Potentially naive suggestion on how to re-invigorate the debate on evolution

56


Discussion by: binarybastard

Before I begin with my mission statement, I feel it necessary to account for my writing this post. I am a Master’s student of English at a Canadian University, and while I’m obviously not a scientist, I am a keen debater—who frequently turns to the lectures and debates of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Neil Tyson deGrasse for comfort and intellectual stimulation. Perhaps because I’m a stuffy and repressed Canadian, I usually avoid engaging in a debate of any real consequence (perhaps that’s why I picked literature as my field of study), however, given the recent and disturbing trends in political discourse on the theory of evolution, I feel compelled to offer my analysis on the subject and perhaps provide a fresh perspective on the task at hand. Please understand I offer this merely as constructive criticism, rather than disparaging hostility towards the scientific community. I’ve seen, read and even participated in more than a few debates and arguments on the matter, and much of the opposition to evolution seems built upon several critical misapprehensions of the theory that seem in need of rectifying before the debate can progress into avenues of any real scientific value in the popular discourse.

The first is to move the discussion away from Darwin. This is not to deprive the man of credit, simply to address the growing misapprehension that has resulted from linking evolution with Darwin (to the extent that some arguments even use the terms Darwinism and evolution interchangeably). The theory of evolution does not rely on Darwin to verify its accuracy, as if he were some holy prophet, and the book was his scripture. Any objector who uses the terms synonymously should be reminded that the theory of evolution does not require Darwin to legitimate its authority. That is to say, scientists who agree with evolution are not Darwinists, as if Darwin was the sole progenitor of their faith, and without him the theory of evolution would never have come into being. Darwin is not required for evolution to be true. The theory exists independent of any one particular theorist. Indeed, Darwin only published his seminal work (withholding it for years because of his faith and from fear of religious persecution) because his friends warned him he was in danger of being scooped by another scientist, Alfred Russell Wallace (who is woefully neglected in the scientific discussion, but I suppose if we can’t talk about Darwin for now, we shouldn’t go talking about him either). The rhetoric of the argument against Darwinism generally treats the man as the creator of the theory, as if evolution required any man to exist. But as we know, evolution did not suddenly become true because Darwin committed thought to words (unlike the basis of some other systems of thought, I might add).

Even the term theory is a misnomer, so incompatible with conventional language that the term does more harm than good, if only because the public is yet to be properly educated on the difference. While I don’t wish to oversimplify the term, few non-scientific people actually understand that scientific theories do not argue truth—for if they be correct, they are truth. Truth cannot—for obvious reasons—argue for its own truth, since such axiomatic reasoning would require presenting as evidence for truth the very facts that made it true. Instead, external evidence is used to refute the theory, and the lack of refutation suggests the theory’s veracity. That the theory itself contains no evidence for its own truth is a problem of argumentation frequently employed by creationists however, when they enter the bible as evidence for the truth they discovered from reading the bible (which may perhaps account for the misapplication of logic).

It is that hesitation however, “if they be correct”, that distinguishes theory from faith. If a theory is proven to be incorrect, it is discarded as such. Science requires this evolution of ideas, or else its various contradictions would have splintered it into tens of thousands of different sects. That is not to say there are no divisions in scientific circles—surely there are, and there must be, if scientific understanding is to progress—but that they simply represent contentions in current scientific understanding. Scientists do not still debate whether the Sun revolves around the Earth, as scientific evidence has ended that debate. Religion, however, because it can offer no evidence—merely the absence of evidence as evidence itself—can never truly end its debates. We can, for example, never know whether premillenialists got it right versus postmillennialists. Because both arguments rely on their own theory as evidence, there can be no conclusive winner, and indeed such debates continue to this day. Yet any scientist still arguing the heliocentric model of the universe, for example, is quite wisely rejected from the scientific discourse, because they serve only to splinter the debate with useless arguments that do not further the search for truth. They instead rely only on the rejection of accepted evidence, which means they can never offer a sound conclusion. Indeed, if we want to argue that faith exists as evidence of a flat earth, then no amount of argument can disprove that faith. It still relies on what the person believes.

Unfortunately, such fractious arguments have entered the debate on evolution and have stunted the progress of scientific debate, and worse yet have actually resulted in the regression of scientific progress. So, rather than progressing the science, scientists like Richard Dawkins are left to engage in a futile debate against the validity of faith in order to reclaim valuable ground on the truth of evolution lost to such arguments in the first place. This is a losing battle. In its necessary supplication to evidence, science is fighting against a methodology that relies only on the absence of evidence to prove itself. That is to say, by playing by the rules, science offers a vacuum of information that religion is all too willing to fill with anti-information (the nicest term I can provide). Whenever Dawkins is forced to concede “we don’t know why this happens (yet)”, we almost cringe at the necessary admission, because we know, just as quickly as he’s said it that the explanation supplied by the opposition immediately relies on a supernatural phenomenon. (Even Isaac Newton was guilty of this sin in logical deduction.)

Our lack of understanding, however, does not prove the existence of anything other than the fact that we lack sufficient understanding to prove something. Yet the effect of admitting our own ignorance is like arguing in cognitive quicksand. The more you struggle to explain what you don’t know, the more you venture into the unknown depths of truth (where answers no longer lie like gold amongst the riverbank, but must be instead cleaved from the rock of ignorance), and the more purchase is given to the opposition to fill in the void after you (since they seem quite happy to set the market with the few nuggets of gold they’ve already collected off the ground, lest their value be diminished). Obviously, the best way to avoid sinking would be to avoid the quicksand altogether, but since the debate is already up to its waist in a mire of specious arguments and critical misapplications of science and reasoning, we must wiggle our way out now, debate by debate, until we can clamber out, breath a sign of relief, and erect a warning sign to any future travelers who pass this intellectual way again. So how do we go about freeing the argument from the dense sediments of misunderstanding it’s currently submerged in?

When debating the theory of evolution, perhaps there should be a rudimentary framework laid out to distinguish between legitimate questions about the science and invalid objections based on ignorance and a critical misunderstanding of scientific evidence. If they do not meet this vital criteria, they should be barred from the public discourse as they serve only to spread the infectious misunderstanding of the facts. The first criteria for distinguishing between a specious argument and an argument grappling with science should be to determine whether someone’s argument accepts geological time. The biblical literalists, young earth creationists, put the earth at roughly 6,000 years, which means there’s precious little time to allow for the kind of slow and incremental development of species that evolution posits. Geological science puts the age of the Earth at roughly 4.6 billion years, which is obviously a considerably longer length of time, and one that provides a timeframe to allow 98% of all known species that ever existed to go extinct. The timeframe a person uses as the foundation for their argument should serve as a litmus test for determining whether this person intends to engage with science, or whether this person is simply interested in furthering an agenda. So if they accept the geological time, which is obviously the scientifically accepted view, then we move on to the next set of criteria. Do they argue that evolution should be discounted because it cannot explain where life began? This is a frequent argument I’ve noticed, and one which I believe may stem from an erroneous misreading of the title of Darwin’s seminal book on evolution. He does not entitle the work The Origin of THE Species because rather than attempting to account for the origin any one particular species, Darwin’s book instead provides a theory (and this is another term that has been grossly appropriated by the scientifically illiterate to argue that evolution is just a guess, and should be treated as such) by which we may understand how species, any species, may originate.

Returning to argumentation strategies for the theory, it should be made clear that evolution does not theorize the origins of life. This is perhaps the greatest objection to evolution, because evolution obviously doesn’t require any supernatural explanation; species do not arise out of nothing, they are product of a steady series of modifications. Obviously, if we trace the evolution back far enough we arrive at the original causality dilemma, and this seems for many to be the largest impediment to accepting evolution—it offers no argument one way or the other on the origin of life itself. “Well then!” the anti-evolutionists proudly declare as if the argument has been won, “how did the first life form appear? How do you get something out of nothing?” Since science must accept it doesn’t have all the answers, the opposition usually invoke a supernatural cause to supply the answer. If that’s the intellectual gymnastics that are required to account for the origin of life for these people, then so be it. Evolution does not attempt to account for the genesis of life, the universe and everything, as it is commonly misapprehended to purport. It simply accounts for the origin of species. Not any one species in particular, not THE species, but species in general. This is the single most frequently misunderstood concept of evolution, and it must be reclaimed by evolutionary scientists if the theory is to gain any traction in conventional wisdom. I don’t know who first erroneously lumped the two questions together, but ever since, the former question of where did life begin is often used to refute the latter of where a species began, when the latter doesn’t even attempt to answer the former.

Indeed, arguments for the theory don’t even need to accede to the reality of geologic time. Evolution can be seen in the microscopic realm as well. Just recently scientists led by French epidemiologist Renaud Piarroux were able to trace the evolution of a bacterial strain of a cholera outbreak in Haita to a similar cholera outbreak in Nepal from 2010, concluding that the strain reached Haita by the careless disposal of sewage by Nepalese UN workers. Indeed, focusing on how bacteria replicates so quickly that we can actually witness the process of evolution in action would provide a compressed and relatable timespan for people to grasp. Who can conceive of hundreds of millions of years? The number becomes so abstract and vague as to have no cognitive meaning. I can’t identify with one hundred million years, but I can identify with bacterial strains developing resistances in a matter of weeks. The careful bit of explaining will be to not relate the human to a microbe, because if people are already sensitive to the idea that they share any relation to an ape (or chimpanzee as is commonly assumed), they will be presumably insensible to comparisons with a germ (assuming they believe in germs).

The religious people I encounter are for the most part eager to learn the truth about evolution, and are woefully misinformed, usually on the points I’ve outlined. But they want to know the truth; they want to know their faith is not a sham, that they haven’t devoted their lives to a fraud. That evolution has nothing to say whatsoever on the existence of god should give them pause when they consider how violently religious leaders have opposed something so compatible with their own belief system. Why is it that a religion would object so strenuously to a concept that does not in any way disprove the existence of their god? Please do not misunderstand, I do not mean to suppose that evolution proves the existence of any god, simply that evolution does not disprove the existence of god either, merely disproves the credibility of biblical fundamentalism. And it is these fundamentalists who have co-opted the discussion, and allowed it to become a debate about faith, rather than science and reason. And it seems that by allowing them to articulate the points I have outlined to a mass public, scientists have allowed the debate to be diverted. By squabbling over matters of faith, they’ve engaged in a losing battle. Since religion offers no scientific evidence, religious leaders have quite wisely steered the debate away from evidence, and instead have appealed to emotions. After all, who cares whether evolution is true or not, when it means god doesn’t love you, because you’re just an ape, an animal, descended from a fish. Nevermind the logical and deductive fallacies at work here, nevermind the extreme lapse in scientific evidence, nevermind that evolution has nothing to say on the matter whatsoever on what any god thinks or does, the fear tactic works great as a soundbite. And the inability for evolution to offer any correlative (and perhaps rightfully so) means that in the realm of public opinion, the fear tactics are working. Because the fossil record isn’t working, DNA evidence isn’t cutting it. Even after this irrefutable evidence, people are still balking, nearly two centuries after the discovery of evolution. It’s being banned in schools and even in my progressive Roman Catholic high school in Canada (which dared to allow us to believe that transubstantiation may just be metaphorical), evolution was taught under the banner topic of Intelligent Design, where god’s hand was at work in every evolutionary jump (but if that’s what allowed my teachers to talk about evolution comfortably, so be it, I still learned that we were not made of a lump of clay). We must remember, and must make it clear, that the issue of evolution is so clearly a non-issue. By discarding the arguments that circle evolution rather than engage, people would come to see that the only real issue at hand is why it is an issue at all. Science has truth on its side, verifiable, uncontestable evidence, yet the failure of scientists to succinctly shut down the non-arguments of scientific illiterates has allowed these religious fundamentalists to filibuster scientific inquiry, to the extent that we must tread carefully whenever the subject of evolution is even discussed in daily conversation, that the debate over banning the theory of evolution from classrooms is a serious topic rather than a pitiful joke.

I hold no illusions as to the intellectual capabilities of the human race; I don’t presume to know whether scientific truth can even be salvaged for the masses at this point, or whether religious fundamentalism will plunge the human race into another dark age of scientific ignorance. I don’t want my argument to fall into that slippery slope, but then, nor do I want this world to do the same either. So am I crazy? Foolishly naïve? Or hopelessly impassioned about something that can never be? Or am I thankfully behind the times, and the situation is already improving?

56 COMMENTS

  1. First of all, this was a marvelous read. You express your thoughts with delightfully sharp and poetic eloquence. Secondly, I believe that you have inadvertently answered your own question:

    “After all, who cares whether evolution is true or not, when it means god doesn’t love you, because you’re just an ape, an animal, descended from a fish. Nevermind the logical and deductive fallacies at work here, nevermind the extreme lapse in scientific evidence, nevermind that evolution has nothing to say on the matter whatsoever on what any god thinks or does, the fear tactic works great as a soundbite. And the inability for evolution to offer any correlative (and perhaps rightfully so) means that in the realm of public opinion, the fear tactics are working.”

    People are scared. With diseases, natural disasters, death and all other manner of forces out of one’s control, who wouldn’t be? People seek that which comforts them and provides a social solace. This is clearly seen in other human behaviors. Take me, for example. For four years of my life, I was a heavy cigarette smoker. (Thankfully, I have quit.) Did I understand the implications? Yes. Did I feel my health deteriorating? Yes. Did I care about possible contingencies? Yes. Did I stop? No. Why? It gave me pleasure and comfort. It relieved my stress. Religion works in this fashion. To reject the notion that there is an all-loving being that is watching out for you and that has everything under control is to step into the abyss of the unknown. It is to finally become totally and irrevocably responsible for the world around you. Even as a committed atheist, this scares me from time to time. It is very easy to feel alone, powerless and insignificant in the vast oceans of time and space. I, however, care about what is true, not what merely provides reassurance.

    Honestly, I see no way to shift the argument of evolution to a higher, more focused ground. We must remain vigilant and continue to educate the public. They will accept it when they are ready. Intuition tells me that there will come a day when religion will die of natural causes. The global paradigm will shift to a more scientific perspective, and people will realize that such matters are nonsense. I don’t know if we will see such a change in our lifetime, but it will come.

  2. In discussing evolution, there are two forms of debate. There is reasoned and evidenced scientific discussion, with those who respect science and its methods, and then there is fighting the propagandist disinformation put about by fundamentalists.

    For the latter any attempt to give a detailed explanation will fall on deaf ears. Indeed, they will deliberately ask questions requiring complex answers which will be too long and requiring too much background understanding of the subject for a simple minded audience.
    As in any form of education, it is therefore important to know which audience is listening a set the explanation at the correct level of interest and understanding. (You would not try to explain quantum physics or genetics to people with a mental age of five!)

    For professional creationist buffoons, a sharp ridiculing put-down of their claims is effective in front of an audience with some education and intelligence. – As I did with a brief comment here:- http://www.richarddawkins.net/news-articles/2013/8/9/american-atheists-inc-challenges-filmmaker-to-release-unedited-interviews#comment-box-3
    The dedicated ignorant fundamentalists are not open to persuasion, so any comments should debunk their claims, in front of, and for the benefit of, others.

  3. Religion works by propping their particular brands of beliefs and their believers on a pedestal. Evolution (and Science in general) kicks it all down, and they are pissed off. It also makes it a difficult sale. But it’s not entirely incompatible with religious beliefs, as long as you don’t believe the Bible is God’s word, or whatever farcical dogmatic nonsense.

    • While it may be true that evolution isn’t completely incompatible with religious beliefs, (I will assume that we are speaking of christianity.) it is highly corrosive to them. Somewhere in the back of their minds, people intuitively know that, if they’re wrong about our origins, they’re likely wrong about everything else. It doesn’t necessarily refute the possibility of a god, but it definitely shakes the foundations of such a belief. If this wasn’t the case, why would religion attack evolution or attempt to alter it so fervently? I’ve been handed pamphlets by christian proselytizers that are supposed to be about their faith when instead they contain nothing but distorted information about how evolution is “wrong.” They know that evolution is the death sentence. In reply to #3 by papa lazaru:

      Religion works by propping their particular brands of beliefs and their believers on a pedestal. Evolution (and Science in general) kicks it all down, and they are pissed off. It also makes it a difficult sale. But it’s not entirely incompatible with religious beliefs, as long as you don’t believe t…

  4. “Darwin only published his seminal work (withholding it for years because of his faith and from fear of religious persecution) because his friends warned him he was in danger of being scooped by another scientist…”

    From what I have read on this issue, Darwin delayed publication of his work not because of his faith (in my opinion he had lost his when his daughter died) but for that of his wife who remained a Christian her whole life. He certainly was aware of the controversy that would ensue – and continues to this day. I agree that evolution and our understanding of the process of natural selection would still exist without Darwin’s contribution but it is silly to discount his work as not necessary. In my mind it’s a toss-up between the seminal understandings of Copernicus and Darwin as “the greatest scientific idea of all time,” with Darwin coming out slightly ahead. Destroying the earth-centric view of the solar system certainly dealt a blow to the church at that time – from which it has never really recovered. Without Copernicus we would still have learned that the hello-centric view of our solar system is correct but he deserves the credit for having the courage to publish his work as does Darwin. Don’t “dis” the old boys just yet.

    • In reply to #4 by stuhillman:

      I agree that evolution and our understanding of the process of natural selection would still exist without Darwin’s contribution but it is silly to discount his work as not necessary.

      Before you go calling my argument silly, point out where I argued anything as ridiculous as that? Of course his work is necessary! Of course Darwin deserves any and every laurel he can get! My point is not to disparage Darwin, nor his accomplishments, nor to say we cannot say his name in anything other than popular discourse, for the reasons I outlined (which I make explicit in both my title and opening paragraph). The reason is not to downplay his accomplishments, but to avoid giving the fertile minds of listeners a false impression about what’s really going on with evolution.

      • In reply to #10 by binarybastard:

        In reply to #4 by stuhillman:

        I agree that evolution and our understanding of the process of natural selection would still exist without Darwin’s contribution but it is silly to discount his work as not necessary.

        Before you go calling my argument silly, point out where I argued anything as ridic…

        I don’t agre with your reasoning. I think its a terrible precedent to start. To say we can’t call it Darwinism because people who are ignorant have some misunderstanding of what evolution or Darwin is. In fact I think your argument could be viewed as almost elitist. If you take it to its logical conclusion we have two sets of science, the dummy version where we remove references that might upset people like “Darwin” and the real version for the educated people.

        In fact if your suggestion were taken up I think there is a good chance the very people who now use Darwinism as a derogatory term would pick up on that and say “see internally at their secret atheist science meetings they still worship Darwin but for the common people they pretend that they don’t” The people who vilify Darwin will vilify a science by any other name just as much.

  5. I have seen ALL of these strategies have been tried, and summarily ignored by fundamentalists and apologists. They have made it their life’s work to disseminate false information about evolution, because there is a market for it. Until the general public grows up and lets go of the fairy tale creation they want to believe in, and stops ignoring the reality that it did NOT happen, these slimy confidence men will continue lying for profit.

  6. A useful reflection ‘binarybastard’ (?), thanks. I think that Darwin was important, but it is quite right to say that the theory of evolution is not down to him – the theory of evolution, that species have changed over time, predated Darwin – he argued for the mechanism of selection as a causal explanation.

    I also think it is right to point out the underlying epistemological divide between acquiring knowledge scientifically – that is, from observations prompted by a questioning of current assumptions – as opposed to faith’s building theistic world models based on unquestioned ‘evidence’ from scripture and past teaching. I think it does then follow that the underlying problem is not really the inevitable gaps in evolutionary evidence, or even their presentation – which is often excellent (e.g., not just RD’s books but, for those who know them, David Attenborough’s wildlife documentaries). Rather, it is reluctance by some people – in some places, most people – to accept the world and ourselves as we are, that we are in truth fragile beings in a changing world.

    Accepting that the universe owes nothing to us or anything, that stardust is no more but no less than stardust etc., is not what everybody wants to hear (as posted on this thread, even atheists can feel unsettled by the thought). So perhaps arguments for evolution addressed to the religiously affected needs to take such fears into account, though doing so is difficult, without wider social, dare I say spiritual shifts, away from seeking security towards seeking truth. In a way, the wider scientific project might help. It is probably because we are living beings that evolution carries such emotional and religious baggage, as it is so close to home. I don’t think people expect the periodic table of elements, or say Ohm’s law, to give them a sense of security or to be involved in arguments about God’s existence. Thus, non-evolutionary science might be a better way in to change people’s approach to gaining knowledge generally, before going to the more emotive areas around human evolution and ‘creation’.

    The challenge for evolutionists is of course to counteract the power and wealth behind fundamentalism. Pressurising people by telling them they should be afraid of damnation and need to be saved now is a good way to stop people thinking beyond their immediate fears. Plus, the amount of disinformation (lies?) spread about evolution is indeed huge – even, it seems, in relatively liberal Canada. The vast and seemingly burgeoning fundamentalist religious industry is liable to crush quieter and more reasoned voices, at least in the short term. So I think there probably is a need for RD and others to speak up, with some kind of edge, to cut through that, maybe at least to create some kind of thinking space for sites such as this. But that outspokenness will probably only work alongside other, longer term campaigns to shift people away from superstitious fears and myth making.

  7. I see hand wringing like this in the US quite often. “Oh my, why can’t we convince these people who aren’t rational, who ignore evidence, and who only pay attention to sources that agree with them already that X is true?” Most commonly X is global climate change but evolution is a strong second. And my answer is always the same: Its wrong to try and shape your arguments based on the way ignorant people might misinterpret them.

    Unlike what the OP wrote no scientist worthy of the name takes Darwin as some kind of infallible apostle of Darwinism. I think its ridiculous to talk about not using Darwin’s name because some ignorant people have slandered the name. In fact if you wanted to pick a better representative of the scientific method. Someone who put rigor and evidence above a desire for fame and prestige you couldn’t find a better example than Darwin. And if we stopped calling it Darwinism and started calling it Dawkinism or Gouldism or FooBarism in a decade or so another BinaryBastard would be wringing his hands about how its our fault that people think Dawkins or FooBar represent all these things that they don’t really represent so maybe if we just change the name to…

    • In reply to #7 by Red Dog:

      Unlike what the OP wrote no scientist worthy of the name takes Darwin as some kind of infallible apostle of Darwinism.

      This is perhaps the most flagrant case of false attribution I’ve read all week. I invite anyone to point out where I wrote such gibberish as Red Dog claims. Of course no scientist thinks that about Darwin, or his theories, my post is resigned exclusively to the realm of public discourse (as I make very clear in my introduction). It is they who are given the erroneous impression Darwin is the scientific equivalent of Martin Luther, or Joseph Smith, and it is in their minds that the record must be set straight. Red Dog makes it quite clear he’s failed to grasp the logic of my argument when he suggests that I argue against Darwin in lieu of a better candidate. I expressly make clear that the issue is having a candidate at all. And not within the scientific community, as some others seem to misapprehend, but purely within the realm of public discourse, within the realm of debates on evolution with non-scientific debaters (as I also make clear in my introduction).
      Before you go throwing your hands in the air because another person has the tenacity to bother wringing his own, perhaps you should reflect on what exactly is the matter over which he responds. If the idea of anyone having a response other than your own is so repugnant to you, why are you here then? If you’re going to call someone’s argument vacuous, make sure your own is airtight before you do.
      No wonder we’re not getting anywhere…

      • In reply to #13 by binarybastard:

        Welcome to this forum.

        It is they who are given the erroneous impression Darwin is the scientific equivalent of Martin Luther, or Joseph Smith,

        Indeed so! It is very common to have theist projections of their own authority worship fallacy, suggesting that scientists think as they do in the manner of sheeples.
        This is because many have never learned to objectively investigate or think rationally, but have copied the muddle-brained examples, frequently exhibited in their role model preachers, who they have been led to believe have expertise in such skills.

        I commented on the RCC example of flawed anti-science thinking here;- http://www.richarddawkins.net/discussions/2013/8/8/separation-of-church-and-hospitals#comment-box-18

        • In reply to #15 by Alan4discussion:

          In reply to #13 by binarybastard:
          Indeed so! It is very common to have theist projections of their own authority worship fallacy, suggesting that scient…

          I couldn’t agree more, especially in regards to the points you raised in your own discussion. I’m scribbling away at some attempts at a response, I intend to report back when I have something more substantial to add.

    • Is alternating your debate wrong? I’m not so sure. Sometimes you need to change your argument in order for people to understand. You seem to forget that “ignorant” people may still wish to be enlightened, and may require a spectrum of tools to do so. To brush them off as “ignorant” would be ridiculous, as you just closed an open mind, leaving them to turn to religion because you were too lazy to treat them as an actual human being. Adapting debates is what we SHOULD be doing, not relying on the same facts and people all the time. Yes, Darwin made an incredible advance in the field, but you’re quite wrong in saying that it wasn’t without the idea of prestige or desire of fame. Darwin put off his publication due to his religious wife. He then found out that Wallace had already finished his work, and Darwin sought him out in order to get his name on the publication as well. That said, I’m not sure what you hope to achieve by attempting to make Darwin seem like a saint when you claim he wasn’t interested in fame (I mean, who cares if he was, precisely because the theory does not rely on the measure of this man), but it certainly has nothing to do with the point that BinaryBastard is attempting to make. Also, I have no idea what you’re going on about with reference to “Darwin as some kind of infallible apostle of Darwinism”. If you are referring to this piece of the article: “The theory of evolution does not rely on Darwin to verify its accuracy, as if he were some holy prophet, and the book was his scripture” then you should probably take a moment to go back and reread what BB was saying, you did not understand.[Last sentence removed by moderator to bring within Terms of Use.] In reply to #7 by Red Dog:

      I see hand wringing like this in the US quite often. “Oh my, why can’t we convince these people who aren’t rational, who ignore evidence, and who only pay attention to sources that agree with them already that X is true?” Most commonly X is global climate change but evolution is a strong second. An…

  8. Religious fundamentalists cannot be persuaded by any evidence, no matter how good if it conflicts with their religious beliefs. You can try to deliver facts to to them, but it isn’t possible to actually have a rational debate with them. If they ask, I’ll answer, but I would not expect a conversion in public, only in private after much private thought.

    “It’s just a theory” does require education, but that only takes a minute.

    “How can evolution work if it’s random” is the other big question I see a lot. My answer is mutation is random, evolution is not. The changes brought on by random mutations are filtered by death. The fittest (not best) organism flourishes.

    And Evolution doesn’t have a goal. It wasn’t aiming for us. Just a happy accident that we are intelligent. This fact doesn’t please many people.

  9. I have proposed (to my local school board) that we change the name of our course “Biology” to “Evolution” because that is in fact what you are studying. I also would love to elevate the “theory” to “law”.

  10. BTW, I always tell my students that I would LOVE to disprove Darwin! Then, my name would be in the textbooks. The world would be so much better if evolution was false. I mean, no emergent diseases, no extinction, no change at all…..

  11. What debate? I was of the impression that evolution had “evolved” beyond the realm of theory and took its rightful place in the realm of reality. One may observe evolution on a day to day basis throughout the universe if one observes closely. Evolution occurs by trial and error through natural selection. Mutations that promote the survival of the species are passed on to our progeny and adverse mutations tend to atrophy and eventually die. Languages, individuals, social structures, science, the universe, even religions evolve. Nothing in the universe is exactly the same as it was previously through the passage of time.

    The only exception of note is the human psyche. Because of the debilitating grip of scientifically flawed religious belief, the human psyche has not evolved much beyond what existed thousands of years ago. This religious bottleneck has stymied the human psyche by promoting devotion to a flawed ideal and severely jeopardizes the future survival of the human species. The variants of religious belief have created most of the turmoil, hatred and confusion that supports adverse mutations in the human psyche and is a detriment to our future survival. The human psyche should “naturally” support the survival of the species, not blind devotion to a flawed belief at the expense of human survival.

  12. In reply to #19 by AlGarnier:

    What debate? [...]The only exception of note is the human psyche. Because of the debilitating grip of scientifically flawed religious belief, the human psyche has not evolved much beyond what existed thousands of years ago. This religious bottleneck has stymied the human psyche by promoting devotion to a flawed ideal and severely jeopardizes the future survival of the human species.

    That is precisely the debate I’m referring to. Not the debate in the scientific community (I assumed that would go without saying).

    • In reply to #20 by binarybastard:

      In reply to #19 by AlGarnier:

      Any debate concerning the adverse effects of religious belief on the human psyche should also be considered irrelevant. We should be researching a cure for delusional religious beliefs.

  13. In reply to #21 by AlGarnier:

    In reply to #20 by binarybastard:

    In reply to #19 by AlGarnier:

    I think I may have misspoken (or I misread what was written), I mean to say the debate to which I refer is the debate in the public over evolution, the kind Dawkins finds himself continually embroiled within and which a layman like me witnesses on youtube. Not the scientific debate. That is it. Period, nothing else and no further. For any further questions of scope I refer to my introduction, it’s all laid out there.

    • In reply to #22 by binarybastard:

      In reply to #21 by AlGarnier:

      In reply to #20 by binarybastard:

      In reply to #19 by AlGarnier:

      You may have noted that my statements are in total agreement with yours and my point was that things are already starting to change. In many parts of the world the wary are rising up in protest against their governments. Regardless of religion, race or colour, all any sane human seeks is an equal opportunity to survive and prosper with his loved ones in a peaceful environment. Dawkins eluded to the fact that many who admit to a belief in a god do not adhere to all the tenets of that religion. That, in itself, speaks to the weakening of religions death grip on the human psyche. It is those in power who are perpetuating the status quo.

      Since the advent of the global internet and other mass media with relatively uncensored access, many of the world’s citizens are networking and educating themselves to better solutions from the devastation of their communities and environment by marauding governments and greedy industry. They are working vigorously and courageously to bring peace, and better prosperity to all their communities, not just the 1%; of which I am an embarrassed member yet, cannot afford a holiday. I wouldn’t want to be in the 99%! The opulence and greed of the wealthy is mind boggling, even for me.

      We need more public exposure of people like Dawkins to educate the masses toward science and sanity. We also need more people like you who can eloquently put things into perspective. Maybe science can develop the morning after pill for religious indoctrination. OK, so now I am tipping too far off the beam but, it is more likely than individual immortality.

      Evolution waits for no man. Humans will stray from the worship of heroes & gods, a throw back to our primal animal nature, and become more psychologically adjusted to self governance. A global government with full accountability to majority voters who are concerned with the dignity of human life, the wellbeing of all it’s citizens and the future of humanity will naturally evolve. It already exists in truly secular countries like Denmark. It is the only rational outcome short of species extinction, that natural selection promote species survival through cooperation. Humanity will learn once again to share altruistically and further the chances of survival for themselves and their progeny. Hopefully, beyond this solar system and well into eternity.

  14. In reply to #21 by AlGarnier:

    We should be researching a cure for delusional religious beliefs.

    These projects could lead to some progress on that:-

    http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/biomedical/imaging/bigbrain-project-makes-terabyte-map-of-a-human-brain

    The BigBrain is just one of many large-scale brain mapping projects including President Obama’s recently proposed BRAIN Initiative, – Paul Allen’s Brain Atlas, and the Human Connectome Project. The BigBrain is the only one to provide a complete map of an individual brain. The Human Connectome Project and BRAIN Initiative focus more on brain activity. The latter will map the connections of small groups of neurons. The former compiles thousands of MRI images from 68 volunteers to map activity, look at how individual brains vary, and see which parts of the brain are involved in specific tasks.

    They could build on this earlier work!
    Distinct ‘God Spot’ in the Brain Does Not Exist, “We have found a neuropsychological basis for spirituality, but it’s not isolated to one specific area of the brain”,

    • In reply to #23 by Alan4discussion:

      In reply to #21 by AlGarnier:

      We should be researching a cure for delusional religious beliefs.

      These projects could lead to some progress on that:-

      http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/biomedical/imaging/bigbrain-project-makes-terabyte-map-of-a-human-brain

      Thank you Alan4discussion. Excellent links about exciting research. Hopefully, religious deprogramming can be achieved within my lifetime. Even though I can see progress toward rational thought in many societies, we still have a long uphill battle promoting rational thought withing world governments. That is where the promotion of the greed behind the mindless religious tenets truly exist. Blind devotion to a broken system is the rudiment of their political agency.

  15. I also want to elaborate a bit more about Darwin himself. If you were looking for someone to be a representative of the best science can offer IMO you can’t do much better than Darwin. There are plenty of scientists who had lots of vices. Not that any of that matters a bit as to the quality of their work but my point is if you were looking for someone to represent science, not from the standpoint of good science alone but a decent, humble, “family” man who even showed respect for the impact his work would have on the faithful Darwin is your guy.

    So if the people who hate evolution can hold up Darwin as some kind of evil man whose name we shouldn’t use because it will turn them off why in the world should we think they would find anyone else or any other name less offensive? Its the idea they are afraid of, “Darwinism” is just a rationalization they use to dismiss it.

    • In reply to #25 by Red Dog:

      I also want to elaborate a bit more about Darwin himself. If you were looking for someone to be a representative of the best science can offer IMO you can’t do much better than Darwin. There are plenty of scientists who had lots of vices. Not that any of that matters a bit as to the quality of their…

      This is straw man argumentation. Your series of posts have honed in on a single aspect of my argument and merely argues around the issue I’ve raised. Whoever said anything about Darwin’s moral character? Moreover, whoever said any candidate was required? Why are you fixating on this one point? Moreover, it’s not elitism, it’s specialization versus non-specialization. Should anyone reasonably be allowed to grumble about Brian Greene being an elitist when he uses simple analogies to describe complex quantum quandaries for the scientific layperson (of which I include myself)? Of course not. Nevermind that my focus is limited exclusively to the manner of debates (I’m beginning to grow alarmed that you seem unwilling to grasp this vital qualifier). It’s a matter of presentation. If you start by alienating everyone who doesn’t match your nebulous criteria of intelligent then we really won’t get anywhere. In order to arrive at a common understanding, some attempt at a common language is necessary.

      In fact, your argument strikes me of elitism. “Its wrong to try and shape your arguments based on the way ignorant people might misinterpret them” is another way of saying “if someone is ignorant, no concession must be made to consider them in the discourse”. Even Dawkins knows better than to attempt rhetorical gambits when debating religious fundamentalists anymore, precisely because they erroneously assume he’s conceding to their point. Moreover, there’s a fundamental problem in arguing that anyone ignorant had better just learn better even though no concession should be made to ease them into the discussion.

  16. In reply to #28 by AlGarnier:

    In reply to #22 by binarybastard:

    In reply to #21 by AlGarnier:

    In reply to #20 by binarybastard:

    In reply to #19 by AlGarnier:

    Humanity will learn once again to share altruistically and further the chances of survival for themselves and their progeny. Hopefully, beyond this solar system and well into eternity.

    Beautiful words which give me some measure of hope for the future. Perhaps it’s ironic that for all my lack of faith in the existence of any god, I find my faith in the measure of humanity consistently renewed in the most unlikely of places.

    If there is any hope for immortality, it is to be found in our ideas, those memes which comprise our minds (as Dawkins himself noted in his seminal work “The Selfish Gene”). And it is to the ecology of our minds, as you yourself have eloquently noted, that we must invest our efforts and attentions. You must remain ever vigilant gardeners for the weeds of ignorance, pruning them with necessary caution where we may.

    I’ll end with a quote from his book:
    “[I]f you contribute to the world’s culture, if you have a good idea, compose a tune, invent a sparking plug, write a poem, it may live on, intact, long after your genes have dissolved in the common pool. Socrates may or may not have a gene or two alive in the world today, as G. C. Williams has remarked, but who cares? The memecomplexes of Socrates, Leonardo, Copernicus and Marconi are still going strong.” (199)

  17. Well after reading that I have to say nice but I think you’re a touch naive. I’ll explain.

    This whole thing has a bit of an accommodationist feel about it. The NCSE has been trying this method for the past few years and it hasn’t really gotten them that far. Also I’m not sure who you’ve had conversations with in the past regarding the creationist/evolution thing but it’s not as black and white as you make it out to be. Just presenting evidence doesn’t cut it.

    I suggest you look up some history on the subject and understand it’s not purely about scientific evidence but also a lot about perception.There are tonnes of studies out that show that people who are very religious will disagree with science if it proves their beliefs wrong.

    Next you miss the propaganda behind all the negative press about evolution. It’s not just purely education that is the issue here, but there’s large lobbies to government to keep evolution out. There’s the home schooling of children. The pressure on teachers from teaching evolution from school superiors to avoid ‘issues’. The school kids themselves causing problems in the schools. The parents of children. Also way too many politicians who don’t support science in power.

    Lastly you miss the point that we’re not dealing with people who are rational. These people have been brainwashed since they were young to completely disagree with scientific consensus, not trust authority other than scriptural and generally believe it’s all a conspiracy. These people don’t think like you or I. I have known some people who I thought were fairly smart, healthy and kind. Only to find out they are through and through creationists. Nothing would change their mind even though they had some ability to understand science, which I think may have made things worse.

    If you really want to know what you’re up against I suggest you find a debate between a creationist and a scientist. There’s a few around on YouTube. The thing you’ll learn very quickly is that creationist don’t debate fairly. They lie, cheat and steal.

    This is what we’re up against, a very big scary picture of ignorance.

    • In reply to #30 by Nick LaRue:

      Well after reading that I have to say nice but I think you’re a touch naive. I’ll explain.

      This whole thing has a bit of an accommodationist feel about it. The NCSE has been trying this method for the past few years and it hasn’t really gotten them that far. Also I’m not sure who you’ve had convers…

      In many ways I agree, in that the fundamentalist agenda is being rolled out with much power and success. However, while ideologies are held by people, I am still more inclined to categorise ideas than individuals. Quite a few here, and certainly others I have met face to face, have in some period held some faith, even very strong fundamentalist beliefs, yet now reject any form of religious faith. Thus, this website alone provides much evidence that both religious moderates and extremists are open to reason and to change. Whether such people are reached by accommodation or by outspoken opposition could vary according to the person and their situation.
      Thus, while there are indeed vey real challenges to reason and science, and real dangers posed by unreason and anti science, it seems both on the basis of evidence and pragmatism to have a range of approaches, reaching out in different ways.

      • In reply to #31 by steve_hopker:

        In reply to #30 by Nick LaRue:

        In many ways I agree, in that the fundamentalist agenda is being rolled out with much power and success. However, while ideologies are held by people, I am still more inclined to categorise ideas than individuals. Quite a few here, and certainly others I have met face to face, have in some

        I take you didn’t go to the last article I read from John Luftus http://www.richarddawkins.net/news_articles/2013/8/11/debunking-christianity-an-atheist-visits-the-creation-museum-in-kentucky-and-tells-all#

        The comments on his site are a bit depressing to say the least. This is what you’re up against. Go there and read what the public are saying.

        Also there’s no proof that accommodation works there is however, if you go to this sites converts corner, lots of proof that saying it like it is with no compromise is probably the best approach. No need to drag religion into it. Just present the evidence and the science.

        Hiding Darwin or using different terminology doesn’t change minds.

        We’re fighting propaganda here so it won’t matter how you phrase it so you might as well say it right and keep saying it that way. Being nice doesn’t work.

        • In reply to #34 by Nick LaRue:

          In reply to #31 by steve_hopker:

          In reply to #30 by Nick LaRue:

          We’re fighting propaganda here so it won’t matter how you phrase it so you might as well say it right and keep saying it that way. Being nice doesn’t work.

          Fair enough. Except leaving Darwin out doesn’t mean we’re saying it any less right. Besides which, I’m not advocating we exclude Darwin from anything except these debates. Of course a biology class should learn it was Darwin who expressed the theory of evolution in Origin of Species, all I’m saying is words clearly matter to these brainwashed people, and it just so happens my background is with words, so I figured I’d treat the entire spectrum of the debate as a text and consider its language, and here are my findings. If the scientific community have considered these already and dismissed them, then that just goes back to my naivete I mentioned. But when faced with this wall of willful ignorance, I figured I couldn’t just sit back and wash my hands of the whole mess. I’m beginning to realize, from perusing some of these posts, that the willful ignorance exists on both sides. Between those who make it their mission in life to spread lies, and from those who consider everyone else not up to their scientific snuff a lost cause. I would say for shame, but I’m well aware they don’t care.

        • In reply to #34 by Nick LaRue:

          In reply to #31 by steve_hopker:
          …I take you didn’t go to the last article I read from John Luftus..

          I have now & I agree entirely the fundamentalists / creationists put out immense amounts of propaganda. I had two points, really, the first I hope we can agree on as as matter of historical fact that people who felt and appeared to be absolutely signed up to fundamentalism can escape it, so there is hope that some can be persuaded, that irrational people can become rational people – ie there is a divide in the way people think but not (always) a fixed divide between people.
          My second point, that different messages are needed for different people is perhaps almost too trivial to make, except that I do think in terms of emotional processes – crucial in the areas of faith – that not everyone will be in the right ‘place to hear’ the full on attack upon creationism etc. I think those attacks still need to be made- but alongside them less confrontational methods (I again refer to Attenborough’s work) might help the slow process of prising away delusion.
          After all, religion and superstition has had many in its grip for millennia, it is still powerful and rising in some areas, realistically the struggle is going to be long haul and we need every ethical means at our disposal.

    • In reply to #30 by Nick LaRue:

      I suggest you look up some history on the subject and understand it’s not purely about scientific evidence but also a lot about perception.There are tonnes of studies out that show that people who are very religious will disagree with science if it proves their beliefs wrong.

      Except, that’s exactly what I refer to when I mention “that in the realm of public opinion, the fear tactics are working. Because the fossil record isn’t working, DNA evidence isn’t cutting it.” I’m aware it has become something of a popularity contest.

      Next you miss the propaganda behind all the negative press about evolution…

      Nevermind your pejorative claim I’m not aware there’s such a thing as anti-evolution propaganda, you suggest that just because there are groups interested in promoting the opposite view of evolution that we should do nothing?

      Lastly you miss the point that we’re not dealing with people who are rational. These people have been brainwashed since they were young to completely disagree with scientific consensus, not trust authority other than scriptural and generally believe it’s all a conspiracy.

      You’re right. It’s hopeless. Let’s give up.

      Or, how about we actually try to go about some productive means of getting through to people who are brainwashed. Are you going to get through to the liars and the cheats, the ones with the vested interest in their position, most likely not, but are you saying we should just abandon all the rest because they had the misfortune of growing up religious? Forgive me if I chose not to.

      Did you not actually read what I wrote? I said that serious scientists like Dawkins shouldn’t engage with creationists anymore, precisely because it’s like arguing in quicksand. They’re all to willing to fill in any gap with whatever information they can, so why give them the presumed scientific legitimacy of having Dawkins show up. I’m also terribly confused by your condescending suggestion that I go watch Youtube (as if I haven’t already done that, and wasn’t already aware of the kind of debates going on between Dawkins and others).

      • In reply to #37 by binarybastard:

        In reply to #30 by Nick LaRue:

        I suggest you look up some history on the subject and understand it’s not purely about scientific evidence but also a lot about perception.There are tonnes of studies out that show that people who are very religious will disagree with science if it proves their belief…

        First off allow me to apologise I wasn’t being condescending it just appeared that there wasn’t much in what you wrote that I haven’t heard before as some others have pointed out. I’ve been on this site for some time and seen many debates, read a few books, read other sites from other scientist. Nothing you said was really new to me. Which is why I was pointing out about the history and the debates with creationists. Dawkins hasn’t debated a real creationist as he refuses to do so. Others have, like PZ Myers.

        I never said anything about giving up either so don’t put words in my mouth. All of us know that it’s a large hill to climb in the US and some other parts of the world.

        What my point was and still is there’s no reason to sugar coat anything. Using different words and omitting others doesn’t help the situation. Being nice doesn’t work. There’s enough evidence to prove that.

        What has to change is how evolution is taught in schools. That’s one thing I’ve heard from the NCSE that I agree with. That would be a good starting point in getting the public accepting it more. The other thing that has to happen is for the stupid media to stop the dumb statements about evolution, putting more science on national TV and so forth. We have too much dumb TV these days in the US and too fearful of a media.

        There is lots of great TV programs, books and websites with excellent content on evolution. The problem you have is an over sensitive public (I really dislike a lot of things with regards to Political Correctness) with a bend over backwards education system. It bows down to the parents way too often. That has to change.

        So in short. What I said and what I still say is accommodation doesn’t work. Putting it straight is the only way to go. No need to bring religion, gOd or any other nonsense into it. Just say it like it is.

  18. binarybastard.

    Having read your O.P. and your defence of your stance in the subsequent comments I have come to two conclusions.

    I want to read more from you.

    I want to point you at William Lane Craig.

    • In reply to #32 by SomersetJohn:

      binarybastard.

      Having read your O.P. and your defence of your stance in the subsequent comments I have come to two conclusions.

      I want to read more from you.

      I want to point you at William Lane Craig.

      Thank you for the encouragement, makes me feel like I’m not completely crazy. As for William Lane Craig: I’m not even sure where to begin with this man.

  19. In reply to #27 by binarybastard:

    Your series of posts have honed in on a single aspect of my argument and merely argues around the issue I’ve raised. Whoever said anything about Darwin’s moral character? Moreover, whoever said any candidate was required? Why are you fixating on this one point?

    I was “honing in” on that point for a very simple reason. It was the first part of your long original post that said anything significant, that made some concrete suggestion that could be debated. If I find something I strongly disagree with it seems to me to make sense to object and clarify that point before moving on. You said the following:

    The first is to move the discussion away from Darwin. This is not to deprive the man of credit, simply to address the growing misapprehension that has resulted from linking evolution with Darwin (to the extent that some arguments even use the terms Darwinism and evolution interchangeably). The theory of evolution does not rely on Darwin to verify its accuracy, as if he were some holy prophet, and the book was his scripture. Any objector who uses the terms synonymously should be reminded that the theory of evolution does not require Darwin to legitimate its authority

    I honed in on that because I disagree for all the reasons I said above which as far as I can tell you have ignored in your reply. Are you saying you no longer believe the words you wrote that are quoted above?

    If all you are saying is that we need to have different ways to present evolution for people with various levels of depth of science… That seems blindingly obvious and something Prof. Dawkins and others try to do all the time.

    One more reason I “honed in” on those words is that to me they sound like someone who is internalizing the arguments used by evolution deniers. For example, this part “Darwin to verify its accuracy, as if he were some holy prophet, and the book was his scripture.” No one thinks that Darwin was a “holy prophet” to begin with except the people who don’t understand science.

  20. Hi binarybastard,

    I’m … not a scientist …

    Then there’s at least two of us.

    I am a keen debater [and] given the recent and disturbing trends in political discourse on the theory of evolution, I feel compelled to offer [some] constructive criticism …

    Good, new ideas are always welcome, we should never rest on our laurels or think we have all the angles covered. It is in the nature of a political debate that it is never concluded. Expanding on that thought; what are the recent trends you have detected? I ask because it seems to me that the arguments against evolution have not changed substantially since 1859.

    … much of the opposition to evolution seems built upon several critical misapprehensions of the theory …

    Some is, some isn’t. It appears, subjectively, that much of the debate is driven by people who are wilfully ignorant. Just because the facts demonstrate that something is true is no limitation in a political debate.

    … misapprehensions of the theory … seem in need of rectifying before the debate can progress into avenues of any real scientific value in the popular discourse.

    If you will allow me an analogy: How many people do you know who have an opinion on the politics of the Middle East? How many of those opinionated people show any signs of actually studying the subject in detail – the history, the political and legal structures, the diplomatic initiatives, the economies, the religions, the ethnic peoples … ? And how many of those opinionated people show signs of being exposed to mass-media hype, unsubstantiated opinion, over-simplification and obfuscation?

    Political debate is very often – perhaps even most of the time – driven by emotion, romanticism, ideology and showmanship. Facts are in short supply for a reason; they take time, energy and motivation to absorb, understand and weigh.

    How do we inject some reality into any political debate on evolution, without boring people?

    This is not to say that your suggestion is hopeless. Richard Dawkins has dedicated a significant part of his life’s work to enumerating and translating the facts of evolution for a lay audience – and it seems to be having some effects; principally those of motivating people to get involved in defending science education and standing up to ignorant tin-pot politicians with dim-witted policies.

    … first … move the discussion away from Darwin … to address the growing misapprehension that has resulted from linking evolution with Darwin … the theory of evolution does not rely on Darwin to verify its accuracy, as if he were some holy prophet, and the book was his scripture.

    Easier said than done. In any case it seems to me that no-one on this side of the fence is chanting ‘Darwin, Darwin, Darwin!’ – that’s the tactic of the deniers. Ad hominems are a classic political tactic of those arguing from a weak position. It doesn’t, however, automatically make them wrong. For that reason alone we have found it hard to wean the anti-evolution brigade off their personal attack fixation. There are other reasons. It is difficult, for example, to focus on the actual science in a verbal debate because describing facts takes time – and who can concentrate for a whole five minutes? Speaking of which: I could develop this line of argument ad nauseum but we need to move on. Annoying isn’t it. That’s political debate.

    It seems to me that Richard Dawkins has the right idea here: Ask people to read: It’s impossible to summarise the last 150 years of science, conducted by hundreds of thousands of scientists, that has verified evolution in a forum like this and in language that everyone can understand. If you’re really interested in the answer to that question then I suggest you read this book …

    Any [anti-evolutionist] who uses the terms [Darwin and evolution] synonymously should be reminded that the theory of evolution does not require Darwin to legitimate its authority.

    Surely this already happens on a regular basis? An oft-used tactic here is to counter with a comment that starts: “Darwin’s discovery, immediately verified by Wallace and many, many times since … ”. It is important to be clear that science is not invention, it is discovery – and thus accessible to all.

    Darwin only published his seminal work, withholding it for years, until alerted … [etc.].

    True, and note that Darwin was alerted by a paper from Wallace – direct, and this is often mentioned precisely because it verifies the science. One of the fundamental principles of science is that a theory is only supported if different scientists verify each other’s observations, and agree on the conclusion (theory) to be drawn. Wallace’s work on the evolution of species was not as detailed or thorough as Darwin’s – but it was enough for him to come to the same result. Thus, Darwin and Wallace are important together because they demonstrate that the science was independently discovered and verified from the very beginning.

    On the above basis, from a scientific perspective, I find it difficult to support the idea that we should try and drop Darwin and Wallace. From a political perspective I can see the value, but I despair of finding a method to work around them – other than ignoring the ‘antis’ when they bring them up. I’m open to suggestions …

    The rhetoric of the argument against Darwinism generally treats the man as the creator of the theory, as if evolution required any man to exist.

    True.

    Note that you have fallen into trap of using the same rhetoric as your opponents here. When you use a made-up term like Darwinism you legitimate its use. There is no Darwinism, as you have noted, so why are you discussing it?

    But as we know, evolution did not suddenly become true because Darwin committed thought to words (unlike the basis of some other systems of thought, I might add).

    Again, this is why Wallace is important.

    While I don’t wish to oversimplify the term [theory], few non-scientific people actually understand that scientific theories do not argue truth—for if they be correct, they are truth.

    Education does not stop at the School Gate. While I appreciate that educating the audience in the midst of a political debate can look patronising (thus alienating the audience) there are plenty of simple rhetorical tricks – the aside, the fraternal (‘as we all know’), humour (or put-down), the putting our interlocutor in the wrong – to manage this.

    Truth cannot—for obvious reasons—argue for its own truth, since such axiomatic reasoning would require presenting as evidence for truth the very facts that made it true.

    That is, of course, exactly how religions argue for religious truth. Therefore, many of the ‘antis’ use this form of reasoning in their political debating. They are preaching to the choir, naturally. Countering such arguments is usually done by referring to the foundation of science: evidence.

    Instead, external evidence is used to refute the theory, and [any] lack of refutation suggests the theory’s veracity.

    Just so.

    That [a scientific] theory itself contains no evidence for its own truth is a problem …

    I’m sorry, but I just don’t see that. Could you please expand? It seems to me that any scientific theory only exists because it describes verified evidence (i.e. facts). No evidence = no science. Perhaps I misunderstood your comment?

    … [creationists] enter the bible as evidence for the truth they discovered from reading [it] (which may perhaps account for the misapplication of logic).

    Entering hearsay, of highly implausible and improbable (not to say impossible) provenance, as if it were factual evidence is their problem. As to whether it informs their logical analysis of facts I couldn’t care less. We have to work our way past entire mountain ranges of logical fallacies when debating creationists – their record in this regard is legion, and the vast majority of ‘antis’ show no sign whatsoever that they will start using logic any time soon.

    The ‘antis’ get away with logical fallacies in political debate because, without training, they can be difficult to spot. Anyone who has had a science education will have at least an inkling that something is not quite right when a logical fallacy is committed, but many people lack any education in logic or philosophy and find it difficult to take it further – I myself suffer. This is why I have never taken part in a live debate myself – I fear I would be too slow at recognising the exact nature of a logical fallacy, and therefore fail to counter it.

    Getting back to your point on the use of confusing science jargon, like the word theory, I can see two tactics that are already employed here. The first is to talk of the ‘fact of evolution’. The other is to avoid using a noun altogether. They work until the ‘antis’ use the word theory – which of course they nearly always do. Again, it is difficult to see how we change that – unless we educate people. This third tactic is also employed but, and let’s be honest here, it tends to look overly defensive.

    It is that hesitation however, “if they be correct”, that distinguishes [science] theory from faith. If a theory is proven to be incorrect, it is discarded as such.

    I don’t like your use of the word hesitation. There is no hesitation, in the sense of indecision or vacillation, when scientists move from calling an hypothesis a theory – an entirely informal development. I wouldn’t have mentioned it except that you have yourself taken us to task on our use of words that have different meanings in the vernacular – like theory. Drop the hesitation.

    You are, however, correct to note that faith and science work from entirely different philosophical bases. Science is an endeavour that is comfortable with an epistemology that says, in essence, not all things are knowable and what we know is based on facts – therefore, if we discover new facts the truth will change. All knowledge is provisional – very little is certain. Faith, by definition, is believing in the absence of evidence. If you can believe things without evidence then you can ‘know’ something absolutely. Knowledge is therefore that which is indisputable – uncertainty must therefore be a sign of the contestable and refutable. That which can contested cannot be truth.

    You don’t seem to be adding anything new, Binary?

    Science requires this evolution of ideas, or else its various contradictions would have splintered it into tens of thousands of different sects.

    This is confusing language. There are no contradictions in science, so there are no schisms, true. Better to have said: … or else contradictions would have arisen and [etc.]

    The first lesson in debate: Be clear.

    That is not to say there are no divisions in scientific circles …

    Again with the language, “divisions”, there are no divisions in science in the meanings of rupture or sectarianism. There are disagreements, there is sometimes discord, there is always discussion.

    … and there must be, if scientific understanding is to progress …

    Indeed.

    This was followed by a long discussion on scientific debate which appeared to me to add nothing to the overall point. But perhaps I missed something?

    Unfortunately … fractious arguments have entered the debate on evolution and have stunted the progress of scientific debate, and worse yet have actually resulted in the regression of scientific progress.

    When, where and whom? I am only aware of a political debate on evolution – I know of no scientific debate on evolution?

    So, rather than progressing the science, scientists like Richard Dawkins are left to engage in a futile debate against the validity of faith …

    Futile in what sense? Reasoning based on faith (i.e. in the absence of evidence) is clearly inferior in every way to reasoning based on facts. This is Richard Dawkins’ vocation: to point out that our political discourse has for too long been sullied by inadequate, even counter-productive, thinking. I don’t want to spend too much time blowing a trumpet for Richard Dawkins – there are plenty of people doing that already – but that is surely of very high value indeed.

    This is a losing battle. In its necessary supplication to evidence, science is fighting against a methodology that relies only on the absence of evidence to prove itself. That is to say, by playing by the rules, science offers a vacuum of information that religion is all too willing to fill with anti-information (the nicest term I can provide).

    We are winning the battle. To describe science as offering a vacuum of information is an utter abrogation of the rules of logic. That religion fills the gaps in scientific knowledge with lies, obfuscation and invention (I’m not as nice as you) is obviously true – what of it?

    Whenever Dawkins is forced to concede “we don’t know why this happens (yet)”, we almost cringe at the necessary admission, because we know, just as quickly as he’s said it that the explanation supplied by the opposition immediately relies on a supernatural phenomenon.

    I know that what you say is true for anyone who has been subjected to religious indoctrination but I just can’t get excited by other people’s inability to think for themselves – when the facts are just beyond the end of their nose. Language again: “concede” and “admission”. Try: acknowledge and statement.

    … the effect of admitting our own ignorance is like arguing in cognitive quicksand. The more you struggle to explain what you don’t know, the more you venture into the unknown depths of truth (where answers no longer lie like gold amongst the riverbank, but must be instead cleaved from the rock of ignorance), and the more purchase is given to the opposition to fill in the void after you (since they seem quite happy to set the market with the few nuggets of gold they’ve already collected off the ground, lest their value be diminished).

    Very picturesque I’m sure, but does your analogy stand up? It all depends on the context – and the progression of the argument. It seems to me that this issue – if, indeed, it is a real issue – is best addressed by the application of epistemology. It is important to point out that gaps in science can only be filled by discovery of facts – then interpretations that fit with previous discoveries and interpretations. The rest of this argument I have already covered above.

    So how do we go about freeing the argument from the dense sediments of misunderstanding it’s currently submerged in?

    I don’t accept that the “argument” as you put it is in need of liberation of any kind. I assume you mean, by argument, the political debate? The misunderstandings you point to are clearly the direct result of ignorance, faulty thinking and stupidity. The classic answer to ignorance is education, the classic response to faulty thinking is think of it this way, the classic response to stupidity is moving right along. Again, Binary, I see nothing new here?

    When debating the theory of evolution, perhaps there should be a rudimentary framework laid out to distinguish between legitimate questions about the science and invalid objections based on ignorance and a critical misunderstanding of scientific evidence.

    Good luck with that.

    Even assuming that debaters on the ‘anti’ side were to agree, what makes you think they’ll stick to it. We’re talking about people with a long history of fibbing – many of them fibbing for a living.

    If they do not meet these vital criteria, they should be barred from the public discourse as they serve only to spread the infectious misunderstanding of the facts.

    Censorship is their tool, not ours.

    You then spent a good deal of time talking about accepting some specific aspects of science but it didn’t seem to me to move the conversation onto new ground, and it didn’t acknowledge that this would be, in effect, asking the ‘antis’ to automatically concede some of their arguments. Did I miss something?

    It should be made clear that evolution does not theorize the origins of life.

    It has been – and s-oo often. Boring!

    Obviously, if we trace the evolution back far enough we arrive at the original causality dilemma, and this seems for many to be the largest impediment to accepting evolution—it offers no argument one way or the other on the origin of life itself.

    I would ask you to think again about this statement Binary. Do you see any similarities between this argument and the argument you begin with “ … more purchase is given to the opposition to fill in the void after you … ?” This is commonly known as the god-of-the-gaps argument. Science doesn’t know X – so god did X.

    Therefore, the arguments and responses we looked at before are also used here.

    In addition, I must ask how you arrived at the conclusion that there was an “original cause”? I can concede that there was a chemical and biological origin to life – but a cause? Chaos theory tells us that there was only probability – there was no definitive.

    Also, why “dilemma”? I see no predicament, no impasse.

    If, as you say, evolution does not describe biopoesis – then why does the lack of a theory of biopoesis have any bearing on the validity of the theory of evolution? To say it does is the equivalent of saying: ‘The sky is blue theory does not explain how clouds are formed, therefore the sky is blue theory is false.’

    There are, of course, dozens of hypotheses about biopoesis. You don’t mention them, why is that?

    “Well then!” the anti-evolutionists proudly declare as if the argument has been won, “how did the first life form appear? How do you get something out of nothing?”

    True, they parade their ignorance as if it was strength – a common practice in political rhetoric. Your point would be?

    This is the single most frequently misunderstood concept of evolution, and it must be reclaimed by evolutionary scientists if the theory is to gain any traction in conventional wisdom.

    I do not live in Canada, perhaps in Canada it’s different. As far as I can tell everyone else in the World has no difficulty distinguishing between biopoesis and evolution – with the exception of those motivated to confuse the public and politicians by refusing to publicly acknowledge the difference. Am I holding up my telescope to a blind eye?

    Next Binary, you appeared to simply list some just-so stories on scientific understanding. Hopefully I haven’t cut anything important?

    Who can conceive of hundreds of millions of years? The number becomes so abstract and vague as to have no cognitive meaning. I can’t identify with one hundred million years, but I can identify with bacterial strains developing resistances in a matter of weeks.

    Good point, we should all be more up-to-date on the short-term evidence of evolution, and yes geological time is a tricky thing to hold in your head (but then so too is justice, but people don’t complain about that – I wonder why). Of course the creationists would say that bacteria have not been observed evolving into amoeba (or a banana, if you’re Ray Comfort).

    The careful bit of explaining will be to not relate the human to a microbe …

    Oh dear, I was too late …

    … people are already sensitive to the idea that they share any relation to an ape [etc].

    I’m not in the business of converting people. If someone is going to insist on thinking about biology and making decision on which bits that they like the sound of, and which bits they don’t, then my first thought is: Why am I wasting my time trying to explain something to someone who is clearly incapable of being rational? It is a sad fact of life that a significant minority are apparently incapable of applying rudimentary reason. Many vote. I appreciate your desire to get these people to think and understand Binary, but even I have limits.

    The religious people I encounter are for the most part eager to learn the truth about evolution, and are woefully misinformed, usually on the points I’ve outlined.

    Never! Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.

    Why is it that a religion would object so strenuously to a concept that does not in any way disprove the existence of their god?

    Because they believe, fundamentally, in scripture. Because they fail to see the difference between their faith and the Shouty Preacher’s faith.

    It is these fundamentalists who have co-opted the discussion, and allowed it to become a debate about faith, rather than science and reason.

    Well spotted Binary – go to the top of the class.

    … it seems that by allowing them to articulate the points I have outlined to a mass public, scientists have allowed the debate to be diverted.

    No Binary, not scientists. We have allowed the debate. Political debates happen when we, ordinary people, do not hold those proclaiming to account.

    Never mind the logical and deductive fallacies at work here, never mind the extreme lapse in scientific evidence, never mind that evolution has nothing to say on the matter whatsoever on what any god thinks or does, the fear tactic works great as a sound bite.

    That may be true Binary, but what are you adding? You started by saying that this would be a “suggestion on how to re-invigorate the debate on evolution”. I see nothing new?

    And the inability for evolution to offer any correlative [sic] means that in the realm of public opinion, the fear tactics are working.

    By correlative I assume you mean corrective? In what way can an incorporeal entity like a scientific theory offer a corrective or, indeed, have any form of attribute that is applicable to a political debate other than its simply being true?

    Because the fossil record isn’t working, DNA evidence isn’t cutting it. Even after this irrefutable evidence, people are still balking …

    The key word in your complaint is people. You can have all the evidence you could ever want – and evolution fits that description to a t – but if people are prepared to work at remaining ignorant, if they’re so convinced, or too frightened, to change their thinking it makes not one iota of difference.

    There followed a review of the position of evolution in education. I have nothing to add.

    Science has truth on its side [etc.] yet the failure of scientists to succinctly shut down the non-arguments of scientific illiterates …

    Hold your horses there Binary. Since when did scientists pick up the exclusive responsibility to counter the ignorant? I can agree that science has so outgrown its roots that all scientists today must recognise that they have a duty to explain science to the public – who pay their wages directly and indirectly. But that doesn’t let the rest of us off the hook. If we have an education, then you and I must shoulder most of the burden. Yes, we have been lax.

    has allowed these religious fundamentalists to filibuster scientific inquiry …

    That’s a bit strong Binary. Scientific enquiry continues, for the most part, unmolested. Though there are straws in the wind, the attacks on science education for example, there is still time. Divert just some of the energy you put into this column towards some political activism and rational debate and enquiry in Canada will get a significant boost.

    I hold no illusions as to the intellectual capabilities of the human race …

    Likewise. That is easily the wisest thing you said in your whole piece.

    … am I crazy?

    No, there is a definite need for us all to be more vigilant and far more active – especially politically active.

    … [am I] foolishly naïve?

    Naïve: Well, a little. Foolish: No.

    Peace.

    • On the above basis, from a scientific perspective, I find it difficult to support the idea that we should try and drop Darwin and Wallace.

      Good point, perhaps valorize and champion Wallace as well then? I respond only to this startling trend for people to misrecognize Dawkins as merely parroting Darwin (the same way one might repeat the words of an elder pastor). While it would be easier to say “these are the ignorant masses who will never learn better”, I myself cannot take up that stance, if only because it violates every moral bone in my atheistic body. For some (many I suspect) it is not a matter of brainwashing, it’s a matter of not knowing any better (or different).

      It is that hesitation however, “if they be correct”, that distinguishes [science] theory from faith. If a theory is proven to be incorrect, it is discarded as such.
      I don’t like your use of the word hesitation. There is no hesitation, in the sense of indecision or vacillation, when scientists move from calling an hypothesis a theory

      I should have been more clear I suppose. The hesitation to which I refer is the valuable skepticism of the scientific community when accepting any proposition. I mean to say that if any scientist puts forth a theory, publishes a paper, or idea, the reaction is not to embrace it outright. It’s not like a prayer circle, where one scientist shouts “DNA is love” and all the other scientists join hands and say amen.
      I see that I created confusion by relating the hesitation to matters of scientific theory. I chose the word because the charge of hubris is often laid at the feet of scientists, who charge blindly into the depths of the unknown, not stopping to give a moment’s pause. This of course, is the erroneous assumption, I meant to phrase it as some measure

      Science requires this evolution of ideas, or else its various contradictions would have splintered it into tens of thousands of different sects.
      This is confusing language

      Your right, it is confusing. My claim was intended as an ‘either/or’ proposition. Either ideas in science evolved (and the incorrect ideas went extinct, so to speak), OR ELSE its various contradictions would have splintered it into tens of thousands of different sects (I was describing the state of Christianity at this point)

      Unfortunately … fractious arguments have entered the debate on evolution and have stunted the progress of scientific debate, and worse yet have actually resulted in the regression of scientific progress.

      When, where and whom? I am only aware of a political debate on evolution – I know of no scientific debate on evolution?

      I meant progress in the sense that evolution cannot be taught in certain schools. On reflection, I see how I should have phrased that better. Instead of progress I perhaps should have written “understanding”.

      Futile in what sense?

      Futile in the same sense that many on this forum seem keen to point out: that he’s debating against people who will never change their minds because they have made it their life’s work to keeping their mind fixed on one agenda. The problem is however, that the impressionable minds watching these debates are still up for grabs.
      I hold nothing but the utmost esteem and respect for Dawkins, at the risk of deifying the man, he has had a greater impact on my life than perhaps any individual thinker.

      It should be made clear that evolution does not theorize the origins of life.

      It has been – and s-oo often. Boring!

      In debate? Also, sorry to have bored you.

      Obviously, if we trace the evolution back far enough we arrive at the original causality dilemma, and this seems for many to be the largest impediment to accepting evolution—it offers no argument one way or the other on the origin of life itself.

      I would ask you to think again about this statement Binary. Do you see any similarities between this argument and the argument you begin with “ … more purchase is given to the opposition to fill in the void after you … ?” This is commonly known as the god-of-the-gaps argument. Science doesn’t know X – so god did X.

      I’m well aware with what this argument is called. It is precisely to avoid it being implemented by the opposition that I have stressed the importance of making it clear evolution does not theorize the origins of life. To avoid the purchase of a god of the gaps argument (which also goes back to my statement that Dawkins engaging with religious zealots is futile, they’re going to put any lie anywhere they can).

      This is the single most frequently misunderstood concept of evolution, and it must be reclaimed by evolutionary scientists if the theory is to gain any traction in conventional wisdom.

      I do not live in Canada, perhaps in Canada it’s different. As far as I can tell everyone else in the World has no difficulty distinguishing between biopoesis and evolution – with the exception of those motivated to confuse the public and politicians by refusing to publicly acknowledge the difference. Am I holding up my telescope to a blind eye?

      At the risk of calling you blind, I would say you underestimate the scope of this issue I mention.

      I appreciate your desire to get these people to think and understand Binary, but even I have limits.

      Fair enough, I suppose I have the patience of a saint.

      It is these fundamentalists who have co-opted the discussion, and allowed it to become a debate about faith, rather than science and reason.

      Well spotted Binary – go to the top of the class

      I appreciate the sass.

      By correlative I assume you mean corrective?

      No, and here your sass blinds you to my argument. I’m saying the debate struggles to produce any corresponding fear tactic as the soundbites is why it doesn’t hold the readers attention (which is also why I slipped in the “rightfully so”, which you curiously omitted)

      but if people are prepared to work at remaining ignorant, if they’re so convinced, or too frightened, to change their thinking it makes not one iota of difference.

      But what if they’re not, do we simply give up on them because you don’t want to be bothered pandering to them?

      If we have an education, then you and I must shoulder most of the burden. Yes, we have been lax.

      Then why have you been attacking me for trying to offer an accessible picture of the debate on evolution? This post was also, do forgive me for trying, intended for people who unlike you aren’t swollen with scientific acumen.

      Scientific enquiry continues, for the most part, unmolested.

      Oh yes? Stem cell research continues unabated? Being broadly discussed is it?

      The overwhelming degree of sarcasm and hostility on a simple suggestion has indeed cured me of the ridiculous notion that I have any interest in wasting any further time conversing with you all. Don’t worry, I won’t be coming back to waste anyone else’s time.

      • In reply to #42 by binarybastard:

        Hi Binary,

        Perhaps valorize and champion Wallace as well then?

        Yes, I think we should.

        While it would be easier to say ‘these are the ignorant masses who will never learn better’, I myself cannot take up that stance, if only because it violates every moral bone in my atheistic body.

        Bully for you. I confess I have great admiration for anyone who wants to take the argument to the people – go Binary!

        For some (many I suspect) it is not a matter of brainwashing, it’s a matter of not knowing any better (or different).

        True

        The hesitation to which I refer is the valuable skepticism of the scientific community when accepting any proposition. I mean to say that if any scientist puts forth a theory, publishes a paper, or idea, the reaction is not to embrace it outright. It’s not like a prayer circle, where one scientist shouts “DNA is love” and all the other scientists join hands and say amen.

        Fair enough.

        I see that I created confusion by relating the hesitation to matters of scientific theory. I chose the word because the charge of hubris is often laid at the feet of scientists, who charge blindly into the depths of the unknown, not stopping to give a moment’s pause. This of course, is the erroneous assumption, I meant to phrase it as some measure.

        It is a motivation that does you credit, Binary. For my part I was trying only to instil in you an understanding of a need for clarity and discipline. In rhetoric it is too easy to get carried away. The words we choose have great import, they directly affect how our arguments are received and interpreted.

        My claim [on the cohesion of science] was intended as an ‘either/or’ proposition. Either ideas in science evolved (and the incorrect ideas went extinct, so to speak), OR ELSE its various contradictions would have splintered it into tens of thousands of different sects (I was describing the state of Christianity at this point).

        I understood that. What I was driving at is, again, rhetorical skill.

        Unfortunately … fractious arguments have entered the debate on evolution and have stunted the progress of scientific debate, and worse yet have actually resulted in the regression of scientific progress.

        When, where and whom? I am only aware of a political debate on evolution – I know of no scientific debate on evolution?

        I meant progress in the sense that evolution cannot be taught in certain schools. On reflection, I see how I should have phrased that better. Instead of progress I perhaps should have written “understanding”.

        I’m not convinced that adding the word understanding is a huge improvement – but making it clearer that you were speaking, specifically, about education is a big step forward. You provided another excellent rhetorical lesson with this gem:

        … the regression of scientific progress

        You wrote the OP on the basis that the political debate on evolution needs to be brought forward – you must expect that people will pick up on mistakes like this.

        Futile in what sense?

        Futile in the same sense that many on this forum seem keen to point out: that he’s debating against people who will never change their minds because they have made it their life’s work to keeping their mind fixed on one agenda.

        Hold on there Tiger! Theramin Trees has an excellent video on Preaching to the Converted. I, for one, don’t think that what your doing is futile.

        The problem is however, that the impressionable minds watching these debates are still up for grabs.

        Bang on.

        I hold nothing but the utmost esteem and respect for Dawkins, at the risk of deifying the man, he has had a greater impact on my life than perhaps any individual thinker.

        I’ve never been much of a one for hero worship, perhaps that makes me arrogant. Whatever.

        It should be made clear that evolution does not theorize the origins of life.

        It has been – and s-oo often. Boring!

        In debate?

        Yes.

        Also, sorry to have bored you.

        Not your fault Binary. Also, my turn to apologise, I was being a wee bit too dismissive there. Of course we have to keep banging the drum. As I said myself, a political debate is never decided.

        Obviously, if we trace the evolution back far enough we arrive at the original causality dilemma, and this seems for many to be the largest impediment to accepting evolution—it offers no argument one way or the other on the origin of life itself.

        I would ask you to think again about this statement Binary. Do you see any similarities between this argument and the argument you begin with “ … more purchase is given to the opposition to fill in the void after you … ?” This is commonly known as the god-of-the-gaps argument. Science doesn’t know X – so god did X.

        I’m well aware with what this argument is called. It is precisely to avoid it being implemented by the opposition that I have stressed the importance of making it clear evolution does not theorize the origins of life. To avoid the purchase of a god of the gaps argument (which also goes back to my statement that Dawkins engaging with religious zealots is futile, they’re going to put any lie anywhere they can).

        I don’t see how discussing biopoesis, in the way you presented it, helps?

        This is the single most frequently misunderstood concept of evolution, and it must be reclaimed by evolutionary scientists if the theory is to gain any traction in conventional wisdom.

        I do not live in Canada, perhaps in Canada it’s different. As far as I can tell everyone else in the World has no difficulty distinguishing between biopoesis and evolution – with the exception of those motivated to confuse the public and politicians by refusing to publicly acknowledge the difference. Am I holding up my telescope to a blind eye?

        At the risk of calling you blind, I would say you underestimate the scope of this issue I mention.

        I’m fully aware that creationists are fond of bundling biopoesis into evolution in order to attempt to undermine evolution by obfuscation. I was merely pointing out that we have no need to fear such underhand, scientifically illiterate and transparent tactics.

        I appreciate your desire to get these people to think and understand Binary, but even I have limits.

        Fair enough, I suppose I have the patience of a saint.

        Do you?

        By correlative I assume you mean corrective?

        No, and here your sass blinds you to my argument. I’m saying the debate struggles to produce any corresponding fear tactic as the sound bites is why it doesn’t hold the readers attention (which is also why I slipped in the “rightfully so”, which you curiously omitted)

        I omitted the ‘rightfully so’ because I couldn’t see the connection. You wrote a very long post and I needed to cut it down or spend all day on a response. I see you did the same with my post – no problem.

        I’m not throwing any stones here I live in a glass house made of verbal diarrhoea (or should that be the text runs … ) I also looked up correlative but could find no entry in my two dictionaries.

        All of which means I just don’t understand what your point is here …

        … but if people are prepared to work at remaining ignorant, if they’re so convinced, or too frightened, to change their thinking it makes not one iota of difference.

        But what if they’re not, do we simply give up on them because you don’t want to be bothered pandering to them?

        Good point. As Theramin Trees says: there’s a lot to be learned and minds can be changed. I am suitably chastised.

        If we have an education, then you and I must shoulder most of the burden. Yes, we have been lax.

        Then why have you been attacking me …

        Ouch! Attacking you? I am, on rare occasions such as this, accused of being belligerent in my posts. I never understand why. I try my hardest to be helpful and to inject friendliness and humour people still get upset. C’est la vie, some people just can’t live with constructive criticism I guess.

        On a more serious note, Binary, there are two things you need to be a good debater in the public domain:

        • A thick skin

        • The skill to read text – without adding your own emphasis

        Thin skinned politicians don’t last, they take it personally and then they march off in a huff – thus persuading everyone that they don’t know zip and doing more harm than good. When you put your own emphasis into text you apply emotional stress to yourself that the Writer, in almost every case, did not intend and you add implied reasoning that would just confuse the bejabers out of them.

        … for trying to offer an accessible picture of the debate on evolution?

        Well now, accessible … isn’t that what you and I are debating?

        This post was also, do forgive me for trying, intended for people who unlike you aren’t swollen with scientific acumen.

        Flattery works every time with me. I know only a little science – enough to be dangerous!

        Scientific enquiry continues, for the most part, unmolested.

        Oh yes? Stem cell research continues unabated? Being broadly discussed is it?

        In Europe and Asia, yes.

        The overwhelming degree of sarcasm and hostility on a simple suggestion has indeed cured me of the ridiculous notion that I have any interest in wasting any further time conversing with you all.

        Don’t worry, I won’t be coming back to waste anyone else’s time.

        You mean I worked my way through your entire post and now I find my time was wasted. Thanks … I think.

        Oh well, at least I have the satisfaction of saying: I told you so!

        Peace.

        • In reply to #46 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

          Perhaps valorize and champion Wallace as well then?

          Yes, I think we should.

          Those who value science are working on it!

          http://www.nhm.ac.uk/natureplus/community/wallace100/blog/2013/01/08/portrait-of-wallace-to-be-unveiled-at-the-nhm?fromGateway=true

          In 1923, to mark the 100th anniversary of Alfred Russel Wallace’s birth, a magnificent oil painting of him was donated to the Natural History Museum, London. It hung in the Museum’s Central Hall for about 50 years, before being put into storage.

          To help commemorate this year’s 100th anniversary of Wallace’s death, the portrait has been repaired, cleaned and revarnished, and it will soon be returned to its original position on the wall near the statue of Charles Darwin on the main stairs of the Central Hall. It will be unveiled by comedian and natural historian Bill Bailey at the launch of the Museum’s Wallace100 events programme on the evening of 24 January, to go on public view from the 25th for about a year.

          On the evening of 24 January 2013, comedian and naturalist Bill Bailey unveiled this striking portrait of Alfred Russel Wallace at the top of our grand Central Hall staircase, near to the Charles Darwin statue.

  21. As others have pointed out, it is useful to point out that evolution is a fact, just like gravity pulls things together, and the theory of natural selection is our best explanation of this fact.

  22. The key here is to find a way of ensuring that stupid doesn’t even get a seat at the table. I’m all for education, but if the idiots want to argue with scientific fact they can go jump off a cliff as far as I’m concerned.

  23. Just like all the space scientists got together and concluded that Pluto is no longer classed as a planet, and announced it the the world at a press conference, biologists and other related scientists should get together, hold a press conference and announce to the world that evolution is no longer classed as a theory, but is a scientific fact. The LAW of evolution by natural selection. They could prepare a press pack with all the relevant evidence across the many different fields of science to support the decision, as did the space scientists with the decision about Pluto.

    This would solve a lot of the problems based on ignorance of the meaning of the word ‘theory’.

  24. Even the term theory is a misnomer, so incompatible with conventional language that the term does more harm than good, if only because the public is yet to be properly educated on the difference.

    It is a bit late now, just because creationists dishonestly twist the term. Everyone has heard of “music theory” and the “theory of gravity”.
    Just because creationists misuse the term to mean hunch or conjecture does not mean science needs new definitions.

  25. A mildly interesting piece. However I saw it as an exploration of the writer’s own challenges with language and faith and argument, rather than a real challenge to the reader.

    We cannot ‘debate’ a proven scientific set of established facts, packaged inside an envelope we call the Theory of Evolution. They have been consistently and repeatedly and thoroughly and exhaustively proven. Proven by experiment, observation, measurement. (And this, therefore, puts Evolution on a far higher plain than Human Induced Climate Change)

    So the biggest flaws in this piece are it’s language. Debate, Faith, Argument. All inappropriate and useless words inmho.

    Secondly as RD has evidenced so many many times, there is no ‘debate’ with people locked in to their faith based beliefs. They do not base their beliefs on evidence or argument or fact, or even observation. They hold their beliefs as a result of abandoning all of these concepts and faculties, and instead commit themselves to a set of claims given to them by their religion, without question. Moreover they exalt the willingness to abandon all of these amazing human faculties to the highest level of achievement possible. They say that Faith is the highest achievement. So where then is there space for debate ?

    I am lucky to live in the UK and Ireland. I have encountered very very few religious people who have any doubts about the truth of Evolution. I know they are there and can be very loud about their issues when given an opportunity. But the big challenge is what is happening in the UNited States, where this extraordinary religious abandoning of Science and rational thinking has been taken to the nth degree.

    • *
      “…the failure of scientists to succinctly shut down the non-arguments of scientific illiterates has allowed these religious fundamentalists to filibuster scientific inquiry…”

      I do not accept this statement. Dawkins, Coyne and scores of well-known and respected scientists have made powerful (and often succinct) arguments designed to shut down the illiterates. They have largely succeeded among the general public in western societies. They have not made much inroads among the determinedly illiterate, true. But then, there are still considerable numbers of people in the southern United States who are not convinced that the liberation of the slaves was a good idea. Is this because somebody failed to put a succinct argument forward to them?

  26. I realise that binarybastard is an English student because s/he stated so. However, a word of advice. More is not better. Learn to express yourself more succinctly and you will be more likely to retain the reader’s attention.

    As for the professional bullshitters like the Ray Comforts and Ken Hams of this world, there is no possible way to “sex up” the theory of evolution so as to make it acceptable to their followers. The same approach has been tried and failed, at least in Britain, by the CoE Christians, using the “creeping Jesus” approach, whereby all manner of current events are discussed and then Jesus is introduced at the last moment as if he had something to do with real events. A derisory approach to the so-called creator of the universe. Similarly, there should be no pussyfooting around the fact that evolution is a natural process and involves no supernatural elements.

    • In reply to #54 by Mr DArcy:

      As for the professional bullshitters like the Ray Comforts and Ken Hams of this world, there is no possible way to “sex up” the theory of evolution so as to make it acceptable to their followers.

      I know – but we can try with a new version of an old favourite:-

      http://www.facepunch.com/showthread.php?t=1234466

      I’m sorry for those hoping for another funny video, but Eric Idle’s Galaxy Song is my favourite song (To the point where I wish to have it played at my funeral); and ever since it was confirmed that Eric Idle & Brian Cox would be making the song together, I’ve been excited. And now it’s released, I just feel so excited that I should share it with the world, so enjoy it

  27. Entering this site late, I almost missed this masterpiece. Thank you! With regard to the excessive focus on the genius Darwin, I agree with you. It would be much more useful to also refer to the later, very significant work by eg Dobzhansky and Mayr, because they are explanatory and filled with examples, even beautiful experiments. Out of their work came the synthetic theory of evolution including genetic mechanisms. Unfortunately, Darwin and Mendel never worked together and could not produce what followed.

  28. Am I too late to enjoy this party?

    Going back to the original, excellent, post it strikes me that once a new idea becomes generally accepted it stops being an “-ism” at all. We don’t talk about Keplerism or Newtonism, although we honour their genius in discovering and describing certain features of the way things are.

    So if we refer to “Darwinism” in our debates with creationists, or let them to do so unchallenged, it seems that we are doing some of their work for them. By referring to evolution as “Darwinism” we suggest that it is somehow just one side of a genuine debate within science. In short, since Darwin’s ideas, like those of Kepler and Newton, have become an accepted part of science, the “-ism” is inappropriate and potentially confusing to people. You can get away in debate with being “anti-Darwin”. You can’t make a case for being “anti-reality”.

    So the only real question here is: Is Darwin’s description of the origin of species fully accepted by science yet or isn’t it? It seems to me the obvious answer is yes. In which case, I suggest it’s time we paid him the same honour we have paid Kepler and Newton, and promoted him from his perpetual “-ism” state.

Leave a Reply