Don Smith don_smith at
Mon Jun 17 10:23:43 PDT 2002

Steve Bougerolle wrote:
> On Mon, 2002-06-17 at 06:26, Albert Wagner wrote:
> > I suppose I need to apologize then for my previous post;  you really accept
> > evolution as the most likely explanation for speciation.  As far as I know
> > that is as far as the theory of evolution goes.
> That's all right, I read your second post here before my flame thrower
> was fully charged :-)

You did insult me once, and with an incorrect assertion:

"Simple natural selection has been out of favour for over a
hundred years.  Update yourself, Don..."

> > > My religious interest only kicks
> > > in at this point, and as I said I am concerned with ethics, not
> > > interested in any sort of creationist debate; I don't like this view
> > > because I see it leading to a gross lack of respect for life and a
> > > dangerous overconfidence in how much we know.
> >
> > This is an ENTIRELY different topic. And one that you would find many
> > evolutionists agree with you on.  Why did you not say so sooner.  Playing the
> > devils advocate?
> I did say so, way back in my first post!  I expect that I am not the
> only person here who likes to argue, and that's why this debate has gone
> four or five rounds.

Arguement sharpens the mind.

> It is logically true that single-celled organisms could gain some
> advantage and eventually evolve to become a complex organism like an
> ostrich.  It is also just as logically true that all the radioactive
> Uranium nuclei in the world could spontaneously decay at the same time,
> causing all sorts of interesting and unpleasant phenomena.

These two examples a completely different. The decay rates of Uranium
nuclei are well known. Don't use specious arguments. A single-celled
organism is way more complex than a uranium nuclei, not to mention an
ostrich. Even today, biologists do not fully understand how a bacterium

> Nevertheless,
> it doesn't happen and nobody who studies the matter expects it to happen
> *because of the probabilities involved*.  Why should we apply less
> strict standards to evolutionary arguments than to those in nuclear
> physics?  Are evolutionary theorists excepted from having to make sense
> or offer arguments acceptable to other scientists trained in numerical
> methods?
> Of course, atomic nuclei are easier to study than life forms in many
> ways.  However, this is much less true now than it was, say, fifty years
> ago.  With advanced modelling capabilities afforded by computers, and
> better data from genetic investigation (among other things) it should be
> possible to come up with some sort of vaguely reasonable set of
> probabilities related to these evolutionary events.  We have years of
> medical studies on the toxicity of endless many substances, abundant
> data on cosmic rays and radiation effects on life, and computer
> simulations of subjects as basic as protein folding.  I'm not too
> demanding in the quality of answers, either, I don't think.  The answers
> could be uncertain by, say, five orders of magnitude and I'd still be
> happy to hear them, as long as they explained the parameters involved in
> them and which assumptions led to which extremes.  If at least a
> half-baked numerical answer can't be concocted now, it'd be nice to hear
> why it can't be done.

The problem is (insert some very large number here) times more complex
in biology than in physics. There are no computers that powerful, and as
I said before, biologists know that they don't know all the factors that
would go into such a model. There are many simple models out there. No
one claims that they model the big picture.

Sure they can come up with some half-baked numbers, but what's the point
since they will be predicting the observations used to generate them?
The observations necessary to come up with hard numbers would take a
very long time (how about at least a couple of hundred thousand years).
You would also need to collect more data than there currently is room
for on this planet. Even then they would only refer to the observed
period. No one knows what the conditions were long ago. How do you tell
which plant species a herbivore ate a million years ago when you only
have some fossilized bones? You can tell that it ate plants because of
the teeth. But which plants, you can only guess. You can't measure that
particular selection pressure on the plant species in question because
you just can't know. 

> Perhaps it HAS been done, but I haven't found any such answer despite
> (admittedly somewhat brief) searches, and nobody seems interested in
> offering one.  It might well be true that this argument isn't really
> part of evolutionary theory, as biologists define that.  However, the
> political reality is that most people consider evolution does explain
> these problem areas, and as we've seen biologists too often don't seem
> interested in correcting that misapprehension.
> I think the entire debate over evolution could be made a lot less
> incendiary if biologists would start answering these sorts of questions
> with more respect than they usually do.  One doesn't need to be an
> expert in biology to see problem areas.

What biologist has been disrespectful? They've answered over and over,
but still get the same arguments again and again. The problem is that
now the arguments are getting serious. Some are starting to require
non-science to be taught in school as science (think Kansas). This gets
serious scientist mad and emotions run high. Religious beliefs belong in
religion class, not in science class.

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