05 Oct 2010 07:13:44 UTC | #529080

Stafford Gordon's Avatar Comment 21 by Stafford Gordon

Great stuff, straight from the shoulder.

Hail the recurrent laryngeal nerve. As the late lamented English comedian Eric Morecambe used to say to his partner Ernie Wise "get out of that!"

Tue, 05 Oct 2010 08:24:31 UTC | #529096

Jason72's Avatar Comment 22 by Jason72

Unfortunately we now have the "fastest growing" religion annoucing that many scientific facts were already in their holy book, but due to the nature of the "religion of peace" no one is prepared to question this, so many take it on face value.

It's this attitude that science has to constantly fight against and defend itself from.

Tue, 05 Oct 2010 08:29:36 UTC | #529097

ev-love's Avatar Comment 23 by ev-love

I was amazed to find that The "Alpha Course", so heartily recommended by the C kof E and others,teaches that evolution is "only a theory" which is "not accepted by all scientists".

It shouldn't be too hard for them. Gravity’s “only a theory”, but creationists tend to assume the planes they fly on will come down again; germs are “only a theory” but creationists still wash their hands!

ev-love

Tue, 05 Oct 2010 08:55:46 UTC | #529105

Tony123's Avatar Comment 24 by Tony123

Comment 7 by AtheistEgbert :

I must agree with bird on the wire, that we owe so much to Professor Dawkins for his passionate and tireless campaign against religion and for science and reason. I really hope he enjoys what he is doing while feeling proud of just what effect he is having in the world.

From a strictly scientific point of view - the only one that really counts - Richard Dawkins and his associates, in their tireless quest to dispel the counter-evolutionary claims of literalistic bible Christians, are actually rendering a valuable service to the Church.

From across the Atlantic we are seeing the arrival on our shores of the first missionaries - Catholic and non-Catholic alike - of creationism and intelligent design, eager to convert what Christians remain on this island to their doctrine.

I can only hope that this sign of apparent failure on the part of Darwinists will spur them on to concentrate their efforts on explaining the science of evolution in the public domain.

Tue, 05 Oct 2010 09:02:00 UTC | #529109

VenomFGX's Avatar Comment 25 by VenomFGX

Comment 19 by Stevehill

OK, I've never done postgraduate science, but what's to stop some great and good scientists all agreeing that henceforth they will refer to the Theory of Evolution as the Law of Evolution?

Stevehill..in the context of science the word theory and law means the same thing. You must realise that the word "theory" in any scientific paradigm is vastly different from that used in every day life, which might mean a hunch or a guess. Basically put, in science the word theory means the highest order of support for an idea there is, with a huge amount of evidence, peer review.

On a personal note I think the word Law has connotations of something written in stone and unchangeable, whereas science theories are open to interpretation, modification and change. This is the nature of the beast. Cheers VFX

Tue, 05 Oct 2010 10:06:17 UTC | #529137

Philoctetes                                        's Avatar Comment 26 by Philoctetes

The non-scientific meaning of "Theory" has been freely incorporated into faith based dogma where it was originally known as "Theoryology" later shortened to "Theology"

Tue, 05 Oct 2010 11:13:42 UTC | #529179

crookedshoes's Avatar Comment 27 by crookedshoes

Look, Evolution is a theory. It bastardizes our schema to artificially elevate it to a law. I have a different proposal for how to handle the need to reform the education of the public. I think it should be generally agreed upon that the science I have loved and studied for 25 years is no longer referred to as "Biology". Bio courses all across the globe should change their title to "EVOLUTION". Because after all, if you are studying biology; you are studying evolution. That's how we accomplish what we want.

Tue, 05 Oct 2010 13:53:12 UTC | #529253

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 28 by Alan4discussion

Comment 27 by crookedshoes

I think this is a good idea provided we can distinguish bio-evolution from cosmological evolution, and fit in biogenesis somewhere. There is also the issue of the interaction of the physical/chemical environment with bio-evolution.

Tue, 05 Oct 2010 15:57:16 UTC | #529359

crookedshoes's Avatar Comment 29 by crookedshoes

Alan4, I am totally open to your suggestions. I like the ring of Bio-evolution. I have never studied something that isn't evolving. Even history (sadly enough) look to Texas for a lesson on the evolution of history as they vote to rewrite the history books. As an extension lets add evolution to the end of every subject's name!!! Algerbevolution...geometrevolution...anyway. My original (and serious) premise would (i think) serve us well. BIO EVOLUTIOBN it is!

Tue, 05 Oct 2010 16:37:11 UTC | #529396

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 30 by Alan4discussion

Comment 29 by crookedshoes

I like Bio-Evolution. I am also interested in planetary evolution (Earth and others inc. moons) and of course the evolution of the Solar System. (Can't think of a name for that one!). As we discussed briefly on another thread, I find the evolution of the Earth/Moon System fascinating.(Physical and Bio)

Tue, 05 Oct 2010 18:14:24 UTC | #529462