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edmund



Posts: 37
Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 04 2006,07:04   

I'm teaching a course on evolution and creationism at a small liberal-arts college, and I'm planning on giving a quick poll to my students on how strong they think the scientific support is for a handful of statements.

I'd then like to compare the students' opinions to how scientists view the strength of the scientific evidence for the same statements.

So, if you consider yourself to be a scientist and you can spare a couple of minutes, please post a reply with your scores for the ten questions below. Not that the opinions of non-scientists aren't important, just that I'm hoping to poll only that rather narrow slice of society. Names aren't necessary, but it might be nice if you also mentioned which branch of the sciences you're involved in.

Thanks very much for your assistance.

Brian Spitzer, Professor
Gustavus Adolphus College

(disclaimer: I don't pretend that this is a proper scientific survey, in case you're wondering. This is very very informal, and I'm just trying to get my students to think about some issues, and please don't sic the Scientific Methodology Monster on me.)


How strong is the scientific evidence supporting each of the following statements? Please score each statement on a scale from 1 (there is no scientific support for this statement whatsoever) to 4 (there is moderate scientific support for this statement) to 7 (the scientific support for this statement is overwhelmingly strong).

1) Living organisms arose from non-living matter by a purely natural mechanism that is well understood.

2) All organisms alive today share common ancestry at some time in the remote past.

3) All organisms alive today reached their modern form as a result of mechanisms that are well understood by science (e.g., mutation, natural selection, drift, and the other elements in the modern theory of evolution).

4) Supernatural intervention has played no role in the development of living organisms as we see them today.

5) Supernatural forces are not required to account for the development of living organisms as we see them today.

6) Human beings are related to other species.

7) The physical form and behavior of human beings have been shaped by natural selection.

8) Supernatural intervention played no role in the rise of human consciousness and culture, including moral and religious impulses.

9) Supernatural forces are not required to account for human consciousness and culture, including moral and religious impulses.

10) Natural selection is responsible for the rise of human consciousness and culture, including moral and religious impulses.

  
Russell



Posts: 1082
Joined: April 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 04 2006,08:34   

Here are my responses, together with unsolicited commentary in italics. Except where the answer seems so obvious that no commentary is necessary.


1) Living organisms arose from non-living matter by a purely natural mechanism that is well understood. (2)
We don't have much, if any, idea what reactions actually occurred. But, as  none of the arguments that various plausible suggestions couldn't account for it hold up under scrutiny, I give it a "2" instead of a "1".

2) All organisms alive today share common ancestry at some time in the remote past. (6)
The molecular evidence for this is hard to deny. It's just conceivable, though, that life arising from more than one origin, being subjected to the similar unknown selective forces, evolved in parallel. So I give it a "6" instead of "7"

3) All organisms alive today reached their modern form as a result of mechanisms that are well understood by science (e.g., mutation, natural selection, drift, and the other elements in the modern theory of evolution. (6)
Depending on how generally one defines those elements. E.g. "sexual selection", though different in important ways from "natural selection" as typically understood, could be seen as a subset of natural selection, more broadly understood. Likewise, I doubt that any mechanism will be found that would not be similarly compatible with the "elements in the modern theory of evolution", but since it depends on definitions, (and, of course, one's interpretation of  "well understood") I give it a "6" instead of a "7".

4) Supernatural intervention has played no role in the development of living organisms as we see them today.(4)
Hmmm. Tricky. There's no evidence that it has played a role, but if there were any such evidence, it wouldn't be "supernatural". My neutral "4" is meant to convey my sense that science doesn't deal with "supernatural" at all, either proving it ("1") or disproving it ("7").

5) Supernatural forces are not required to account for the development of living organisms as we see them today.(7)

6) Human beings are related to other species.(7)

7) The physical form and behavior of human beings have been shaped by natural selection. (7)

8) Supernatural intervention played no role in the rise of human consciousness and culture, including moral and religious impulses. (4)
(see question #4, above)

9) Supernatural forces are not required to account for human consciousness and culture, including moral and religious impulses. (6)
Again, I don't think science can say anything about "supernatural forces". And, if such things exist, one could easily imagine that they were involved in the development of these things. Hence the "6" not a "7". But I see no reason that these things couldn't have developed without invoking the supernatural. Hence the "6 or 7", not a "1 or 2".

10) Natural selection is responsible for the rise of human consciousness and culture, including moral and religious impulses. (6)
Personally, I suspect it's exclusively responsible, but science can't prove that "supernatural" phenomena - or indeed other natural phenomena not covered under "natural selection" - were not also involved. Hence the "6" rather than "7".


(I hold a PhD in biochemistry, and work in microbiology)

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Must... not... scratch... mosquito bite.

  
Corkscrew



Posts: 20
Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 05 2006,04:05   

I'm a mathematician not a scientist, but hey.

1) 5 that they could have appeared by mechanisms that we understand well, 2 that they actually did.

2) 6, unless you include viruses in which case 5

3) 6 that they could have, 4 that they did

4) 6 that it wasn't necessary, 4 that it didn't

5) 6

6) 7

7) 7

8) 4 (you can't disprove a negative, so I'm mostly going by my answer to q9 and knocking a couple of points off. Strictly speaking my answer should be MU, but the 1-7 range of answers was clearly not tailored to the needs of Zen practitioners)

9) 6

10) 4 (evolutionary sociology always seems a bit fuzzy to me)

  
Flint



Posts: 478
Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 05 2006,04:57   

Some of these questions are as hazy as "how high is up?" or "Is it colder in the North or in the Winter?" And this is a Bad Thing when we're assigning numbers, because the numbers can then be manipulated (finding averages, etc.) without regard to the fact that they don't necessarily mean anything.

So I'm going to approach this a bit differently. Questions about the supernatural are simply not accessible to science, rendering any numerical response nonsensical. For questions 4, 5, 8 and 9, it's simply not possible to assign a number that says anything comprehensible. They could all be given a "1" (no scientific support) or a "7" (overwhelming support) and either response could be equally justified!

So let's try to clarify: the supernatural lies outside the competence of science. Science is simply *not capable* of saying *anything* about the supernatural. Anything AT ALL. And this means ANY number assigned to these questions is fundamentally meaningless and dishonest.

Now, on to the questions themselves:

1) Living organisms arose from non-living matter by a purely natural mechanism that is well understood. I'd also give this a value of 2. Some possible (i.e. plausible according to the known rules of chemistry) mechanisms have been proposed, and some possible very early precursor protocell structures have been created. But it's important to note that how the first life DID happen may simply not be knowable. I wouldn't be surprised if scientists were to discover several different mechanisms that would have been sufficient, but we'll never know which (if any) happened.

2) All organisms alive today share common ancestry at some time in the remote past I think the evidence here merits a full 7. Yes, it's possible that multiple lineages arose early on, but all seem to have joined the main trunk of the tree of life at some point.

3) All organisms alive today reached their modern form as a result of mechanisms that are well understood by science I'd give this one a 6. The mechanisms currently identified are well understood, but I think it's an error to believe that ALL mechanisms have been identified. I'd state as a matter of principle that we can *never* confidently claim we've nailed them all.

4) N/A

5) N/A. We can't even define what supernatural means. However, we can be pretty confident that the mechanisms currently understood are sufficient, and no supernatural component (whatever that might mean) is required. Whether one was *involved* is not knowable to science.

6) Human beings are related to other species. 7. No question here.

7) The physical form and behavior of human beings have been shaped by natural selection. 7. After all, "form and behavior" essentially describe ALL organisms.

8) N/A

9) Supernatural forces are not required to account for human consciousness and culture, including moral and religious impulses. N/A. Here, we're talking about the process of elimination - the idea being that if we could fully account for consciousness and culture without ringing in anything "supernatural", we could squeeze out any supernatural requirement. Again, this is like question 5). Until we can have some notion what supernatural means in practice, how can we know if it's required?

10) Natural selection is responsible for the rise of human consciousness and culture, including moral and religious impulses. This question is not possible to answer meaningfully with a number. First, we need to define "moral and religious impulses." Until we know what these things ARE, we can't know what causes them. And I personally think reasonable people could argue forever over such a definition. No matter HOW we define these things, it's going to be possible to argue that they don't even exist.

But let's say people DO have "religious impulses" (I admit I don't feel any. What would one seem like?). Perhaps it would be most meaningful to say that whatever people do or think is an emergent property of how people are physically constructed. From this view, since natural selection is largely responsible for the evolution of all organisms, everything about those organisms is at least partially the result of natural selection.

But the danger with question 10) is that it seems to have a nodding acquaintence with "social Darwinism" and this is a dangerous error.

So here's a metaphor. Think of natural selection as having provided us with an easel, a canvas, and an extensive palette of colored paints. We each use these tools to paint a picture. Are the  materials "responsible" for the picture? In a sense, yes of course. But in another sense, the picture itself is more than some mixture of paints on canvas - it has an emergent MEANING entirely independent of the materials that compose it. That meaning doesn't lie in the paint, it lies in the mind of whoever interprets the pattern.

And in this sense, culture and moral and religious impulses are *projections*, interpretations imposed on perceived patterns not inherent in the patterns, but only in the interpretations. Natural selection only enables these things; it's responsibility extends no further.

  
Dean Morrison



Posts: 216
Joined: Dec. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 05 2006,05:27   

1) Living organisms arose from non-living matter by a purely natural mechanism that is well understood.

'2' - On the basis of our current understanding of abiogenesis - however at the rate of progress that is being made, I'd fully expect that my answer would be '5' - I doubt that theoretically the score we could ever do much better than that - we might find a mechanism for abiogenesis; however it might not be the one that actually occurred - this is almost as much a matter of history as of science.

2) All organisms alive today share common ancestry at some time in the remote past.

'7' without exception, whether we look at the fossil record or living creatures - we find evidence for this explanation and no other.

3) All organisms alive today reached their modern form as a result of mechanisms that are well understood by science (e.g., mutation, natural selection, drift, and the other elements in the modern theory of evolution).

'7' details and new questions and lines of research are being worked out all the time - but in principle the main mechanisms are well-understood.

4) Supernatural intervention has played no role in the development of living organisms as we see them today.

'7' from a scientific point of view - Anything - including the Flying Spaghetti Monster is possible outside science; but we find no scientific evidence that requires supernatural explanation.

5) Supernatural forces are not required to account for the development of living organisms as we see them today.

'7' as above

6) Human beings are related to other species.

'7' yes - and even better the sequencing of genomes shows pecisely to what degree to any other individual or species.

7) The physical form and behavior of human beings have been shaped by natural selection.

'7' - but a wooly 'double question'. Especially the use of the words 'behaviour and shaped. 'Shaped' for sure - but not completely controlled to the extent that we are slaves to our genes and have no free will.

8) Supernatural intervention played no role in the rise of human consciousness and culture, including moral and religious impulses.

Science doesn't study the supernatural - so this is not a 'scientific' question - but to the extent that science provides a clear pathway by which these things can evolve without the requirement of supernatural intervention '7'.

9) Supernatural forces are not required to account for human consciousness and culture, including moral and religious impulses.

'as above' '7'

10) Natural selection is responsible for the rise of human consciousness and culture, including moral and religious impulses.
- Another multiple question (at least 4!)-
'5' ( an average for the four questions {6,4,6,3)  Human consciousness  allows developments beyond that  of evolution by natural selection. Our own ability to use foresight,Intelligence and Design  - and to gather information about the world which allow us to make moral choices - is a new development which we are only beginning to understand. Philosophy is probably the field that best addresses this - not science. However Natural Selection was a pre-requisite to make this development possible. Natural Selection is very likely to have a hand in developing the alruistic mechanisms that allow us to live as social animals. The proposal that natural selection is responsible for the development of religion seems to be a poorly supported hypothesis at the moment. The development of consciousness itself would seem to me to lead to the asking of 'religious' (and scientific) questions

Dean Morrison
Ecologist
England

I agree with the points made by the previous contributers regarding the wooliness of some of the questions. However I have tried to give a fair scoring based on the meaning I guess  your students will attribute to the scores.
Science doesn't address supernatural questions - you should really open up this topic as part of your course.
I have the save problems as some of the others about what I see as a potential over-extension of evolutionary theory to account for our modern social behaviour - this does grab a lot of headlines but is less well founded than other aspects of evolutionary biology.

I would recommend your students watch the excellent talk that Ken Millar gave on the subject this week at Case West University:

rtsp://mv-helix1.cwru.edu/a/2006/biology/intelligent_design_384kbps_01_03_2006_1.rm

He's a practicing Christian by the way - and the author of 'Finding Darwin's God'

  
The Ghost of Paley



Posts: 1703
Joined: Oct. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 06 2006,05:16   

You mean Dean's a scientist?

:0  :0  :0  :0  :0  :0  :0  :0  :0  :0

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Dey can't 'andle my riddim.

  
Flint



Posts: 478
Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 06 2006,05:31   

Ghost:

I'd be interested in your answers to these questions, whether or not you're a scientist. Your sniping at Dean is of course very clever, but not very informative.

  
Russell



Posts: 1082
Joined: April 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 06 2006,07:28   

Quote
Your sniping at Dean is of course very clever, but not very informative.  

Indeed! Not just cleverclever beyond measure!

--------------
Must... not... scratch... mosquito bite.

  
Flint



Posts: 478
Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 06 2006,11:38   

I wonder what units cleverness is measured in. Wits?

  
Julie Stahlhut



Posts: 46
Joined: July 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 07 2006,06:37   

Brian, I'll be glad to respond.  For the record: I'm a biologist whose specialty is insect behavioral and molecular ecology.  (Ph.D. in 2002, and now a postdoc at Rochester.)


1) Living organisms arose from non-living matter by a purely natural mechanism that is well understood.

I'll rate this a 2.  I think that we have plausible mechanisms for how living organisms can arise from non-living matter, but the key here is "well-understood".  


2) All organisms alive today share common ancestry at some time in the remote past.

I'll rate this 7.  The DNA evidence IMO is compelling.


3) All organisms alive today reached their modern form as a result of mechanisms that are well understood by science (e.g., mutation, natural selection, drift, and the other elements in the modern theory of evolution).

I'll also give this a 7.  Time and again, we're able to obtain concordant evidence from DNA, morphology, ecology, and the fossil record.  


4) Supernatural intervention has played no role in the development of living organisms as we see them today.

This is a 1, for one reason.  The scientific method cannot answer this question.  We can't use experiments or observation to study the role, of any, of the supernatural in evolution or developmental biology, any more than we can study its role in gravity or electromagnetism.  

Of course, unless comments are included, this proposition and B8 have the biggest potential to mislead.  Most, if not all, scientists would probably rate this as 1 or 2, for the same reason I stated above -- and the answer would be the same regardless of the scientist's religious beliefs.  A reader who doesn't understand how and why this would be true is an ID charlatan's dream.


5) Supernatural forces are not required to account for the development of living organisms as we see them today.

I'll give this a 7, and the key words are "not required".  While we living organisms are variable and complex, there's nothing about us that violates the laws of physics.  I'm using absolutes like "nothing" in the sense that Stephen Jay Gould defined the word "fact";  it's something well-enough established that it would be "perverse to withhold provisional assent".


6) Human beings are related to other species.

Also a 7.  Again, we have considerable molecular, morphological, and fossil evidence for this.


7) The physical form and behavior of human beings have been shaped by natural selection.

I'll give this a 6.  My only quibble about giving it a 7 is that, in my opinion, much (though hardly all) of our behavior is shaped by cultural forces.  It's also my opinion that our large brains and our behavioral flexibility are products of natural selection.  They do, however, permit us to behave in ways that wouldn't be easy to predict using, say, fitness models.


8) Supernatural intervention played no role in the rise of human consciousness and culture, including moral and religious impulses.

As with B4:  Also a 1, because it's not testable by scientific means.


9) Supernatural forces are not required to account for human consciousness and culture, including moral and religious impulses.

I'll split hairs much more than I did with B5, and give this a 4.  In my opinion, these phenomena could occur by completely non-supernatural means. However, the human belief in these forces is common and very real, and has contributed considerably to cultural phenomena.  The reason for my lowered score:  I think most of the literature on these phenomena comes from humanities disciplines such as history.  Were I more familiar with the social-sciences literature, I might rate it as being more highly supported.


10) Natural selection is responsible for the rise of human consciousness and culture, including moral and religious impulses.

I'll rate this a mere 3 -- see my response to B9.  I think this question is only partly amenable to scientific study, taking more of a social-sciences than natural-sciences approach.  For ethical and practical reasons, we obviously can't manipulate human behaviors to test this kind of thing, and I think it would be difficult to extrapolate it reliably from history alone. 


Hope this helps,
-- Julie

  
jeannot



Posts: 1200
Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 08 2006,08:06   

Jean Peccoud
French PhD student working on ecological speciation

1) Living organisms arose from non-living matter by a purely natural mechanism…
- 7. Since the alternative is neither falsifiable nor scientifically proven.
…that is well understood.
- 4. There are plausible mechanisms, but the actual one is not known (yet).

2) All organisms alive today share common ancestry at some time in the remote past.
- 7. The molecular data supporting this are overwhelming. The viruses share also a common ancestry with all other organisms; they use our genetic code.

3) All organisms alive today reached their modern form as a result of mechanisms that are well understood by science (e.g., mutation, natural selection, drift, and the other elements in the modern theory of evolution).
- 7. That’s the current theory of evolution.

4) Supernatural intervention has played no role in the development of living organisms as we see them today.
- see 1)

5) Supernatural forces are not required to account for the development of living organisms as we see them today.
- see 1)

6) Human beings are related to other species.
- 7.

7) The physical form and behavior of human beings have been shaped by natural selection.
- Not completely true regarding our morphology: 4. You need to add the genetic drift. If you do: 7 (no other mechanisms of evolution are known).
- Regarding our behavior (and culture), its heritability (essentially through learning) does not meet the requirements for natural selection to act: 1.

8) Supernatural intervention played no role in the rise of human consciousness and culture, including moral and religious impulses.
- See 1). AFAIK, none of the godly interventions mentioned in the bible has been scientifically proven.

9) Supernatural forces are not required to account for human consciousness and culture, including moral and religious impulses.
- See 1).

10) Natural selection is responsible for the rise of human consciousness and culture, including moral and religious impulses.
- Regarding our consciousness: 6. The biological material for human consciousness is not precisely known, but it resides certainly in our body, which evolved through natural selection and/or genetic drift.
- Regarding our culture, see 7).

I hope this helps.

  
The Ghost of Paley



Posts: 1703
Joined: Oct. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 08 2006,10:23   

Quote
How strong is the scientific evidence supporting each of the following statements? Please score each statement on a scale from 1 (there is no scientific support for this statement whatsoever) to 4 (there is moderate scientific support for this statement) to 7 (the scientific support for this statement is overwhelmingly strong).


1) Living organisms arose from non-living matter by a purely natural mechanism that is well understood.
Don't know enough to say. 2 sounds fine.

2) All organisms alive today share common ancestry at some time in the remote past.
4.5. Stong lines of evidence for some organisms, but they disagree too often.

3) All organisms alive today reached their modern form as a result of mechanisms that are well understood by science (e.g., mutation, natural selection, drift, and the other elements in the modern theory of evolution).
5. Gene duplication, frameshift mutations, and point mutations are increasingly well understood. But how does it all add up?

4) Supernatural intervention has played no role in the development of living organisms as we see them today.
1.5 See the Wizard's latest.

5) Supernatural forces are not required to account for the development of living organisms as we see them today.
1.5. See above.

6) Human beings are related to other species.
5.5 The molecular, fossil, and morphological evidence match up pretty well here. Too bad some of us are way smarter than evolution predicts.

7) The physical form and behavior of human beings have been shaped by natural selection.
2.5, to be generous. Some evidence of positive selection for a handful of genes; too many just-so stories.

8) Supernatural intervention played no role in the rise of human consciousness and culture, including moral and religious impulses.
Are you kidding me? 1 all the way, baby.

9) Supernatural forces are not required to account for human consciousness and culture, including moral and religious impulses.
See 8).

10) Natural selection is responsible for the rise of human consciousness and culture, including moral and religious impulses.
Natural selection did play a role in the development of civilizations, so 3 I guess.

Ghost of Paley

Future Fields Medal winner and Nobel prize candidate. :D

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Dey can't 'andle my riddim.

  
Dean Morrison



Posts: 216
Joined: Dec. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 08 2006,11:05   

You'll note that 'Ghost of Paley doesn't claim to be a scientist, and hides behind an avatar Professer.

Although he does seem to be suffering from the delusion that he's going to win the Nobel and fields prizes.

You should report his opinions to your students, along with his views on race:

http://www.pandasthumb.org/archive....t-68028

and the moon landings and the position of the earth in the universe:

Quote
Wow, you guys really like to poison the well, dontcha? I assure you that my ideas are mine alone. No cribbing off ARN, kibitzing at I.D. conferences, or piloting black helicopters. Just a David armed with the slingshot of Truth, with a smattering of Dembski's sublime maths. As for my beliefs, I pretty much see it as the Bible calls it: geocentric special creation. None of that cheap Hollywood special effects for me - man on the moon my arse!


from page 5 of:

http://www.antievolution.org/cgi-bin....4;st=40

  
MidnightVoice



Posts: 380
Joined: Aug. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 09 2006,05:28   

I am pretty much with everyone else so far, (1) being a 2, (2-9) being a 6 because almost nothing in science is a 7!

As regrds (10), I would just point out that evolution does tend to favor cooperation (eg the Prisoners Dilema), so there are good reasons to belive it could be true, and this makes it a complax question to answer.

--------------
If I fly the coop some time
And take nothing but a grip
With the few good books that really count
It's a necessary trip

I'll be gone with the girl in the gold silk jacket
The girl with the pearl-driller's hands

  
The Ghost of Paley



Posts: 1703
Joined: Oct. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 09 2006,08:18   

Dean is lying again.

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Dey can't 'andle my riddim.

  
Alan Fox



Posts: 1391
Joined: Aug. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 09 2006,09:14   

*Ahem*

Gut to gametes? I know there are different timezones...

... mais quand-même!

  
Dean Morrison



Posts: 216
Joined: Dec. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 09 2006,13:49   

Please follow the links where the 'Ghost of Paley' accuses me of lying (I do no such thing of course - Paley has some idea that by giving a reference to such an accusation it may seem that there is some basis for it).

Follow them and make up your own mind about Paley's views on racial discrimination and the moon landings for example:
He simply condemns himself with his own words.

  
Dean Morrison



Posts: 216
Joined: Dec. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Jan. 09 2006,14:09   

Quote (Flint @ Jan. 06 2006,17:38)
I wonder what units cleverness is measured in. Wits?

...or half-wits to allow for the likes of Paley

(sorry but I couldn't resist - Flint set it up so someone had to deliver the gag)

  
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