Monday, September 27, 2010

Stephen Meyer Explains Modern Evolution

 
The video below shows Stephen Meyer explaining evolution to the people who attended the Four Nails in Darwin's Coffin event at Southern Medodist University.

I'm posting this for my students in the class I teach on scientific controversies. One of the fundamental principles of any debate is to define your terms in a way that's intellectually honest and consistent. In the case of the creation/evolution debate, if there's actually a scientific controversy (there isn't) then everyone should be using the best scientific definition of evolution.

In his latest book, Signature in the Cell, Meyer refers to "modern" evolutionary theory as "neo-Darwinism." He never defines it but it's clear that he thinks of neo-Darwinism as the idea that mutation and natural selection are all there is to evolution. It's clear that Stephen Meyer has not read any modern textbook on evolution.

Watch the video and see how Meyer explains evolution to his mostly scientifically illiterate audience. At 6 minutes he says, "What we want to address tonight is the question of whether or not the principle neo-Darwinian mechanism of mutation and selection is sufficient to produce the forms of life that we see."

The scientific answer to this question is "no," mutation and selection are not sufficient. You also need random genetic drift, speciation, and geological events such as meteor impacts and ice ages in order to account for life as we see it today. (That's not an exclusive list, see Macroevolution.)

Meyer, and the next speaker, Richard Sternberg, are criticizing the ability of natural selection to explain the evolution of new forms in just a few million years. Most of their criticisms would apply to ALL explanations of evolution and not just those that rely only on mutation and natural selection but their arguments are much weakened by their lack of knowledge of modern evolutionary theory. It seems easy for them to knock down the strawman version of evolution that they don't believe in.

If there's a genuine scientific controversy here, you'll never learn about it by listening to these IDiots. However, it's worth noting that the quality of debate in the evolution/creation wars has improved considerably over the past thirty years. It used to be the case that any college student could instantly recognize the main flaws in the creationist position. Today, the average college biology student would have a great deal of difficulty debating Stephen Meyer, Richard Sternberg, Michael Behe, or Doug Axe. (Jonathan Wells? Not so much.) In part, that's because the average college student doesn't know enough about evolution. We aren't doing a very good job of teaching evolution.



14 comments:

  1. At one point Meyer does say something like "...and other undirected processes," just barely crediting more than just random mutation and natural selection. Of course he keeps mentioning "neo-Darwinism," as if we really were stuck in early 20th-century biology as they are (except where they're stuck in a time prior to modern science).

    Gee, I wonder what causes apparent adaptive radiations of the kind expected in non-teleological evolutionary theory? Intelligence? Uh, no, that's not a very intelligent answer.

    Glen Davidson

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  2. Biologists at SMU object to the "dishonesty" of the presentation

    Interestingly, they even have their own website pointing out the DI's flawed thinking. Probably they have the website because SMU hosted a similar pseudoscience meeting about three years ago.

    And I didn't put "dishonesty" in quotes above because of any doubts about using the term, but because the faculty use that term. Not anything much that's new, but it's good to see the biologists ripping into the DI's dishonesty.

    Glen Davidson

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  3. I think that 'creationist' arguments against evolution are becoming more difficult for the average undergrad to parse because the position of the more sophisticated proponents are becoming more and more like evolution. I think this is simply a byproduct of their god-of-the-gaps approach - the gaps get smaller so the places where they stick in god look more and more minor relative to the whole story, much of which remains the same. The funny thing is that they can be very two-faced when talking to a sympathetic creationist audience (y'all have probably noticed how ID folks don't ever seem to point out the flaws in the YEC's thinking - this in itself is instructive). I was at a talk last winter semester that was given here at Laurentian U by Kirk Durston and he straight up acknowledged that the evolution of tetrapods from sarcopterygian ancestors seems plausible from fossils. His beef is with the origin of proteins (a la Doug Axe I guess). So he has basically pushed the creation of specified complexity (or whatever the hell they call it) back into the precambrian machinations of bacteria in an admittedly ancient earth. The old school dudes would hardly recognize this guy's views. To me, it just seems like they're straight up losing and very gradually evolving towards our way of thinking, which is, admittedly, a moving target, but hey, that's science. - Although, before I paint too rosy a picture of the benovelent cID propententist I will have to say there was some hillarious goof-ups (getting caught in a lecture citing a paper you haven't read yet...ouch). He does think that there is a uniform net loss of information and that is how pathogenic organisms came to be (which I gather is dogwhistle code for the wages of original sin - srsly?) and he promots this front loading bidness. sigh.

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  4. I think you have wasted enough breath on these ignoramuses. I can't believe these people are still significant enough that you'd spend time debunking them. I think any undergrad student who took first year biology in a reputable school (not Liberty university) can debunk these outrageous claims on mechanisms of evolution. You're probably the only reputable science-y weblog I read that still counters creationist claims.

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  5. Siabolourani, I think that you're wrong. I don;t think that most undergrads could capably handle the more sophisticated ID arguments.

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  6. Sia,

    Sad as it is, I know professors at my faculty who couldn't debuk the most "sophisticated" ID crap on the fly. Among my immediate circle of fellow undergrads, I'm the only one can handle ID relatively easily ("relatively" because I'm not studying molecular biology, which is what they like to abuse the most).

    And I study in one of the two "most reputable" univeristies of my country! Luckily creationism is not much of a problem around here, though do get our occasional wackos.

    I agree it's a rather tiresome and dull subject, but guys like Larry help to keep up with the damage creationists perpetrate against science.

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  7. Meyer's intro of Sternberg's "population genetics critique" was horrible. He makes the whole field sound so arcane, yet simultaneously simplistic. I have never, ever encountered a creationist of any kind who had a good understanding - even just a conceptual one - of population genetics. Michael Behe is exhibit A on that.

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  8. Physter says,

    Sad as it is, I know professors at my faculty who couldn't debuk the most "sophisticated" ID crap on the fly.

    How true. I should have mentioned this.

    The reason students aren't very well informed about evolution is because their teachers don't understand modern evolution. It's not the students' fault.

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  9. Siabolourani says,

    I think any undergrad student who took first year biology in a reputable school (not Liberty university) can debunk these outrageous claims on mechanisms of evolution.

    Nope. You are wrong.

    Have you taken first year biology? Can you explain why Doug Axe is wrong? Can you tell us what's wrong with Michael Behe's The Edge of Evolution?

    I bet you can't. I'll take the side of Axe and Behe if you're willing to give it a try.

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  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  11. May be I shouldn't have used the word debunk and clarified my self a bit more. What I meant to say was that you don't need to debunk their argument. You don't have to be a molecular biologist to treat evolution the same way you treat any other scientific theories. If a computer scientist, using a complicated Bayesian learning argument, claimed that this world is a figment of our imagination produced by simulation of a Bayesian net and tells you that déjà vu, sleep and many other strange things we feel correspond mathematically to anomalies produced by Monte-Carlo methods, should you believe him? The more important question I ask is should a computer scientist debunk his arguments if he started the cult of Bayesian-netology?

    You think I'm giving you an impossible scenario but I assure you there are many of them out there. There is of course a way to find out if he is a well educated crackpot, or a new Einstein. Has he submitted his findings to a reputable machine learning journal? Did it create controversy?

    That being said, to debunk Michael Behe's argument you need first year statistics and sexual selection (which everybody learns in first year bio). But I agree. I don't want to get into a debate with a reputable biochemist over Doug Axe's arguments. Poor choice of word (debunk) on my part.

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  12. Professor Moran,

    you have recommended to me your article about Macrovelution in another thread where I' ve supported professor Davison. You recommend it also here to your readers. So I have read it.

    And this is what I'd like to say: Evolutionary theory may be dressed in whatever clothes - it will remain the old Darwinism where Natural selection and Random mutation play the major role.

    Darwin wrote "On the origin of species by means of NATURAL SELECTION". He didn't wrote "On the origin of species by means of NEUTRAL DRIFT AND METEORITE IMPACTS" as the article proposes.

    Jay Gould flirted with Marxism, because the Hegelian law of transition of quantity into quality is one of the major tenet of Marxistic thinking. Combined with structuralism and with von Bertallanfy's theory of systems Marxism insisted on sudden changes in evolution. Probably Gould couldn't unconsiously get rid of Goldschmidt's and Schindewolf's thories so he coined his "punctuated equlibria" as well.

    I've adressed the whole issue of Darwinism and Marxism on my blog: Marxistic critique of Darwinism. Marxists btw. denied "randomness" of evolution, according to their opinion the origin of man was "iron necessary". More on my blog:

    http://cadra.wordpress.com/

    The problem of "natural selection" is exactly the one you mentioned in your article. No one knows on which level and how it operates. Gould and you obviously propose that it also acts on higher taxa, the very idea Dawkins dismisses. Dawkins has been attacked by Wilson recently, who brushed up "group selection" - which you obviously support at least tacitly.

    No wonder that even darwinists accuse each of other that they "do not understand evolution". No wonder, because there is such a mess (like PZ Myers for whom elastic gene networks contribute to evolution of species. For professor Jaroslav Flegr the opposite is true - the more are gene networks flexible the less the given species is prone to evolve - he wrote a book on the issue "Frozen evolution").

    Darwinists do not agree on basic concepts like Natural selection, random mutation or inclussive fitness or group selection.

    The common point seems to be only the common descent and fighting atheism. Perhaps the second point is even more important than the first one to be recognized as the "the right evolutionary biologist".

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  13. Professor Moran,

    you have recommended to me your article about Macrovelution in another thread where I' ve supported professor Davison. You recommend it also here to your readers. So I have read it.

    And this is what I'd like to say: Evolutionary theory may be dressed in whatever clothes - it will remain the old Darwinism where Natural selection and Random mutation play the major role.

    Darwin wrote "On the origin of species by means of NATURAL SELECTION". He didn't wrote "On the origin of species by means of NEUTRAL DRIFT AND METEORITE IMPACTS" as the article proposes.

    Jay Gould flirted with Marxism, because the Hegelian law of transition of quantity into quality is one of the major tenet of Marxistic thinking. Combined with structuralism and with von Bertallanfy's theory of systems Marxism insisted on sudden changes in evolution. Probably Gould couldn't unconsiously get rid of Goldschmidt's and Schindewolf's thories so he coined his "punctuated equlibria" as well.

    I've adressed the whole issue of Darwinism and Marxism on my blog: Marxistic critique of Darwinism. Marxists btw. denied "randomness" of evolution, according to their opinion the origin of man was "iron necessary". More on my blog:

    http://cadra.wordpress.com/

    The problem of "natural selection" is exactly the one you mentioned in your article. No one knows on which level and how it operates. Gould and you obviously propose that it also acts on higher taxa, the very idea Dawkins dismisses. Dawkins has been attacked by Wilson recently, who brushed up "group selection" - which you obviously support at least tacitly.

    No wonder that even darwinists accuse each of other that they "do not understand evolution". No wonder, because there is such a mess (like PZ Myers for whom elastic gene networks contribute to evolution of species. For professor Jaroslav Flegr the opposite is true - the more are gene networks flexible the less the given species is prone to evolve - he wrote a book on the issue "Frozen evolution").

    Darwinists do not agree on basic concepts like Natural selection, random mutation or inclussive fitness or group selection.

    The common point seems to be only the common descent and fighting atheism. Perhaps the second point is even more important than the first one to be recognized as the "the right evolutionary biologist".

    ReplyDelete
  14. VMartin writes,

    And this is what I'd like to say: Evolutionary theory may be dressed in whatever clothes - it will remain the old Darwinism where Natural selection and Random mutation play the major role.

    Nope. You're wrong about that. All modern textbooks describe several mechanisms of evolution and they point out in no uncertain terms that fixation of nearly neutral alleles by random genetic drift is the dominant form of evolution.

    Your thinking is decades behind the modern version of evolution.

    Darwin wrote "On the origin of species by means of NATURAL SELECTION". He didn't wrote "On the origin of species by means of NEUTRAL DRIFT AND METEORITE IMPACTS" as the article proposes.

    This time you are correct.

    Do you have a point that you'd like to make? You do know, don't you, that modern evolutionary theory has advanced 150 years beyond Darwin?

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