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John Derbyshire on Evolution
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Lest you think all Republicans are fundamentalist Christian nutjobs, John Derbyshire at that most conservative of conservative websites, National Review Online, has been doing a splendid job of educating his readers and refuting the silliness that is Intelligent Design.

I like a good knock-down argument as much as the next person, but I must say, ID-ers are low-grade opponents, at least if a bulk of my e-mails are any indication. They are still banging away with the arguments I first heard when the whole thing first surfaced 10-15 yrs ago. "What use is half an eye?" "The odds against this are a trillion to one!" etc. etc. There is nothing new here. I understand why biologists get angry and frustrated with ID-ers. All the ID arguments have been patiently refuted many times over. The ID-ers response is to come back with... the same arguments.

Go read the whole thing, but here are just the first three to get you going:

(1) "The fossil record is incomplete." Well, duh. Fossilization only happens under extraordinary circumstances. The chance that any particular organism -- me, for instance -- will be recovered as a fossil eons hence is microscopically small. To add to the incompleteness, soft body parts hardly ever get fossilized. We are working from a pretty scanty data set here. Hard to see how it could be otherwise.

(2) "...Therefore you have no right to go constructing theories, given that the data set is so sparse." Scientists build theories from much worse data sets than this. Try stopping them. The forthcoming (I think) issue of National Review contains a review by me of Simon Singh's new book THE BIG BANG, about the history of scientific cosmology. The data set in cosmology is so hard to gather that even very basic questions like "is the overall structure of the universe static or dynamic?" were not resolved until very recently. Science does what it can with the data it can gather. A good scientific theory fits the data better than a poor theory. ("God makes it happen!" is, by the way, not a scientific theory, though it may be a metaphysical one.)

(3) "Evolution isn't scientific because you can't test it in a lab." For heaven's sake. That criterion would invalidate most of science. The theory of continental drift, for example -- how are you going to get Eurasia in through the lab door? We have excellent theories to account for the behavior of stars, but you can't put a star in your lab, nor even duplicate star-stuff in small quantitites. As I said, this is low-grade argumentation. (And, see below, we are actually quite close to a point where we CAN do evolution in the lab.)

Number four is pretty interesting too, in that the argument is that organizational complexity cannot arise from natural processes. It's funny because it's what I do for a hobby. I work with computational evolution all the time, and see complexity arising from natural processes on a daily basis. I really wish a simple computer simulation of evolution in action would be part of every high school curriculum. Just demonstrating how an evolutionary algorithm can learn to play Tic-Tac-Toe by knowing nothing but the rules would be an extremely powerful example.

Anyway, have some faith that there are not only liberals, but intelligent people of all political stripes fighting for good science and good education.

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