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    Conversation With A Modern Creationist
    By Lee Silver | June 4th 2008 11:40 AM | 125 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    Many scientists have expressed the belief that if they only had a chance to explain the facts, they could convince intelligent educated people (at least) of the validity of a neo-Darwinian approach to understanding life. As the following email exchange suggests, this conventional assumption is wrong. Not all people - even intelligent ones - have minds that operate according to the same principles of rationality.

    The following email conversation took place between me and a reader of an article called "Life 2.0" that I published in Newsweek International about synthetic life.   The reader - a young earth creationist - was only upset by what I wrote in the very first paragraph of a rather long article.  The email exchange that followed is instructive to those of us who want to convince our fellow citizens of the legitimacy of modern science  and its implications for understanding life and the universe as a whole.  The reader has training in engineering and math (which comes out in his remarks), so he should have the ability to understand my responses to his arguments against evolution and an old universe.  But he bobs and weaves, changing arguments from one post to the next, to support his firm belief in "the accuracy of the Bible."   I have had other email exchanges with other educated creationists (usually engineers), and not once has any one of them budged in any way.  Unfortunately for American competitiveness, it will be very very difficult to change the insidious culture of creationist thought in America's heartland, unless we overhaul the country's educational system with a national scientific curriculum.

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    May 29, 2007, at 11:39 AM

    Dr. Silver,

    I recently read your article “Life 2.0” as published on the Newsweek section of MSNBC.com.  I found the article intriguing and have been following the advances in genetics with some interest.  The immense potential for both breakthrough and disaster interest me greatly, as does the immense public interest in the pursuit of such accomplishments like cures for cancer, elimination of genetic malfunctions, and advancement of food products such as crops and farm animals.

    I appreciate your dedication to this cutting edge field of science and your obviously immense knowledge of it; however, I was disappointed in how your article began.  Frankly, I had trouble motivating myself to complete it, given the staunch presupposition of the first paragraph.  I am not attempting to argue the existence of God or the theory of evolution.  What I am concerned about is the integrity of the statements you made.  I have no way of proving or disproving any of the research, accomplishments, or potential of the genetic research you wrote about.  However, statements such as those made in the first paragraph force me to question your reliability.

    You make three assumptions in the first paragraph that you pass off as fact:

    1.      Life on Earth began as a single cell

    3.      What conclusive evidence is there that the Earth is at least 3.6 billion years old?

    2.      Where is the transient state fossil evidence that connects all living things to a single ancestor?

    My point here is not to prove your statements false, although as you can probably discern I disagree with them.  I would simply like facts to back up your statements.  I don’t mind you making them if they are bounded by the disclaimer of ‘theory.’  However, you write them as scientific fact, and without proper evidence they are nothing more them journalistic and scientific irresponsibility.

    Thank you in advance for your attention to my email.  I trust that you will address my concerns with the same thoroughness as you addressed the fascinating subject of genetics in your article.

    Thank you,

    Josh Pepper

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    May 29, 2007 12:57 PM
     

    Dear Josh,

                If a God created the universe 10,000 or so years ago,  we would only be able to see stars that were closer than 10,000 light years away from us.  The light from farther stars (traveling at the speed of light) would not have had a chance to reach us yet.   And yet, our telescopes can see  stars and galaxies containing  billions of stars that are millions or billions of light years away.  Furthermore, if the universe is just 10,000 years old, vast numbers of new stars should appear in the sky every night as their light reaches us for the first time -- but this is not what happens.  Give me a logical scientific explanation for these astronomical observations and I'll answer your questions.

    Professor Silver

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    May 29, 2007, at 3:01 PM

    Dr. Silver,

    Thank you for your response.  If a conclusive answer on this subject from me is needed for you to continue this discussion, then I suppose I will not get my questions answered.  However, I will offer you an incomplete answer and hope for the best.

    Your point is well-taken and is a worthy subject of concern to anyone that believes in a young Earth/universe.  However, the conclusions regarding the distance of stars hinge on two presuppositions:

    1.      Time is constant at any observable distance.

    The former is difficult to disprove, as many observations over many years and many distances has yielded pretty consistent results.  I’ve read of theories on universe curvature and c-decay that don’t really conclude anything tangible in the way of a good theory.  The appeal of such a theory follows a similar path as theories on the decay rate of carbon, the central assumption of radioactive dating.  If the decay rate of carbon is not conclusively known over the millions of years of time it is applied, then the dates cannot be accurate.  Similarly, if the value of c is not constant over large spans of time, then distances to objects in deep space cannot be accurate.

    However, the latter is a more plausible fallacy based on Einstein’s theory of general relativity.  As you are certainly aware, time can be affected by the influence of a strong gravitational field.  This has been proven on Earth and has been observed in space as well.  If time is not a constant over a billion light years, then how can we be sure of the measurement?  Time dilation is a real, observable event, and its effect on the observation of deep space objects is worth considering.

    I am a believer in God, as was Einstein.  I am also a believer in a young Earth, though I will concede that it is possible that the Earth and the universe could be much older than the typical Creationist dates them.  However, the existence of God does not hinge on the age of the Earth or the age of the universe, and as I stated before I am not attempting to debate the existence of God.  I am also not trying to debate the age of the universe.  All I would like to know is how you can state with the certainty at which you stated in your article that at some approximate point in the earth’s existence that a single organic cell was created from inorganic material and spontaneously reproduced into the vastly complex design in which we live today.

    Thank you,

    Josh Pepper

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    May 29, 2007 10:17 PM

    Dear Josh,

      Thank you for your note.   I should point out first that the God imagined by Albert Einstein, Thomas Jefferson, and many other Enlightenment intellectuals is one that created the universe but has since taken a completely hands-off approach.  The assumption made by most deists (as people with this belief are called) is that the universe was created in such a way that life would be bound to emerge through natural processes (what we now understand to be natural selection).  Beyond this point of agreement, deist viewpoints diverge immensely.  But if we stick to the basic idea, science can provide NO support either for or against a deistic view of the universe since it is one in which everything has abided by the laws of nature since the Big Bang.  

    On the contrary, science can speak to the question of the age of the universe, the earth, and life on earth. Numerous independent scientific investigations from physics, chemistry, and molecular biology all point to, and are all consistent with, a view of a universe that emerged from a Big Bang about 15 billion years ago, with an earth that coalesced and cooled down about four billion years ago,  and a single source of life that evolved -- starting over 3 billion years ago -- into all the life forms that exist on earth today.  Modern evolutionary biology is focused almost entirely on molecular studies of changes in DNA sequence, and mathematical analyses of selective forces and changes in allele frequency.  I have published over thirty papers on evolution and I never once looked at a fossil (or a whole animal for that matter).  It's the conservation and divergence of digital DNA sequences that provides the most powerful evidence for our current understanding of natural selection and evolution.   If you think that every species is separate and distinct, then how would you think about a hypothetical hybrid between human and chimp (which would almost certainly be viable) - is it human or chimp?  What about a being with 75% human DNA, or 90% human DNA, or just 25% human DNA.  Where would you draw the line.  I am interested in your response.  If you are interested in learning more about these thought experiments, take a look at  my recent book Challenging Nature.

    Science can never proof anything absolutely.  But with science alone, there is no reason to even postulate the young Earth/universe claim.  The claim is based entirely on a belief in the literal accuracy of the Bible.  Indeed, the claim has never been made in any modern  non-Christian culture (such as those in Asia).  You are certainly free to hold such a belief, but I hope you understand that your belief is based on Biblical revelation and not science.

    Best regards,

    Lee

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    On May 30, 2007

    Dr. Silver,

    I appreciate your willingness to discuss these ideas with me.  I am pleased to know that you cannot definitively dismiss the existence of God, as many scientists claim to be able to do.  His role in our creation and daily lives is a much deeper subject and is a topic for another day.  However, the topic of the Big Bang is a nice segue into our discussion.

    The basic question I posed in my first email still stands: How can an organic cell be created from inorganic matter?  If there was a “first cell”, as your Life 2.0 article suggested, then this cell had to either have existed prior to the Big Bang and have been carried throughout the process of planet formation and cooling you describe, or would have had to converted from an inorganic substance to a living cell.  I assume, though, that you don’t believe in the former.  So, the question of inorganic-to-organic still remains.  To my knowledge, no transformation of this kind has ever been observed in nature.

    Another question that still stands from my original email is the date of the start of life.  You quote these dates of 15b and 4b years of the various events that shaped life as we know it today.  How are these dates determined?  Is it based on some kind of “molecular clock” study?  I assume so, since your research does not focus on fossils.

    As for speciation, I can buy into the concept of a change in species over time.  That has been observed in the restructuring of DNA to create a new species.  However, the problem arises in the genetics of a species.  As you are obviously well aware, one species cannot breed with another species.  Dogs breed dogs, pigs breed pigs, and humans breed humans.  Once a DNA sequence has restructured, that new species is its own kind, and cannot breed with the parent species.  Also, there is not an observed adding of information…simply a restructuring, which is an important detail.

    To my knowledge, there is not evidence in nature of a hybrid between a human and a chimp.  How can such a hybrid be hypothetically viable?  Has a human successfully bred with a chimp?

    The concept of using DNA sequencing to argue evolution is admittedly an intriguing concept.  We humans do have some commonality in DNA sequence with every other living thing.  We even share some similarity with bacteria, such as yeast.  How, though, do you make the step from common properties or sequences to common ancestor?  In order to argue a common ancestor, you must be able to demonstrate either the adding of genetic information over time or the existence of a standard DNA.  I don’t think either can be proven, though.  Mutations, as I understand them, involve a degradation of genetic structure and never provide any beneficial changes to life.  If we shared an ancestor with a bird, for instance, you would either need to prove that we have in our DNA the information necessary to grow feathers or that the genetic information in birds to grow feathers was added at some point in history.  You can argue commonality all you want, but I don’t believe you can argue links.  If anything, I believe the commonality of design argues for a common designer, not a common ancestor.

    I acknowledge Einstein did not believe in the God of the Bible.  However, I do appreciate his views on religion and science.  I particularly like this quote:

    ---"Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind ...a legitimate conflict between science and religion cannot exist."

    Thanks again for your willingness to indulge my curiosity and answer my questions.  I look forward to your response.

    Josh

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    May 30, 2007 1:54 PM
     

    Dear Josh,

    Before probing these questions further, it is important to clear up some misunderstandings expressed in your last letter.

    (1) With modern technology, scientists can easily convert inorganic molecules into organic molecules (this is called organic synthesis).   Organic molecules are defined as compounds containing multiple carbon-carbon bonds.  I can create systems of organic molecules that are even self-replicating to a certain extent, and within a few years, it will be possible for machines to be programmed to create self-maintaining and self-replicating cells from scratch.   

    (2)  You state:

    As you are obviously well aware, one species cannot breed with another species.  Dogs breed dogs, pigs breed pigs, and humans breed humans.  Once a DNA sequence has restructured, that new species is its own kind, and cannot breed with the parent species.

    This is incorrect -- related species can breed together.  The most well-known example is of donkeys and horses creating mules.  But in fact, cows were created by breeding together two species,  domestic sheep were created by mixing together three species, and the llama comes from two species in different genera.  (See my book for more details.)  In plants, quite distant hybridizations can be made, and they are responsible for all the major crops in the world today.  Chimps and humans share 97% of their DNA in common and exhibit only a single chromosomal change.   In fact, chimps and humans have all the same genes -- only their expression is different. More distant animal species can easily breed together, therefore, it is quite likely that chimps and humans could form hybrids.

    Out of curiosity, do you consider Neanderthals to be members of the human species?  Their DNA has been sequenced and it is about 0.5% different from ours.  Each human being is about 0.1% different in DNA sequence from each other.  Where would you draw the line between different species.

     

    (3) You state:

     Once a DNA sequence has restructured, that new species is its own kind, and cannot breed with the parent species.  Also, there is not an observed adding of information…simply a restructuring, which is an important detail.

    and

     In order to argue a common ancestor, you must be able to demonstrate either the adding of genetic information over time or the existence of a standard DNA.  I don’t think either can be proven, though.  Mutations, as I understand them, involve a degradation of genetic structure and never provide any beneficial changes to life.

    I am very curious to know where you got this information from.  It is rather outdated (from before the discovery of DNA structure in 1953).  Single base mutations are simply changes in the DNA sequence, for example  from  ACGAAT   to ACTAAT.   This not a "degradation."  Most random mutations are not advantageous to the organism, but some are.   Furthermore, we can select mutations to create new varieties of crops.   Corn, for example, was bred out of an inedible weed.  That's a good example of artificial selection.

    Second, it is easy to explain how NEW genetic information can be added to a genome.  This is one common mechanism:  during replication a gene gets duplicated so there are now two copies instead of one on each chromosome.  One copy continues to carry out the same function, but the second is free to evolve -- if it picks up a new useful function, it will be selected for survival.  This process of duplication and divergence has occurred over and over again, over millions of generations, expanding the size of the genome from 100 to 1,000-fold, and increasing the complexity of the organisms that the genome codes for.  Molecular biologists have constructed a very detailed map of when and where each gene duplication occurred.    Take a look at a modern book on genetics (such as mine) and you'll gain a much better understanding of this.

    Does this have any impact on your thoughts.

    Best regards,

    Lee Silver

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    On May 31, 2007

    Dr. Silver,

    It seems as if we are developing quite a number of sub-discussions.  I’ll attempt to address all of them…forgive me if I miss a thought in which you were interested.

    I understand that organic synthesis is possible.  The trouble I have is that it is in a lab environment.  Is there an example of this phenomenon in nature, outside of the realm of human initiation?

    The subject of human initiation brings up the subject of genetic engineering, the method by which, as you justifiably point out, many of today’s farm animals and crops are created.  The possibility of many of these mutations or hybrids is obvious, as they have been demonstrated in practice.  However, science has been able to take hybridization to a point not observed in nature.  Mules, for example, are most often sterile when created in nature…a natural cross-breeding that is obviously not ideal for carrying on a species.  As I understand it, most cross-breeds or hybrids are human-initiated and often require additional human interaction to carry on the breed.

    I misspoke previously about the breeding across a species.  What I was shooting for was that two dogs are not going to produce a cat, or a pig and a parrot are not going to produce a flying pig.  I understand these are drastic changes, but you must concede that something of a drastic change must occur at some point to develop such distinct differences as mammals, reptiles, fish, and birds.  I know you have not studied fossils, but there have been no fossils discovered that prove any transitional states between, for example, a lizard and a bird.  There may be some similarities in DNA, but similarity does not prove connection.

    You mention the difference between chimps and humans being very small.  Yes, I understand that chimps have one more chromosome than humans.  However, there are significant differences within the “common” chromosomes.  Where did your 97% come from?  Are you looking at substitutions only, or are you also looking at insertions/deletions?  Did this number come from a full study of the entire genome?  Couldn’t you argue that any difference at all could be due to a unique creation, not a process of evolution?

    I can buy that Neanderthal is of the same common human ancestor as modern humans.  That is easily supported by the Bible and is also easily concluded through science.  However, how can you trust that the DNA of an unearthed Neanderthal is complete and correct?  Doesn’t DNA have a “shelf life?”  Could that 0.5% actually be much smaller if you account for some DNA degradation?

    Admittedly, I am over my head when trying to discuss gene replication.  One obvious standout in your statement, though, is that a copied gene “is free to evolve.”  As I understand it, a gene is coded to perform a particular function.  Is there a known mechanism where a gene can reprogram itself to perform a different function, such as fur turning to hair or gills turning to lungs?  I can buy the concept of a duplicated gene in a genome, but I am skeptical of the reprogramming of a gene.  Can you elaborate?  Is there a current example in nature of an animal receiving a reprogrammed gene and developing a new function?

    Thanks,

    Josh

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    June 01, 2007 8:34 AM
     

    Dear Josh,

      We've had a good conversation, but it doesn't make sense to proceed further unless you are willing to take standard university courses in genetics, molecular biology, and developmental biology (on top of prerequisites in chemistry, physics, and discrete mathematics) .  There is an enormous conceptual framework and experimental foundation for our modern view of the universe - including organic life - that can't be explained in an email message or two.   But it would only be useful to begin to learn the foundational science if you started with a mind that was open to the possibility that your current views might be wrong.   I would be happy to send you a copy of my genetics textbook for free (normal price is $139), if you would like -- just tell me where to send it.  {I have no idea how old your are or what your educational background is, but I admire your willingness to participate in this discussion.}

    For my own edification, I would like to know the source of two claims that you raised in a previous message.  First is the idea that mutations necessarily cause "genetic degradation."   Second is the idea that new genetic information can't emerge or be added into an existing genome.   If these claims were true, then evolution would not be able to occur.  (Conversely, if both claims are false, then mathematical analysis can show that evolution almost certainly MUST occur within biological organisms of the kind that exist on earth.) Although neither claim is accurate, I've heard them used in arguments made by many other people who oppose the idea of biological evolution.  If you could provide me with citations for primary sources, I would be very appreciative.

    Best regards,

    Lee Silver

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    Dr. Silver,

    I appreciate your time in discussing these subjects with me.  I understand you are a busy man, and it says a lot about you that you would take time with a random person to answer some pretty involved questions.  My background is in Mechanical Engineering and Mathematics, but I have a curiosity about a number of subjects.  I would very much appreciate a copy of your textbook.  That is a very generous gesture, and I would be honored to accept it. 

    I am more than willing to consider the possibility that I am wrong about many things.  I am generally very open-minded about the world.  However, I will not be swayed in my belief in God or the accuracy of the Bible – having those doubts would defeat the purpose of faith.  However, I firmly believe science and religion can exist in harmony with each other.  The Bible is not explicit on the age of the universe, so that is a subject I am open to explore.  However, the Bible is explicit in its claim that man was uniquely created; therefore, I cannot buy in to a macroevolutionary world.  I do feel it is important, though, to understand all sides of a subject and be able to come to an educated conclusion.  Hence, my curiosity and determination to understand your world.

    I do hold to the fact that you have not provided me with a proof of connectivity between genomes that shows a large-scale evolutionary progression over time.  You also have not provided proof of events you have observed in a lab setting demonstrated in nature, without human interaction.  I hope further study on my part will clear up many of those questions.

    Admittedly, I cannot quickly grab citations for the two claims I made that you are curious about.  One gathers nuggets of information from various sources over the course of time, and this is one of those cases where I cannot recall the research paper or book where I got that information.  I will continue to look and will be glad to provide your references when I can run them down.

    Again, thank you very much for your time.  Your knowledgeable, respectful writing is a testament to both you and to Princeton.  I look forward to receiving your book and reading it.

    Thanks,

    Josh

    Comments

    adaptivecomplexity
    It's easy to come up with lots of special ad hoc arguments for why God would have done things this way or that way. Someone who is educated and intelligent, but has a strong prior non-intellectual commitment can come up with a hundred rationales for why their view is not disproven - they can read the bible dozens of different ways.

    These rationales turn into an elaborate structure, completely dependent on the original core and unchangeable (as your correspondent admits) religious assumption.

    But they've given up on the core essence of scientific thinking: science isn't about coming up with arguments to justify your own way of thinking, it's about coming up with evidence to persuade your skeptical self and your peers (who come from many different religious/non-religious/cultural backgrounds).

    So the question for these creationists is "You may believe the earth was created 10,000 years ago, but why should anyone else who doesn't share your religion believe it?"

    Mike

    Mike
    Hank
    I have had other email exchanges with other educated creationists (usually engineers), and not once has any one of them budged in any way.

    This jumped out at me. Virtually my entire career has been with engineers and I have always been confused enough by the correlation to wonder about it. It's nice to see I am not the only one.

    It may be why the Engineers of Jihad paper in EE Times which drew a correlation between the terrorist mindset and the engineering one was such a big blow up.

    Or it may just mean that driven people don't want to be called terrorists.

    Lee Silver
    Wow. I had no idea that there were actually other people discussing the correlation between "educated" creationists and engineers.  My own hypothesis (in addition to those put forward at the wikipedia web page) is that the correlation may be a consequence of an attitudinal difference between engineers and scientists.  Engineers use scientific knowledge but they are not in the business of going beyond the scientific theories they learned in school.  Professional scientists, in contrast, are paid to speculate about new ideas that go beyond what they learned in school.  Correlations alone don't distinguish between cause and effect.  So here's the question:  do math-inclined people with conservative views tend to go into engineering, or does an education in engineering cause math-inclined people to be conservative than an education in pure science?
    Being an engineer, I would say it has to be the former. Nothing in my 7 years of school led me to believe that there is some force within my education that could change students' viewpoints on various social topics. I would also say, that a fare number of students in my class were inclined towards conservative views as early as freshman year. Since I would not consider myself conservative before or after my education, I would say my experience gives two data points towards the first hypothesis.

    Think about the certainty that mathematics offers. 2+2 always equals 4. a^2 + b^2 always = c^2. You don't have to question it. It was true yesterday, it is true today, and it will be true tomorrow. People who question it are wasting their time because they are almost certainly wrong. I'll believe something new when it is proven to be absolutely correct. There is comfort in that certainty. When odd things happen, what you know to be true will still be true and you will always be able to find the answer why.

    Now apply this way of thinking to religion and you will understand what you are working with. To them: It was true yesterday, it is true today, and it will be true tomorrow. People who question it are wasting their time because they are almost certainly wrong. I'll believe something new when it is proven to be absolutely correct. There is comfort in that certainty.

    In this light it's easy to see how engineering/mathematics types can be conservatives are vice versa.

    Here's what I saw in this. I don't know how that will help you with future encounters, but it might. This young man's argument started off asking you to prove what you claimed about a single cell and the age of the earth. He wanted you to give him 2+2=4 certainty, or admit that you couldn't. It was a binary type of thing (you can or you can't). As you noted later in the discussion the topic is too large for an email discussion and he didn't have the necessary training. Perhaps it might have been easier to have started the conversation nearer that point, though I suspect that it won't help much. An interdisciplinary approach will often break their step by step logic flows.

    Being a math grad student, I have to tell you that I cannot detect an affinity of mathematicians to religion or of religious people to mathematics. On the contrary.
    In fact I would argue that mathematicians (and I do not mean mathematically trained people like engineers, for example, but mathematicians) have to be very flexible with their mind sets. Every mathematical theory or theorem is of the structure "Under the following assumptions, the following is true ...". (Of course you have to be flexible with your assumptions: Under the assumption "the bible is absolutely true", most of the arguments made by evangelicals are reasonable).
    Also, and probably more importantly, you say "I believe something new when it is proven to be correct". This might be true for mathematicians, but I don't see how this makes them more likely to be religious. Admittedly, that doesn't make them more likely to vehemently reject religion either. I'd rather say that it makes them more likely to be agnostic, since you can neither prove nor disprove the existence of some for of god.
    As for believing in science: Mathematicians are trained in following and developing logical arguments, so I would argue that in general a mathematician would consider the statement "the universe is 15billion years old" more likely to be true than the statement "the earth is 5000 years old", just by looking at the arguments.

    Perhaps I should have been more clear as to whom I was speaking of. The engineers that I have known have all expressed their love of mathematics because of the "certainty" it gives them, as opposed to the irrationality they would have to deal with in more people oriented lines of work. This may or may not apply to mathematicians. I defer to your expertise.

    However, if you want to convert more people you have to look at their assumptions and at what they are seeking, comfort vs. knowledge.

    "Under the following assumptions, the following is true ...".

    This is how they see logical arguments. They (engineers) often are able to compartmentalize the problem to a degree where mathematics do not have anything to do with the existence of God or age of the Earth. Each starts with it's own set of assumptions and builds logically from there.

    (Of course you have to be flexible with your assumptions: Under the assumption "the bible is absolutely true", most of the arguments made by evangelicals are reasonable).

    "The bible is absolutely true" is their assumption at the start the "creation of man and the universe" logic problem. Your scientific facts are going against their assumptions. They are not going to believe that the Bible is not true, any more than you would believe that 2+2 does not equal 4, without extraordinary proof. That may mean having to show them the first cell and every organism between then and now. It's not going to happen, but some may require that as the only proof they'll accept.

    you say "I believe something new when it is proven to be correct". This might be true for mathematicians, but I don't see how this makes them more likely to be religious.

    Again it comes down to compartmentalization and assumptions (and sweeping generalizations of people). When the problem is compartmentalized, and the beginning assumption for the problem is that the Bible is always correct, then as someone with a differing view you are in the position of having to prove the absolute correctness of your view. I do not see this trait in people who do not have at least some background in logical fields, such as mathematics (sweeping generalization of course).

    IMHO, the key to "winning" an argument with this type of person would be to get them to challenge their own assumptions. Any amount of facts that you put out there will be matched against the assumptions and proven false immediately, so you have to go after the assumptions. Perhaps starting with something like: Would Adam and Eve, being only a couple of days old and having not yet eaten from the tree of knowledge, have understood the concept of "billions" of years? And when questioned couldn't God have explained what happened before them in ways that they would have understood (days instead of billions of years)? ...

    Then the Bible can still be the literal word of God for them: God really did say that it took him 6 days to create everything. It's still mysterious: We can't know God's plan as to why he wants us to think that it only took him 6 days. This sort of "putting it in their terms" is the only way to sway some of these people.

    If that is truly our goal here.

    Perhaps starting with something like: Would Adam and Eve, being only a couple of days old and having not yet eaten from the tree of knowledge, have understood the concept of "billions" of years? And when questioned couldn't God have explained what happened before them in ways that they would have understood (days instead of billions of years)? ...

    That's an interesting idea, i will try it next time i have to talk to someone about how literally the bible should be taken.

    I think university-level (pure) math tends to make people agnostics, because actually everything we know about "reality" looks extremely uncertain compared to pure mathematics. I personally am an atheist in philosophical or scientific questions and maybe "allegorical Christian" privately.
    Christianity is a big part of western cultural identity, and although believing in a supernatural entity becomes more and more unreasonable, religion is more than the metaphysical explanations it offers.

    "If that is truly our goal here."

    As soon as people base decisions on religious texts instead of observations and evidence, great efforts are justified.
    But then people don't need religion to make this mistake.

    The big thing is to remember that this isn't debate club. If you are trying to convince someone of something radically different from their core beliefs then you must walk them from point A to B to C.

    It's not the certainty, that makes the difference:

    In Mathematics there is no certainty ( about a structure or a geometry or whatever) unless you can prove it. Then there is certainty, but you know WHY there is certainty. I know a lot of mathematicians and they all think Creationism is a joke.

    The difference is this:

    In Engineering the formulas ("how the world works") are given to you the same way math is given to non mathematicians - by a godly hand, that tells you what to do to get from A to B.

    And engineers never WANTED TO FIND OUT something deep, in the sense "how does gravity work?", they want to BUILD something, and in the course they need to find out stuff like "how does this wheel make that wheel turn?" or "how does this material behave under pressure?" they don't care what pressure is, might as well be gods hand pushing.

    Many never thought about philosophical questions and are not good at it, but remember how they were good at all the 'difficult' stuff in school, so when they don't understand a viewpoint, they just think it's nonsense, instead of trying to understand it.
    They stick to whatever was told to them when they were young.

    Not to say this is true for all Engineers, although it is true for my granddad, who is not capable of thinking about deep "why" questions.

    But he still thinks Creationism is Bullshit!

    And also a lot of my friends are engineers and they do great things.

    you say that "I know a lot of mathematicians and they all think Creationism is a joke." why should we believe that this statement is true? why do you expect us to believe you?

    I went through the computer engineering curriculum at the University of Illinois. I have to say that I became more liberal during the course of my college career, eventually arriving at the point where I was no longer bashful about directly denying any belief in the existence of God. My personal evolution towards this end may not have been spurred on by my choice of major, but it certainly wasn't hindered either.

    My degree is in Chemistry but I have spent most of my professional life (25 years) in computing.

    When I first encountered computer professionals in the work place, I was shocked that some of them (I didn't perform surveys) held superstitious beliefs. Since then, I have discovered that such beliefs are the norm amongst computer people.

    I conclude that university departments and courses entitled Computer Science could more accurately be renamed to Computer Stuff :-)

    Computing professionals (IT, engineers, anyone who programs a computer) aren't computer scientists any more than chemical professionals are chemical scientists (e.g. pool boys or explosives experts) ; that last bit about Computer Science, while accurate, can easily apply to Chemistry/Chemical Stuff and virtually any science. Superstitious beliefs may be more a function of where you are than what you do. I don't know of any computer professionals around here who hold them and I know a lot of computer professionals.

    Since then, I have discovered that such beliefs are the norm amongst computer people.

    You are a bit bold here. Although, it is true that I have encountered a few religious nuts (where "nuts" means "try to push their beliefs on everyone around them, including their students") in computer circles. Even, Don Knuth, one of the most accomplished computer scientist of the field, is said to be "a devout Lutheran".

    The interesting thing, though, is that the field is currently moving to evolutionary algorithms for solving computationally hard problems.

    I conclude that university departments and courses entitled Computer Science could more accurately be renamed to Computer Stuff :-)

    The problem is Computer Science is not about computers either. Informatics would be the more accurate term to use.

    I think it may be that engineers can't imagine anything being built without there being a builder.

    It would seem Josh is ignorant of the definition of faith as well.

    I will not be swayed in my belief in God or the accuracy of the Bible – having those doubts would defeat the purpose of faith.

    What he's clinging to here is certainty, or at least the desire to be certain; faith, on the other hand, is defined by believing something to be true even when one is aware that there's no substantial evidence for it, or in the face of doubt or uncertainty.

    A 100% accurate Bible leaves no room for doubt. What's puzzling is that there is no way to sensibly assert Biblical inerrancy, any more than one can sanely claim that Lord of the Rings< is a true history of pre-Roman England -- and for much the same reasons.

    you raise a good point in how Josh seems to demand absolute proof to sway any knowledge he believes to be correct. His knowledge on how the world was created comes directly from the Bible, but he has given little effort to check the accuracy of the Bible ... the Bible may well have been the word of god, but it can't be denied that centuries of interpretation and translation have altered its original context. The Bible is a publication, and yes it does cite authors ... but not their sources.

    Jim Myres

    Professor Silver,

    You have more patients than most people.  This is not a winnable discussion.  You both have good intentions and firmly believe what you are posting.  Unfortunately when Josh states "I will not be swayed in my belief in God or the accuracy of the Bible – having those doubts would defeat the purpose of faith," the conversation is over.  It is not our intention to shake Josh's, or any other persons, "faith."  Personally I admire people with such strong "faith." 

    The faith of creationists itself offers an answer to this conflict.  I would like to direct you to Luke 20:25  "And he said unto them, Then render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's."  Creationists have a responsibility to maintain their strong faith in the Bible, but they also have an obligation to "render unto Cesar the thing that are Cesar's."  In this case the teaching of and testing on evolution and the related sciences.   

    Jim Myres

    How refreshing to see articulate and reasoned debate on the internet.

    Congratulations to you both.

    A great discussion Professor Silver!

    I really like your point against Creationism, that its ideas are limited countries of christian faith (which doesn't hold true for muslim countries as there is also a large share of creationists) - I would actually go as far as saying that it's limited to the United States plus some muslim preachers. Creationism is not heard of here in Europe and it strikes us "amusing" of how big this discussion has gotten in the US.

    I think Jim Myres said it correctly that it is not possible to reason with people of strong faith. I also think it is admirable if people have strong faith and there is nothing to be said against it - as I know you didn't do that either.

    Evolution is a fact and has been proven (!!!) in laboratory environments and also in nature - and the argument that nothing can be proven with certainty is certainly true, nobody can prove anything nor disprove the existence of god, but these are rather philosophical questions. Let me just give you a link to an interesting read about experienced evolution in bacteria:
    http://scienceblogs.com/loom/2008/06/02/a_new_step_in_evolution.php

    Thanks for sharing your conversation and thanks for being so patient
    Dennis

    Professor,

    One thing I like in your post is your willingness to at least acknowledge Diesm. I feel drawn to that belief and the current movement to discredit creationism (really young earth creationism) may be an example of our society throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    Now, I don't believe in any dogma: not a thousand year old book and not even the one laid out by science. Yet it is simple to come up with thought experiments where a creationist God started with a Big Bang and then slowly tweaked the universe into it's current state. Consider God has a fully made universe (stars, planets, etc.) and then 'breathes life' into a inanimate organic compound to make it live. Then He sees monkeys and says: 'Close, but needs something extra' and gifts a varient with conciousness.

    How about the argument that a creature capable of creating the universe would undoubtedly be able to create a universe in this exact state - with stars that look billions of years old and so on. Perhaps as human technology has increased we have been forcing this God to come up with more and more clever explanations, both big and small, as to the way things work so as too keep up an illusion.

    Not that any of this is true. As much as science thinks it understands - there is always room for God. Without mysteries we wouldn't have anything to explore (or do with ourselves). Without excellent sources of doubt we couldn't have faith.

    and without mystery there would be no reason to experiment ...

    Prof. Silver,
    A well documented discussion which I thoroughly enjoyed. While I'm not a creationist, (Buddhist actually) I had only one problem, and that was with your assertion of Einstein and Jefferson's concept of god. I disagree with the idea of a "hands-off" god. Evolution is obvious, as is the fact that the Earth is not 10,000 years old. However, I don't see why so many people assume that god has to work in mysterious, magical ways. Evolution is how god created life as we know it. This is the work of god, and it is observable and understandable to humans. What's wrong with that?

    Two things: His assertion concerning Einstein and Jefferson's concept of god is a statement of fact. Read their letters.

    Second: what do you propose is the mechanism for your god's hands on approach to evolution? Evolution is a closed system involving genetic mutation and the environment - natural selection. Where would your fellow interfere? He would guide the mutation - then what about all the defects and dead lines?

    > Where would your fellow interfere? He would guide the mutation - then what about all the defects and dead lines?

    You suggest 'random mutation' is just that. Random. What would stop a tinkerer from providing good mutations when He saw fit? How could you detect the difference between a random and non-random mutation?

    Consider a process that is a dice roll 99.99% of the time. Yet some external force provides a helping hand at 0.01%. What if we moved that decimal place to more like 1e-100000000000 for a random vs. directed split.

    Then again - what is random anyway? Perhaps this isn't at all like a Diety would actually affect the universe. Perhaps instead He would take a snapshot of the entire universe in a particular state and replace it with an entirely new universe with a difference so slight no human could detect it.

    Most likely niether of my suppositions even remotely approaches reality.

    Your lack of imagination on how a Diety could affect the world without your awareness does not make it impossible.

    "Your lack of imagination on how a Diety could affect the world without your awareness does not make it impossible."

    Science of course is predicated on observation. There is no reason to consider theistic claims in matters of science as there are no direct or indirect observations regarding the existence or influence of any given deity.

    Interfere? there is no interference. god is it. This "It" is too close for you to see. Evolution ITSELF is god working with life.

    Further, I feel religion and science are perfectly compatible. "god" is just a word describing certain natural phenomena, if you want to call it that. It's existence cannot be denied. It is obvious to everyone, only certain people have different words to describe it. It is irresponsible to tell someone they can't use a certain word to describe phenomena.

    "'god' is just a word describing certain natural phenomena, if you want to call it that. It's existence cannot be denied. It is obvious to everyone"

    Please describe this "obvious" phenomena using scientific language.

    Describe? Okay, how about: evolution, sunlight, moonlight, apple trees, computer chips, particle accelerators, nuclear bombs, spacecraft, kangaroos, and you, just to name a few. god is dancing within them all.

    Where is the evidence "god is within them all?"

    Because they are here. Like I said, "god" is just one way of describing that primal, fundamental creative source. It's not a matter of believing. It's a matter of seeing. How do you describe color to a blind man?

    as wavelengths.

    As wavelengths? C'mon, be serious. A person doesn't know color until they see it. You know what I'm talking about. You can discuss for hours wavelengths and particles vs. waves and refraction and on and on. A person doesn't KNOW color unless they see it. And as soon as they see, they know. Same with god. Look, I don't rely on some text or authority to tell me what I already know, what I already see. Like I said, you know this phenomena too, you just have a different word for it, or, more likely, no word, because in this realm, words are inadequate. And that's fine. This thing that I see, that I know, has taught me to live and to love. If you can't accept that, I don't know how else to help you.

    In other words, you've got no answer. Next?

    I do have an answer, but you simply don't seem to understand. I have exhausted my ability to explain. Why is it, when a student can't understand, it's the teacher's fault? Open your eyes. You accuse the creationists of blindly following their books and authorities, but you do the same, just a different set of books and authorities. You both need to grow up and think for yourself.

    Creationists: we follow blindly the 2000+ year old fantasies of cavemen whether they are true or false.

    Scientists: we follow blindly what works, right here right now. Gravity works, electromagnetism works, evolution works, all of science works.

    It is just another way of saying the xkcd favorite: Science: It works, bitches!

    The basis of creationism is faith (irrelevant whether it is true or false)

    The basis of science is experiment (tracks what's true by definition)

    The two camps are NOT the same: try to compare them the next time you need to go to the hospital. Remember when Jesus said that faith alone will heal you? How strong is your faith? Are you prepared to put your life where your mouth is?

    Why can I still see you going to hospitals? Cowards, the lot of you. You remind me of politicians' relatives who have opinions -while relaxing in their comfy sofas- about the poor guys getting killed during a war...

    When it's your faith, oh no, science has it wrong! But when it's your ass, "dear science, save my faithful ass!"... You should be ashamed of yourselves, not posting stuff like this.

    First of all, I'm a Registered Nurse, so I'm well aware of the efficacy of science. However, I think that lots of people don't understand lots of science and just accept what they are told. Further, religious people accept what they are told as well, without trying to understand it for themselves. Religion or spirituality has just as much, if not more, to offer the world than science. It's just that so many people don't understand. When I'm at the hospital working with terminally ill cancer patients, Jesus' words of the healing power of faith (if you want to call it that- being a Buddhist, I have no use for "faith" specifically) makes perfect sense.

    I'm definitely on your side, that spirituality has a lot to offer, and parts of science are corrupted by special interest groups or present solutions that don't work at all.

    Unfortunately these are often the most visible i.e. applied parts of science. That is because often there is a big demand for scientific answers for questions that are much too difficult to be seriously answered in a rigorous way with todays scientific knowledge, like in the life sciences or climate science or 'applied' psychology, and also a lot of money is involved there.

    The parts that are more theoretical and form more of the foundation of the applied sciences, ask more modest questions which they can hope to rigorously answer, and because all the application relies on the correctness of the more basic results, great care is taken that there is not another better answer, that we could know of today. Also there is not much money to be earned with bending the outcome of theoretical research, so there is little SI.

    The "science vs religion" argument is not about the spiritual part of religion - which is very powerful. But most religions where born in times, when almost nothing could be explained sensibly by observations alone, so religious texts had not only the responsibility of spiritual and moral guidance, but also of explaining 'reality'. These explanations are well connected to the part of observations that were available to people at that time, but today there are "better" explanations for why the sun goes down in the evening and rises in the morning, and also for evolution.

    Unfortunately many atheists use this fact to deny religion any worth at all, with the argument "it is not correct in explaining the world, so we should get rid of it!" which is totally besides the point, because explaining the physical world is just one, and arguably the least important aspect of religion today. It is about hope, moral guidance and faith, whatever that is exactly.

    People don't turn to religion to build an engine or develop a drug. But that does not diminish the spiritual power of religion. And people don't turn to science for hope or moral guidance.

    Many atheists think: "because religion is not a science, it's useless", which is totally wrong.
    But the even bigger fallacy on the religious side is to claim, DESPITE ALL EVIDENCE, "no, religion is a science, in fact it explains the physical world better than everything those millions of people tested, thought about and discussed in the last 500 years."

    Sure, it's impossible to prove that there is no god involved in what we call evolution or gravity, and the catholic church (since last month) goes this way: they say "ok, evolution is 'true', but god is involved in an invisible way and there is a special divine spark in the transition from ape to man, that has not be found yet by science." That is still a religious statement and not based on observations but on faith, and it is not be taught in science class in states were the Christian lobby isn't as powerful as in the USA. But it does not hurt the progress of science.

    But Creationists want to discard Evolution, just ignore that part of collective human knowledge with all its repercussions, and replace it by the dogma "god did it!"
    How would YOU try to develop a drug against some of the new illnesses that are bound to emerge in the next hundred years with the knowledge "god did it!"?
    That doesn't explain anything, as the divine part of creation is not detectable by empirical evidence, this leaves humanity with a huge blind spot for no reason other than the evidence does not fit their beliefs.

    Well put. I still argue that god doesn't have to work in mysterious ways, doesn't have to be invisible. I think so many people are so dissatisfied with their life to the point that they can't accept that god is right smack in front of them, all the time. Evolution needs no "divine spark." The fact that it happens at all is a miracle to me. Also, I think atheists and many religious folk both conceptualize god (or, how atheists think religious people think god looks like) and it's intelligence (notice I used the word "it" and not "his") as being somewhat analogous to humans. ("Made in his likeness") I think this is incorrect.

    Hey Prof Silver,

    You have the best of intentions, however you're methods of argument aren't best suited for convincing people. You are giving them credibility by being so...nice. Just look at your responses. It's a loosing battle. Furthermore, you are giving them credibility in their pov, because you have not swayed them over. They know they won't be swayed over. The whole reason he emailed you was for reassurance.

    You know what wins them over? 'Fact' bites. Mention to them missing primate chromosomes. Post a link to one of Ken Miller's short videos on youtube. Take the battle to them with the mentality of 'you are right, if this is wrong.' Make it seem as if you will concede if you're 'facts ' are wrong. Take those fact bites, and make sure that is all you argue.

    ps. I think you should mail him a copy of the book. who knows, one day he might send you a check for $139.

    I dont see how any stance gains credibility purely by keeping the conversation civil. I especially dont see how one gains credibility for their view simply because they hold firm and disregard the others arguement.

    Engaging others in pre-packaged 'talking points' which are usually over-simplified only serves to limit the discussion and sharply divide everyone into one of two camps. Linking to youtube videos and repeating the same short and simplified talking points will sway a teenager with a short attention span, not much else.

    You mock them for their inability to be swayed, to see the facts and use rational thinking as you do. Yet you propose using truthiness and gotya games to force or trick them into switching sides. Whats the point? Even if you succeed in convincing someone then its not the facts that did it, its the manipulation of the message that made it happen.

    All cute witty statements and million year swings in "defining moments" aside, I was rather taken aback by the denominational battles between the Engineers and the Scientist sects of the new evoligion. My gosh (allowed?) at one point I was referred to as a "layman"(non unbeleiver?.

    At least Ron Hubbard made up his own cult. I guess its pretty hard when your dictums from on high change weekly, or at least in the time it takes to bang out a $135.00 book.

    Dear Dr. Lee Silver,
    Regarding your comment hypothesizing about the link between conservative religion and Engineering I have to kindly semi-agree. Allow me to make my own hypothesis though, it has nothing to do with math per se except that that is a study which is concrete and so people who are scientifically gifted may gravitate towards math or other sciences so that they don't upset their religious leaders. This is because their religion holds a strong grip over their lives and although they may be smart they are not "free" to choose any major they want because some such as biology might force them to learn about evolution. So they gravitate towards majors such as engineering that aren't seemingly related to evolution. At my school we have a group that thinks as the person in your email did. I finally started arguing with them and realized you can get no where with them because the bible is infallible in their eyes. Here is my view of the bible even though I grew up in a conservative church.

    http://i33.photobucket.com/albums/d66/Uk_viper/bibletales-1.jpg

    Also I don't think it is fair to impugn math's reputation as imaginative regarding scientific theories. For example one of the leading theories of ancient Christianity was that the Earth was the center of the universe but through the use of geometry and measurements of angles of Earth in relationship to mars this was proved false. It seems that the higher into math I go the more math and physics become one and physics is arguably one of the main proponents of the big bang theory. By the way when I say higher I am not referring to geometry but instead the Calculus series. On a different note it seems that science has left the national attention as far as the president is concerned and we are as a nation losing because of that. What recommendations would you have for me to do my part to change that. I hope you have a good day and good luck with any future encounters of this type.

    Sincerely,
    Dominic Gutierrez

    The person you communicated with and which formed the basis of this article asked you to support three assumptions you apparently made.

    You spend a great deal of time questioning the person in areas outside his expertise [in order to show his ignorance of genetics?].

    Not once did you answer his reasonable questions about your presumptions. Why is that?

    Do you feel that he must support his position, but your published presumptions are above the need for support?

    I always love the "Pay no attention to the man behind the CURTAIN" moment in these conversations. When Dr. Silver chickens out and swings his cape..POOF*

    "it doesn't make sense to proceed further unless you are willing to take standard university courses in genetics, molecular biology, and developmental biology (on top of prerequisites in chemistry, physics, and discrete mathematics."Great trap door doc.

    I had a conversation with of all things a very "conservative" Doctor, (none of the above fields), during our conversation I asked him where and why there is not a continuing and findable "missing link" still going on.. Shouldn't there be?.. He said "Shut up". Not quite as smooth as old Silver but just another approach to the science mumbo jumbo slung about with impunity.

    I am a huge fan of the news blogs but it is truly irking that every member of the junior atheist club has to post some 20,000 year or million year swing "new discovery" about the origin of some species calculated from some ancient chicken bone.

    Do you quacks (oh great and glorious Silver) ever realize how idiotic you sound compared to the bible thumping creationists, with your weekly new discoveries altering your "new" findings in swings of 100,000 to "millions of years" claptrap.

    Come up with something solid, will you? Before you challenge some ancient dude that stated his beliefs eons ago in some cave in the Sinai desert using terms such as "and then there was light" and "for a time" and "in a day"

    At least the "inferior" math/engineering kid was carrying on the conversation. Dr. Silver hop in the balloon and skeedadle back to Kansas where you can shill your (how much!) books.

    "'it doesn't make sense to proceed further unless you are willing to take standard university courses in genetics, molecular biology, and developmental biology (on top of prerequisites in chemistry, physics, and discrete mathematics.' Great trap door doc."

    It's not a trap door at all, of course. The simple fact of the matter is that it is impossible to discuss advanced science in any meaningful way if one or more participants in the discussion lacks grounding in the area under discussion. One does not expect an auto mechanic to know how to build a functioning rocket.

    "I asked him where and why there is not a continuing and findable 'missing link' still going on.. Shouldn't there be?"

    The fossil record is littered with missing links. Critics of course then want the next missing link in the chain and so on. Whenever someone asks for a missing link it instantly reveals two things: s/he does not understand how fossils are formed and s/he does not understand evolutionary theory.

    "Do you quacks (oh great and glorious Silver) ever realize how idiotic you sound compared to the bible thumping creationists, with your weekly new discoveries altering your 'new' findings in swings of 100,000 to "millions of years" claptrap."

    Thank you for illustrating why dogmatic theists will never be swayed by science. They fundamentally misunderstand what science is and how it works, because they can only approach it as a religious parallel. We should be excited about new discoveries that alter currently accepted models and the twin strengths of science are its reliance on observation and its self-corrective nature. Overturning models shows that science is working. It is not inherently dogmatic. It's all the more remarkable that every field of science is independently discovering evidence that supports both evolution and the age of the universe!

    My dear Anon,

    "The simple fact of the matter is that it is impossible to discuss advanced science in any meaningful way" (sniff)

    "One does not expect an auto mechanic to know how to build a functioning rocket." Give me a break you arrogant dolt.

    I recently read an article about a kid in Malawi (http://williamkamkwamba.typepad.com/)who developed a windmill generator for his whole village. This of course might not fit in with the (sniff)"functioning rocket theory" and I am sure William is way to far down on the evolutionary chain for your consideration.

    My only point in this "discourse" is drop the gray area mish mash, skip the snarky asides and come up with a couple of Infinite absolutes if you are going to challenge the other sides Infinite absolutes.

    Hi Pete,

    I actually replied to your comment, but didn't hit the reply button (so it ended up as its own post) giving a very simple set of answers to the three questions asked in the letter. I'm sure others could have done so... but most of us who side with science are pretty sick of answering those questions.

    The post start with @Pete Dooley so should be easy to find.

    '"One does not expect an auto mechanic to know how to build a functioning rocket." Give me a break you arrogant dolt.'

    How is it arrogant to expect that a layman cannot perform brain surgery?

    "I recently read an article about a kid in Malawi (http://williamkamkwamba.typepad.com/)who developed a windmill generator for his whole village. This of course might not fit in with the (sniff)"functioning rocket theory" and I am sure William is way to far down on the evolutionary chain for your consideration."

    This of course has nothing to do with my point. A rocket is many orders of magnitude more complex than a windmill and requires far greater specialized knowledge to pull off. One does not expect the layperson to be able to build a functioning rocket and calculate a flight trajectory and yet critics of evolution insist these barriers do not apply to complex discussions of astronomy, biology, genetics, geology and mathematics. It's like expecting a primary school math student to meaningfully discuss algebra despite having no knowledge of quadratic equations.

    "My only point in this 'discourse' is drop the gray area mish mash, skip the snarky asides and come up with a couple of Infinite absolutes if you are going to challenge the other sides Infinite absolutes."

    In that case you have no idea how science works.

    The questin here is, is the young creationist HOT?

    JT
    http://www.Ultimate-Anonymity.com

    I have found you have to sew seeds of understanding. Get them thinking about a concept, let it brew. Give them a few tools to help them understand the theoretical framework without years of study.

    Something like:

    If you were an archeologist, and discovered 3 manuscripts with similar, but different alphabets, how would you make a best guess about which diverged from which? You can't use anything but the alphabet (no carbon dating etc).

    It's questions like these that make them understand how we as evolutionary biologists use sequence analysis to understand the hierarchy. Then, once they grasp this, it's time to bring in the science aspect.

    "Ok, now you have your hypothesis. I'll let you use carbon dating now - how would you test the ages you predicted are correct? What other tools could you use (depth in ground etc)"

    This shows them how you can make a very good analysis of something that at first glance, you have no clue about. Thoughts?

    Your question about the light traveling to us from the stars is a nice way of disproving the 'about 10,000 years old' theory, I'll remember that one!

    My grandmother and father were both christian, they stopped going to church after the first few years of war here in the Netherlands.

    'True' believers are in my opinion indoctrinated at a young age, the age where every child is the most vulnerable. Frighting stories about 'God Almighty' (looking through the news that seems very exaggerated..) have whipped these people into submission. Our genetics have made us extremely susceptible in the early years of our lives for programming our behaviour for the rest of our lives. It's very hard to beat that.

    Still I have a hard time explaining why those pre-programmed people never seem to believe in the Tooth-Fairy or Santa but do believe in a God that never does anything.

    IF this earth has been created, it certainly has not yet reached RC1 status ;-)

    Unfortunately, Dr. Silver's argument regarding light from stars further than 10,000 light years away does not prove anything. Simply define the light propagating from a star to be part of the star and the created star will be indestinguishable from one which has existed for billions of years.

    I find it interesting that we have evolved to believe in the supernatural, since this suggests this may have been beneficial to our survival.

    IF this earth has been created, it certainly has not yet reached RC1 status ;-)

    Absolutely the best line I've heard in years on the topic...

    Noted for future use....

    Thanks Ray!

    I'm not sure that overhauling the education system is going to do much good. People who believe in creationism don't do so because it was mentioned or taught in school...they do so because their parents taught them to. They reject anything else because that's what they were told to do since they were born.

    To "change the insidious culture of creationist thought in America's heartland", you'll have to kill their religion...and I don't think any forward-thinking, well-meaning scientist would think that was their place.

    Although I agree with you Dr. Silver, I believe you are making a mistake. This is not a scientific argument. It cannot be bridged with scientific methods. It is a theological argument and must be dealt with in theological terms.

    I grew up Catholic and went to Catholic schools for the duration. Though I am no longer a believer, I did learn some lessons that stay with me. We were taught (this was in the 1960's) that if God chose evolution as his method of creating humans, then that's what He did. It was not up to us to question His methods, but we did need to understand them. There was no reason to expect those methods would be immediately evident to humans. Science was therefore a way of better understanding His creation. The fact that the word of God is unchanging, but the world is constantly changing is the key to faith. At least that's what I was taught.

    Put another way, there could be no fundamental discrepancy between science and the Bible because they describe different things. Science is like a recipe. Religion is like the actual meal, and it is the meal rather than the recipe that provides sustenance.

    I think this is the real answer to correspondents like Mr. Pepper. Not that he is wrong (although he obviously is as wrong as it is possible to be), but that he is missing the point. The Bible is not a scientific text book. It is way, way more important (at least to the faithful). To use the Bible in that way is a violation of Jesus' instruction to "render unto Caesar". It cheapens the Bible into something like the documentation that comes with a new computer.

    Ist,

    you are getting closer. If the little agno-ath cultists looking for every tweek in the news to solidify their science dogmas, attacked the almost daily new finding -
    EXAMPLE:
    BONE FOUND IN SURREY - MAN"S ORIGIN NOW 40 BILLION YEARS OLD!

    - stories as vigorously as they "dispel" Bible quotes. We would have a bit of a more balanced conversation. Big bang it (sorry didn't mean to curse all you atheists).

    But he bobs and weaves, changing arguments from one post to the next

    Respectfully, you were just as responsible for the meandering. In his first email, he clearly asked three, concise questions. Your response obliquely addressed one of them with an argument that is not even from your field of study (if I understand your expertise correctly). You entirely ignored his other two questions.

    Though he admits refusing credit to anything questioning biblical inerrancy, he nonetheless seems sincerely curious. You treated him like a troll.

    I certainly understand if you don't have the time or patience to answer his questions precisely (I certainly wouldn't), but you can not accuse him of being unteachable when you make a poor attempt at teaching.

    For the record, I am neither creationist, scientist, engineer, nor educator.

    It's because the questions imply fundamental ignorance of the science in question. It's like someone starting a conversation by asking what evidence I have that the earth is round.

    But just for fun, here are some quick answers for you:

    1. Life on Earth began as a single cell

    Genomic analysis and cell morphology.

    3. What conclusive evidence is there that the Earth is at least 3.6 billion years old?

    Nuclear physics and the science of isotope decay.

    2. Where is the transient state fossil evidence that connects all living things to a single ancestor?

    In thousands of museums all over the world.

    Yes, obviously Josh is ignorant on the science. My point is that Silver made a very poor effort of educating Josh, and then calls him unteachable (in the first paragraph of the post). He is blaming Josh for his own shortcomings in teaching.

    >here are some quick answers for you

    You don't need to convince me of evolution. I am not Josh. I am already convinced.

    I don't believe in creationism, but I wouldn't label it 'insidious' in the same way I wouldn't label any other belief system to be so.

    Why this missionary zeal to argue down any non-Darwinian belief as ignorant and uneducated? Can you at least see how that presents itself as pretentious and self-righteous? Oh the poor rubes who aren't as intelligent as I. If only they could understand what I'm telling them they would have to agree with me.

    Wouldn't a better approach be to simply acknowledge that similarly educated people, when presented with a set of facts, can view them differently? That when dealing with issues at the intersection of theology and 21st century science the notion of truth is not black and white?

    Personally, I see no conflict between modern science and my religious beliefs. To me science is correct in identifying the forces which shape our planet and our lives. But science does not explain for me how those forces came into being or what seems to guide their wonderful variations. For answers to that puzzle, I look to the divine. I presume that science will continue to seek explanations for these things and devise convincing theories in the future. Even today, physics itself postulates a pseudo-theological explanation for the beginning of all things in a mystical big-bang prior to which there was nothing and after which there was everything. Gravity didn't create itself. Infinite quantum fluctuations with infinite potential outcomes don't simply occur out of the ether.

    With that lens, it is less important to me who my evolutionary ancestors were and more important that they came to exist at all on this planet, under those conditions. Even more to the point, the fact that we can undergo evolution from a single cell to the point where we ponder our own existence and argue about what constitutes our soul is evidence enough of the divine for me.

    "Why this missionary zeal to argue down any non-Darwinian belief as ignorant and uneducated?"

    Because by definition non-Darwinian beliefs ARE ignorant and uneducated.

    "I am generally very open-minded about the world. However, I will not be swayed in my belief in God or the accuracy of the Bible..."

    There it is. This person is the perfect example of many people who deluded by their religious beliefs. No matter what evidence or rational argument is presented, they will not be swayed. They therefore enter the debate in a dishonest manner.

    Those who arrive at a belief without evidence cannot have their mind changed with evidence.

    Regarding Einstein, it is quite clear he did not believe in a personal or creator god:

    "The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this." - http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2008/may/12/peopleinscience.religion

    Einstein (unfortunately) used 'god' as a metaphor for the wonder and mystery of the universe, nothing more.

    Prof. silver,

    It would be very interesting to see your 'plain-speaking' response to the original e-mail.

    The swerving away from truly answering James' real questions doesn't really help. It is a divergence within the conversation, a distraction from the true focus.

    Maybe you could just answer, very briefly, the original questions?

    Please?

    An interested, non-engineer, non-scientist Brit.

    Review what I wrote to Pete Dooley for answers (not from Prof. Silver, hell not even from a real scientist, just a programmer with a strong scientific background) to those three questions.

    My answers are merely the tip of the iceberg... go into genetics or biology with a bit more depth and you will find that all of these arguments have been answered over and over again.

    I think the most salient point to made in the discussion of creationism v.s. chemical reactions resulting in life is this: Any given variety of creationism is but one of an infinite number of hypothetical, unprovable scenarios and is therefore infinitely unlikely. Chemical reactions eventually resulting in life within a universe providing an infinite number of interactions results in the certainty that life will arise at some point. To put it mathematically 1/infinity is functionally zero whereas some infinitesimal probability multiplied by infinity is functionally %100. For clarity, what I mean by "Any given variety of creationism is but one of an infinite number of hypothetical, unprovable scenarios" is that stating the universe was created by a 5-year old alien from a realm outside our universe using a "home universe creating kit" from the Alien toy store is just as arguable as Biblical creationism, as are an infinite number of alternate conjectures including that the whole of existence is a simulation or dream. Creationism is a function of imagination. Science is the analysis of the observable and real. Arguing one's imagination v.s. another's observation of reality is absurd.

    Why all the respect for faith? I honestly don't understand why you would admire something that essentially comes down to this: the way to prove your piety/faith is to believe the most ridiculous thing possible. Believe in God? Great! But do you believe that the bible is literally true? Okay, you believe the bible is literally true, but do you believe that it says that the earth was created on a Tuesday 4,000 years ago?

    Frankly, it's all of our responsibilities to educate the ignorant.

    please be respectful. It was a Monday.

    @Pete Dooley
    Actually, Dr. Silver argued points, but the level of basic knowledge needed to understand his points was immediately beyond the correspondent. I think that the level of understanding expressed by the correspondent is far above your own, hence your are actually not adding anything to this discussion.

    For the record, all of the original three points are commonly occurring creationist fallacies.

    The life began as a single cell thing is the hardest of the three to answer. The reason for the answer is simple... simplicity. That is the most obvious way for life to have begun, and there is simply nothing that indicates it isn't true.

    Point two: Well, if this is not true, then many, many assumptions have to change. Basically you have to state that carbon dating (and all methods of dating based on radioactive decay) are completely wrong. That the speed of light is not even remotely close to a constant (we have seen some variation in the presence of strong gravitational fields) or else that our understanding of time is completely flawed, and that math just doesn't work the way it seems to. Now, all of that could be true... science can never prove something beyond any possible doubt (that isn't how science works), but you have to admit it's a bit much to swallow just to allow something with no evidence to be true.

    Point three: The standard of transitional fossils required by the creationist movement is absolutely ridiculous. Transitional fossils are unearthed on a regular basis, but the creationist movement wants the transition between that transition and the next one... ad infinitum. There will never be a complete fossil record, as most things that die don't leave fossils, and even if they did, we would literally have to dig up the entire planet to find them all (and many fossils have been destroyed by both nature and human endeavors). Having said that, we have never found a fossil that contradicts evolution, either in nature or placement. We have found many, many, many fossils that reflected theories that pre-dated their discovery.

    Again, science doesn't prove... but it does allow for disproof. If someone were to disprove evolution, that still wouldn't give any credence or evidence to creationism as creationism has no testable criteria, and to date nothing has come close to disproving evolution (although small details of the overall theory are adjusted to reflect data all the time)

    Log,
    My good Amoeba. My point of course is frivolous. I reiterate (and use you as an example)and I quote, you sniffed:

    "I think that the level of understanding expressed by the correspondent is far above your own, hence your are actually not adding anything to this discussion."

    "Logic" Then you go on to ramble and quantify your points. Not unlike when Dr. Silver threw up the smoke screen, I referred to, and stopped the conversation dead in its tracks by demanded that the fellow study for another decade. Impressive if you are looking for credentials, not so if you are looking for some sort of a "scientific argument.

    The light year thing is a sweet point to make. I got suckered into a Creationist doctors screed one time where he pointed out that NASA made the lunar landers legs so long because they calculated the billions and billions of years accumulation of dust on the moons surface would be over six feet deep. When they got there it was about six inches deep. True? I don't know.

    So many questions and me so dumb. One thing for sure the arrogance factor, self importance, evasiveness and lack of facts piles way up past six feet here.

    Why should my side have to supply all the facts and your side none?
    Although, having said that... we have facts. Lets look at the fossil records. There is a short post here: http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evosite/misconceps/IICgaps.shtml which states the basic facts. Of course, if you read what I wrote, you will discover that I already said this. If you actually want a catalog of scientific papers outlining the relevant fossil discoveries, you should probably use google... they are out there.

    Now, if I start arguing biblical theory without having ever read the bible, let alone any theological analysis of the bible, would that be an argument that you would be interested in? Say I started saying that the bible was full of internal inconsistencies, and then failed to ever point out a single one that was actually based on the bible... how should a respected biblical scholar react to me? That is what is going on here. Dr. Silver answered many points, but in the end the amount of background material need is simply too damn vast.

    I tried to deal with that (at least a little bit) by addressing the three points as best they can be in this kind of forum... but again was told that there were no facts. At the same time, I did address all three points and was not refuted with any form of data, merely with an ad hominem attack.

    Of course, I am not really trying to change your mind... merely allowing the impressionable who might stumble on this to see the alternatives. If you really want the facts you seem to demand, please keep in mind that Dr. Silver has written an entire book outlining them, and that is merely one of hundreds to thousands of books on the subject.

    I am forced to conclude that either you are willfully ignorant or trolling for the hell of it.

    Sir,
    You just don't get it. Don't classify me. I am just trying do shovel through the "discourse" and find out why there are so many arrogant dweebs so self assured that everything has been answered.

    Your theories are theories based on conjecture. When a question is imposed that just might not fit into (this weeks) "discovery" you lash out, be it ever so condescending and snarky, not unlike Org the Neandethal might have in times past in your own trite way.

    God (or Big bang) bless you
    I have to get back to learning to start fire,

    Yours in awe
    Pete Dooley

    "I am just trying do shovel through the 'discourse' and find out why there are so many arrogant dweebs so self assured that everything has been answered."

    I don't think you'll find any scientist anywhere who believes everything has been answered.

    "Your theories are theories based on conjecture. When a question is imposed that just might not fit into (this weeks) 'discovery' you lash out, be it ever so condescending and snarky, not unlike Org the Neandethal might have in times past in your own trite way."

    Yet again you show a fundamental misunderstanding of science. Questions not based on direct or indirect observation are meaningless from a scientific perspective. These include all theistic claims and precepts for obvious reasons.

    It is also probably worth taking a moment to point out that in science the word "theory" does not carry the same meaning as it does in everyday discourse. A scientific theory is a model that takes into account all of the available evidence. Future discoveries then confirm, revise or overturn the theory. Every single applicable field of science has validated evolution and the estimated age of the Earth and the universe. Every single one. Dating is the most often revised due to the sheer enormity of geological timescales but not a single discovery in any field has mitigated against the theory of evolution. In fact I challenge you to present a single scientifically based argument against the theory.

    First of all I really do have to get to work. I am glad that I have forced out some great(only the last two) answers. Anon, you are all right, once you get past the phony (lets degrade the other guy and not really answer any questions)prick phase.

    You truly came up with some definitive snarkless answers,f i n a l y, you and jabr. My whole point, and my point about Dr. Silver is that you marginalize your argument when you hide behind a smoke screen of creepy asides and qualifiers. It truly makes your argument weak.

    I feel that I have, might I say, "HEALED" you. So in the future try not to come across as a, what is the scientific term? bullshitter, and state something worth reading. Copy your retorts.. You as well jabr and read them before you ever get in a discussion again. Clear Clean and concise.

    Love and Peace

    Another response full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

    Poor creationists. I got the impression from reading these emails that Josh's common sense and logical reasoning faculties are all desperately trying to assert themselves, but cant quite burrow through the morass of willful and deliberate ignorance that overlays his higher order mental functions.

    At some point MRI, CAT and similar non-invasive biological scans are going to be finely detailed enough, and the structures of the brain sufficiently understood that we can look at a subject, see damage in a particular area, and correctly conclude that the person is highly religious.

    Maybe its damage caused by an infectious organism of some kind, which certainly explains how religion specifically and the religious mindset in general ( the decision to ignore contrary evidence to ones established views on any given subject ) propagates between clusters of.. 'like minded' people, just like a disease. And also explains why people removed from religious areas seem to mostly recover their sanity and intellect over time.

    Pathetic!

    There is no rational discussion, argument, conversation or anything else you can have with someone who believes the Bible is infallible. Period.

    These silly people who criticize scientists for changing their theories in the light of new data are not worth talking to, let alone reasoned with. The very same people that tell you to explain your ideas / theories just point back to the Bible when confronted with facts. Ask them to explain their ideas, and they just point to the Bible. It's true cause it is. Why don't you try that next time.

    Evolution is true because it is. Great, we've now reached new heights of scientific knowledge. *sigh* =(

    The sad (disappointing?) thing is that these religious types are often just as ignorant about religion (including their own). Take a step back before you argue with them because you need to understand are dealing with literal lunatics, insane people. You need to realize that when you talk about 'young earth creationists' you are not referring to Christians in general but to a specific sect of delusional protestant, american Biblical monsters. There's a reason other commenters above have pointed out you just don't see this same thought elsewhere in the world unless that part of the world is influenced by the American religious missionaries (which these churches send out by thousands around world spreading their horrible and degrading message).

    At least the Catholic church had the decency to admit they were wrong about the sun after 400 years. Just imagine if someone still said they believed the sun was in the middle of the universe, would you sit there and have a 'reasoned' conversation or would you point them to a 8th grade science book and tell them to read it.

    Here's what you do the next time you're confronted with 'young earth creationist" (in other words christian fundamentalist) tell them to go ask a Jew (ya know, the people that actually wrote the old testament) whether it is literally true or not. You might get a different answer.

    These people are idiots. They are crazy. They are foolish. But most importantly, they are dangerous. They have infected the United States goverment and are actively trying to spread these falsehoods (far too light of a word, delusions would be better) through the country / world.

    Finally this isn't about education. An engineer deserves no more respect for holding these ridiculous beliefs than a high school drop out would. They are both equally wrong. If anything, the engineer is to be looked down upon more so than the dropout because they have had the opportunity to educate themselves about facts and have instead chosen to pick superstition.

    Personal religion and belief is one thing. The second you open your mouth in public, I have a right to call you what you are and disregard your views.

    > "I will not be swayed in my belief in God or the accuracy of the Bible...."

    There's an entire discipline known as "textual criticism" which is centered around the study of the provenance and literary history of the Bible. Josh's belief that the Bible is "accurate" -- particularly when it comes to facts -- is roundly dismissed even by many fundamentalist scholars.

    The text of the Bible has been unequivocally shown to be filled with the same human inconsistencies, inaccuracies, myth, symbolism, cultural biases, and literary license that affect other writings from the periods the different books of the Bible were written in.

    Does this render the Bible useless as an important spiritual document, and a source of inspiration and life insight? Not at all. But I find it to be intellectually dishonest to insist that all observed natural phenomena must be explained through the lens of a literalist interpretation of the Bible. That's not science, that's dogma.

    And there's a bigger problem. A belief in God as a loving, caring creator cannot support a belief in creationism and a "young Earth". For if we are to believe that God created everything, that has to include the laws of physics to govern the universe, the laws of nature to govern our planet, and the mathematics to describe them all. And we must then believe that what we observe and measure in terms of the age of the Earth, and the organization of the universe, is sound -- because God created the means to observe and measure the world and universe around us.

    However, if God did indeed put everything into place 6,000 or 10,000 years ago, and it just APPEARS to us to be billions of years old, then we must accept that mathematics and the laws of physics and nature are nothing but a sham, and that this God is a spiteful creator whose aim is to confuse, deceive, and incite conflict among his children. Hmmm. These seem like more Satanic behaviors than Godly ones to me.

    There's no reason science and religion can't co-exist; the mistake is in trying to use one to explain the other.

    he got some things right:

    >> You make three assumptions in the first paragraph that you pass off as fact:

    >> 1. Life on Earth began as a single cell

    >> 3. What conclusive evidence is there that the Earth is at least 3.6 billion years old?

    >> 2. Where is the transient state fossil evidence that connects all living things to a single ancestor?

    None of these - absolutely none - are required to be true in order for evolutionary processes to be studied.

    There are many experiments that show that evolution works in a repeatable, controlled environment.

    Do you really believe that - at this point in time - we have the ability to state that? How would you handle panspermia,
    a life-origin theory that is gaining evidence?

    And why do you insist on a single "living cell" at the start? Viruses, retro-viruses, prions, epigenetics are all recent discoveries that could compete with it.

    imho, evolution should be taught as evolutionary processes which can be backed with solid repeatable experiments. It's good enough to stand on it's own, without debatable scientific dogma which rarely stands the test of time

    Lee Silver

    I have posted a follow-up article to respond to some of the issues raised in these comments.

     

    If this conversation is typical of the discourse between scientists and deists, then it's no surprise that the scientists are making zero headway. From the very beginning, Prof. Silver's responses are little more than dismissive, not written to instruct but rather to show how little Mr. Pepper knows. Prof. Silver does not answer the questions posed, but immediately jumps into what he assumes is what Mr. Pepper is *really* asking (i.e., the young universe) and demands that Mr. Pepper defend that position before he will even talk.

    To paraphrase another poster, it is as if Prof. Silver is building a rocket and Mr. Pepper is a young schoolboy who came up to him and said "Clearly that cannot fly, because it has no wings and everything that flies like birds and airplanes all have wings." And Prof. Silver responds with "Unless you can explain how heavier objects fall faster than lighter objects as everyone claimed before Galileo showed them to be wrong, I won't waste my time talking to you." Yeah, way to educate there.

    Yes, a great many deists are blinded by their faith, but I suspect that many don't even know what the scientific method is and why it's important. *That* is the "conceptual framework and experimental foundation" that has to be established before you can move forward, not radioactive decay or organic synthesis or quantum mechanics. When conversing with them, assume they are coming from a 1st century view of science; you need to lead them through the next 18 centuries, not demand that they are already there before you are willing to talk.

    Bottom line is, you can't change what someone believes, but you can provide the tools for them to come to a better understanding on their own.

    Lee Silver
    Please see my second post for a response. For the record, the letter-writer Josh is not a deist, he's a theist.  Josh believes in a Christian God who plays an active role in the current world by responding to people's prayers.  Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Washington and others were deists (at most), which means that they did not believe in the personal God described in the Bible.
    For the record, unless you didn't include the entire thread of correspondence, you, not Josh mentioned the Christian aspect and what he believes about the power of prayer. Granted, you're most likely right, but by forming that presupposition you color your interaction. You immediately presume to know what he believes and respond to that rather than to what he asked.

    Lee Silver

    For the record (see above), Josh wrote, "I will not be swayed in my belief in God or the accuracy of the Bible .  .  . the Bible is explicit in its claim that man was uniquely created."

    The "Bible" is a Christian document.  Religious Jews do not use the word Bible to describe the Old Testament portion of this document (they only read a portion of the Old Testament which they refer to as the Five Books of Moses).  Therefore, Josh must be a Christian.  Also, a literal interpretation of the Bible implies a belief in a personal God and the power of prayer.

    The only thing Josh said about God in his initial email is
    I am not attempting to argue the existence of God or the theory of evolution.

    . The item you quote comes from Josh's very last email. The general tone of your correspondence is that you had the understanding from the first that he was a Christian fundamentalist, and pretty much dismissed him as a lost cause, yet there was nothing to support that until much later in your correspondence.

    "The general tone of your correspondence is that you had the understanding from the first that he was a Christian fundamentalist, and pretty much dismissed him as a lost cause, yet there was nothing to support that until much later in your correspondence."

    Nonsense. It's obvious almost immediately that Josh doesn't know what he's talking about.

    Back to the engineer/creationist correlation. Could it be that those raised in a religious setting are so used to being told how the world works that they lack to ability to discover it on their own? Being an engineer, I would still say this is a key difference between what it takes to be an engineer and what it takes to be a scientist. Engineers are told how the world works and manipulate things to make them work while scientist discover. However, only a good engineer can do both, and the good ones usually don't think like a creationist.

    Lee Silver
    This sounds like a reasonable hypothesis to me.
    The difference is religion is indoctrination.

    Engineering is supposed to be science (in other words education).

    So it comes down to indoctrination vs. education which are polar opposites, no?

    The Salem Hypothesis and the RNA world

    What an interesting thread. It's so interesting to see this debate about whether there is one cell or something else at the bottom of the well of evolution. In my undergrad education I learned that ancient life was made almost entirely out of RNA, the information molecule was RNA, and the enzymes were made out of RNA. The transition to DNA and amino-acid enzymes (protiens) is a period of tremendous historical importance that is very poorly understood. I thought the field of RNA life form research had dispelled the notion that all life came from one cell with DNA inside. However, logic11 said "The life began as a single cell thing is the hardest of the three to answer. The reason for the answer is simple... simplicity. That is the most obvious way for life to have begun, and there is simply nothing that indicates it isn't true." Well, I respectfully disagree. The RNA to DNA transition is a big discontinuity in the mutation back-chanelling analysis. Now, to be clear, I'm not a creationist, in fact, I'm an agnostic chem E undergraduate now in law school.

    Hence why I'd like to throw a couple cents in on the Salem Hypothesis. I think we're looking at too specific a situation. I bet if you look at any commonly accepted scientific idea without strict experimental proof that nearly all of the people who say "I'm not trained as a [big bang cosmologist, climatologist, evolutionary biologist etc.] but I am interested in the field and have the following objection..." are engineers of some kind or have a degree.

    I think the reason stems from what any engineering education teaches you, which is the art of modeling and building models from experimental data. I think Dr. Silver would have been suprised how well Pepper could have kept up with his explanation for the down to one cell model even as it got hyper-technical.

    Another thing is that in engineering true means useful. If your idea is not useful then it doesn't matter if it's true or not. To be more abstract, use means getting from A to Z, and theory means how the transitions from each letter of the alphabet to the next works. Pepper complains that "step A to B, from inorganic molecules to the first single cell is not rational or supported by evidence." A response of "we derrived that starting point by taking a first-principles based model of DNA mutation changes and fitting paramaters with known sequences," will be met with a "so?" The fact that a paramaterized model fits the data it was build upon is not evidence that the the model is correct. Any curve fit can perfectly reproduce data, and in fact, if the fit doesn't perfectly reproduce the data used to construct it then someone is not a very good curve-fitter. The only way a curve fit is evidence for anything is if it does a better job of predicting future results than a least-squares fit of the same starting data.

    Consider the case of a climatologist who claims that present rate of CO2 eimission will lead to a 10 cm rise in sea level by 2050. Unless that model has made some kind of special prediction recently then it's nothing but a glorified guess. The conventional theory for the sun holds that there is a "self-sustaining dynamo" under the surface. Computer models of this dynamo are everywhere, and they all are just paramater fits of data. The fact is that a dynamo here on Earth never self-sustains, and even if the self-sustaining dynamo theory became well-developed enough to predict future data as well as basic least-squares analysis (not there yet), there will still not be proof that a self-sustaining dynamo is possible or that one resides in the sun.

    So, in short, engineering is the study of whether a prediction is worth betting your life on. If someone wanted to modify a building design because his first principles model of the young's modulus of his new quasi-ceramic showed it would be as strong as concrete but a lot cheaper, no engineer would ever let that happen. They'd require rigorous testing of the material first to conform that it actually behaved as the theory described. It doesn't matter if the pure science theory says something will work out some way, what matters is whether is actually will. Moreover, pure science theories are normally innacurate in practice. The real world is chaotic and non-linear.

    Lee Silver

    I enjoyed your post, and you've convinced me that based on my current knowledge of the data, I should change "one ancestral cell" to "one ancestral genome."  The genetic information in all life forms and viruses (DNA and RNA) that we've studied does show a common ancestral genome.  There may, of course, be evidence that the common genome existed within a cell, but I don't have it on-hand right now (I have colleagues who will know).  It is possible that nearly all the remnants of the RNA world died off, and that only one RNA entity became transformed into a cell that gave rise to what we see today.  So, a single ancestral cell hypothesis doesn't (in any way) rule out a prior RNA world.

    I agree with your analysis and would add one more fact about RNA enzymes. The real neat thing is the shape of the active site(s) and the crystal structure. In the research my professor did he examined an enzyme that helps digest glutamine/lysine/argineine etc. One of the neat structures in both enzymes is a narrow tube that an amine ion (NH4+) flows through to get from one reaction site where it is broken off the amino acid and to the other reaction site (opposite end of the enzyme) where it is bound to what later becomes urea in land life and amonia in ocean life. What I'm getting at here is that the structure of each enzyme was the same. The shapes of the active sites are the same, the shapes of the NH4+ channels are the same, the overal size and mass are approximately the same. The only difference anyone can really see is the materials, that and the AA enzyme performs the reaction about 1000 times faster (yep, three orders of magnitude). In that sense, there was no evolution of new life ability in the RNA to DNA/AA transition. What came out the other side was the same genome as what went in, or rather the same set of abilities. I can see how the first cell to completely incorporate every enzyme or organic function then existing into DNA and AA-enzymes might just plain out compete every other life form on Earth (it's acting as much as a thousand times faster). We could all be its progeny.

    Also, for future reference with the creationist folks. The notion that creation happened 6,000 or 10,000 years ago or anything like that comes from this group of Catholic monks who in the dark ages spent decades comparing the geneological histories of various biblical characters. Now, they had to do a bit more work than I'm about to describe it as, but basically they added up the ages the first people were when they had the first children, then looked how old those kids were when they had the next generation and it goes on like this from Adam to Moses to Jesus all the way to Charlemagne. I don't care how comitted Mr. Pepper is to his faith, that age calculation is totally unscientific. There is a chance (right?) you could have let him know that's where the number came from and he would have said "no way, really? OK then, nevermind all that."

    I'd agree with an earlier comment that it's as absurd as using the Lord of the Rings to learn about English history, but I always thought that book was about the future, a world where what we call civilization is a forgotten memory and the values it represents have simply come to be called "Sauron." But that's not really a scientific debate:)

    I submit to your superior knowledge regarding RNA vs. DNA. As I said above, I am an educated (well, more educated than average at least) layperson, not a genetic researcher or biologist (although I do remember reading about the RNA as first building block at some point...).

    That is the great thing about a scientific perspective however, I can be wrong about a point and that is fine since I learned something new. That is really one of the basic tenets of this whole debate, if you present someone coming from a scientific viewpoint (and yes, I did read up a bit on RNA as the basic building block after reading your post... I never take any one point of view as an absolute authority) with evidence that is counter to their assumption, they revise their assumption with the new evidence in mind.

    Hey Logic, thougt I'd add that your refutations of Pepper's second and third points were spot on. It's an odd thing that's going on with regard to biological history though. As we get more into the details of it, and more into the details of the history of the bible and other religious stories, it gets harder and harder to find places where they really on point contradict. Take for example the Christian notion that one ought to love their neighbor as they love themselves, well, one of the most prominent fields of evolution research lately has been into "group selection theory." In that model a species that loves its neighbor as it loves itself will outcompete selfish species under certain selective forces which are quite likely top have existed from what we know from the fossil record and geologic history (basically, catastrophes or very harsh environments are the only times the selfish species outcompete). As this all goes along I think it's going to get harder and harder for creationsists to justify why evolutionary theory doesn't line up with their religion.

    My sister is a really devout Christian. She's in Church on Sunday's and gets involved with her congregation. She's also about to finish her doctorate degree in physical therapy and I bet she knows almost as much about evolution as Dr. Silver. It's all absolutely fine for her. I think the people who see a problem don't understand what one side or the other is really saying.

    My gosh it's hard to get this captcha validation right (on foruth try now). Am I a spam bot and don't realize?

    Yeah, I think that's the hardest captcha I have ever had to deal with.

    I generally have no problem with people who are willing to be open to the evidence, and have a number of religious friends... I just have a problem with those that first willfully ignore evidence and second judge others based on that ignorance. I also have major issues with raising children without the scientific evidence.

    Howard Bloom's Global Brain is a great read on group dynamics among bacteria. Really kind of puts the whole selfish gene thing to bed nicely... Oddly enough, that whole concept tends to be pervasive throughout both religion and philosophy.

    Thank you for posting these emails.

    I would first like to point out this line.

    "I am more than willing to consider the possibility that I am wrong about many things. I am generally very open-minded about the world. However, I will not be swayed in my belief in God or the accuracy of the Bible – having those doubts would defeat the purpose of faith."

    I believe this line inherently shows the issue that one will have to grapple with most before accepting evolution. Our perception of the reality we live in is woven from the moment we are born. We sculpt much our experiences into a form of functional understanding as how the world around us operates and exists. It is with our knowledge and experience that we abstract our beliefs. Now with that being said we look at his statement once more.

    "I am more than willing to consider the possibility that I am wrong about many things. I am generally very open-minded about the world. However, I will not be swayed in my belief in God or the accuracy of the Bible – having those doubts would defeat the purpose of faith."

    It appears that he is having problems accepting the new knowledge that he is learning with the beliefs that he grew up with.

    I think the "doubt" is there, he just is not getting the answers he is looking for.

    I would ask him to look into the experiment that is being done at Michigan State University with 44000 generations of E coli.
    https://www.msu.edu/~lenski/sciencearticle.html

    new genetic information observed

    See http://richarddawkins.net/article,2669,A-New-Step-In-Evolution,Carl-Zimmer
    for information about Carl Zimmer's expirement in which E. Coli developed the ability to eat citrate ... after 33,127 generations. He has been running this experiment since 1988.

    Citations:
    Blount, Z. D., C. Z. Borland, and R. E. Lenski. 2008. Historical contingency and the evolution of a key innovation in an experimental population of Escherichia coli. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 105:7899-7906.

    The self-inflicted ignorance of some people astounds me.

    The reason science is worthwhile is that it relies on tests to keep it accurate and self-consistent.

    Why are people with faith so afraid to test their faith? Doubt is not the enemy of true faith, for the same reason that skepticism aids in the reliability of scientific knowledge and inquiry.

    It is simply amazing to me, that such a logically facetious rationale for "believing" (the strongest faith is that which goes unchallenged) has been packaged in such a mass-marketable way as to render religious individuals impervious to science. It is a sad situation, though I'm not sure how much we are losing, as people who fall prey to such faulty logic are probably doing us a favor by not offering science such a susceptibility.

    I know,I got duped into going to a seminar by an astrophysicist. It turned out to be a come to Jesus meeting, by the astrophysicist.

    Was he no longer a scientist or a professor at the university that evening? How would we classify him?

    Let us not be so ready to lump and categorize everyone so readily. Some people's faith gets stronger when they are challenged.

    It wasn't that long ago that science of the day thought bleeding someone would cure them. Josh we all have a long way to go.

    We are all just learning. Someone exploring their spiritual side is no better or worse than someone exploring particle physics. Ignorance defined is to ignore.

    All Josh needs to do now is apply the same intellectual rigor he has spent so much time developing to the bible itself. That'll be a shock.

    The only thing on which I'll comment here is that I'm really, truly impressed to have seen a civil, intellectual debate on this topic. Honestly, it might have been the first one I've seen. Pretty neat.

    leebert

    Hey Doc:

    A few things. Belief in creationism needn't blunt America's competitiveness, unless its negatively drawing against brain talent in petroleum geology. You're assuming that Biblical literalism is anti-science. It's not. It's just anti-evolution and cosmology. What you're complaining about is a Biblical Literalist who won't subscribe to a small, but important, field of evolutionary biology. He, himself, has no need for dropping his valued belief for what is functionally a theory that carries no weight in his life.

    Let's face it: The human mind evolved to believe in things as part of social survival. There are all manner of quaint and strangely unassailable beliefs all around the globe held, kept and treasured by the votaries of Buddhism, Judaism, Shinto, Hindu, Taoism, Islam and Christianity. All these societies are educating fleets of excellent engineers and scientists.

    Add to that the improbable and timeless nature of the universe; and the need for a sense of order and meaning and you will find an endless wellspring of creationists of some form. The God of the Gaps will never go away, it's much too inviting and seductive, even for atheists and agnostics to muse over.

    After all, it's turtles all the way down.

    -- leebert 

    Lee Silver

    Dear Leebert,

     "Belief in creationism needn't blunt American competitiveness . . . You're assuming that Biblical literalism is anti-science.  It's not. It's just anti-evolution and cosmology."

    Your response is (unknowingly) better than any other I could have gotten (and I may even use it in my next book).  Trying to make progress in biomedical genetics without an understanding of evolutionary forces is like trying to do physics or be an engineer without learning calculus because you don't believe in infinities. In both cases, you don't know what you don't know.

    Without calculus, our technology would not have advanced beyond that of the Roman Empire.  Without an understanding of the mathematical formulation and principles of evolution, you can't analyze data based on species and population differences in DNA and protein sequences.  Analysis of this type is a fundamental component of modern research in biomedical genetics and other areas of biotechnology.  The pool of young people who are able to enter these fields is reduced by 50% in the U.S. because of ignorance.  This is part of the reason (there are others) that China and other Asian countries are likely to pass the U.S. for the first time in an area of scientific research.

    leebert


    Hi Doc,

     
    "Analysis of this type is a fundamental component of modern research in biomedical genetics and other areas of biotechnology."

    While I don't doubt you speak from expertise, I also don't see belief and work as mutually exclusive. Although we agree that creationism is pure artifice, a belief in it does not interfere with work in biomedicine (it has become more of a specialty in chemistry), and will become less of a hindrance as time goes on. The shared genomes do not preclude antiquarian beliefs in the bases for those genomes, if the genomes are similar the tools to manipulate them will avail themselves to users of those tools regardless of the belief of the user.

    "The pool of young people who are able to enter these fields is reduced by 50% in the U.S. because of ignorance."

    Please, what is ignorance here? Lack of schooling? No. Belief? Yes. Your choice of words reveal your prejudices. 

    Let's look at your statistic: Of those most likely to enter the sciences, the valedictorians and summa cum laude variety, what percent then espouse this belief? To blame the brain deficit in the sciences because 50 percent of Americans are prone to this belief is probably overstating the problem. 

    It's a hindrance only if the schools require a rigid belief in evolution to enter those fields. I'm not for creationism (by no such means), nor am I for creationism being pushed into the sciences. It's quite clear that Biblical Literalists are back pedalling into the God of the Gaps under the steady assault of science and culture: Creationism as a sort of "2001: Space Odessy" alien interventionist model is where the poor votaries find themselves in increasing numbers. This doesn't preclude knowledge or ability in the applied sciences. So long as a day in Genesis could be a billion years, they have wiggle room to hold onto their cherished notions, and like many people, can be of two minds on a subject and yet excel regardless.

    "...This is part of the reason (there are others) that China and other Asian countries are likely to pass the U.S. for the first time in an area of scientific research."

    Perhaps a little Joseph Campbell would put some of this into persepctive. Every culture there is has its own arcane creation myths and attendant literalists. This is no great problem, really.

    In any case, you really are confusing apples and oranges amongst the creationists. There are the core literalists who believe in the young Earth, but the larger bulk of creationists see an interventionist God that is a bit more meddlesome than Voltaire's clock maker.  This is no small distinction.

    I've dealt with highschool kids struggling with these issues (as they are naturally inclined to defend the beliefs of their parents), and rather than be confrontational about it I found it helpful to simply put it into perspective:

    Essentially I have told them this:

           If you find evolution improbable, well, it is improbable when viewed in terms
           of human time scales. If evolution seems improbable to you, indeed it bears
           a burden of unlikelihood, but with it comes evidence that many learned people
           have gradually acquired over the past 150 years. Vast periods of time can trump
           unlikelihood just as eventually you can get all cherries at a slot machine. Chaos
           can coalesce into relative states of order given enough chances.

           What the rest of us have settled on is that both evolution and an interventionist
           God bear similar burdens of unseen guiding forces and requiring evidence.
           However while there are many different stories about creation, the evidence for
           evolution comes to us independent of culture.

           Learning evolutionary biology is just a small part of the biology you'll learn in
           high school. If you're smart enough to practice piano or algebra , then you'll be able
           to learn the bases for the theories of evolution whether you believe in them or not.
           You don't have to believe in other controversial doctrines in order to write about them
           in class, or answer questions about them. No teacher at this school will tell you you're
           stupid for your beliefs. 

    My students have viewed me with a certain respect b/c I am so even-handed on the issue, and I believe I have opened more minds to broader venues of thought and knowledge than were I more dismissive or confrontational.

    Consider that you might take care with your atheism lest it become demonstrably anti-theist. I say this as a Buddhist, BTW, and we're pros at untangling this debate in terms of comforting notions, beliefs, society and cosmology. The outspoken Buddhists are often quite anti-theistic (not just atheistic or non-theistic) but the reticent majority know better. Gotama didn't teach any to go raise hell on this point. The God of the Gaps, no matter how facile an artifice it appears, will never go away.

    -- leebert 

    leebert

    And

    "...Your response is (unknowingly) better than any other I could have gotten (and I may even use it in my next book)."

    Awww, c'mon, Doc! That was an easy. You're missing the obvious here.

    "...Trying to make progress in biomedical genetics without an understanding of evolutionary forces "

    Not the way I see biomedical genetics evolving as an applied science, it's becoming more and more cookbook, isn't it? Perhaps it's akin to PETA activists being alive due to animal research, but there you have it. It'll become more and more ironic as the tools become sophisticated enough for researchers to boilerplate 

     "...like trying to do physics or be an engineer without learning calculus because you don't believe in infinities..."

    Oh crap on that analogy! Newton didn't believe in evolution, now did he? C'mon Doc, you're cherry-picking here. 

    "In both cases, you don't know what you don't know."

    Hell, tell that to the climatology field!

    If you want something that's a threat to America's competitiveness it's the move to press us into CO2 cap&trade schemes while the evidence against CO2 is becoming far more muddled and complex. The seas aren't showing the dangeous build-up of heat expected, the air is drier than the worst-case models had assumed, the raincloud factor is showing a far larger negative feedback capacity, the sun is evidently in onset of a long-term dimming cycle and aersol soot is showing itself to be a climatological dark horse that has implicated greenhouse gases more than their due. 

    Humans are insufficiently dispassionate when dealing with their beliefs, whether they be votaries of religion or science. If we could just find a cure for human nature then everything would be OK, right?

    Lee Silver

    Dear Leebert,

    By ignorance, I simply mean lack of knowledge.  I mean no disrespect.  I, myself, am ignorant of all the areas of knowledge that I never encountered.  The problem is not creationism, per se, but the fact that public schools serving 50% of the country's children don't incorporate biological evolution into their science curricula.  Only a small percentage of any children, in any case, will use this learning to become the next generation of Ph.D. biomedical scientists.  But children without a real education in biology are far less likely to go in this direction.  You can see this difference by looking at the cultural backgrounds of scientists in the field.  My impression is that 1%-2% of Ph.D. biomedical scientists come from fundamentalist homes or communities.


     


    Children who learn a censored form of biology

    leebert

    Hey Doc,

    Well there's your bottom line, which I suspected was the case: Our public school systems are still a mess. This is not news, really.

    We thought they were a mess back when I was a kid in the 1970's. Thirty years hence of ostensible reform and effort from the education schools, the education theorists and curriculum designers has seen negative resuts. The curricula continue to be watered down through misguided efforts to reinforce social values, self esteem and so on.

    I've seen the results of this BS in action, perfectly able kids feeling like they were coasting along, not being given real work. School's a joke. We're losing the kids in miiddle school to a variety of forces, but the accountability isn't there in the schools.

    If you want to do something about the quality of education in the USA, the science curriculum is only one part of the story. 

    Do you know the story of Jaime Escalante? The calculus teacher in California?

     

    leebert

    re: comment:

    http://www.scientificblogging.com/challenging_nature/conversation_with_a...

    But won't the Creationists rejoinder be: "Well that just shows how humans can take after an interventionist God."

    (created in his image and all....)

     :-)

    Sorry kids, but apostasy can go both ways.  

    leebert
    P.S.  Here in Texas our governor wanted to institute mandatory HPV vaccinations in young girls. Think of the traditional epidemiological view on this: Mandatory vaccinations are for diseases communicable through casual contact. HPV is not a casually transmitted virus (unless we anticipate the kids having sex in the school bathroom). The cost was going to be quite large.

    Other faux nostrums hover around the schools, the costly air conditioning "requirement," the expensive computer mess, reinvented "open classrooms," sports ... the list is endless.
    Lee, thank you for sharing this very interesting discussion with us.

    I've had similar discussion, but mostly with my fellow muslims.
    They usually are indoctrinated by HarunYahya.com and convinced that Evolution is a lie.

    I explained to them that :

    1. Evolution is pretty much 99.99% confirmed to be a fact

    2. Their concept of evolution is way outdated, because they refer to the original theory from Darwin. Modern evolutionary biology is now very robust and have many proof to back it up.

    3. The wrong one is not their religion / holy book - but **their interpretation** of it.

    Example: they claimed that (modern) human are descendant of Adam - not monkey.

    I explained to them, that if they truly believe that God is All-Powerful, then it is possible that :

    1. monkey still evolves into human
    2. Adam was created as perfect human, and then lives among other human as well
    3. the human (which evolved from monkey) somehow in the process became extinct, and only descendants of Adam are left until this day.

    This kind of interpretation fits exactly both current science and the religious belief.

    Sometimes we insisted to our own version of interpretation.

    Another example is heliocentric versus geocentric -- in Muslim community there is similar debates.
    But when the related texts are analyzed, turned out that (for example) it's explaining it from earth's perspective - not from the solar system. And there was no contradiction whatsoever when the perspective / point of reference was changed to the solar system one.

    Thanks again, and here's hoping that all these discussions can be as civil as the one you shared here.

    Thank you.

    mossnisse

    Why not try to answer the question correct instead of  trying to force your believes on others. So I  have a try here
    1. Life on Earth began as a single cell
    Without knowing how probable it is with life to start it can actually have started several times and al lineages but one died out or that current life have developed through fusion of different lineages. If it was a cell/cells is more a question of the definition of  life.
    3. What conclusive evidence is there that the Earth is at least 3.6 billion years old?
    There are lots of evidence that earth is billions of years old, they are mostly geological which isn’t my area of expertise.
    2. Where is the transient state fossil evidence that connects all living things to a single ancestor?
    It’s probably not exists and if it does we have only seen some glimpses. There needs loots of improbable events for a fossil to form.

    Hank
    Indeed, we would have to be a lot more suspicious if the fossil record weren't incomplete, given the rather arcane series of unlikeliness that goes into making them.
    Hi,
    I am moderator of the largest online Evolutionary Psychology discussion group and have studied many aspects of evolution extensively, including some of the more prominent myths that get thrown up discussions with creationists.

    One of the problems that often occurs is that Evolution Theorists in discussions with creationists claim tentative findings or conjecture as established scientific Theory and fail to concede weaknesses in the science, and this gives no end of succour to creationists.

    The query you responded to included three points, one discussing the age of the Earth and two others. I often field questions like these and I usually point out that there is no scientific theory that has established that life on Earth began from a single cell. If the conditions were right for life to evolve from non-life then it is unlikely that this occurred only once and at only one location on Earth. That different amino acids make up Archaea and all other Prokaryotes+eukaryotes strongly supports at least two biological genesis. With RNA and DNA having different bases also supports the possibility of more than one initial source of life. We also note that in carboniferous meteors like the Murchison meteorite more than 70 amino acids have been discovered, far more than the 21 that underpin all life on Earth...

    Darwin did not advocate a single ancestral form for all life on Earth. He thought that each 'great class' had a common ancestor ie in mammals, birds, reptiles, fishes, insects, crustaceans and plants, but in particular vertebrates, invertebrates and plants.

    "By the theory of natural selection all living species have been connected with the parent-species of each genus, by differences not greater than we see between the natural and domestic varieties of the same species at the present day; and these parent-species, now generally extinct, have in their turn been similarly connected with more ancient forms; and so on backwards, always converging to the common ancestor of each great class."
    [from "On the Origin of Species"]

    It was, in fact, in Chamber's 'Vestiges' that we see a theory that all life on Earth evolved from a common ancestor. Lamarck actually catalogued about the same number of common ancestors as Darwin did...

    Darwin's tree of life (page 36 of Notebook B) refers only to mammals and all of his notes subsequent to the illustration confirm this. The only substantial difference of Lamarck's tree is that it is upside down, branching down from a common ancestor (for animals) at the top of the page.

    Of course these days, when we say 'common ancestor' we mean the 'common ancestor of all life on earth' and so backwardly project that erroneously onto Darwin's usage of the phrase.

    Thus the idea of a single cell as a common ancestor is pure scientific conjecture at this stage and no model of protolife is generally agreed upon. And Darwin did not predict the existence of a single common ancestor either, though he speculated that there might be some kind of headless bisexual ancestor of all vertebrates (Page 89, Notebook E).

    Kind Regards
    Robert Karl Stonjek

    Thanks! Basically I share your point of view, though still there are some questions to be argued. And I have downloaded video on the similar topic at rapidshare search engine http://www.picktorrent.com Regards.

    people are using science to disprove science...so religious guys are also scientists, and scientists believe that there must be an answer to everything, which is faith, making science a religion. these guys are believing in pretty much different aspects of the same thing.

    it is a large leap from saying science can answer why dogs bark to saying science can explain everything using the same methods. we dont know how big REALITY is, or how weird. we all need to keep an open mind.

    An interesting conversation, and a good example of why the topic of evolution is so controversial. As an idea used to describe the progression of life, evolution is a good one; as an ideology, not so good. Being a Christian myself, I find it interesting to read discussions such as these. I believe in God and I also believe that He made humans in his own image and that we are special and set apart; nobody can convince me that humans arose from a common ancestor with reptiles, bacteria, etc. The bible is pretty clear when it describes how God created man. As to the controversy between a Creationist's view of a young earth and how that doesn't jive with modern scientific knowledge, I am a Christian who realizes that the bible is full of metaphorical descriptions. The bible was not meant to be taken 100% literally. My point in case is the issue of time; how can humans possibly measure our knowledge of time with time relative to God? One year for humans may be a nano-second to God, so I can whole heartedly embrace the idea of an old earth and I don't think that the concept of an old earth undermines Creation, God or Christianity. I think Josh had some very pertinent points in his discussions with Dr. Silver; There is no evidence that all life was derived from one common ancestor, and there is also no reason religion and science can't exist in harmony. What science fails to acknowledge is that a God who is so great as to create the heavens and the earth and everything contained within it is also great enough to continuously change his creation. The fact that plants and animals have evolved shouldn't be debated as we can see evolutionary changes in different species. The claims that evolutionary change can show common ancestry should be more widely scrutinized; as Josh said, the commonalities between humans and other organisms should imply a common Creator instead of a common ancestor.

    Speaking as an engineer who has both studied and worked with numerous engineers, and been (variously) an Intelligent Designist, a theist, a deist, a Catholic, a Protestant, an evangelical Christian, and (currently) an Agnostic, I think I've got a pretty wide perspective on the topic.

    The problem with the anti-evolution arguments is that (by and large) each argument fails Occam's Razor. For any given argument FOR evolution, so-called "Christian Scientists" have arguments like the variability of c and the complexity of the eye; whilst these arguments (sometimes) provide alternate explanations for observations about the universe, they tend to be unlikely and awkward. New observations which disprove the Christian-scientific theory require further, less likely, revision to the theory.

    The violations of Occam's razor build up over time. In order to support Young Earth, you need to swallow so many unlikely explanations. When you have a dozen things which tend to suggest that Young Earth is wrong, and correspondingly, a dozen unlikely explanations for how such might instead fit into a Young Earth theory, it should become extraordinarily different to reconcile. If, however, you're very detail-oriented, content to consider individual fragments of a problem separately and on their own merits, you might just manage it. The engineering mind-set is much more likely to slip into this habit; engineers often ARE very detail-oriented, and used to splitting a problem into various loosely-coupled components. Scientists, on the other hand, are used to dealing with probabilistic uncertainty, and the unlikelihood of the entire construct rapidly begins to look suspect.

    I think what it gets down to is that engineers are used to broad and invariant axioms. We don't deal in theories, weights of evidence, and alternatives. We deal in best-practices and traditions. We KNOW how to build a bridge, or design a circuit, or write an algorithm. We're not interested in the nature of the electron; we're interested in the end result (being the measurable strength of a concrete beam, or the rate of current flow through a resistor). With such broad axioms as the baseline for our dicipline, we can even allow 'God' to exist as an axiom, and for some, even 'Young Earth'. If Young Earth is your axiom, every observation must fit within a framework which allows for it. Much as a physicist finding that a theory violates causality, or a mathematician working out that his original equation results in 1 equaling 2, the Young Earther discovering that an observation or theory violates Young Earth will discard it as dis-proven.

    James Ph. Kotsybar

    SURVIVAL OF THE WITLESS

                          -- James Ph. Kotsybar

    When fire, water, earth and air were thought 

    to be the elementals that composed all matter, 

    folks did not remain distraught 

    at what avant-garde chemists then proposed.

    Most understand that our world is a sphere, 

    with only one natural satellite. 

    No matter where folks sail, they do not fear

    they’ll reach Earth’s edge and fall into the night.

    Most even have embraced that time’s not fixed 

    and have adopted relativity. 

    So why should folks’ beliefs remain so mixed 

    about evolution’s activity?

    Abundant evidence supports this view, 

    yet institutions argue it’s not true.

    Nice one,really nice.

    Being a Christian myself, I find it interesting to read discussions such as these. I believe in God and I also believe that He made humans in his own image and that we are special and set apart; nobody can convince me that humans arose from a common ancestor with reptiles, bacteria, etc.

    What a nice story - really nice!

    That tries to convince every scientist explaining the facts .. It is FACT. The question about neo-Darwinian life is valid whenever necessary. After all came from the early days.

    Farley Sa.
    Apartamentos em Santos