There is no scientific controversy over evolution...

... but there is a political controversy, and a religious controversy.

What brought this on? Well, as a couple of previous posts have intimated, Sydney Atheists popped on up to Toongabbie Anglican Church over the weekend. During the discussion afterwards, I was chatting with a member of the congregation, I believe one of the pastors. Sorry dude, forgot your name, but you'll soon know who you are.

The conversation, paraphrased, went something like this. I'm 'J', Mr Christian is 'X'

X: But evolution is just a theory, right?
J: You're misunderstanding the word "theory". It does not mean the same as "hypothesis".
X: But there is a scientific controversy, right?
J: No, there is no controversy in the scientific community
X: But there are reputable, non-religious scientists who publicly doubt evolution.
J: Yes. There are about two.
X: Obviously you're biased. Anybody with your bias would see it that way
J: [Facepalm]

And so on it went, careening off the sanity highway and into the underbrush of nutbaggery. I hadn't really expected to run into such clear creationist talking points in Toongabbie, though with hindsight perhaps that was excessive optimism.

Let me expand on my responses, because while they may sound flippant, they are actually pretty much factual, allowing for a litle conversational latitude.

The conflation of 'theory' with 'hypothesis' is a well-known gambit among creationists, and it exploits one of the common-usage definitions of the word 'theory'. Trouble is, when a scientist uses the word theory, he/she actually means a well-supported framework of explanations for observed phenomena. The theory of evolution, or more accurately, the modern evolutionary synthesis, is as close to a fact as the theory of gravity and the theory of plate tectonics.  It's been very very well tested and has not yet fallen over. I don't expect it to fall over, though I expect details to be refined.

So is there a scientific controversy?

Frankly no. As I mentioned earier, there's a political and religious controversy. The vast, overwhelming majority of scientists working in biological sciences accept the modern evolutionary synthesis. They simply would not be able to produce useful work without it, as it underpins so much of modern biology, especially in microbiology, where evolution by selection can be directly observed, and in molecular biology, where some of the most exciting advances in genetics are being made.

In other sciences, where evolution is less relevant, there is a higher proportion of dissenting scientists, notably among engineering disciplines, where design is at the forefront. This is not surprising give that these are design-oriented people, but the proportion that question evolution is still not a high proportion. It's vanishingly small, perhaps in the order of a percentage point at most. This is generally where the "reputable non-religious scientists" referred to above are drawn from. Think tanks such as the Discovery Institute salivate openly over these scientists, because they are a source of scientific credibility and authority, while at the same time being entirely clueless over the actual facts of the modern biological synthesis.

Bias? Sure. I'm biased towards the scientific explanations, and I will absolutely hold up my hand and say it.

Thing is, reality also has a notable pro-evolution bias. Honest, rigorous observation shows that evolution is a fact.

So don't deliberately tell me that there's a scientific controversy about evolution. Because I will take your talking points apart, piece by piece, until you look even more stupid than you already do.

Now, I don't expect you to just believe me outright. I also don't expect to be able to convince you with hyperlinks, which you'll notice are quite thin on the ground in this post. This is a choice I've made deliberately, because I don't expect you to trust a hyperlink handed to you on a plate by an avowed darwinist such as myself.

The deal is this: Lie about evolution in my presence again and you will be taken to fucking tiny pieces, either verbally or in hypertext. Do some research, and not at the Discovery Institute's website. Try science, because science is the best authority on the subject of science. Do not be taken in by the warmed-over creationism called "intelligent design". Do not trust what ministers tell you on the subject of biology, do not trust what engineers or neurosurgeons tell you on biology, and especially don't trust Casey Luskin. On anything.

That is all.

posted @ Tuesday, January 27, 2009 10:47 PM


Comments on this entry:

# re: There is no scientific controversy over evolution...

Left by Sean the Blogonaut at 1/27/2009 11:27 PM
I would have thought Anglican's would be a little more "mainstream"

# re: There is no scientific controversy over evolution...

Left by Luke at 1/28/2009 8:47 PM
hey hey hey,

I think I am the guy who you spoke to.

And thanks heaps for coming along, I really enjoyed the chat.

But your paraphrase does not really depict the tone of the conversation (a paraphrase never does).

I never said anything like 'obviously you're biased' etc... If I remember correctly, I said 'surely there is bias on both sides of the debate', which we both agreed

I feel that it is very difficult for a Christian to have a genuine conversation with an atheist without every comment being heard as a series of arguments. There is such a thing as genuine enquiry and questioning. Which at that point I was trying to do.

I delibretely qualified all my comments on evolution with 'now I am not pretending to be an expert in this area, and I am no scientist'. So I was genuinly interested in what you had to say on comments about scientists, I had heard. I was hardly 'lieing about evolution' in your presence.

However, can I just say this (for now) would you be willing to put your Sherlock Holmes story under your same grid of logic. Since you did suggest that in responce to the CS Lewis 'Lord, Liar or Lunatic' proposal about Jesus, your preferred position was that 'he never existed'.

There are about as many historians who doubt the historical existance of Jesus, as there are (according to your data) scientists who doubt evolution.

Why are you so willing to readily take up a position on Jesus existance that no serious historian in the world can take with any credibility?

Thank you again for willingness to come along and chat, I really enjoyed meeting you all and am keen to come along to one of your meetings in the next couple of weeks. Do you have sticky name tags???


PS: I am no creation scientist, in fact I am completlly happy with seeing some kind of evolutionary process involved in the creation of the world. So I hope you didn't mis-read my comments as having a 'creation science' agenda. Yet I am, of course as a Christian, a creationist, in the sense that I believe the world has a creator.

# re: There is no scientific controversy over evolution...

Left by Jason at 1/28/2009 10:03 PM
Hi Luke,

The conversation was very much a paraphrase, but they _are_ common ID/Creation talking points. It was a useful launching point for commentary _on_ those talking points. Whether you espouse them or not neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg, because presumably you're not formulating public policy based on them.

Please bear in mind that while I'd love to have a chat to you again in person, and I will be civil, as I've noted before this blog has a scorched earth policy, and you're about to be on the receiving end of it.

Don't come around here and pull bullshit arguments out of the air. I am on record as saying that I'm quite happy to allow that _perhaps_ someone called jesus existed, sometime around the tickover period between BC and CE.

I don't give a flying fuck how many historians doubt or don't doubt the existence of a corporeal character called jesus. Besides history being a subjective discipline quite unlike science, you can HAVE a human called jesus if you want him. It does not then follow that this character is who _you_ claim he is. THAT is the guy who didn't exist.

I don't think it's likely that the biblical stories are either accurate (biblical inconsistency speaks against that) or necessarily all about the same person. The deck is stacked against it given he existence of parallel figures such as Appolonius. It's possible that the character was invented out of thin air, but stories are more convincing when they have some shred of truth about them - hence why I use Sherlock Holmes.

The Holmes stories' locations were all real and familiar to Doyle's intended readership, resulting in tales which were astoundingly popular and well received. Holmes himself was loosely based on actual people known to Doyle. To this day there are thousands of people who arrive in London thinking Holmes was real. Many of them probably still think so after they leave. There's a statue of him outside Baker Street station that I used to walk past every day on the way to work, and in that respect, he's no less real than the Duke of Gloucester.

I fail to see how C.S. Lewis's false trichotomy applies here.

None of the so-called historicity in any way, however, proves that jesus was the son of a god. That would be a non-sequiteur of the highest order, leaping from mundane evidence to a seriously odd conclusion. And it certainly isn't evidence for any non-corporeal sky-daddy who interferes in the processes of nature to produce unexpected outcomes for his 'chosen people'. That particular one is much more far fetched than "some guy called jesus existed, did some things his credulous followers were surprised by, has wonders attributed to him" and so on.

I'm not surprised, but it's disappointing that I point out a hole in YOUR story, and suddenly you've invented a whole framework around my views to attack in return? It's your fucking story, not mine.

As for the "lie about evolution" statement; as soon as you used the phrase "just a theory" you lost the game. You don't get to use that in my presence and get away with it scot-free. "Just a theory" is a flat-out lie, claiming that the Theory is a hypothesis by exploiting a linguistic loophole.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a blog post to write, eviscerating one of your compatriots. Toodle-ooo.

p.s. please take care when posting comments. I am the sole dictator at this blog and while I despise censorship I have no qualms about locking the comments down after I've had the last word and/or banning serial bullshitters. Don't get tempted to proselytise, I equate that with spam, and keep comments snappy, I hate having to spend hours responding point by point

# re: There is no scientific controversy over evolution...

Left by Jason at 1/28/2009 10:07 PM
By the way!

> I am no creation scientist,

There is no such thing as a creation scientist. The correct word is creationist. Creationism and Science are polar opposites.

That is all.
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