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The Sad State of American Understanding of Science: Intelligent Design in the Science Class

Posted by on Apr 12, 2012 | 87 Comments

Warning- for those new readers that are wondering why I’m ranting about topics unrelated to barefoot running… I do this sometimes.  I tend to write about anything that happens to capture my interest, then usually somehow try to tie it in to running somehow.  That’s what I’ll be doing here, so stick with me.  After all, we are a fake university and we DO like to talk about science here.  ;-)

The state of Tennessee is in the process of making a law that allows schools to teach “intelligent design” alongside evolution in science classes.  The logic, according to this article, is based on the idea that it will promote skepticism among students.  A supporter of the bill (and sadly an apparent scientist) said “Crititcal thinking, analysis fosters good science.”

I don’t like to argue the merits of the belief of intelligent design.  A lot of people believe this is where we came from.  That’s great.  The institution of religion, though occasionally negative, serves a useful purpose in our society to both groups and individuals.  That’s a good thing.

I DO like to argue the idea that intelligent design is science.  Furthermore, it pisses me off that intelligent design is being presented as a valid scientific theory to compete with theories like evolution.  It shows a fundamental lack of understanding of how science works.

We see this all the time in the popular media.  How many times do we see widespread calls to banish a particular food from our diets because of one tiny study?  We even see it in the world of barefoot running.  Anyone remember the ad that boldly proclaimed “Research proves barefoot is best!” after Lieberman’s latest study?  Really?

So why shouldn’t intelligent design be taught as a scientific theory?  Simple- it doesn’t meet any standards required of a theory (or hypothesis for that matter).  My friend Jeff S. gave a good answer on Facebook:

  1. What predictions does intelligent design make?
  2. Have any of those predictions been tested?
  3. (and the big one) How can this theory be falsified?
  4. (my own) How can intelligent design be tested?

The “theory” of intelligent design can’t answer any of these.  It is essentially based on the logical argument that the complexity of the universe cannot have come about by natural means; there had to be something (or someone) directing the show.  By definition, this falls under the category of a belief, not science.  No experiment can be devised to disprove the theory.  Ergo it cannot be measured empirically by science.  Ergo it cannot be considered a scientific theory.

Sooo… what do I think should be done?  I think intelligent design is an interesting concept that should be taught in schools… in a theology or world religions class.

I also think too many science teachers do a piss-poor job of teaching the value of skepticism in science, and that needs to change.  There’s far too much focus on “memorize facts” and not enough “this is how science is used to further our understanding of the world around us.”  Luckily, the vast majority of my science teacher friends take the latter approach.  Yes, it is possible.

I also think people get a little too enamored with evolution.  Any good scientist has to remain skeptical toward every theory, even the “laws” like gravity.  Evolution has flaws that can be tested, and should be tested.  We need people to propose alternative testable hypotheses.  THAT is the critical thinking we need in science.  THAT analysis will foster good science.

Unfortunately this debate always devolves into a belief-based argument between the creationists that quote the Bible and the staunch evolutionists that treat evolution as if is fact.  The “is this science” debate is lost in a sea of dogma.  [sigh]

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87 Comments

  1. Dave
    April 16, 2012

    I think, if you are willing to examine your beliefs critically, that macro-evolutionary theory fails all 4 questions that you raise.

  2. Glenn
    April 15, 2012

    Micro evolution (Small changes in a species because of environmental factors, or biological factors) is easy to see and measure.
    Macro evolution (changes from one species into another totally new type of species) does not happen. Even when you add the magic element of ‘millions of years’.

    Seems completely magical and religious, to me, to believe that intelligent beings ‘happened/evolved’ without an intelligent cause . . . Assuming we are intelligent.

    Along these same lines, the foot is an incredibly complex and beautifully designed part of an even more complex body.

    The Designer obviously loves his design enough to give it all a functioning blueprint.

    • Bare Lee
      April 15, 2012

      Seems completely magical and religious, to me, to believe that intelligent designers ‘happened/evolved’ without an intelligent cause. And thus the endless regress.

    • Glenn
      April 15, 2012

      The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art. -Leonardo da Vinci

      • Bare Lee
        April 17, 2012

        If we are to prove our worth as an intelligent species, we must distinguish between poetic and technical discourse. That’s one of my favorite BF quotes by the way.

  3. Trish Reeves
    April 13, 2012

    I personally believe that religion is for children who need to learn how to be nice to each other. As we grow to adulthood, religion is used to breed fear and for some to gain power over the weaker minds of the population.

    To me, there is nothing scientific about religion. It’s as arbitrary as saying I believe eating ice cream every day is the path to salvation and also a scientific theory that, although untestable, should be taught in schools.

    Moreover, I disapprove that the theology proposed to be taught in school is Christian theory. We want to be more accepting of religious beliefs in school, but only for the beliefs of one religion?

    I am disappointed in the lawmakers of our country for being so daft to not even understand the difference between a scientific theory and a religious theology. Maybe they got their T-words mixed up.

    • Rionjon
      April 13, 2012

      It’s obvious that several posters in here haven’t even read Tennessee HB 368 and SB 893.

      Here is the text.

      “The teaching of some scientific subjects, including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy… The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, directors of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues.”

      I see no specific mention of Cristianity or religious views or even mentioning Intelligent Design. I don’t understand why some people are so afraid of a little debate.

      • Chuck
        April 14, 2012

        But why does the teach or such scientific cause controversy?

        Controversy is only derived after you infuse religion or junk science into the subject.

        Human cloning is different than the other three, but then the proposal should have been centered around ethics and not controversy.

        • Chuck
          April 14, 2012

          Sorry for the grammar. Smart phone dumb fat fingers.

          “… teaching of such scientific subjects cause…” et. al.

        • Aaron
          April 15, 2012

          Chuck,

          I believe the controversy, in this arena, arises when ‘folk theologians’ ask questions of the Bible that the Bible is/was not intended to answer.

          Gracia y paz,

          Aaron

  4. Brian G
    April 12, 2012

    See http://www.nationalacademies.org/evolution/IntelligentDesign.html for some good reading on this topic.

  5. Shane
    April 12, 2012

    *sigh*

    These are the times that I hate being a Christian, and coming from a computer science background. When I talk about this I tend to offend both camps, yet I keep doing it.

    As a Christian, I don’t believe in the whole ID movement that has been going on. And its really simple as to why:

    Science and Religion answer two different sets of questions. Science is about What? and How?, while Religion is about Who? and Why? Where we run into problems is when we try and apply the right answers to the wrong questions.

    Where a lot of the argument and drama comes from is that a lot of Christians have a solid disagreement on how to interpret the Bible and specifically the creation story. Those that want to interpret every part of the Bible literally believe that God created the Earth and the universe in 7 days, period. I don’t ascribe to that school of thought – for many reasons. The crux of it is that God often teaches in parables – as illustrated by Jesus – and I believe that the point of the creation story is that God created the universe and all that is in it. That’s the point of the creation story in Genesis. But that could be a whole different post.

    Religion – Who created the universe? God. Why? Because He is a creator, aside from Love, it is the best word for who God is.

    On the science angle, the Bible is silent on the mechanics of creation. Why, if the Bible says in Psalm 139:13, that God knit me in my mother’s womb, is it out of the question that God’s hand was there in choosing the exact sperm and egg and made me? That He chose the DNA that would be my building blocks? And if that is true, why could He not be involved, intimately, in the daily creation that occurs on this wonderful world that we inhabit? Why would He not be involved in the same method in every being on Earth, and that His hand would be guiding evolution?

    Science, the what and the how, tells us that the best theory on that issue is evolution, that incremental adaptations and mutations brought us the abundance and variety of life that we have.

    And I think that ID is just another example of well meaning people trying to answer the wrong questions with the right answers. I don’t believe that a Science teacher should tell my children that there is no God – its a faith issue, not a falsifiable fact. In the same manner, its not the place of a Science teacher to tell my children that there is a God, because its not a falsifiable fact!

    The point of science is that water is made of 2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom. The point of religion, and in particular my religion of Christianity, is that God so loved this broken world full of sinful people like me that he sent his Son to die for us.

    Because a scientist believes in evolution doesn’t make him a heretic. Because a Christian like me believes in God doesn’t make me an idiot.

    Just my rambling two cents on the matter.

    • Chuck
      April 13, 2012

      I would just say I think I totally agree.

      I am no longer a Christian, but when I was I wrestled with science and beliefs a lot. My personal beliefs was that the bible was not written to be taken literally. So to me I saw no problem with science and religion going hand in hand.

      If God existed, why would it be so hard for him to create the rules that science abides by. So yes he could have created the universe and everything within it. He could have easily set everything into motion and set up the rules that it had to follow to end up here. If God created the universe, then he would also have to have created science.

      A follow-on thought was that God would know that man would be an interested species. He would have to develop science to explain the world to man. To explain where we came from. He would have to know that the bible would not be enough for everyone.

      Like I said, I am not christian anymore, but when I was that was how I absolved the science v. religion fights in my own head.

    • Aaron
      April 15, 2012

      Shane +1!

      By the way, that +1 comes from a Theological Studies student at a Holiness movement seminary.

      Gracia y paz,

      Aarón

  6. Jesse
    April 12, 2012

    This seems like a weird place for some of you to have a pissing contest and flex your brain muscles, but I did enjoy quickly skimming the comments.

    I always thought it was weird that the bible wasn’t read in public schools. It seems like we would want people to be familiar with it. It’s one of the most influential works of literature in world history. I’m not particularly religious, but I think we should learn more about a book that’s caused so much turmoil in our world. This seems like the same logic, only ass backward.

  7. Nathan
    April 12, 2012

    Actually the accepted theory of gravity is included in Einstein’s theory of relativity. Matter curves spacetime. The large mass of the Earth causes everything to travel toward the center of that mass – our weight is the product of that travel and the force of the physical ground pushing back on said objects. Curved spacetime is directly observable in many new cool images of gravity lenses. Telescopes image a far away galaxy and can also observe a galaxy directly behind the first one because the light from the further away galaxy is “bent” around the foreground galaxy. We wouldn’t have GPS if the calculations from the theory of relativity were not included in the data presented to us on our cool devices. And before anyone asks, the reason the moon doesn’t move straight toward the center of the earth – or the earth doesn’t move straight to the center of the sun is because the centrifugal movement toward the center of the larger mass is counteracted by the centripetal movement away (the velocity) that said object has. I am not a scientist so please forgive me if I put these things in not quite the correct verbagitity.

    Interesting to see so many comments on this site on this topic – wish Jason would get this many about running topics ;) Anyway, I agree with Jason, ID is not science and should be taught along with other philosophy/theology classes – and even then does ID inform philosophy or theology enough to be included in a cirriculum? I don’t know enough about it to know if it is worth the time.

    Unfortunately, I am in the majority. Only 25% of Americans “believe” in evolution in the Darwinian sense. I don’t think it is something you can believe in or not believe in, but I think that is how a recent survey was phrased.

    ID does try to involve itself in evolution if I am not mistaken. Basically I think they say that the mutations in DNA that lead to evolution cannot be random, but are guided by God – to the greater goal of creating humans. [as an aside, one mistake that people often make is thinking that evolution must always “advance” a species. DNA mutations are random and some turn out to be beneficial so it can be seen that a particular organism will thrive by finding a new ecological niche to exploit as a result of a particular mutation that allows for that exploitation. It is becoming clear, based on new findings, that the bipedal locomotion similar to what we have predates the quadrapedal locomotion that chimpanzes have. So at one time there was a human ancestor living along side a chimpanze ancestor and the human ancestor thrived in an ecological niche that continued the development of bipedal locomotion – and the chimpanze ancestor (as bipedal as the human ancestor) thrived in an ecological niche that led to an advantage in quadrapedal locomotion.]

    forgive the spelling mistakes – I’m on a Mac right now and don’t know how to fix them.

    • Bare Lee
      April 12, 2012

      ‘Theory’ of gravity is a misnomer. We understand it, can predict its behavior (basically, in Newtonian terms, the force of gravity exerted on one object by another is directly proportional to the product of those objects’ masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them), but we have no idea why it exists between objects. It’s a bit of a dormitive principle. General relativity improves upon the Newtonian understanding, but still offers no real explanation because it’s a classical theory, not a quantum theory. Description and explanation are two different things.

      • Nathan
        April 12, 2012

        I just read the definition of “theory” and perhaps I missed it but I didn’t see anywhere that theory needs to say “why”. A hypothesis asks why and tries to prove that the particular postulate is right or wrong (in my opinion a good scientist will always hope to prove his/her hypothesis wrong – that way they learn something and can continue to research “why”

        I believe this to be an important distinction.

        • Bare Lee
          April 13, 2012

          Nathan, as a practicing (pseudo) scientist, I have to disagree with you on this one. I don’t know where you read ‘the’ definition of theory, but here’s one from Wikipedia (which may sometimes have odd views on certain topics, but here I think we can take its take as standard): “In modern contexts, while theories in the arts and philosophy may address ideas and empirical phenomena which are not easily measurable, in modern science the term “theory”, or “scientific theory” is generally understood to refer to a proposed explanation of empirical phenomena, made in a way consistent with scientific method.” Anyway, I was just splitting hairs, re: gravity. I just think it’s funny that we have no idea what it is. Best, Lee

  8. Word
    April 12, 2012

    A word from the one who was there: ” In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

    3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

    6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse1 in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. 8 And God called the expanse Heaven.3 And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

    9 And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

    11 And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants5 yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

    14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons,6 and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

    20 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” 21 So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

    24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. 25 And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

    26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

    27 So God created man in his own image,

    in the image of God he created him;

    male and female he created them.

    28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”

    — Of course you are right Jason, this is not science, this is the truth from God Himself about how the earth (and everything else) came to exist. There can be no theories of origins because it cannot be observed and therefore cannot be science. However, there is only one truth and I believe God over man. Your choice though.

    Did you hear that? It sounded like a can of worms just opened up…

    • Glenn
      April 13, 2012

      Keep in mind, those words are not Science. Genesis was written in Hebrew and was in the form of a poem and its entirely possible that something may be lost in translation. These verses do not delve into the “how” and “why” of the inception of life. The “Because the Bible says so” approach to justification also holds little water. There a lots of books that say lots of things, simply quoting them does not imply their validity. Those that do not believe in God by default do not believe in the creation narrative outlined in the Bible. Therefore, such people have no frame reference for its writings. I assume you believe in God because you have witnessed Him is some form or another, for example having a prayer answered. My point is you probably believe in God because of His physical manifestation not because of words on a page. Also, the writer of Genesis was not “there” in the beginning… even Adam didn’t show up until after all creation was established.

      • Glenn
        April 13, 2012

        But back to main discussion…

        Religion, while there is some overlap, lies outside of science. There is no empirical way to prove/disprove the existence of God or His role in intelligent design/beginning of all things, etc. We all learned the scientific method in school: make a hypothesis, test that hypothesis, draw conclusions about our hypothesis based on evidence. If a problem cannot be solved with this method, it probably lies outside the realm of science. So, in the same way we can’t develop a series of tests to determine if a person should steal a loaf of bread to feed his family (ethics) or which jerk should be president (politics), so goes the same for God.

  9. Rionjon
    April 12, 2012

    Darn, am I one of the few barefooters who believes there is a God? It sure seems like I’m in the minority. Oh, and I am very conservative in my politics? Please don’t tell me I’m in the minority there also! :( That needs to change. Anyone have any advice? :)

    • Shane
      April 12, 2012

      Nah, I’m in the same boat. Christian, conservative, barefooter (minimalister?). You aren’t alone, although we may be in the minority. :)

      Advice? Know that we can have disagreements about things without being disagreeable. Jason is a nice enough (too nice?) a human being that he and his lovely wife met me and my wife for dinner when he was in our neck of the woods. From the short time that I actually spent in personal interaction with the man, I have no reason to believe, that even if we had covered such controversial topics, that he would have been ugly towards me. And I won’t be ugly towards someone that doesn’t think like I do.

      I think most barefooters believe that you cannot truly believe that at which you have not at one time questioned. The same applies for my religious and political views, so I don’t mind those conversations.

      • Jason
        April 12, 2012

        What can I say… I like discussing a wide variety of stuff. The Interwebz gives us that opportunity, and the “barefoot website” filter seems to weed out the people that aren’t willing to listen to other perspectives and/or aren’t easily offended. It makes for good dialogue (as we’ve had here).

        For me personally, I like engaging people that have differing opinions because it helps shape my view of the world. It’s basically why I seek out anti-barefoot runners… their opinions help my opinions evolve. :-)

        • Rionjon
          April 13, 2012

          Jason, FYI I’ve been following you on Twitter for a long time. I enjoy your tweets! @barefootron

  10. Chuck
    April 12, 2012

    Thank you Jason! The biggest problem with the Evolution v. ID debate is the lack of understanding of scientific terminology. People hear “Theory” and confuse it with “Hypothesis”.

    As you said there are specific requirements that are difficult to obtain for a Hypothesis to become Theory. Yes there are many unknowns within the Theory of Evolution. Those unknowns are continuously being tested and hypothesis’ based on our understanding of evolution are routinely upheld. Sometimes they aren’t as expected and those are expanding our understanding of evolution (see the roles virus may play in evolution). These holes should be continued to be tested and our understanding continued to be expanded. That is the role of science.

    None of this applies to ID. ID backers just say, “Well it could be ID, so that’s a theory that should be taught.” Even though it doesn’t meet the requirements of a scientific theory.

    I’m all for educating people of some of the holes in evolution. They generally are very technical and would require politicians that dictate educational requirements to educate themselves. However, dissecting evolution and looking at the details would teach students critical thinking and analysis. Teaching kids to throw out good science on baseless grounds is not critical thinking.

  11. Spencer
    April 12, 2012

    See evolution I think is a model, that works to some degree, and I don’t think it is the best model, as are some models. At the same time, there are people who believe that the only way things could exist is if there is an intelligent thing outside of the universe that causes stuff. Which goes back to information in DNA, which has a high degree of improbability and specificity, so it probably couldn’t have occurred randomly, “Signature in the Cell” by Stephen Meyer does a good job of explaining this argument. But, one’s beliefs causes this “oh there’s these gaps, so something did it,” or the reverse “oh there’s these gaps, but something doesn’t exist, so there must be a natural explanation for it”. Which I think we have to be very wary about.

    • Jason
      April 12, 2012

      “…there are people who believe that the only way things could exist is if there is an intelligent thing outside of the universe that causes stuff.”

      And this automatically disqualifies ID as something that can be studied by science because it’s not falsifiable. Again, my argument isn’t about the tenants of a belief or theory, only what we distinguish as a “theory.”

  12. Rionjon
    April 12, 2012

    “Billions of years ago, a big bang produced a large rock. As the rock cooled, sweet brown liquid formed on its surface. As time passed, aluminum formed itself into a can, a lid, and a tab. Millions of years later, red and white paint fell from the sky, and formed itself into the words “Coca Cola 12 fluid ounces.”

    This theory is an insult to our intellect, because you know that if the Coca Cola can is made, there must be a maker. If it is designed, there must be a designer. The alternative, that it happened by chance or accident, is to move into an intellectual free zone.

    Food for thought, or drink I should say.

    • Bare Lee
      April 12, 2012

      The fallacy of transposing our meso-scalar understanding of time/space/causality to macro-scales or micro-scales of time, space, or causality.

      • Jason
        April 12, 2012

        And it misses the point: ID cannot be studied by science.

        Note my comment about the tendency for people to avoid that point by arguing the tenants of the belief (ID) or theory (evolution).

        • Bare Lee
          April 12, 2012

          Yes, that was well put. I just find it funny that people with an even poorer understanding of astrophysics than me would project human agency with such confidence.

          • Jason
            April 12, 2012

            Such is the nature of belief.

  13. Bare Lee
    April 12, 2012

    Well, if we let the loonies teach science, I see a lot of promising fields openning up, like:

    Post-biology, to study the afterlife.

    Oneirophysics, to study the effect of dreams on the natural world.

    Fortunology, to study and harness the powers of luck.

    Et cetera.

    BTW, we don’t need people to propose alternative testable hypotheses to evolution, because there are none. We just need to further our understanding of it. I believe there are a lot of people already working on that.

    Thanks for stirring the pot though, I needed the coffee break.

    • Rionjon
      April 12, 2012

      Yep, evolution is a testable hypothesis. Let’s see if we can create life from nothing. That sure passes the logic test.

      • Jason
        April 12, 2012

        We’re closing in on that: http://www.livescience.com/3214-life-created-lab.html

        • Rionjon
          April 12, 2012

          Yes we are closing in on creating life from nothing. We just can’t seem to locate that nothing ingredient.

          • BarefootNick
            April 12, 2012

            What is this “nothing” you speak of? I suggest you read up on the big bang to better understand what this very vague term covers. It’s interesting and explains why the universe doesn’t have to have a beginning. Seeing the questions and comments presented by you in this debate makes me think you might benefit from spending some time delving into the topic a bit more thoroughly than what you’re used to.

            Oh, random tidbit of information. Evolution is the accepted truth about life by the Vatican. If that sorta thing floats your boat.

      • jeff
        April 12, 2012

        I can’t tell if this is arguing for or against ID or evolution.

        Evolution has nothing to do with the origin of life. Thus, given “nothing”, evolution won’t take place.

        ID, as I understand it, does involve the creation of life. I’m not clear if it was from “nothing”, or if it was more about creating a man out of clay.

      • Bare Lee
        April 12, 2012

        The theory of evolution doesn’t explain life’s origins, it explains how life evolves. Before life, there were only physics and chemistry. You need to be a chemist and/or physicist to explain the origin of life. Biologists study life after it came about. There are several intriguing ideas of how life came about that are entirely consistent with what we already know about the natural world, no need for flying spaghetti monsters. And of course, science may never be able to explain a single historical event. However, if life originated in many different places and times, there may be some generalizations that hold across all of these instances.

        • Rionjon
          April 12, 2012

          Oops, my bad. I forgot that physics and chemistry always existed. I think I remember reading that in a book that evolved over the years.

          • Bare Lee
            April 12, 2012

            No, but you do need to step back from life, and read up on what physicists are saying about matter and the anti-matter and how they both may have emerged out of (what we understand as) nothing. Note also that positing (a strangely human-like) God explains nothing, it just adds a step to the mystery that is existence.

          • Bare Lee
            April 12, 2012

            I should clarify that I wasn’t referring to physics the study, but physics the physical laws/principles that appear to govern our universe, as with chemistry, which I meant to refer to the known elements and their interactions, not the study thereof.

        • Rionjon
          April 12, 2012

          Lee, I do read up on what scientists are constantly discovering. I love science and am completely blown away by existence, and the intricacy of life. There is no way we will ever be able to learn why anything even exists (it is incomprehensible). Some people choose to believe in God, some choose to believe in science. Bottom line is our existence requires us all to believe in something that can never be proven, and that requires a little faith.

          Jason, it’s always a bad move to mix politics or religion (evolution is a religion to some) into a fitness blog. Nothing good can come from it.

          • Bare Lee
            April 12, 2012

            Rionjon, I agree that existence is a mystery, but I don’t see how that requires us to posit a cause at this time. Can’t we just keep our minds open until a decent explanation comes along that either (1) is consistent with what we already know or (2) offers a radically new, but equally adequate, framework for understanding the natural world? I just don’t see what positing god gets you in terms of explanatory value. And I don’t see how you can chose to believe something. How do you forget that you made a choice on your way to establishing the belief as an absolute presupposition?

          • Jason
            April 12, 2012

            You hit on an important point- science is not a belief system. It’s a systematic method of inquiry. I do agree that far too many people treat evolution as if it were an ultimate truth… which drags it into the realm of belief. That’s as bad as claiming ID is a scientific theory.

            Re: mixing politics and religion in a fitness blog: BRU isn’t a dedicated fitness blog, though it is a prevailing theme about 75% of the time.

            This corner of the Interwebz is my own intellectual playground where we can discuss random shit like this. Note the tone of the comments… people are learning from each other. The tone of the posts tends to filter my audience, so I end up with a lot of open-minded (but often opinionated) readers that enjoy the same things as I do.

            I have no interest in creating a vanilla site that appeals to everyone. In my experience, those sites tend to appeal to no one. :-)

          • BarefootNick
            April 12, 2012

            I don’t choose to not believe in religion, nor do I choose to believe in science.

            Religion to me is like Santa (no offense intended), it’s not something I can choose to believe.
            Science I understand, it really has nothing to do with beliefs.

            “There is no way we will ever be able to learn why anything even exists (it is incomprehensible).”

            Like we won’t ever need more than 640KB RAM?

      • Ken S.
        April 12, 2012

        Just because we can’t currently explain something with what we currently know and understand via the scientific method, that doesn’t mean that there is no scientific explanation. All it means is that we have not figured it out yet.

        People have made the same basic argument you are making on many issues that have pitted science against faith. So far science has won most of those arguments.

        If you want to talk about passing the logic test, don’t bring up religion or faith, because they certainly don’t pass the logic test.

    • Rionjon
      April 12, 2012

      Define loonies? Be careful. If you are describing someone who believes God is in the equation you are talking about a huge majority of the US population. So if someone who believes in God is part of your definition I’m proud to be a loonie. :)

      • Jason
        April 12, 2012

        Isn’t a loonie a denomination of Canadian money?

        • Rionjon
          April 12, 2012

          Yes, it is Jason. I was in Canada a few weeks ago and brought back a a couple of loonies with me. I tried to spend one in a store in Atlanta and they said loonies are not welcome here? I said me or the money?

      • Bare Lee
        April 12, 2012

        Loonies are people who think they can cherry pick scientific facts and then substitute pre-scientific understandings for the ones they don’t like. Because they can speak in complete sentences using Latinate terms, they think they make sense. ‘Loony’ might be too strong a term, ‘delusional’ is probably better. I’m also delusional (just look at how much time I’m spending on this), so don’t take it badly, and I have some creationist relatives and I love them just the same. Peace.

      • Bare Lee
        April 12, 2012

        Note also that most Americans think we can bomb a good part of the world and pay for it with fiat money and have no political or financial repercussions.

      • Ken S.
        April 12, 2012

        The truth is not determined by what the majority of people believe. It is possible, and even probable, that most people can be wrong about many things.

        Those of faith regularly say all kinds of nasty things about the beliefs of others. So why should non-believers not be allowed to do the same?

  14. Warren
    April 12, 2012

    Wait…this a fake university?!?! :-)

    • Jason
      April 12, 2012

      Yes. Only the alcohol and nudity is real. :-)

      • Bare Lee
        April 12, 2012

        Where are the links to that?

        • Jason
          April 12, 2012

          It’s more of an “on campus” sort of thing… we like to keep a relatively clean virtual campus.

          :-)

          • Bare Lee
            April 12, 2012

            Hope to meet you this summer … for the beer.

          • Jason
            April 12, 2012

            I think you’ve mentioned this before… but where do you live?

          • Bare Lee
            April 12, 2012

            In St. Paul, MN for at least another year. Are you coming up for the Naked Run? Unfortunately, it falls on my brother and wife’s birthday, but perhaps we could meet up the day prior or after.

  15. Warren
    April 12, 2012

    Two points.
    1. When I mentioned this on FB yesterday I was looking at ID from a more limited perspective, origin of humans in our current physiological/psychological state on this one planet. Ultimately, we have no idea how that happened although we do have theories. I see you took on the larger idea of ID so that’s good for contention.
    2. I didn’t think the idea of evolution through natural selection was even up for debate at this point. You can do that in the lab with both plants and animals. Expose an organism to new conditions. Some will have traits to adapt and some will die. Traits get passed on by survivors. That’s fact. Now evolution as the origin of our species or as the origin of life on this planet is definitely debatable although the evidence is compelling to believe it’s true.

    As usual you put out a post with delicious contention in it.

    -Warren

    • Jason
      April 12, 2012

      Agreed, Warren (and John). There’s little debate about natural selection… that’s clearly a mechanism that allows a species to adapt to an environment. I also agree, evolution in regards to the origin of our species gets a little more dicey. It is the best explanation we have from a scientific perspective. We still have to remain skeptical about the theory, though (as we must with any theory). Our current understanding of anything may be able to be disproved down the road as better measurement tools are developed.

      • Bare Lee
        April 12, 2012

        The problem here is that science doesn’t exist as an array of isolated ideas. It’s a network of interlinking concepts. So you really don’t need to be skeptical about everything all the time. Some things are pretty well understood and make sense with respect to everything else we understand, scientifically, about the world. We need to be skeptical about the loose ends. That’s how science progresses. Evolution is not a loose end. Some of its mechanisms are.

        • Bare Lee
          April 12, 2012

          For example, linguistic change in languages follows many of the same principles of biological change in species (evolution). If you throw out evolution, you may also need to throw out historical linguistics.

        • Jason
          April 12, 2012

          I would disagree. All ideas derived by science MAY be disproven at any time (remember Copernicus?) Science requires falsifiability. If something cannot be falsified, including evolution, it cannot be studied by science. It can never be thought of as an undeniable “truth.” We can use our reasonable certainty as a basis for future research, but we do so with the understanding that our understanding of the underlying concepts are limited by our current ability to make observations. Future improvements in measurement tools may give us insight we do not have today, and that may disprove what we know. In that regard, skepticism is a necessity.

          Let me be clear, though. I’m a huge fan of evolution… we have significant data supporting the theory. It’s definitely our best (scientific) answer to “where we came from.”

          • Bare Lee
            April 12, 2012

            Planetary motion was a huge loose end before a heliocentric perspective was adopted.

          • Bare Lee
            April 12, 2012

            And you simply cannot remain skeptical about everything all the time. It’s cognitively impossibly unless you’ve achieved enlightenment or are schizophrenic. You hold some things constant, and investigate variables. The variables are the loose ends. Sometimes a greater understanding of the loose ends changes our understanding of what we held constant (true), but you don’t wake up in the morning, as a scientist, with the aim of overturning basic principles that are adequate in myriad areas of human understanding. You work on the trouble spots. That’s how you get paid.

            BTW, I’ve gone back to signing off as Bare Lee. I used to be Erik. I kind of like having a (not so) secret identity.

          • Jason
            April 12, 2012

            I understand your point- we need the foundation of theory to do any research. However, we have to be prepared to scrap everything if we find out the foundation is wrong. Is it probable? No. I seriously doubt another theory will come along that comes close to providing a simpler explanation than evolution… but there’s still a chance. If that were to happen, it would fundamentally change our understanding of the known universe.

            An example that’s not so good today- the researchers that thought they recorded particles traveling faster than the speed of light. Had it actually panned out, it would have changed a fundamental assumption we used for years, thus changing all subsequent research.

            Ultimately we can never be 100% certain in anything derived via the scientific method because everything MUST be falsifiable.

          • John Jeffery
            April 12, 2012

            If scientific proof of God’s existence appeared, a good scientist would be prepared to drop everything they believed previously and start from scratch with the new understanding.

          • Bare Lee
            April 12, 2012

            Right, we’re in agreement. Note that in the particle example, however, they weren’t testing a fundamental of physics (the speed of light as the upper limit of velocity) per se. They were testing a loose end–the behavior of sub-atomic particles. Testing this loose end might have overturned our understanding of a fundamental concept. Which was my point. It’s simply a waste of time to maintain skepticism about everything all the time. It’s much more efficient to go after the unknowns or poorly explained.
            It’d be a lot of fun to run with you and talk about this stuff. I used to have a really good running partner in Chicago like that.

          • John Jeffery
            April 12, 2012

            You know, I would love that! I’m from Chicago, who was your partner? I’m in Madison now, where are you?

          • Bare Lee
            April 12, 2012

            John, sorry, I didn’t see your comment. I’m in St. Paul right now.

          • Bare Lee
            April 12, 2012

            And my running partner was a guy I lived with in a grad school co-op 10 years ago. He was a natural runner, but agreed to slow down to my pace for the conversation. We used to run around Washington Park, which has a nice 1.5 mile dirt track, so you don’t feel like you’re going around in circles so much.

          • John Jeffery
            April 12, 2012

            I’ll be in MN for the Tough Mudder, May 19th. Care to run it with me? We could at least catch a run the day before if you’re around.

          • Bare Lee
            April 12, 2012

            John, a run the day before might be doable. But I’ll let you know that I suffered a tiny stress fracture in Nov. when I jumped from five miles to 10 miles, and it’s just now feeling 100%, so I’m keeping the mileage to between 3-5 miles per run for at least another month. If you’re willing to amp down, it would be fun to meet another actual existing barefoot runner.

          • John Jeffery
            April 12, 2012

            I’d love that Erik! I came to WI from MI where there was a really lively barefoot community. Shoot me an email and we’ll make it happen: Johnny at DeathsDoorSpirits dot com

        • John Jeffery
          April 12, 2012

          In thinking scientifically it is important to retain skepticism, otherwise dogma sets in and we’re back in the realm of belief. I think we should be adamant about this.

          We’re a bunch of barefooters in a world of the shod. To bring it back to that, if we aren’t skeptical of our own positions it becomes much easy to poke holes in them. I had a conversation with a guy about this yesterday. He told me about his very experienced running buddy who switched to VFFs in the last quarter of his training season for Boston.

          Argument goes: 1. very experienced runner makes transition, 2. barefooters think barefooting is the solution to all problems, 3. this guy fractured his ankle

          Rebuttle goes: 1. what an asshole for switching at the end of the season, 2. it isn’t the solution to anything when applied improperly, 3. back to point 1

        • John Jeffery
          April 12, 2012

          That doesn’t mean necessarily, that operationally you spend your life trying to disprove basic principles, but they’re all up for grabs…it’s about the broader position you take on the world.

          • Bare Lee
            April 12, 2012

            Right, in principle it’s all up for grabs, in practice, very little is, at our current level of understanding. The problem is if you don’t make this distinction, then the loonies think that you’re just making shit up, and so they can too, or that they can just pick and choose which bits of scientific understanding they like, because after all, it might all be proven wrong someday. It’s important to emphasize that what we know about evolution, for example, is consistent with what we know about, say, molecular chemistry. The more intertwined our knowledge becomes, the less likely it is that any given area is completely wrong. Most of the really big discoveries, at the meso-level at least, have already been made.

          • Jason
            April 12, 2012

            I think we sifted through our thoughts and have come to the point where we realize we completely agree with each other. :-)

          • Bare Lee
            April 12, 2012

            Right, it’s the nature of stealing minutes away from work to write comments here that they get written hurriedly and without enough qualifications, disclaimers, and metadiscursive helpers :) I was just trying to point out that skepticism has its limits, something you already know.

          • John Jeffery
            April 12, 2012

            SKEPTICISM HAS NO LIMITS! Kidding. I could use a little more discursive round table on the greater meaning. Thanks for the convo fellows!

  16. John Jeffery
    April 12, 2012

    The distinction that is usually missed regarding evolution is that there is no question about the natural selection piece. The larger theory of evolution is more difficult to prove scientifically as millions of years of consecutive fossilized animal remains would need to be provided showing a clear line of succession.

    That being said, like the big bang theory, or the theory of gravitation, it is the best working model we have and suffices as scientific theories do, until proof can be provided, or another theory comes along that does a better job.

    Go Team Science!

    • Bare Lee
      April 12, 2012

      Note that there is no theory of gravity. We know how it works, more or less, but we have no idea what it is.