08
Jan
09

Disclaimers

Well, we’ve all seen them, those diclaimers on biology textbooks that talk about how “evolution is JUST a theory.” PZ talked about one today, and then I thought about it, dug a little deeper, and got annoyed.

If’n ya’ll er interessed in dis heer propasishun, perchance ya’ll take a gander at dis.

Now, the primary author of this goes by the name of Gary Chism. He is the representative for Clay, Lowndes, and Oktibbeha counties. Does it strike you as odd that a man with a background in banking cannot construct a statement about evolution, the word “theory,” or basic scientific research that isn’t patently false?

Let’s start here:

The word ‘theory’ has many meanings, including: systematically organized knowledge; abstract reasoning; a speculative idea or plan; or a systematic statement of principles. Scientific theories are based on both observations of the natural world and assumptions about the natural world. They are always subject to change in view of new and confirmed observations.

Wow, talk about horrible use of a dictionary (or science textbook). While theories are, of course, subject to change, very few of them change in substance. For example, the Newtonian gravitational theory still works for most things, just not on extremely large or extremely small scales, but for practical purposes, we can still use it to explain everyday events. Another example would be the early models of physics which had atoms being the smallest units of matter. Well, newsflash, they can be split into smaller particles. Are those particles matter? Well, some of them are, namely protons (H+ ion). We gain new insights, we revise a little, and it works. For every-day explanations, the unrevised theory STILL WORKS, just not for very specific applications. Theories are based upon observations and extrapolations, the assumptions about the natural world talked about here in The Modern Synthesis (TMS [Evolution: The Modern Synthesis) are curiously missing as far as I can tell. I mean, we make hypotheses based upon the theory, which is backed up by observation, but these are hypotheses.

Next up:

This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things. No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life’s origins should be considered a theory.

Wow, that’s about a stupid argument. First of all, TMS (“evolution” from now on) isn’t really controversial if you’ve learned about it, learned the evidence, and studied a little basic logic. It’s really not that complicated, the specifics DO get complicated, but the theory in itself is not. The idea of someone having to be around when life first appeared is an impossible straw man argument for three reasons:

1) humans had to evolve before we could be here

2) it implies that the ONLY way we can observe something is visually and in person

3) it requires documentation of that event.

Now the punch line: “Therefore, any statement about life’s origins should be considered a theory.” Three words: “Does Not Follow.” Why doesn’t it follow, the only conclusion you can draw from someone not being there at the time is that it was not directly observed by human eyes. This does not mean something cannot be factual. Example: an animal (say the only pet you have in your house is an English Bulldog) shits in the middle of your living room floor, can you conclude then that it was your dog? Should you instead go outside looking for that damn green anole that left the land mine in the middle of your floor? I’m pretty sure you would conclude the dog did it, and act accordingly. We can go through the geological record and see fossils trending towards more and more homogenous body plans of several lineages (tetrapods being a very small subset). We have genetic evidence indicating all organisms share common ancestry. This is evolution, the ORIGIN of life is not, the origin of the diversity of life is.

Next up, I go line by line now due to the complete fantasy world this guy lives in.

Evolution refers to the unproven belief that random, undirected forces produced living things.

Say what now? Evolution is random? That’s completely false, moving along.

There are many topics with unanswered questions about the origin of life which are not mentioned in your textbook, including: the sudden appearance of the major groups of animals in the fossil record (known as the Cambrian Explosion);

Well, duh, you morons don’t want them talking about it. It wasn’ t much of an explosion anyway.

the lack of new major groups of other living things appearing in the fossil record;

Because these groups don’t just “appear.” We see transitions. Where should we draw the line between “ancestor of tetrapods” and “tetrapods” is kind of like drawing the line between “child” and “adult.”

the lack of transitional forms of major groups of plants and animals in the fossil record;

Well, that’s only because when we find one, we immediately have TWO tansitions we need, even if it is EXACTLY (temporally and morphologically) between the two previous fossils.

and the complete and complex set of instructions for building a living body possessed by all living things.

Oh no, not the “instructions” argument. I thought that one was dispelled years ago. Little known fact, but environmental factors play a large role in development. In case you didn’t know that, check out what happens to crocodilians incubated at different temperatures. These are not “instructions,” since DNA does not contain any information.

I seriously have some HPLC methods to work on, but this was fun.

And remember: a truly open mind questions EVERYTHING, including one’s own beliefs. Yes, I frequently consider the fact that my basic assumptions may be incorrect, I have always done this. This is what led me to leaving religion, going to college for a degree in one of the sciences, and to continue to pursue pure research careers which I am qualified for (know of any?). Anyone who routinely does any form of scientific testing knows most of science involves questioning your own opinions more than anything else, which is something I do quite well.

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