Friday, May 10, 2013

What Darwin Didn't Know- Ch 1 -The Scope of Challenges - Bottom-Line Points

Book Cover: What Darwin Didn't Know
I dove into Geoffrey Simmons' "What Darwin Didn't Know" (2004), to evaluate an anti-evolution book.

I'm maintaining an index of my responses here.

Today's Chapter - 1: The Scope of Challenges - Bottom-Line Points
So, let's have it. I'm curious what the summary points are, because sometimes his points were kind of lost on me, even if I could eviscerate the arguments.

The bottom line

Given the exposure to the same air, radiation, climate and foods, why would man steadily improve in size, skills and intelligence while other species like the dolphin  cockroach, and crocodile have remained unimproved for millions of years.
... Because your understanding of evolution is faulty.

Let's start with this "unimproved" bit. This is gibberish within evolutionary theory. The reason why some lineages have stayed mostly unchanged for long periods of time, is because they are missing the environmental pressure to change. It's not a question of "improvement". It's a question of a species being well-adapted to its environment, and thus, no pressure.

Clear your head of these misconceptions of "better" an "improved".
Chuck out those notions of "more evolved", "evolutionarily advanced" or "pinnacle of evolution."

They're taking your ability to understand evolutionary theory, throwing it into a blender, and then setting it on fire... and then drop-kicking it.

You've tried to set up an "all things being equal" scenario, by choosing the obvious global ones, without looking at the actual history, environment and scenarios of each lineage.

Elephants are very intelligent (see video to the right of them painting), and a social species. Yet, they don't invent things. They don't even really talk to each other.

Why not?

There's no environmental pressure for them to do that.

Ancient humans, on the other hand, found themselves in an unusual environment, with a particular set of characteristics.

  • They were a social species, who were formerly tree climbers who ate a lot of fruit.
  • A group of them branched off, entering the plains of Africa, where trees and fruit were not as accessible.
  • They had to get food, and found larger creatures, which could be food, but individually they couldn't take on single-handedly.
  • They started to coordinate (that having been their background), and started coming up with ways to communicate complex plans. Talking was born.
  • This lead to education (talking now allows the accumulation of knowledge from generation to generation), which set up sort of a feedback loop, where we cultivated our own environment and expanded on this evolutionary niche.

Elephants evolved in the plains and ate plants, where their primary defense is size. The don't have the right context.

It took billions of years, but finally, a species entered a set of contexts where the overall environmental pressure pushed their evolution into a state where high intelligence and language were beneficial.

It has nothing to do with "better", "improvement" or "advancement" - like a rock rolling down a hillside is trying to "get to a improved situation". We're the species that finally got lucky enough to be in the right place, in the right time, with the right environment, and the right biological attributes, to "achieve" intelligence and talking.

... for all the good it's doing us.

The cockroach is "more evolved" than humans, in the sense that they're stable and well adapted to their niche. If that statement doesn't make sense to you, then you don't understand evolutionary theory.

He citing an example of evolution in action, as a counter to evolution.

Alright. Next.

Natural Selection may be a very legitimate law of nature, much like gravity or water freezing, but it falls way short of explaining evolution. Fast rabbits still remain rabbits; they do not become jaguars.
Uh, how so? I've read the chapter - he never gets around to successfully explaining why natural selection can't explain evolution... not that the statement even makes sense.

Evolution has several selections:
Natural selection is one of the main ones, but the outcome for evolutionary paths is typically a combination of these factors. And yes, natural selection explains a lot.

Secondly, "rabbits will remain rabbits, and will not become jaguars"?

... uh, yes? Were you expecting evolution to do something different? This is an incredibly common misconception of evolution. This particular type of misunderstanding of evolutionary theory can typically be identified when the person cites two modern day species, asserting that evolution would cause one to evolve into the other, instead of the two coming from a similar, mostly averaged, common ancestor, going into the past further, depending on how far apart the two selected modern day species are on the tree.

Evolution can be more clearly thought of as "descent with modification". The "rabbit" (because he, again, fails to identify specific species),  and jaguars, are modified versions of their shared common ancestor... who are modified versions with the humans and our common ancestor. 

We didn't evolved from apes. We're still apes. We're still mammals. We're still vertebrates  We're still animals. We're still eukaryotes. 

The "problem" Simmons is citing here isn't a problem, because it's not what evolution does. Evolution causes a diversification of life over time, not conversions between two modern-day "types".

Evolution doesn't have pre-defined "types". It has a plethora of species, who us humans have decided to categorize (taxonomy), that exist in a particular form, as of today. Terms like "rabbit" or "monkey" are vague colloquialisms that don't correspond to biology very well, that vaguely define groups of modern-day species. The decedents of "rabbits" a million years from now (if they make it that far) will still be rabbits... but modified, but like the category "canines", are a set layer in taxonomy. They may spawn their own whole tree of evolutionary forms, as the "tree" gets taller and taller. This is how evolution works - not the bizarre characterization he provides.

I'd say I'm surprised that he used such a massively misinformed misconception, but I'm not at this point. 

At least, with this argument, we're mixing it up a little. Usually, he cites evolutionary examples as evidence against evolution. This time, we're citing the lack of evidence, for something that would actually disprove evolution if it were true, as a reason why evolution is not true.

Science has been wrong many times in the past; why are we so certain evolutionary science is correct now?
It's this tired old trope again. We're certain because of the preponderance of evidence. 

But wrong in the past? ... such as? This question isn't any where as simplistic as he'd like to portray... even if it was, it couldn't hold a candle to the failures of religion and creationism. It'd be vaporized.

On a basic level, it's true - science is an ongoing process that converges on answers with increasing confidence. It's also the single best epistemological tool we have, demonstrably so. My counter question would be, what else do you think we should use? Do you have any other epistemological frameworks that works... at all?

I really have to ask the "... such as?" question again. I don't know what he's referring to. Like the media so often fails to realize, there are different tiers of science, that have more levels of confidence (and accuracy) than others.

Scientific studies are near the bottom of the totem pole, in terms of scientific confidence. They're organized individual efforts, by groups or people, to study particular phenomenon, gather evidence, and write the results of that study, which is then published to peer-reviewed journals. Different groups can study the same phenomenon, and come to different conclusions. That happens frequently.

It's also normal, and not a problem.

Unfortunately, the media has a tendency of presenting individual studies as "Science has concluded ______", and then when a conflicting study comes out, they'll say "Science has changed it's mind on __________". No - this level is just the beginning for data analysis. Damn you, The Media!

Just like gathering individual data points can be subject to human error (or unrealized assumptions), so can studies. The scientific community will sift through these studies on particular topics, and assess them on a meta-level, inspiring new rounds of experimentation and evaluation.

After so many rounds, we start to have a consistent theory that accounts for all the data - even the conflicting results. Just as the scientific study is on a higher tier for confidence/accuracy than individual data measurements, the scientific theory is on a higher tier than the scientific studies for which they're based.

The next tier up is "scientific consensus" - where the theory has survived so much scrutiny, experimentation, has been able to predict massive amounts of data, explains almost all of the phenomenon in question, and has become the bedrock for other fields of study, it is almost certainly true - with as much confidence as we dare put into anything.. and yet, still tentative.

That's where the theory of evolution is right now.

I have no idea what Simmons is talking about, because for all I know, he's equivocating between Tier 1, and Tier 4, which is a severe categorical error... so it would have been nice if he'd cite an example. Any example.

It's not always that a particular accepted theory is "wrong", so much as "limited in scope", either. Newtonian mechanics is one such theory. Within the context for which it was original developed (slow velocities, at the macroscopic level), it still works fine, and is still taught as fact, and rightly so. It doesn't explain everything, and wasn't meant to do so. It may be replaced by a more comprehensive theory that explains Newtonian Mechanics, as well as General Relativity and Quantum Physics, but that's not the same thing as being "wrong".

That's the closest Simmons can get to something, on the tier Evolution is on, to science being "wrong". The fact he has to dig down to the chaos of scientific studies to try to make a jab at scientific theories demonstrates his intellectual dishonesty and/or ignorance.

So, yet again, demonstrating he doesn't have the faintest clue how science works.

And yet, clearly science works. We're using computers, GPS systems, cell phones, MRI scanners, X-Ray satellites, etc.

It works. Now, show me the applicable knowledge towards advanced technology of any other epistemological framework. Ever.

Every aspect of human physiology has multiple facets, steps, purposes, managers, feedback loops, anticipated outcomes, and double-checks. Every function is too complex to have been formed by slow, accidental changes that luckily fit together.
He failed to even remotely demonstrate that these assertions about complexity are true. Literally. He did not even try. He merely asserted it, with no evidence, or even any argumentation. At every point this topic came up, he just pointed at something, claimed it couldn't have happened, because, gosh, because it was just too darned complicated... and moved on.

I don't know that there's much else to say. He failed to provide evidence or argumentation.

We're done.

PS. Nice spin of "accidents" and "luckily".

Darwin knew very little about genetics, cell theory, or human physiology.

So what? From the evidence he did gather, he was able to correctly create a theory that was basically true, and has since been repeatedly confirmed, re-confirmed, and re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-confirmed, since then.

Darwin should be applauded for managing to get it basically right, with the evidence and technology he had.


This book isn't meant to convince "evolutionists" that evolution is incorrect. He's preaching to the choir.

On many occasions, he comes dangerously close to being required to mention the positive evidence supporting evolution (such as how genetics demonstrates that the closer two species are on the tree, the more DNA they share - demonstrating common ancestry) ... but fails to do so. These would be opportune times to demonstrate some level of intellectual honesty, bring up and discuss the supporting evidence, and what may or may not be wrong with it.

He doesn't. He goes out of his way to avoid alerting his readers that any such thing exists, while focusing exclusively on what he thinks are weaknesses in the theory and supporting evidence.

He's pandering to creationists - the common creationist reader, who, somehow manages to know even less about evolutionary theory than Simmons.

If they read this book, they will not informed about the objections to his arguments. They will not be informed about how evolutionary theory actually works. They will not have a clue that there's anything wrong with his arguments at all - since most of them will start with little-to-no understanding of basic epistemological principles, logical fallacies and scientific methodology. They won't be able to adequately assess his claims - they simply won't be equipped to do so.

It will confirm their previous beliefs, and they will go to bed with a smile.

Simmons' job will be done.

Moving Forward

I have to say, I'm probably mostly done with the book. I was insane to think I could do a chapter every week. It's been a bit over two months. Little did I know, that almost literally every single sentence would have problems.

It's a conundrum. Do I continue, knowing full well that the rest of the book is utter crap too, from a person who doesn't appear to know the first thing about epistemology, science, logical fallacies, or most importantly, evolution? Or do I continue, under the flag of intellectual honesty and spend the next few years exhaustingly processing his every failure? At some point, it's simply abundantly clear that the author has nothing of value to share.

While it's good to confront the opposition, let's not waste our time on what's clearly merely noise. I'll skim the rest of the book to see if he actually has any actual real legitimate points to make, and the remaining arguments aren't just arguments that have been repeatedly refuted a thousand times.

There's nothing here. It's completely vacuous. He's somehow managed, at least on the arguments he was trying to make, to get it wrong, literally, 100% of the time.

I'll repeat that.


By the way, I'd point out that, on the cover of the book, it has a quote:
"Geoffrey Simmons makes Darwinism's sleight of hand plain to see." - from the forward by William Dembski, Ph. D, author of The Design Revolution
Uh, okay. Maybe we're reading different books that happen to have the same title... and author.

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