Would You Like Fries With That Theory?

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May 10, 2010 Tags: Design

Today's entry was written by Karl Giberson. You can read more about what we believe here.

Would You Like Fries With That Theory?

Anti-Darwinists love to ridicule the concept of “scientific orthodoxy,” suggesting that it represents the unsupported collective opinion of many scientists who are basically just “voting” on things. Going against it is considered to be evidence of independent thinking and even courage.

A blogger at Uncommon Descent challenged Bruce Waltke’s “high regard for ‘current scientific orthodoxy’” and scolded Beliefnet columnist Ron Dreher for wondering how a leading academic like Waltke could get in trouble for simply noting that he thought the scientific consensus should be taken seriously.

The blogger went on to pose a most curious question: “Can we no longer confront the data on our own?” The answer to this is so obvious that I am surprised it would even be asked. The answer is “no.” Of course we cannot confront the data “on our own.”

To confront scientific data “on our own” would imply that we have scientific training and experience in whatever area we are looking at. If you say you can interpret fossil data on your own, for example— as biochemist Duane Gish and legal scholar Phillip Johnson tried to do—I would like to give you a brief quiz on fossils: Where might you find a fossil if I asked you to go fetch one? How much of a fossil skeleton is typically present? How do you figure out the age of a fossil? What exactly is a fossil? What parts of a skeleton are most likely to be missing or incompletely fossilized? How do you decide if bones found together are from the same organism?

If you cannot answer simple questions like these then you cannot confront fossil data “on your own.” And fossils are the simplest part of the evolutionary picture. Interpreting genomic data, with its complex biochemical, statistical, and historical underpinnings is not remotely possible without the relevant expertise.

My field is physics. I cannot imagine what it would mean for a layperson to deal with the data of physics and draw their own conclusions. Physics is particularly hard because of the math. If you don’t understand differential equations, then you simply cannot understand quantum mechanics. You can certainly look at the colored lines in a spectrum and somehow imagine that they come from electrons jumping back and forth in the atom, but that is a far cry from understanding what is going on. I earned a math degree en route to my Ph.D. in physics, but I never did learn enough math to understand quarks. I have to rely on specialists in that area.

Furthermore we rarely—if ever—apply this “Professor Everyman” style of reasoning to, say, medical diagnoses. If our child is sick we want our doctor to share the collective wisdom of the medical profession with us and tell us what to do, not hand us some charts and say “Here are the facts. Let me know what medications you want me to prescribe. Or if you think surgery is required.”

The only time we hear calls to stand up and challenge “orthodoxy” is when we don’t like that orthodoxy.

Evolution, Big Bang, and Global Warming are all places where uninformed lay people presume to challenge the scientific community. We hear calls to present both Intelligent Design and evolution to high school students and let them make up their own minds. Is this really a serious proposal? How can this possibly work? Questions that leading scientists with Ph.D.s have explored and debated for decades are to be presented to 17-year-old high school students to adjudicate during a 50 minute class right after lunch?

I need to meet these amazing students.

Professor Everyman would have us believe that the “scientific orthodoxy” or “consensus” is just an opinion poll. Scientists all believe the earth is billions of years old; they all like pepperoni pizza; and they all think blue is a great color. We can be lemmings and go along with the crowd or we can think for ourselves, and order sausage pizza, prefer green, and believe the earth is 10,000 years old.

To go along with the majority in this case is caricatured as abandoning your own thinking in favor of blindly accepting someone else’s. This kind of independent thinking would have rescued poor confused Bruce Waltke, for example, who needed to be “familiar with the current scientific data, rather than the current scientific orthodoxy.”

Unfortunately, only trained specialists can be familiar with scientific data. There are thousands of scientific papers published every month. Even if you focused on one small subfield—say fossils—it would take you years to get to the point where you could deal with the data directly and draw your own conclusions. Even scientists typically do not handle the data directly except in their own small area.

We must understand how the much-maligned consensus emerges in science. Take the age of the earth as an example where a well-defined “orthodoxy” exists. Nobody gathered all the geologists together and asked them “How many of you think the earth is: a) ten thousand years old? b) ten million? c) one billion; d) 4.6 billion? and then counted hands, as though they were choosing a venue for the Christmas party.

The age of the earth was a matter of some controversy for well over a century. Used to dating it at ten thousand years using the Bible, geologists came to understand that it was much older. At first the numbers were varied and uncertain; different dating methods yielded different results. There was no consensus.

But when scientists don’t agree, they work energetically—and generally amicably—to find out what is wrong. Research is done to gather more data; papers are published highlighting the disagreements and asking tough questions. More data is gathered. Conferences are held to address the problem. Very bright young people eagerly go into this field because it is obviously in need of fresh thinking. More data is gathered. Young whippersnappers brashly challenge their elders. Fogeys with their heels dug in gradually become marginalized. More data is gathered. Slowly the discrepancies begin to disappear under a mountain of fresh data until the reasons for the differences vanish and a consensus emerges.

The consensus on the age of the earth not a “consensus of opinion” but a “consensus of data” and a “consensus of methods.” We now understand that there are multiple ways to measure the age of the earth and they all converge on the same value.

To understand science is to understand this process—to appreciate just how much effort is expended over the course of a century as thousands of scientists from different disciplines, different countries, and speaking different languages, gather data and work vigorously until they all get onto the same page—and reach a “consensus”— about what is going on. To suggest that this “data” can be simply handed over to non-specialists so they can make up their own minds is profoundly miss the point of science.

There is a more common term for “scientific orthodoxy” that is widely used in other areas. It is wisdom.

Karl Giberson directs the new science & religion writing program at Gordon College in Boston. He has published more than 100 articles, reviews and essays for Web sites and journals including Salon.com, Books & Culture, and the Huffington Post. He has written seven books, including Saving Darwin, The Language of Science & Faith, and The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age.

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Rich - #13771

May 15th 2010


No, I’ve been very careful with my terms, and have been willing to clarify them at any point to any respondent.  I’ve “conflated” nothing.  Keep in mind that I’ve now read probably six to ten thousand pages of highly theoretical writing on Darwinism, TE, and ID, have debated with dozens of people (many with Ph.D.s) from all the camps, and can move fairly quickly through precise distinctions out of long practice.  It may take someone who is just learning this stuff longer, and so the consistency of my vocabulary and argument may be less evident at first sight. 

Macroevolution *absolutely requires* the creation of new body plans, which is why I’ve linked the two.  Microevolution doesn’t.

You ask:  “What barrier prevents evolutionary mechanisms from forming a tail fluke?”  I didn’t *say* there was any barrier, but your job is to show how it was done, and you can’t do it.  *I* don’t have to disprove anything.  *You’re* the one making the claim for the capability of Darwinian mechanisms.  (continued)

Rich - #13772

May 15th 2010


You ask:

“Further, what barrier prevents those incremental pieces from adding up to a large change—to a new body plan or new organ?” 

Again, I didn’t *say* there was any barrier.  I asked you to show me how the small changes add up to the large changes.  And you’ve tacitly admitted that neither you nor the best biologist living can do this in any particular case.  That’s not my problem, that’s yours—and the biologist’s. 

I’ve “dismissed” nothing.  I’ve asked for a substantial account of how a major transformation might have been achieved.  If I asked an engineer why a dam collapsed, a nuclear physicist how elements are formed in stars, a physiologist how the kidneys work, all of these scientists would say that my demand for detailed explanation was entirely legitimate.  It’s only the evolutionary biologists that find “how” questions impolite and unacceptable.  Why is this?

Why do I do it?  Because I doubt that stochastic processes can create complex specified information on the scale required.  Isn’t that a good enough reason to request detailed explanation?

Rich - #13773

May 15th 2010


You seem to think that I’m trying to impress evolutionary biologists into accepting me as a colleague or at least as a respected critic.  I have no hope of that.  I know that they will dismiss me as an unqualified quack.  Nor am I hoping to convince the general public that I have Ph.D.-level knowledge in biology.  I couldn’t hope to do that, and don’t need to do that.

I’m explaining why I don’t defer to the “authority” of evolutionary biologists, and why it is not necessary for *any* educated, thoughtful human being who has familiarized himself with the basic principles of Darwinian theory to to defer to their authority.  David Berlinski made the same argument when he single-handedly held off la creme de la creme of America’s evolutionary biologists in the pages of *Commentary*.  And should some mealy-mouthed individual, appealing to authority, say “Berlinski is not a biologist and is not qualified”, I point to Sternberg, who has *two* Ph.D.s in biology, and confirms the essence of Berlinski’s argument about whale evolution.  Some very well-informed people, not just stupid fundamentalists, doubt Darwinian evolution.  Karl Giberson’s article is distorting because it fails to acknowledge this.

Rich - #13774

May 15th 2010


Neither Dobzhansky nor Fisher (and still less that incoherent fraud and abominably bad writer Teilhard) had the slightest clue, on the level of practical detail, how a hippo might have become a whale through the neo-Darwinian mechanisms which they affirmed, so why do I have to “deal with” their thought?  When an evolutionary biologist is 50% of the way towards describing a full evolutionary pathway (even a hypothetical pathway), call me back; we’ll talk then.

Gregory, why do you keep championing Darwinian biology, when you’ve told us (on one or more threads) that you are a social scientist?  You lambaste me for not having enough biological knowledge to criticize evolutionary theory, but do you have enough biological knowledge to defend it?  If not, why don’t you leave the defense of the theory to the biologists here, and concentrate your comments in your field of expertise?  Why not give us a critique of Wilson’s Sociobiology, for instance?  I think we would find much agreement there.

Gregory - #13779

May 15th 2010

“If you don’t like Meyer’s formulation, that’s no reason to reject Behe’s, which is not committed to interventionism.” - Rich

And if you don’t like Behe’s formulation (e.g. ‘poof-ism’), that’s no reason to reject Demsbki’s. And if you don’t like Dembski’s formulation (specification-ism), that’s no reason to reject Johnson’s. And if you don’t like Johnson’s (Darwin on trial-ism), that’s no reason to reject Nelson’s. And if you don’t reject Nelson’s (YEC-ism), that’s no reason to reject O’Leary’s. And if you don’t like O’Leary’s (propagandism), that’s no reason to reject Wells’. And if you don’t like Wells’ (Mooney-ism), that’s no reason to reject Minnich’s. And if you…

So, you see, folks, in the end we’ve *all* just gotta accept one kind of intelligent design theory or another. Isn’t it obvious? There’s no escaping it!

Iow, ‘if you don’t like ID, then at least realize the defects in ‘Darwinian biology’!’

“I prefer my religion with a little more backbone.” - Rich

What religion do you profess, Rich, whose holy buildings/body you regularly visit?

Gregory - #13780

May 15th 2010

Rich, When will you realize that you’re not only asking an impossible question, but really, a rather trivial & misguided one as well? You sound like a broken record: show me the pathways!

Let’s take another field to demonstrate how silly your approach is:


You might say: I accept your micro-economic theory, but in *no* way do I accept your macro-economic theory until you (orchestra please): “show me the pathways.”

“I asked you to show me how the small changes add up to the large changes.  And you’ve tacitly admitted that neither you nor the best biologist living can do this in any particular case.  That’s not my problem, that’s yours—and the biologist’s.” - Rich

Now what I’m defending is not your dreaded Darwin, Rich, but rather the sovereignty of biology, & (in light of this thread’s main topic) of biologists to do their ‘science’ (almost) free from the petty critiques of amateurs who claim to know something about biology/economics, but who really know very little.

Gregory - #13781

May 15th 2010

What you continue to demonstrate, Rich, is lack of knowledge of biology/economics (cf. ‘unqualified hack’) by questioning, i.e. not understanding macro- while openly accepting micro-.

Show me the pathway, Rich, between individual prices, supply & demand that leads to GDP & unemployment rates. Oh, you can’t do it?! Why not?

Where are Keynes, Hayek and Friedman when you need them?

So, are you going to argue now that *both* biology & economics are ‘immature’ fields because they operate at both micro- & macro- levels? shouldn’t they do this?

Please give it a rest. beaglelady was right; you continue to demonstrate Giberson’s post. & you sound like many ‘creationists’ do in challenging ‘expert’ geologists & cosmologists wrt age of earth.

Yet you, Rich, accept 5 things listed above that Darwin also accepted. You don’t have to call yourself a Darwinist (e.g. as I don’t either)! But please show some respect for science & for scientists who’ve made a contribution to human knowledge. 

p.s. I am not ‘championing Darwinian biology’ – this is a foolish thing to say!

Gregory - #13782

May 15th 2010

Should we start talking about micro-ID and macro-ID now?

No. Why not?

Because ‘intelligent design theory’ is not anywhere near ‘mature’ enough or explicit enough in its formulation to do such a thing.

“Easily the biggest challenge facing the ID community is to develop a full-fledged theory of biological design. We don’t have such a theory right now, and that’s a problem. Without a theory, it’s very hard to know where to direct your research focus. Right now, we’ve got a bag of powerful intuitions, and a handful of notions such as ‘irreducible complexity’ and ‘specified complexity’ – but, as yet, no general theory of biological design.” – Paul Nelson

Rich - #13783

May 15th 2010


I was going to criticize you for saying something manifestly false about Behe.  (“Poof-ism”.)  I was going to tell you that you didn’t understand Behe’s thought, and give you some homework reading.  But then I looked at the rest of your post.

I get it now!  Though it looks like a string of misrepresentations and cheap shots (“Mooney-ism”), post #13779 is supposed to be FUNNY!!!!

And I guess it is, if one’s idea of “funny” is Conan O’Brien.  (Myself, I prefer Letterman.)

In answer to your question, from time to time I go to a local small-denomination evangelical Protestant Church, but the jokes and music there are even worse than they used to be on Conan O’Brien, so I try not to make a regular habit of it.

I originally went to the Anglican Church, but all the clergy in my Diocese are Darwinists now. 

Rich - #13784

May 15th 2010


You’re on a roll this morning!

First there was that knee-slapping satire of ID theorists in your previous post.

And now, after pretending to lash out at me and anyone who dares to challenge “the sovereignty of biology”, and playing along [ironically, I can tell] with the worship of experts, while apparently [but I know you’re only jesting] completely caving in to the utterly undemonstrated connection between microevolution and macroevolution, you close off with this zinger:

“p.s. I am not ‘championing Darwinian biology’ – this is a foolish thing to say!”

I get it!  You’re *satirizing* the sort of person who would blatantly contradict the obvious intent of his Darwin-obsequious post by cheekily denying his obsequiousness!  Brilliant!  I haven’t laughed so hard since the days of Conan O’Brien.  Keep up the great jokes!

gingoro - #13785

May 15th 2010

Gregory @13696

“What are the “mechanisms” of design(ing), in your view, Rich?”

The two most reasonable mechanisms to my mind are either front loading of some nature or “hand like” manipulation of genetic material.  Front loading could include laws that we are not yet aware of or things like Mike Gene proposes.  Hand like manipulation could include things that if we were there we could possibly detect or even causes that are not detectable even in principle like quantum effects.  I suspect that with gene sequencing etc we might be able to detect the effect afterwards but not necessarily at the time of intervention. 

I don’t really think it matters if the ID folks can determine what the mechanisms used to implement design are or not.  Their interest is design detection which in my opinion they have yet to do except for the fine tuning argument which they share with many people who hold the EC position and their request for detailed feasible pathways and not just so stories like Rich has been asking for.
Dave W

gingoro - #13786

May 15th 2010

Rich @13717
“And it very rarely is presented in a qualified form, e.g., “*this* design argument doesn’t work, but some other may”.  Design detection is ruled out of science on principle.” 

Gregory I thought you objected strongly to the Methodological Naturalism assumption not just the actual words used which to my mind are bad as you know.    As I said earlier I tent to think of ID as belonging to a field parallel to science for which I have suggested the term Natural Philosophy although I don’t care about the actual name.  I consider such parallel science not necessarily to be metaphysics,  Although I do think of the fine tuning arguments as metaphysics. 

“So why are you now pretending that TEs are just fine with design?  Most of them aren’t—not unless it’s regarded as *demonstrable to faith only*”

For those who hold the EC position and who are also reformed this issue is a bit more complex.  In general the reformed think God acts both to sustain and govern his creation and that aside from information in scripture we can’t be sure in which mode God;s sovereignty is being displayed at any point in time.  I think Berkhouer from the Free University makes this point very clearly. 

gingoro - #13787

May 15th 2010

Rich @13711
Many or most who accept the EC position are quite happy to accept the fine tuning argument.  What is that, if not designed in terms of the shape of the formula, the precise values that the constants have and the precise composition of the early universe ie some or all of the boundary conditions.  When one solves differential equations which is the form of many of the laws, one needs boundary conditions to establish the values of constants etc at least in the courses in differential calculus I took 45 years ago.  Maybe things have changed but I strongly doubt it.  Also differential equations don’t necessarily have unique solutions which is why people discover new solutions to relativity.

gingoro - #13790

May 15th 2010

Rich wrote “I asked you to show me how the small changes add up to the large changes.  And you’ve tacitly admitted that neither you nor the best biologist living can do this in any particular case.  That’s not my problem, that’s yours—and the biologist’s.?”

I accept the EC position provisionally as I wrote earlier BUT I ask precisely the same question that Rich does.  Show me a pathway that yields a believable sequence of genetic modifications, believable morphology and what the survival advantage is to the species at that point in a transition.  In fact I probably want more than RIch does since for the transition from water to land dwelling entity and from land back to water we should have the fossils for some cases of the genetic changes that modified the animals characteristics.  Any time a change produced a difference that is preservable in the fossil record such as changed bone structure, we should be able to see it in the fossil record.  I understand that the best place to get fossil records is typically in water environments so I think that what I am asking for is not unreasonable.

gingoro - #13791

May 15th 2010

I am in the midst of reading a book called “Your inner fish” which provides some of the details.  People tell me that missing links are passe and AFAIK that is true wrt common descent which I accept but not with regards to demonstrating the truth of the neo darwinian synthesis.  I want to see the 500 page plus book detailing such a scenario and the associated fossils.

Cohen in his book whines about the difficult of producing such pathways for complex transitions.  My response is tough that is what science is about.
Dave W

beaglelady - #13792

May 15th 2010

But I find it interesting that when you are asked to give a justification for your rigorous naturalism, the only theological authority you can scrape up is a guy who is still alive, and whose “open” theology has been questioned for its orthodoxy!

And just where did you ask me for a justification for my rigorous naturalism?

beaglelady - #13793

May 15th 2010

Neither Dobzhansky nor Fisher (and still less that incoherent fraud and abominably bad writer Teilhard) had the slightest clue, on the level of practical detail, how a hippo might have become a whale through the neo-Darwinian mechanisms which they affirmed, so why do I have to “deal with” their thought?

And just who claims that a hippo become a whale?

beaglelady - #13815

May 15th 2010

In answer to your question, from time to time I go to a local small-denomination evangelical Protestant Church, but the jokes and music there are even worse than they used to be on Conan O’Brien, so I try not to make a regular habit of it.

So you don’t attend church regularly?

beaglelady - #13816

May 15th 2010

The two most reasonable mechanisms to my mind are either front loading of some nature or “hand like” manipulation of genetic material.

gingoro, please elaborate on your “hand like” manipulation.  Was there a “hand like” object?

Unapologetic Catholic - #13819

May 15th 2010

D.rick demands a continuous unbroken chain of ancestry between whales, hippos and thier common ancestor.  Such links have been more than adeaquately demonstrated through different fields, including paleontology, geology and molecular genetics. “. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory.”—Pope John Paul II.

Before boldly asserting “NO EVIDENCE OF a WHALE/HIPPO COMMON ANCESTESTR EXISTS, it woudl be a good idea to know what evidence to support that assertion exists—even if the evidence is incomplete.

This is accomplished first by becoming educated in biology—any intelligent person can do so.

link to free online MIT biology courses. http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/Biology/

This is not an appeal to authority, it’s an appeal to knowledge.  If you lack the tiem for years of intense study, read here:
http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/  Instread of years the education will only take days.
As to whales specifically:  Here http://www.talkorigins.org/features/whales/ only minutes to read to understand that a lot of evidence has been devdeloped.

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