Re: Stereotypes and reputations

From: <>
Date: Thu Aug 04 2005 - 18:13:52 EDT

I wrote:
>> I agree that the initial discovery that life fits a pattern
>> of nested hierarchies was not a prediction of common descent.
>> It is evidence that allows one to *deduce* common descent.

Cornelius Hunter:
>No doubt, there is plenty of evidence that allows one to deduce
>common descent. Much more than the Linnean pattern (to the extent
>that it is accurate). There is also a mountain of evidence that allows
>one to deduce geocentrism, spontaneous generation, etc. Evolutionists
>tally up the evidences as though theory evaluation is a matter of
>statistics. But actually, what is often the most important in science
>are those interesting outliers that don't fit the pattern, and don't
>fit the theory. They cannot be explained as measurement noise that
>happens to fall outside the 3 sigma band. This is why we have science
>doing science, not statiticians. Imagine if astronomers had assumed
>that retrograde motion was mere noise.

I don't think biologists simply ignore outliers. Often, oddities are interesting, providing some means of testing and refining ideas. Yet at the same time, there is always the question of whether we have the ability to determine whether a data point is a "theory-smashing" result or something else. Biology and biological history are extremely complicated and almost impossible to model. It is hard to distinguish signal from noise and the level of understanding may be insufficient to resolve many issues. We can't tell if the apparent, "3 sigma" outliers really do knock out evolution.

Despite the issues of noise and uncertainty, the 'Linnean pattern' you mention is terribly clear and has been for at least a couple centuries. It is also very clear that species have changed over time and that the nested hierarchies generally track with at multiple levels (e.g. time, morphology, biochemistry & molecular sequences, as I mentioned previously). The data is sufficient for ID biologists like Behe and Denton to see common descent as the primary connection between organisms. They may argue about the mechanism that drove evolution (Dembski has even speculated on quantum mechanisms), but not evolution itself.
When I talk about the evidence allowing one to deduce common descent, I'm not talking about making a wild stab at a explanation. I'm saying that the evidence actually favors one explanation over others. For example, multiple events of unrelated special creation (e.g. Biblical creation by kinds) or spontaneous generation (see work by Senapathy) are pretty much out of the picture. YEC has been dead for centuries. Progress creation via modification of preexisting species is still a possibility, although the existence of such an intelligent agent for most of Earth's history is completely unverified.

I suppose we could talk about what is takes to confirm or refute scientific claims and how acceptance & rejection of theories happens. That is a wonderfully unresolved topic that will keep philosophers and historians of science gainfully employed until the end of time. Suffice to say that descent with modification remains the main, consensus theory in science for the history of life on the planet (Some disagree - There are always outliers). And no, it's not popular just because some atheists think it disproves God.

Tim I
Received on Thu Aug 4 18:16:06 2005

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