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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unaplogetic catholic - #13823

May 15th 2010

The whale hippo demand can be easily addressed by a simple analogy.  All YEC, OEC and evolutionary biologists agree that there is a last common ancestor of all human males living today.  Let’s call that LCA “Adam.”  There are disagreements to when he lived.  Evolution suggests Adam lived some 90,000 years ago.  YMMV. Rick’s challenge to identify all links between whales, hippos and their LCA is equivialent ot requiring biologists to provide the names of all individuals separating me, Rick and Adam.  Driver’s licenses, birth cretifcates and such are recent developments and so names are lost in the mists of history. 
Does that mean these people never existed?  No.  We can tell they existed, in the absence of names or bodies, by paleontogical evidence of human existence inclduding the similarities and differences between bones, tools, radioisotope dating, geology and DNA studies which all point to a common ancestor of me Rick and all others alive today.

Unapologetic Catholic - #13827

May 15th 2010

The analsys can be taken one step further.  Me, Rick and a chimpanzee at the zoo (“Cheetah”) also share a last common ancestor, we’ll call “Bonzo.”  Bonzo lived a lot earlier than Adam, maybe 7 million years ago.  Again, we don’t know the names of all of the indivdual descendants of Bonzo who are ancestral to me, Rick and Cheetah.  That doesn’t mean they don’t exist.  The evidence of common ancestry is developed the same way:  In the absence of names or bodies, paleontogical evidence of human existence inclduding the similarities and differences between bones, tools, radioisotope dating, geology and DNA studies which all point to Bonzo, a common ancestor of me Rick and Cheetah.  That’s true even though we don’t knwow Bonzo’s name and even though ther are indeed “gaps” in actual skeletons.  But the fossil evidence must look a certain way if the common ancestry thesis is right. The genetic evidence must also look a certain way to be correct.  The geological and raiological evidence must also look a certain way—and all must be consistent with each other.  We find that to be true.

Rich - #13828

May 15th 2010

Un. Catholic:

I never said “No evidence of a whale/hippo common ancestor exists”.  How can you argue when you can’t even get my position straight?  It seems that it’s not I who needs to go to a web site for a remedial course in biology, but you who needs to go to one for a remedial course in reading comprehension.  Further, it is not my obligation to prove a negative.  Darwinists must try to establish the positive.  So give me the recipe for a whale, starting from a proto-hippo, mutations and natural selection.  Do you have the slightest idea how it might have been done?

It figures that you would cite talkorigins, an amateur site loaded with yammering by internet hobbyists, (mostly assorted atheists and virulent anti-ID critics).  You seem unable to cite any peer-reviewed books and articles by scientists at major universities, which you could easily do if you had even a bachelor’s degree in biology.  Why do you continue the bluff?  If you can refute my specific arguments out of your own knowledge, do so.  Otherwise, demonstrate mature, adult behavior by yielding graciously to the better argument.  Good-bye.

Rich - #13829

May 15th 2010

When I wrote the last post, I didn’t realize that Un. Catholic was going to send two more.  Fortunately, nothing in them requires modifying anything I said, since he continues to misrepresent my argument and battle against a straw man.  The fact is that Un. Catholic doesn’t offer *even a single suggestion*, at the biochemical/genetic level, how to add a fluke, a blowhole, marine lactation, and hundreds of other changes to a proto-hippo to make it into a whale.  His “Bill Nye the Science Guy” level of exposition of the *general* evidence for evolution doesn’t even come close answering my *specific* challenge.  Once again, I bid him good-bye.

Unapolgetic Catholic - #13830

May 15th 2010

And it’s no differnt for whales and hippos.  If there’s a common ancestor, we must find intermediate fossils and those must be of a certian age if they have certain morhpology, they must also be located in certain strata and the DNA of whales and hippos must have certain similarities.  And all these separate strands myust be consistent with each other.  All of that evidence exists and is explained here: http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CC/CC216_1.html or here: http://www.talkorigins.org/features/whales/

Requiriring identification of uninterrupted step by step transistions when there will inevitably be gaps is a rhetorical device used by master debaters, not intellectually honest sckeptics.  To challenge the evidence for the hippo/whale connection, DNA dissimilarities could be shown, out of expected sequence fossils could be shown, radioisotope dating errors could be presented. Unexplainded morpholgical differences could be presented.  So far no attemtps to do so have been very convincing. 

But that requires science—not rhetoric.  Even Behe has backtracked on this claim.

Rich - #13831

May 15th 2010


If you aren’t generally familiar with the sort of speculations that Darwinians offer (e.g., that a hippo-like animal is the ancestor of the whale), doesn’t that disqualify you from the Darwin/ID/TE debates?

Elementary computer-aided research skills can be useful.  I typed in hippo + whale +evolution and got 87,000 hits.  Have a look at this article:


That should get you started.

Unaplogetic catholic - #13832

May 15th 2010

” ‘Bye.”


“Once again, I bid him good-bye”

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  —-Inago Montoya

Rich - #13833

May 15th 2010


You asked:

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

#13340, to begin with.

Rich - #13835

May 15th 2010

Un. Catholic (13830):

Stop bluffing.  Tell me how to make a fluke.  Or a blowhole.  Or a marine lactation system.  Or any of the other features mentioned by evolutionary specialist and double-doctorate holder Richard Sternberg (whose referenced video you obviously haven’t even bothered to watch).

If you can’t provide the genetic/biochemical recipe for even *one* of these features, you have failed to answer my specific challenge, which was to show that neo-Darwinian mechanisms (and/or other stochastic mechanisms) can explain the transition from the hippo ancestor to the whale.  And you can’t provide the recipe for even one of them, can you?

You were right about one thing.  I wasn’t using the word “good-bye” properly.  Now I will.  Good-bye.

Rich - #13837

May 15th 2010


Glad to have you back.  I may reply to some of your specific comments, but first I’ll make the general comment that I think Dr. Giberson missed a great opportunity when he chose not to respond to either of us early on in this thread, before the discussion wandered from his thesis and ramified into discussions of ID, TE, theology, etc. 

If Biologos hopes to convince people, it is going to have to do better than throw up dozens of opinion posts by Christian scientists who exit the room whenever their views are challenged.

I know that Pete Enns, who writes articles here, is very good about engaging with his critics afterward.  So far, that can’t be said for Dr. Giberson, at least not regarding this post.

Of course, there may be valid personal reasons why Dr. Giberson can’t reply.  I *hope* the reason isn’t that he thinks his case is so unassailable that he doesn’t have to respond to criticism.  (Though that would fit in very much with the defense of self-appointed elites which was the essence of his argument. )

Unapologetic Catholic - #13840

May 15th 2010

Marine lactation: http://www.esajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1890/04-0319

Fluke: http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/handle/2027.42/62571

Blowhole: http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2008/03/whale-evolution.html

I know Sternberg.  He is a Fellowof the International Society for Complexity Informaiton and Design.  They publish a journal setting out the volumonious ID related scientific research. 

The latest issue is here: http://www.iscid.org/pcid.php

“double-doctorate holder Richard Sternberg”  Was that a sound of breaking wind or did I just hear an appeal to authority?

Rich - #13841

May 15th 2010


The complete collapse of conviction in the mainstream churches has left thousands of cultural and philosophical reactionaries such as myself high and dry.  I’m thinking of going over to Rome.  I admired John Paul on ethical and social issues, though his almost obsequious stance towards evolutionary theory left much to be desired.  However, Benedict on evolutionary theory is looking like a little less of a pushover, and generally speaking. Rome has what it takes to survive, whereas the mainstream Protestant Churches, whose whole raison d’etre now seems to be to accommodate themselves to whatever notions of truth prevail among liberals, yuppies, global warming fanatics, and feminists, will no longer exist by the end of this century.  I’m boning up on my Aquinas.  Love that teleological view of nature!

Rich - #13842

May 15th 2010

To Whom it May Concern:

I never appeal to authority when arguing with theoretically advanced debating partners who are animated by the desire to pursue truth, no matter where the inquiry leads.  But when arguing with partisan internet hobbyists who are incapable of such objectivity, and who respect only degrees and formal institutional authority, I condescend to their inadequate notion of knowledge.

I see that someone, unable to meet my challenge over the last several days out of his own personal biological knowledge, has quickly rushed to the internet and, by googling keywords, pulled up some articles which he can’t possibly have had time yet to read, let alone critically assess.  If I were still talking to that someone, I’d never dignify such “research’ with a reply.  The internet has given ignoramuses and bluffers grand new possibilities of pretending to knowledge that they will never have.  Those of us who were educated the old-fashioned way, and believe that one should *speak out of personal knowledge* rather than engage in literature bluffs, lament the existence of this low-class shortcut to the mere *appearance* of education.

Gregory - #13849

May 15th 2010

“I haven’t laughed so hard since the days of Conan O’Brien.  Keep up the great jokes!”

Praise God, Rich actually has a sense of humour!!! =)

p.s. i won’t try to ascend to the internet hobbyist title, in awe of Rich’s ‘rich’ knowledge.

Rich - #13850

May 15th 2010


One needs a sense of humor in the modern world, in order to stop from going mad.  Heretics and even atheists are ministers and priests; churches re-write their theologies to please evolutionists, feminists, environmentalists, homosexuals, etc.; principals, teachers and directors of education are opposed to having students learn grammar and spelling; people who can’t correctly pronounce “nuclear” or spell “potato” are elected to the highest political office; universities offer ideologically motivated programs like Women’s Studies and Queer Studies and Peace Studies while short-staffing traditional departments where substantive knowledge is pursued; anonymous computer nerds with no university degrees (and no date for Saturday night) can alter or delete Wikipedia articles written by people with Ph.D.s in the relevant subjects; quack opinion columns in materialist/atheist hangouts like Panda’s Thumb and Talk Origins are cited approvingly by self-described Catholics as if they were serious academic references.  It’s an inverted world, and one needs humor, or at least irony, to live in it.

Rich - #13851

May 15th 2010

Re:  13840

The first two references are classic examples of literature bluff.  The one article is about lactation in five particular *land mammals*, and *doesn’t deal with marine lactation at all*.  The other article is about lactation in *pinnipeds*, not whales, and the authors’ summary indicates that the subject of the article is the length of lactation periods and other lactation strategies, not the hypothetical biochemical/genetic alterations by which the ancestors of pinnipeds gained the ability to feed their young underwater. 

I offer this as a public service to those who are unaware of how frequently Darwinians resort to literature bluff.  Often they don’t bother to read even the summaries of the articles they cite, let alone the articles themselves.  Usually the source that is alleged to “prove” something about Darwinian evolution either doesn’t prove it at all (e.g., a hypothetical fossil sequence is not a set of genetic/developmental mechanisms), or it offers, for just *one* of a series of a hundred required morphological changes, a very tentative suggestion for a genetic mechanism (usually acknowledged as tentative by the authors, though this is regularly concealed by the literature bluffer).  Caveat emptor.

beaglelady - #13859

May 15th 2010

If you aren’t generally familiar with the sort of speculations that Darwinians offer (e.g., that a hippo-like animal is the ancestor of the whale), doesn’t that disqualify you from the Darwin/ID/TE debates?

Elementary computer-aided research skills can be useful.  I typed in hippo + whale +evolution and got 87,000 hits.  Have a look at this article:


That should get you started.

There is a difference between a hippo and a hippo-like animal.  You keep using the word hippo for hippo-like ancestor.  And why all the insults?

beaglelady - #13860

May 15th 2010

You asked:

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

#13340, to begin with.

Yes but I didn’t even answer that question. In post ##13792,  You tried to make it appear that I was answering that question, but obviously I was not.

beaglelady - #13861

May 15th 2010

I have mentioned John Polkinghorne on this thread,  and if anyone is interested,  he will be speaking at my church, Saint Thomas Church on 5th Avenue  on Thursday May 20, 6:30 - 8:00 pm:

The eminent scientist-theologian John Polkinghorne will give the Joseph G. Fortner, M.D., Memorial Lecture, “Can a Scientist Pray?” at St. Thomas Church. The lecture is free and open to the public. It will be given in the church itself at 6:30 p.m., immediately following Choral Evensong and the short mass. (Those who wish to do so are welcome to come to Choral Evensong at 5:30 p.m.)

He will also be doing a book-signing for his latest book,  Theology in the Context of Science.  My study group gets to have a special dinner with him.  Naturally I’m very excited.

Rich - #13862

May 15th 2010


Instead of trying to determine who asked what, when, in this long thread, let’s start over again.

I understood, from several of your replies, taken together, that you work from the assumption that the origin of species was entirely natural.  Is that the case?

I also understood, from your statements about the resurrection and Lazarus, that you affirm that God has sometimes miraculously altered the normal course of nature.

What I tried to get you to think about was why you have no trouble with the notion that God intervened in the course of nature 2,000 years ago, maybe frequently, but are very much against the notion that God might have intervened many times in the course of nature to create species individually, or to tamper with the evolutionary process, etc.  Do you not see a consistency problem there?

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