Re: [asa] Behe's Math... was Arrogance

From: David Campbell <>
Date: Fri Aug 31 2007 - 13:04:15 EDT

>It really only takes a simple thought experiment to expel the notion
of 'universalistic evolutionism' (who could defend this?) from the
mind of any person who accepts the provisionality of science; all
scientific theories, even the 'theory' of evolution, are someday to be
eclipsed. <

This is a bit simplistic. Science is constrained by the physical
evidence, although there is a theoretical component to all
understanding of evidence as well and a particular issue of deciding
the difference between noise in the data and significant problems. As
far as we can tell, science is progressing to theories that are better
and better at describing the physical world, though there are plenty
of bumps and reversals along the way. However, past theories do not
simply disappear, as they were based on some sort of observations
themselves-the new ones must provide a better explanation of those
phenomena; usually they also need to explain something new. The old
theories often remain valid as special cases of the new, more
comprehensive model.

Also, evolution is confusingly used for both the data and the model.
Our models of exactly how organisms change over time are constantly
developing in response to new data and new ideas. However, we also
have the extensive data showing that organisms have changed over time,
parallel patterns of similarity in physical and biochemical features,
fossil transitional forms, etc. These must be explained by any theory
of the origin and diversification of organisms.

>What will TE's do with their theology when the 'concept' they have
anchored their theology to has been over-written?<

What exactly is a TE? There are two major categories that must be
distinguished in this regard:

a) A Christian who acknowledges that evolution provides the best
current physical description of the origin and diversification of
organisms. He will therefore be opposed to attempts to anchor
Christian theology to antievolutionism or young-earth claims, which
have already been overwritten. He'll probably seek to find ways of
harmonization (broadly defined to include compartmentalization,
allegorizing, etc. etc.) between paleontology and Scripture, but does
not anchor theology to evolution. This reflects a conviction that
Scripture is more important than science as a theological guide, and
possibly a recognition that current evolutionary biology is not the
final word.

b) Someone who seeks to revise theology to conform to a purportedly
more evolutionary mold. This is anchored in evolution (or at least in
the person's understanding of evolution, which often doesn't match
current biological understanding) and is subject to disruption as the
theory changes.

> On this list I saw some glowing over this Majerus story and taking Dr
> Jonathan Wells to task for his stance re Kettlewell and the Peppered Moth.
> In a 2,500 word plus paper just posted, Dr Jonathan Wells has demonstrated
> his characteristic analytical style as he unpacks the story. That may just
> inspire a few humble apologies to be given?

No, for it conforms to Wells' characteristics of inaccuracy and bad theology.

> "So crucial evidence for Darwin's theory the origin of species by means of
> natural selection is missing. And peppered moths don't provide it.

Wrong on both counts. There may be a bit of confusion in that natural
selection does not originate species; it provides pressure favoring
the differentiation of species but mutations in the organism are
necessary to actually produce them.

There are numerous examples of new species forming, both in lab and in
the wild. Attempts by Wells and others to deny that one species can
form from another without miraculous intervention are simply
dishonest. While it's true that a new species did not form in the
peppered moth example (incidentally making it microevolution by
anyone's definition and so being an example of Wells and others
denying microevolution), they have formed in many other examples.
Knowing exactly when to draw a line and declare that two populations
represent different species is far from easy in most cases, but we can
readily point to examples that fall on a range from minor differences
and free interbreeding to almost entirely separate. The one quick way
to make a new species is to create a form that cannot breed with the
parent forms but can reproduce itself, either asexually or by breeding
with others like itself. This readily happens when two species
hybridize, creating a polyploid offspring that can reproduce itself.
It happens all the time in plants, apparently doesn't happen in
mammals, and happens sporadically in most animal groups. Since it
can't breed with either parent form (wrong number of chromosomes), it
doesn't belong in the same species as them. A Soviet experiment did
this with plants of different genera, thus creating an instant new
genus (and an agricultural flop with raddish leaves and cabbage root).
 The new species, though similar to the parent forms, may be more
successful in certain ways and thus favored by natural selection. For
example, polyploid parthenogenetic geckos of hybrid origin have been
quite successful; apparently the extra sets of genes provide a
stronger immune response.

> Even if the classic peppered moth story were 100% true, it would demonstrate
> only a reversible shift in the proportions of two varieties in a
> pre-existing species. It would tell us nothing about the origin of those
> varieties, much less of Biston betularia, moths, insects, or animals in the
> first place.

This is the second error. The peppered moth story readily illustrates
how new species can arise. If conditions in one area persistently
favor white moths and in another favor black moths, any changes that
make the black and white moths keep apart will help them specialize
for the particular setting while wasting less reproductive effort on
offspring likely to do poorly (wrong color and/or not good at picking
out/attracting the right mate). Keep the bark black longer and there
could easily be a new species of moth, if other problems don't wipe
out the moths first.

> conclusion: The "fact of Darwinian evolution" shows that humans invented God
> and that there will be "no second coming; no helping hand from on high."26"

Given the quotation marks, it's not entirely clear exactly what
Majerus was claiming overall. It's popular among unthinking atheists
to claim that evolution implies that God was invented by man, just as
silly antievolutionists often claim that evolution implies no God.
(Note that the adjectives are intended to designate subsets rather
than to characterize all antievolutionists or atheists.) In reality,
there's nothing about evolution that tells us one way or another about
God's role-it only tells us that populations change over time
according to certain patterns. Christianity certainly holds that
there will be a second coming, but many Christians wrongly invoke a
helping hand from on high as an excuse to neglect stewardship of
creation. In reality, God apparently thinks that we often learn best
from experience and often makes us live with the consequences of bad
decisions. Thus, he is right to reject "I know Jesus will return in a
few years, so no point in caring for the environment" or "God's in
control, so there's no need to bother about possible environmentla
effects of our actions", though there's a good chance that he also
wrongly rejects the second coming and other aspects of Christianity.
Of course, Wells denies that Jesus is the Messiah, so one can question
the theological underpinnings of his writing as well. Good or bad
theology can potentially be associated with good or bad science; each
aspect must be considered on its own merits.

Dr. David Campbell
425 Scientific Collections
University of Alabama
"I think of my happy condition, surrounded by acres of clams"
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Received on Fri Aug 31 13:04:35 2007

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