Saturday, October 20, 2012

I'm gonna ace this test

Praying chipmunk
As I regularly do, I've been researching constitutional violations (plug, plug), and I came across one staggering example.

In March, 2011, an Illinois school board put a stop to a science teacher blatantly teaching creationism and discrediting evolution in the science classroom.

You can find an actual syllabus for that section of the class here.

I'm going to see about answering some of the topics.

1. Explain the difference between macro and microevolution and give examples.


"Macroevolution" and "microevolution" is a creationist contrivance used to resolve cognitive dissonance they were having that evolutionary examples were readily accessible, but they just knew creationism was right. So, they decided to simply separate the readily observable examples from the longer-term examples, and label them "micro" and "macro", respectively.

A group of rabbits adapting white fur in a new tundra area is an example of the so-called "microevolution", and a rabbit evolving from a more rodent-like ancestor is an example of "macroevolution". 

Of course, they keep moving the goalposts. It's really difficult to get a creationist to nail down the definition of "type".

The only difference, in reality, is time. "Macroevolution" is merely the cumulative changes of micro evolution. How many changes would it take for a mouse-like creature to evolve into a cat-like creature? It's truly daunting how many similarities there are between the two. Just about the only two differences is size and and predatory eyes. The rest of the traits - the same.

If you admit that microevolution could create a slightly larger mouse, then you've admitted that microevolution can change, with ongoing iterations, a small creature into a large creature. And that's just one of the differences.

2. Explain why macroevolution is not testable or observable and thus not scientific.

This is a trick question, surely.

This "science teacher" doesn't appear to realize that science doesn't require direct event-to-eyeball observation. Sure, that makes things easier, but phenomena can be determined indirectly. Heck, a lot of science works like that. We can't observe magnetism directly, but we can figure it out that it exists, and its attributes. Likewise, we have a fairly accurate atomic model theory, based on atoms we can't see. Apparently we can't know anything about tectonic drift, or the full orbit of Pluto, or the history of the moon (we didn't see the craters being made, so how do we know striking objects caused them?), and so on.

Secondly, this "science teacher" is taking "observe" too literally. Observing the effects a phenomenon would would not qualify. The whole point of observation, when it comes to science, is to ensure that what we're studying manifests in some way in the real world.

The evidence in genetics is an observation. The fossil record is an observation. The geologic column is an observation.

This teacher is an excellent example of the Heisenberg Evidentiary Standards in practice - where the scientific requirements of something one doesn't like is absurdly high, but the evidentiary requirements of his own beliefs in creationism is absurdly low - depending on whether one is observing him applying reason/evidence to evolution or creationism.

Moving on - macroevolution is testable. We can test it out on the fossil record, in genetics, and in actual direct observation, etc. It's testable in both long and short scales.

Again, this teacher has hemmed in "testable" to the point where even his own creationist beliefs would be impossible to test. We couldn't test anything that couldn't be done in the short term (<50 years). According to this guy, science cannot investigate any event that happened in the past, because we can't directly observe it anymore.

This is very indicative of the motivations of this person. The motivation of science is to learn about the universe and how it works. Can this be done through circumstantial evidence  Yes. Is it more difficult? Yes. For someone to insist that "observation" can only be event-to-eyeball betrays someone who is less interested in learning about the world, and more interested in disqualifying a religiously unsettling concept.

The preponderance of evidence supports evolutionary theory - meaning, evolutionary theory is overwhelmingly supported, and the model explains pretty much all our actual observations. It's unambiguously supported by multiple independent lines of evidence, which makes it staggeringly unlikely that the overall concept is incorrect.

So yeah - literally every part of #2 is wrong.

3. Explain why microevolution IS scientific

In the same way that macroevolution is scientific, it's testable, falsifiable, observable, has application, and is supported by the preponderance of evidence.

That was easier than the last item.

4. Explain the limitations or faults with the fossil record and interpretation of fossils

Well, fossilization is actually fairly rare. That means there's gaps in the record. That makes it more difficult, obviously.

I'm not sure about the second part - interpretation? Does he mean mixing and matching of bones from multiple creatures? Sure, that's an issue. Lots of scientific study has issues that need resolving. That's why we have peer review and the scientific method.

Also, a larger sample size helps reduce the error. We may have multiple examples of tyrannasaurus rexes, for instance.

The problem with citing the fossil record as a limitation of the theory of evolution is that the fossil record is a minor chunk of the overall evidence. When we cross-examine and corroborate the fossil record with taxonomy, phylogeny, geologic column, genetics, etc, those limitations of the fossil record are more than resolved.

5. Be able to explain how homologous structures, vestigial structures, embryo similarities, DNA similarities, and the fossil record can be used to explain both macroevolution and creation.

For "macroevolution":

Homologous structures (such as bat wings and human arms) would be expected with common descent with modification, as bats fell into the flying niche and humans fell into the dexterous manipulation niche - and they both started with the rodent forelegs.

Vestigial structures would be explained by previously-needed structures no longer being needed, but benign otherwise, so they aren't weeded out.

Embryo similarities would be explained by I have no idea - my knowledge doesn't include that.

DNA similarities would be explained by common descent with modification too. Like taking a computer file, copying it, and then making a slight alteration. The two files would be mostly similar, except that one change. Now apply that to DNA.

The fossil record can be explained by descent with modification, where previous generations still stick around as rock formations, while the living descendants slowly change, and leave new fossils as they die.

For creation:

I.. uh. I have no idea how the teacher performed enough mental gymnastics to explain how creation would generate evidence for evolution. I suppose he could have said "God created all of life to look like it had evolved".

It's also the difference between necessary and sufficient.

I'm in my backyard, and there's a tall fence between my property and my neighbors'. I smell smoke, and I hear growling. I'm trying to figure out what's going on over there. Sure, explaining it with a dragon might be sufficient to cover the data - but is it necessary? Of course not. It could also be that my neighbor is grilling hamburgers into hockey pucks, the dog grabbed one and is growling at the man as he tries to get it back.

There's multiple possibilities. Further data would help resolve which ones are most likely correct. We don't have to make up dragons or fairies or universe-creating pixies to resolve everyday normal things.

Unfortunately, for Mr. "Science Teacher", the evidence is pointing towards the grill/dog, and not the dragon.

6. Explain how one can believe in both creation and evolution at the same time.

Split brain patients can have one side of the brain be theist and the other can be atheist. I don't think that's what he's asking for, though.

One can believe that God set up evolution - sort of a deistic scenario.

The real question is - what does the evidence show? Answer: evolution.

7. Describe the Cambrian Explosion and Irreducible Complexity and explain how these support intelligent design (creation).

Shhhhhh! No seriously, shush!

Don't let them hear you!

If they catch wind that this teacher said this, they may lunge at him from behind bushes with axes, or something.

The Cambrian explosion is a time in evolutionary history long ago when there was a rapid diversification of life forms, many of which we have today.

I have no idea how the Cambrian Explosion supports intelligent design. Typically when I hear creationists cite this, they say "burst of diversity of a short period of time" without citing the fact that "short period of time" translates into 70 to 80 million years.

There's nothing there that either supports creation or disqualifies evolution. If, for instance, sexual reproduction started it, yes, there would be significant diversity (since sexual reproduction accelerates that), and with a lot of potential niches wide open, they'd quickly fill up.

See? There's an explanation that does not require absurd notions of magical universe creating fairies.

On the other hand, if a god was creating things, I have two questions:
  1. What's with all the screw ups? Why did the all-knowing all-powerful entity that created life/species create so many failed designs? What the heck is with his obsession with beetles?
  2. Why did he take 70-80 million years? Why not just do it in like a day or something?
See, this is what I mean by the preponderance of evidence. Both these questions make perfect sense under evolutionary theory. Under the concept of intelligent design or creationism (though now we know they're one in the same), it stops making a lick of sense.

Irreducible complexity, as a concept, is crap. It relies on an overly simplistic model of evolution that does not allow for point/gene deletions or transfers of function. Even if IC wasn't completely discredited, it woudn't be evidence for intelligent design.

Why? Because the connection is an Argument from Ignorance - "how else could these structures have come to be?"

What was that about "being scientific?" I didn't realize that common logical fallacies now qualify as "sciency".

8. Describe the significance and problems with Miller and Urey's experiment.

A note for the "science teacher" - they did more than one experiment, and many people have since replicated it, and branched off with other similar experiments.

It's significant because it demonstrated that common building blocks to life (amino acids) can spontaneously form. This would be one of the steps along the way to abiogenesis.

One of the problems is that they aren't the right amino acids for the life we know.

Let me put this in perspective. We have a significant lab-demonstrable piece of evidence that abiogenesis can happen. Mr. "Science Teacher", where is your demonstrable observable testable evidence that a god is possible, or universes can be created? Where's your evidence that anything is intelligently designed or was created?

Oh wait, all you have are false dichotomies, arguments from ignorance, and a plethora of other logical fallacies, which, apparently as we've learned, is now how science works.

If he was even remotely competent in science, he'd understand this basic idea that disproving one theory doesn't give another credibility. Each has to be positively demonstrated.

At the end of the day, abiogenesis and evolution are supported by scientific evidence. What does creation/intelligent design have?

"Gee! I think there a refuted problem with evolution! Abiogenesis! We don't have that much evidence for it!"

9. Describe the 4 points of Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection and explain the important of each

I don't remember this off the top of my head. It's not like my awesome high school biology class spent much time on this. 

It's important to remember that Darwin's contribution to evolution is fairly minor. He started the ball rolling, but it's been countless scientists with daunting amounts of man hours that have taken the baton and filled out the theory.

10. Contrast Lamarck's ideas with those of Darwin. Be sure to explain what is meant by Use and Disuse and Acquired Characteristics

Yeah, I'm not familiar with this either. My interest hasn't been on the history of the theory so much.

Wow, how anti-climactic of me. I think I'll stop here, and maybe address the other brazillion another time. I wonder what my grade would have been, if I had taken this guy's course.

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