Talk:Essay: The Tree of Life

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It seems to me a common problem with this debate (the origin debate) is that so few are actually qualified enough (on either side) to actually speak accurately on the subject. I for one am no scientist: I am at best a sub-par philosopher with trivial knowledge of the sciences. I can, however, based on my experiences both in classrooms; internet chatrooms dedicated to the subject; witty banter amongst those whose interest is the subject, and finally with what common sense I am able to scrounge up, say that a little bit of knowledge goes a long long way.

I do not mean knowledge of biology, chemistry, geology, astronomy, or any of the other specific hard science; I speak of science itself.

Science is simply the pursuit of knowledge; discovering how things work (why is not a question science can answer, and it is perhaps a question not meant for science to answer) within the larger whole. This is why we no longer are married to the idea of the interstellar firmament, or why we no longer view the idea of a vacuum as ludicrous, or why we no longer laugh at the idea of infinity. If it was the case, that science need be so rigid that any change or apparent contradiction destroyed science, then science would have been extinct thousands of years ago.

This is why the notions of Big Science is so inane: nigh on every scientist is pursuing knowledge, pure knowledge. When something is conjectured it is ruthlessly investigated; often filleted before the very eyes of the person who first asserted it; if there is truth to be found this is absorbed into the greater whole of science, and anything not able to stand within the eye of scrutiny is discarded. This is not a process, however, akin to ordering a pizza; it can take decades before scientists have discovered the truth or falsity of an idea. Just see Newtonian Physics: despite two centuries of constant verification, Newton's ideas were found less than adequate as our knowledge base expanded. This did not suddenly undermine the idea of gravity, the idea of F=MA, or the idea of inertia; on the contrary these ideas remained and will remain for some time, but the details of their functions and nature have changed over the years.

The tree of life is a primitive idea Darwin devised to make his theory more sensible; it does no good to have an idea (there is such a thing as the supernatural, things change over time) if you lack a framework for making your idea understood. How is it anyone can fault science for the things it does not yet know? How is it science can be faulted for growing out of the shackles of fallacy and ignorance when the time is apt?

When it comes to the origins debate, it is important to realize that science is no meager creature: there are many many many many branches of science that all come together to form as complete a picture of our universe as is possible. That Science has discovered an aspect of itself that needs tweaking is as it should be; do we really want to go back to the age of Humors? That Darwin's sketch has proven to be less than adequate should then not be surprising. It should also not be surprising to find out in 300 years that everything we currently know is inadequate: this has been the case for as long as humanity has had the capacity to write.

The same goes for religion that the ignorant on the other side so virulently attack: how often have you seen a single verse taken from the Bible, out of context from the greater whole, so that (if you had not known better) the entire Christian religion could be nothing more than a sham? In as much as the ignorant ought not make sweeping generalizations about religion; speak of it with authority that they do not have, or lead others into the abyss of ignorance with their pronouncements, nor ought anyone speak of science with authority that is not a scientist.

Should a Muslim instruct Christians? Should a Biologist instruct Chemists? Certainly on these points, you would agree that speaking outside the realm of your expertise under the presumption of authority is a folly that makes fools of us all.

As it is topical to forestry, it seems now we will have a web of life framework to work with instead of a tree, but within a few centuries (if the web idea proves to be more valid than a tree within the immediate future) this may again change. This has not effected the main idea.

Things change over time. This is the central tenet of evolution. The tree is nothing more than a frame of reference in which to view and investigate these changes. As the article points out, biology is far less ordered (tree like) than we initially believed; genetic material flies everywhere between taxa without rhyme or reason. Had Darwin been aware of this, no doubt he would have drawn a web instead, and this entire discussion would be moot.

"After considering the evidence, we have discovered our prior held assumptions to be flawed. With what we have recently learned, we now have a new understanding; an understanding we shall investigate with more vigor than the last!" Says the Scientist.

What do /you/ say in response to the Scientists self-criticism and open mindedness? Does it not border on: "You were wrong, so I must be right. You have looked into yourself and found a speck disfiguring your eye, and what a speck it is! Had you only listened to me, that you would have never found a speck to begin with."

Science is a continuous process of self-correction. The tree is an example of such. That there is even less order does not destroy evolution in as much as God eluding the eyes of the Astronomer does not make Jesus any less real. Science ought not be damned for admitting its fallibility and trying to correct itself. Is this not the proper path for all Christians? the admittance of inadequacy before God, and pursuing a path of self improvement not only for the good of the one but for the good of the whole?

For now I believe I have said all I can as it pertains to the criticism of science and evolution.

Insofar as it pertains to design:

If design was so self-evident does it not follow that Science would follow that path? If the truth of God's creation was written about every surface of this world would it not have already been discovered and accepted by all who cast their gaze upon it? Intelligent Design can be labeled as a valid theory, initially. At the start both it and evolution may stand on equal ground. They both utilize the same method for external investigation, so here to may they be equal: a new particle is a testament to the complexity and perfection of God's creation for the Designer; to the evolutionist it is a testament to the complexity and perfection of the understanding. Where then do we find difference?

The evolutionist owns a mirror, the designer does not.

There is no aspect of science beyond questioning; if it is possible to to subject something in science to inquiry, then it is. Things that are not questionable are not suddenly locked up in some ivory tower, protected from the spear of truth: the perfection of what it thought perfect is as questioned as the subject is, burning in the back of the scientists mind. If it were the case that evolution is false, then science will find the requisite evidence; it will not be because the ignorant said that evolution was wrong, it will be because science has proven evolution wrong.

It is in this instance we discover where Intelligent Design falls short of actual science: the fact that there is a designer is not questionable. The designer is so central to intelligent design, that without it you are left with nothing more than a methodology of inquiry distinct from proper science in name and in name only.

Whereas science seeks to maximize the scope of its knowledge in all possible venues, Intelligent Design imposes a limit on itself. One seeks as complete an understanding as is within our capacity to know it, the other does not dare reach that far. There is an aspect of design that is never investigated, that can never be investigated, so that understanding in that aspect is limited to the whims of the arbitrary.

If science is the pursuit of knowledge, then between evolution and intelligent design, the one being more complete than the other, which one ought our reason guide us to? Jirby 13:50, 24 January 2009 (EST)

Jirby,
I don't have any real disagreement with your first three paragraphs, but will add that there are very few people who are qualified to speak accurately on the origins debate. This is simply because it covers such a broad range of disciplines, covering, as it does, the origins of "life, the universe, and everything", to borrow from Hitchhiker's Guide. Scientists usually specialise in very narrow subjects, and are often as ignorant of the rest of science as the average layman. It has appeared to me and others that the vast majority of scientists who believe evolution do so on faith, because their own area of expertise either has no bearing on it or doesn't support it. This was apparent in many of the debates which Duane Gish took part in, as many of his opponents argued for evolution from areas of science other than their own, suggesting that they realised that their own area did not provide support for evolution, but (truly) believed that other areas of science did.
Your argument against the idea of "Big Science" doesn't really stack up, however. For one thing, the picture you paint of scientists being totally objective in their pursuit of pure knowledge regardless of where it leads is simply not true. Scientists are human too, and have their own subjective opinions, fallibilities, motives of making money or gaining fame, and so on, including being subject to peer pressure. Secondly, that science might eventually overturn or update an incorrect or inadequate idea doesn't mean that in the meantime there is no pressure to conform, and there's not a "ruling paradigm" into which scientific explanations must fit.
"How is it anyone can fault science for the things it does not yet know?": Nobody is doing that. I for one am not faulting "science". I'm faulting evolution, which I don't consider to be good science anyway. Secondly, I'm not faulting scientists for not knowing, but for claiming that they do know.
"...nor ought anyone speak of science with authority that is not a scientist.": My first response is that one can be an authority without having a formal qualification to say so. I believe that I can speak with some authority on the subject, as I have been (informally) studying it for over 30 years. My second response to this is that many creationists are scientists, so can speak with the authority that you say should be required. My third response is question how far you take this. Can a creationary scientist speak with authority about evolution? Can an evolutionary scientist speak with authority about creation?
"Things change over time. This is the central tenet of evolution.": No, that is not the central tenet of evolution. Even creationists accept that things change over time. The disagreement is over things like how much change. A central tenet of evolution is that everything has descended from a universal common ancestor, for example. I might add that this is one of the points in the Definition of evolution article that I linked to, that adequate definitions are crucial, yet here you are giving a definition of evolution that is so broad that it becomes meaningless.
Much of the rest of your response ignores my essay. For example, I question whether the mantra of "it's only a minor change" is really correct, and give reasons why it is not, but your response does not argue that it is minor; instead, it simply repeats the mantra. You also falsely put words in my mouth. Nowhere did I even hint at science itself being damned, or even criticised for trying to correct itself. This is a straw-man argument you are making.
"If design was so self-evident does it not follow that Science would follow that path?": Your first problem is again that you believe that scientists are totally objective, infallible, researchers, with no religious or philosophical motives. Your second problem is that you ignore that design is so self-evident that scientists routinely speak of the "design" of living things, and you have people such as Richard Dawkins writing books to explain why this "apparent" design isn't really design. So yes, it is self-evident, but scientists with religious motives (i.e. opposed to God) reject it anyway.
"There is no aspect of science beyond questioning...": Except evolution, it seems. The hypothesis as a whole, that is, although individual aspects are questioned, as long as they don't risk discarding evolution itself.
"If it were the case that evolution is false, then science will find the requisite evidence; it will not be because the ignorant said that evolution was wrong, it will be because science has proven evolution wrong.": This is another example of something I mentioned in my essay: refusing to admit that creationists can also be scientists. You are implicitly calling creationary scientists "ignorant", and excluding them from science.
"...Intelligent Design falls short of actual science: the fact that there is a designer is not questionable.": No, you misrepresent ID. ID (as distinct from creationism) does not start with an unquestionable designer. It concludes that there is a designer, from the evidence.
"...Intelligent Design imposes a limit on itself.": I've just answered that, and you overlook that evolutionary science imposes the sort of limit that you accuse ID of. As I showed in my essay, many (evolutionary) scientists exclude God a priori, and indeed you basically argue that it should. That is a clear case of imposing a limit that you overlook and then accuse others of doing. A case of the pot calling the kettle black.
"If science is the pursuit of knowledge, then between evolution and intelligent design, the one being more complete than the other, which one ought our reason guide us to?": The one that doesn't impose an arbitrary limit: Intelligent Design. ID doesn't say that everything was designed. It says that the evidence shows that some things were. Evolution, on the other hand, says that nothing was designed, thus imposing an arbitrary limit. To put it another way, if science is the pursuit of knowledge, and if God really did create the world and life, why shouldn't science acknowledge that? Why arbitrarily exclude it from consideration?
Thanks for your thoughtful and civil reply, but I hope you now see that things were not completely as you made them out to be.
Philip J. Rayment 17:48, 24 January 2009 (EST)

I know this was all a few years ago, but I have to say - was PJR saying in that last paragraph that some things were designed and some evolved? It seems that he even saw this very doubtfulness as a good thing, which sounds suspiciously like what I've heard from evolution defenders and atheists. I'm not saying that he was trying to sneak evolutionism into people's minds or anything, but I do find it a little confusing. Does anyone who is still around these days know what he was getting at here?

JamesWS 15:54, 26 January 2014 (EST)

P.S. I mean the last paragraph of the above statement, not the essay. JamesWS 15:56, 26 January 2014 (EST)

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