The Antony Flew controversy

I had not heard of Antony Flew before last year’s  controversy around his book There Is a God.

The headlines gave the message – Flew was an atheist who had changed his view and now believed in a deist god. And New Zealand Christian blogs picked this up (e.g.,  Christian News NZ; TBR.cc; Fruitful Faith). My reaction was  – “So what?” People change their beliefs all the time.

But a few articles in  the New York Times (I’m a Believer and  The Turning of an Atheist) indicated that the controversy was not about Flew’s “conversion” but about the authority of the book’s authorship. The conclusion seems to be that Flew, being somewhat disadvantaged by his advanced age, had been ‘taken advantage off’ by his evangelical co-authors. A similar controversy erupted about Flew’s authorship of a critical review of Richard Dawkins The God Delusion promoted by the Christian apologist site BeThinking.org.

Antony Flew, N.T. Wright, and Gary Habermas

I found the controversy frustrating because there were no authoritative comments by Flew himself. This might be explained by his well known technophobia and therefore unwillingness to communicate electronically. It could also have resulted from his new evangelical friends controlling his access to the media.

Now I have had a chance to make my own assessment and draw my own conclusions. The Christian apologist Gary Habermas recently posted videos of a discussion involving himself, Antony Flew and N. T. Wright. Held at Westminster Capel last March, the discussion centred around Flew’s conversion and his attitude towards evolution and Richard Dawkins.

I think the videos do illustrate the probable situation Flew is in and the degree to which his book and statements have been manipulated.

I won’t give you my own conclusion but urge you to view these videos before making up your own mind.

The videos are in the Windows Media file format (mwv):

PART I (6 MB)     PART II (5 MB)     PART III (8 MB).

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41 responses to “The Antony Flew controversy

  1. (gasp)

    That was a trial to watch.
    Very ugly.

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  2. I don’t know much about Flew but in looking for arguments for or against the existence of a god in the video it seems his convictions rely, in part, at least, on a misconception of how evolution works. He mentions the impossibility of random letters forming a coherent word or sentence, let alone the works of Shakespeare. But evolution doesn’t work like this. It starts with random mutations within genes but, crucially, has a selection process whereby inappropriate formations are unlikely to succeed and appropriate ones go on to make more copies and therefore more mutations. It’s called evolution by natural selection.

    I’m not prepared to make any personal attacks on Flew himself as we should be concerned ideas over personalities. I do feel, however, that this video didn’t do much for either his dignity nor that of NT Wright or Habermas.

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  3. thanks for the video links, Ken.
    I’ll watch them (relatively!) soon, and I’m sure they’ll be helpful in understanding this scenario – cheers,
    -d-

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  4. His Wikipedia entry is interesting in itself. How long is the video and does it add anything new?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antony_Flew

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  5. Ross – The video (about 30 min in total) really has value for showing the relationship between Flew and his evangelical friends. It also gives a reliable indication of what Flew’s attitudes and competence are – something not obvious from the book and review because of their likely lack of authenticity.

    Damian – I was also struck by Flew using that naive random typing to produce a Shakespeare work argument. Specifically also aiming that at Dawkins because Dawkins had clearly shown how wrong that argument is. I was also intrigued that Flew raised his relationship with Biola University – and biological information given to him by people there. He seems to be indicating that the ID people (who had a lot of influence at Biola) and arguments have particularly influence him.

    Apparently Flew was awarded the Philip Johnson award at Biola – which says something, doesn’t it.

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  6. “Damian said
    February 2, 2009 at 8:17 am
    … He [Antony Flew] mentions the impossibility of random letters forming a coherent word or sentence, let alone the works of Shakespeare. But evolution doesn’t work like this. It starts with random mutations within genes but, crucially, has a selection process whereby inappropriate formations are unlikely to succeed and appropriate ones go on to make more copies and therefore more mutations. It’s called evolution by natural selection.

    …”

    In other words evolution is part random mutation and part natural selection.

    I always want to ask the experts in the theory of evolution whether random mutation is going on all the time, or does it stop altogether when a favorable mutation has occurred, and now natural selection takes over.

    And since random mutation has stopped altogether, natural selection which is not random will lead to a new species owing to the survival of the fittest in the space of billions and billions and billions and billions and billions… of years?

    What I find very convenient on the part of the proponents of the theory of evolution is that on the one hand they advance the idea of random mutation, but on the other hand without saying so they stop random mutation when a favorable mutation has occurred, which can by natural selection lead to the start of a new species.

    What or who is in charge of stopping random mutation?

    Let me put it in more simple words:

    You have a situation where everything is occurring randomly in the midst of a storm with strong wind and heavy rain coming haphazardly in all directions, so that you cannot strike a matchstick to get it aflame, then you get a lucky chance to strike a match and get the matchstick aflame, but right away in the next split second the fire gets extinguished by the wind and/or the rain.

    So, unless the storm of random wind and rain stop for good so that your matchstick will continue to burn, you will never ever get a matchstick burning beyond the briefest of a split second.

    That is the gratuitous assumption in the theory of evolution: that random mutation does take a break when a favorable mutation occurs — but who or what stops random mutation, and for how long? and who or what determines how long the break in the situation of random mutation?

    Gerry

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  7. Gerry
    I don’t think random mutations stop at all. But natural selection is always operating and will select for appropriate mutations – and against inappropriate ones. Favourable mutations are preserved and unfavourable ones (from the point of view of adaption to the environment) will decline in the gene pool.

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  8. Gerry, like Ken said, random mutations continue all of the time. If you have children then they will in some way have randomly mutated. Before you even get to that stage there will be many millions of your sperm that have failed early on and, even if you conceive, there’s around a 25% chance that whatever mutations occured between sperm and egg will be enough to cause spontaneous abortion.

    Most mutations are either detrimental (in which case unlikely to survive), neutral (I might have a slightly less hairy chest than my father) or beneficial (I might be hairier than normal and living in a very cold climate which gives me a slight edge and so possibly produce more offspring than my shivering brother).

    Of course, with the way us humans have altered our environment so drastically to suit ourselves it’s difficult to see how a minor mutation could really give anyone an edge over someone else but if you imagine life without all our homely comforts you’ll see how having slightly better hearing or slightly better leg muscle mass would give you a better chance of producing offspring (who may inherit your ears or fast legs) in the face of roaming animals who like to eat humans.

    As far as timescales go, the first signs of life we find are around 3.5 billion years ago. It took between 2 and 3 billion years from there to even get to multicellular organisms (obviously a bit of an evolutionary hurdle to get over there). Then things really started to kick off and in the last ~600 million years there have been animals with mammals appearing only 200 million years ago.

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  9. Gerry,

    The problem is worse than that. (1) As far as I’m aware there is no such a thing as a favourable mutation. Such a phenomena is assumed. Where is the evidence and data for that presumption? (2) Also natural selection can only start to operate once there is life and the first cell is formed. So to ask for the origin of the information in the cell, and to use statistical models to asses the chances is totally legitimate and i think that was what Flew was referring to. He made the excellent point that if short words are extraordinarily improbable, the complete works of Shakespeare are out of the question. But I think even the information in the cell far eclipses even that example. (3) Neither is natural selection, random mutation and a lot of time a sufficient explanation—and certainly not an observed phenomenon—for the increase in information in the cell.

    Don’t expect Ken, Damian and the like to agree with that. As Plantinga observes, evolution for the atheist is the only game in town. Now as a Christian I’m actually surprisingly open to accept the thesis of evolution. There is a long and large tradition that notes the biblical interpretation of the creation account need not be taken literally. I’ve just been given no reason for doing so up till now. On the other hand, they have to be dogmatic about it. Its fair odds they’ll come post back and call me names, while offering scant reasons for one through three. O well – such can be expected from bad science.

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  10. Stuart,

    As far as I’m aware there is no such a thing as a favourable mutation. Such a phenomena is assumed. Where is the evidence and data for that presumption?

    here

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  11. And the full PDF is here if you are genuinely interested.

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  12. “I always want to ask the experts in the theory of evolution whether random mutation is going on all the time, or does it stop altogether when a favorable mutation has occurred, and now natural selection takes over.”

    So what stops you? Are there no universities where you live?
    Are there no books on biology available at your local library?

    Scientists are not part of a secret cabal living on some mysterious island somewhere. If you want to understand biology…then study it. Simple really.

    “What or who is in charge of stopping random mutation?”

    Where did you get the strange idea that random mutations stop?
    Certainly not from a biology text book, that’s for sure!

    Stuart embarrasses himself thusly…”As far as I’m aware there is no such a thing as a favourable mutation.”

    Wow. You’re “awareness” is clearly in need of repairs. Banish your ignorance, open a book and read a little on basic high school biology.

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  13. Stuart,
    I was pleased to read this part of your comment:

    Now as a Christian I’m actually surprisingly open to accept the thesis of evolution. There is a long and large tradition that notes the biblical interpretation of the creation account need not be taken literally. I’ve just been given no reason for doing so up till now.

    This makes it quite clear that for you, at least, your opposition to evolution is because of scientific issues, and not religious ones. I’ve been talking about layered explanation over at my blog, and (even though we currently disagree about evolution) your comments serve as an example of the distinction between scientific explanation and religious explanation.

    Whilst I still remain very un-familiar with the finer details of evolutionary theory, I see no reason to doubt the genomic evidence linking us (with remarkable clarity) with primates, etc. Francis Collins and Ken Miller were very helpful for me.

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  14. Stuart:

    Where do you get your (crazy) ideas from?! (Cedric re Stuart embarrasses himself thusly, what you said.)

    If you are to criticise a theory, criticise what it act says, not some apologist or whatnot you have read. This important really, if you honestly want to criticise evolution, you want you will have to read actual accounts of evolutionary theory by those putting it forward, not religious “retakes” on it.

    Dale re This makes it quite clear that for you, at least, your opposition to evolution is because of scientific issues, , except that the argument he is presenting isn’t a scientific one, never mind the scientific one. That would make me suspect either he is really working from religious sources wishing to look like “science”, or he is confused. If he were genuinely working from science, he would start with the science position which doesn’t say anything like what he wrote.

    re Whilst I still remain very un-familiar with the finer details of evolutionary theory You can’t make honest criticism of what you don’t understand. With all respect, my reading of this is that you don’t know more that you are prepared to publicly say. There are a lot more basics than that the general waffle that passes for “evolutionary theory” on religion websites, etc. More to the point, you need to understand it correctly first before you judge it. Your statement is tantamount to saying that you want to present what you would like to be true, which is fine in it’s own way, as long as you are upfront & (Intellectually) honest about that.

    re The problem is worse than that. (1) As far as I’m aware there is no such a thing as a favourable mutation. Such a phenomena is assumed. Where is the evidence and data for that presumption? (2) Also natural selection can only start to operate once there is life and the first cell is formed. So to ask for the origin of the information in the cell, and to use statistical models to asses the chances is totally legitimate and i think that was what Flew was referring to. He made the excellent point that if short words are extraordinarily improbable, the complete works of Shakespeare are out of the question. But I think even the information in the cell far eclipses even that example. (3) Neither is natural selection, random mutation and a lot of time a sufficient explanation—and certainly not an observed phenomenon—for the increase in information in the cell.

    (1) To ‘mutate’ means to ‘change’, which can be for the better or worse (or neutral, too!). We’ve got sci-fi movies and novels to blame for the only-negative connotations loaded onto ‘mutation’…

    (2) Natural selection applies to evolution; the origin of life is another thing. Trying to make out the something used to work with the first is a “problem” if it can’t work on the second is meaningless.

    As it happens, strictly speaking you’d be wrong anyway, although to be fair this isn’t as obvious if you’re not familiar with some aspects of chemistry and it refers to the origin of life, not evolution per se. A lot of (most) scientists prefer to keep the origin of life a separate issue, in part because the processes used work at a different level.

    The “So to ask” bit doesn’t follow from your earlier two points.

    I haven’t time to watch the video (slow connection and work to do) to see which variant of this he is talking about, but the “word in an alphabet” thing is routinely abused in creationist arguments. I recall you (Stuart) some time ago not understanding what “information” meant in the context of a genome sequence.

    Quite often the overall problem with the argument is very simple. A genome sequence is a product; evolution is a process that created the genome. In the “word game” argument, often the process is replaced with one that bears no resemblance to the evolutionary process, rendering the exercise pointless (i.e. moot).

    I’m familiar with these statistical arguments for other reasons. Technically they are simplified versions of statistics used, when applied correctly, to assess the statistical value of a match to a sequence within a genome. To move them to arguments about evolution, you need to include a meaningful model of evolution and all the creationist arguments I’ve seen that pick up these stats come with these models of evolution that are crazily simplified, unrealistic and sometimes often plain wrong.

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  15. Commenters here should be aware of Stuart’s limitations when it comes to “scientific” evidence. This from his article on Christian apologetics:

    “Notable Christian scientists today such as Michael Behe, [9] William Dempsky, [10] Philip Johnson, [11] as well as Hugh Ross, Dwayne Gish, and the late Henry Morris, are all apologists making waves in the scientific community. “

    This is the problem – if you don’t accept any science until it’s gone through the filter and interpretation of people like this you are very often going to get things wrong.

    So Dale – perhaps your comment “your opposition to evolution is because of scientific issues, and not religious ones.” was satirical?

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  16. I think most of us would agree that Stuart’s “scientific” opposition to evolution is based in the ever-shrinking ‘gaps’ of the ID-ists.

    But the fact remains that his critique of evolution is devoid of any ‘religious’ wording; AND he’s clearly said that as a Christian he is not at all required to critique evolution (and at my blog the honesty/integrity of Stuart’s remark has been… shall I say… brought into question).

    It’s a bad critque (I think most of us would unhesitatingly agree) – but it’s a bad critique at a scientific (not ‘religious’) level.

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  17. Dale – you ignore the difference between form and content. Do you seriously suggest that the motivation for opposition to evolutionary science on the part of people like Stuart is not religious – that the “scientific” arguments used are not simply trying to find justification – after the decision?

    Do you seriously suggest that Stuart has looked at or considered in any manner the overwhelming evidence for current evolutionary science before making up his mind?

    Motivation is always a factor and where there is a preconceived belief and willingness to ignore “unhelpful” evidence the “science” that is used is always used in a dishonest and opportunist manner.

    Heraclides, Flew was just using the naive argument that the chance of a monkey at typewriter producing the works of Shakespeare is exceedingly remote. The fact that he attributed this to Dawkins suggests to me that he was referring to Dawkins’ very convincing computer demonstration that random selection of letters – together with natural selection (selecting words which made sense) produced meaningful phrases very quickly. Flew’s use of the naive argument is really very embarrassing. Mathematical models have also clearly shown how information gets introduced into evolution based on random events – once selection occurs.

    And, of course (for Stuart’s enlightenment) selection also occurs at the chemical level. Such statistical arguments are only going to make an impression on those who don’t understand the processes or who willingly want to believe the argument (usually for religious reasons).

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  18. Ken,
    As for HOW Stuart has arrived at his (pseudo)scientific position/citique, YES, I agree there are religious motivations – but they are quite specific and not general. You can’t say that ‘religion’ (a quite general term) is driving his postion. But we can say that a specific interpretive religious issue is behind it (at one level).

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  19. As I’ve said on my blog – the more religion impedes science, the more it ceases to be religion.

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  20. I have to agree with you there Dale – after all most Christian do not oppose evolutionary science. It’s only certain apologist trends. However, these can exert influence quite outside their size as some of their arguments and phraseology leak into the wider Christian community. Things like the “fine tuning” argument, “cosmological argument”, negative interpretations of “materialism” and “naturalism” etc.

    But, of course, the dishonest use of “science” and their science bashing in general has to be stood up to despite their small size. Propagandists know that a lie repeated often enough, and not exposed, will eventually be accepted by large numbers of people.

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  21. just to be picky (you know me!), all those ‘aguments’ as well as those two particular terms have perfectly valid uses at a philosophical level (the level of ‘logic’, ‘argument’ and ‘definition’), but not at a scientific level (the level of natural theory, observation, measurement, etc.).

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  22. Of course the philosophical consideration, to be at all valid, must give appropriate respect to the real evidence (it usually doesn’t in the popular discussion of things like “fine-tuning”). If we are going to base discussion on “big bang” theory we should understand what it is and what evidence it is based on.

    Terminology also must be understood by all parties involved. “Materialism” and “naturalism” very often mean different things to different people. If this is understood, and accommodated, I have no problem with such discussion. When it isn’t – the discussion can’t be honest.

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  23. Hi Ken,

    Flew was just using the naive argument that the chance of a monkey at typewriter producing the works of Shakespeare is exceedingly remote. The fact that he attributed this to Dawkins suggests to me that he was referring to Dawkins’ very convincing computer demonstration that random selection of letters – together with natural selection (selecting words which made sense) produced meaningful phrases very quickly.

    Thanks for that. I haven’t read Dawkin’s exercise, but I can imagine how it goes. It would be a useful analogy, but like all analogies it would have it’s limits, too. In particular, you need to be careful applying it to something larger than one gene.

    Gene in genomes aren’t ordered in the same way that words in sentences or sentences in paragraphs, etc., in a book are. In fact, in eukaryotes at least there are structures to keep each regulatory unit independent of the neighbouring regulatory regions in the genome.

    So, leaving aside many other issues, naïvely extending the maths to a whole genome would be meaningless.

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  24. Consider the letters of the alphabet:

    ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ

    There are nth number of each of them in the random world of alphabets in space and in time.

    As random forces churn them up randomly, any each letter can be separately occurring by itself or occurring by two or more of itself together, or combining with other letters to form groups of letters.

    And thus by random combination we might luckily discern, in billions and billions and billions and billions of years and in the almost infinite reaches of the universe of space, the beginning of an appearance of a word.

    Thus in rare random chance the beginning of a word might be formed, but right away it can be broken up by another letter or some other letters, inserting themselves in it, knocking away one or more of the letters earlier combined together, thus destroying that randomly formed just beginning of a word.

    In effect even just the beginnings of words are never going to be formed and stay intact, unless some agent is protecting them, so that whole words will appear in an arrangement as to display this sentence below:

    THE QUICK BROWN FOX JUMPS OVER THE LAZY DOG.

    Now, if we consider the random formation of a word as a random mutation which is the start of a new species, how can that beginning of a new species ever be protected and thus continue to survive and develop into finally a complete new species, when there are so many, to the nth number, factors (letters) that can crush into that beginning of a new species as to destroy it completely in the minutest split second, and knock it out of existence.

    Unless some agent is preserving that beginning of a new species for it to survive and continue to develop until a complete new species is formed, just like the words in this sentence:

    THE QUICK BROWN FOX JUMPS OVER THE LAZY DOG

    Gerry

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  25. Gerry said…”Consider the letters of the alphabet…”

    Gerry, read a biology book.
    Please.
    Stop this nonsense.
    Do you really think that this ‘thousand monkeys on a thousand typewriters will not produce Shakespeare’ guano has not been done to death a zillion times?

    It’s old. It’s silly. It failed to impress before. It’s not going to impress now.

    Before you go off commenting about science, it would be nice if you learned something about it first.

    I asked you to read a book on biology.
    That would have helped you understand that you are ignorant about biology.
    You don’t seem to be capable of doing that. Pity.
    So…
    Here’s a nice video for you. It has pretty pictures and simple words to help “special” people just like you.
    Enjoy. Learn.
    Try to avoid strawmen in future.

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  26. Gerry – the specific example you mention is discussed by Dawkins in his Royal Society Lectures for Children – Growing up in the Universe. He demonstrates how selection works in a computer programme to produce meaningful sentences. Its well illustrated and well discussed. It will answer your question if you just watch the videos.

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  27. Well, my observation is valid and should be answered by anyone with a good mind and a good grasp of evolution theory.

    Reading science textbooks is not necessary to answer my observation.

    Suppose the science people advocating the theory of evolution here answer my observation.

    ————–

    This is what I know to be the theory of evolution in broad outlines:

    1. Proponents start from already the existence of species,

    2. Then they postulate random mutation for the beginning, just the beginning, of a new species different from the already existing species,

    3. This beginning of a new species will develop through billion and billions and billions and billions of years,

    4. And at last for example man the new species will come about, with consciousness and intelligence.

    5. All this process is called natural selection.

    The objectionable part of the theory of evolution is that it seeks to explain the origin of species but it starts from the existence already of species.

    It is like explaining to a child the origin of cars but never going to the time before any first car was ever invented, instead it explains how new models arise from previous models.

    That is just one objection to the theory of evolution.

    All the steps in the theory of evolution is fraught with unresolvable objections which its proponents will not meet head on.

    Gerry

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  28. “Well, my observation is valid and should be answered by anyone with a good mind and a good grasp of evolution theory.”

    Gerry, you’re ignorant.
    Before you comment on biology, you need to…y’know…actually understand something about it.

    Your posts are nonsense.

    “This is what I know to be the theory of evolution in broad outlines…”

    These outlines of yours. Where did you get ’em?
    You made them up off the top of your head.
    That’s why they don’t make any sense.

    Read a basic book on biology. Get an education. Watch the vidoes.
    They’re very easy. Even a dolt like you should be able to understand them.
    (shrug)

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  29. [ Ken said
    February 6, 2009 at 10:43 am
    Gerry – the specific example you mention is discussed by Dawkins in his Royal Society Lectures for Children – Growing up in the Universe. He demonstrates how selection works in a computer programmed to produce meaningful sentences. Its well illustrated and well discussed. It will answer your question if you just watch the videos. ]

    I have read refutations of Dawkins’ experiment with computer, it is all hookwinking of people who are not critical and not knowledgeable of how computers work.

    Just keep in mind that a computer is programmed by a conscious intelligent human to produce the simulation of random numbers and/or letters.

    What I want Dawkins to do is to remove the brain matter inside his skull and fill it with very small microscopic lego pieces of the letters in the English alphabet, as many as his empty skull can now hold up to say 75% volume of his skull.

    And then someone to throw his skull in the oceans but with a tracing device so that it can be picked up every so often to find out, if any sentence like the following is readably formed by the letters:

    THE QUICK BROWN FOX JUMPS OVER THE LAZY DOG.

    Gerry

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  30. Well, I am still waiting for reactions to my observation, that do not consist in recourse to accusation of my not reading biology textbooks.

    Of course people can keep accusing other people of not reading textbooks on biology to eschew their objections to the theory of evolution.

    Like the money swindlers can keep accusing people of not reading textbooks on finance, when all they are required to do is to return the money they borrowed from people.

    Gerry

    Of course people can keep accusing other people of not reading textbooks on biology to eschew their objections to the theory of evolution.

    Like the money swindlers can keep accusing people of not reading textbooks on finance when all they are required to do is to return the money they borrowed from people.

    Gerry

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  31. Gerry:

    “I have read refutations of Dawkins’ experiment with computer, it is all hookwinking of people who are not critical and not knowledgeable of how computers work.”

    Well, actually, Dawkins’ presentation was not an experiment – it was an illustration of how the power of natural selection leads to evolution – showing that random events in themselves don’t.

    1: So – you have read refutations: Please give me links to the refutations – I would like to see if they are reputable or just from creationist web sites wishing to deny evidence because of their preconceived beliefs. My mind is open – just give me the evidence.

    2: You yourself have not conveyed any refutation – nor supported your allegation of “hoodwinking”. I am always suspicious of people who reject evidence in such an abusive way.

    It appears to me that you wish to misrepresent current evolutionary science as advocating only random mutations. That is just not the case.

    There is actually plenty of information available now for the layperson – this being the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of “The Origin of Species.” There is just no excuse for anyone claiming interest to be ignorant of the ideas of natural selection or evolution in general.

    Gerry – is you mind open? Are you genuinely asking questions to learn something? Or is you mind made up and are you trying to criticise evolutionary science because you have different ideas for the origin of species? If so – what about telling us what you ideas are so we can make our own judgement?

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  32. Hi Gerry,

    I’ll take a crack and your “observations”. If I’m reading you right your (current) objection to evolutionary biology is that is doesn’t provide an answer for the very first origin of life?

    Well, that’s a really hard question and recreating events that happened 4.5b years ago necessarily going to be a little speculative. We have some pretty good theories, check out “RNA world” for a slightly later step and experiments in autocatalysis and the like for earlier stages. We certainly don’t have The Answer yet, but we are working on it.

    That seems like a very strange reason to throw out all of evolution. The central ideas in evolutionary biology, that iterated rounds of selection acting on randomly occuring variants in populations can lead to adaptation and that contemporary species have arisen following successive branchings from ancestral species are about as well established as anything in science. If the question you want to answer is “how has all this biodiversity been created” then evolutionary biology has the answer. If the question you want to ask is “how did life start” then we have some pretty good theories and we’ll keep working on them. If you want to put a god in that perceived gap you can but where is he going to go if the gap is closed?

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  33. “…to accusation of my not reading biology textbooks”

    Yet those accusations are spot on.
    You are ignorant. Painfully so.

    Seriously, watch the videos. Learn something.

    “What I want Dawkins to do is to remove the brain matter inside his skull…”

    Wierdo.
    (shrug)

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  34. The reactions of some people here to my critical thoughts on the socalled theory of evolution give all the indications that they are eschewing the genuine issue with the socalled theory of evolution.

    ————-

    First, they to all appearances profess to tell people that they will explain the origin of species.

    But from the start they don’t in fact give any explanation for the origin of species, as to show people how species started from a point in time and in space when there were no species whatever.

    They instead start with already species existing, and try to tell people that new species come from previous species by way of random mutation and natural selection.

    So, is that being scientific? complying with the scientific method? when on the one hand they profess to tell people about the origin of species, but on the other hand they conveniently evade the origin, and instead already assume the presence of species and just try to show people that new species come forth from previous species by random mutation and natural selection.

    Suppose they just call their theory “How later species come from earlier species by random mutation and natural selection.”

    That should absolutely correspond to what they are actually dealing with in their socalled theory of evolution.

    And when people ask them what about the origin of species, they should just tell people that they don’t know.

    Why? because scientifically they really don’t know.

    Gerry

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  35. Gerry – you have ignored my questions!

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  36. Ken said
    February 6, 2009 at 2:59 pm
    Gerry – you have ignored my questions!

    ————

    Dear Ken:

    I will let you into a secret of scientific methodical thinking:

    “One should ignore questions which don’t explain anything but evade the genuine issue at hand.

    Gerry

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  37. Well, no Gerry. Scientists usually provide sources of information for the assertions.

    So, I guess I have to conclude that you don’t have any reputable sources (or anyway any you are prepared to share) for your “refutations”. Nor do you have any ideas for species origin that you feel happy about acknowledging.

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  38. and instead already assume the presence of species

    I think it is a fairly safe assumption that there where species in the past (cf all those fossils).

    I slightly less snarky answer would be that this particular objection centres a little too much around the phrase “Origin Of Species”. Evolutionary biologists don’t claim to know with complete certainty how life on earth began (but as I said we have some good ideas) what we can do is tell you how new species are formed and the way complex structures can arise at all levels of biological diversity.

    BTW, Darwin chose to reference Genesis in the closing line of The Origin

    There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

    In short, “you give me the beginning of life and my theory will give you all the wonder and beauty in the biological world”. (And it’s a bit of subtle dig at the physicists whose calculations, even over the vastness of geological time, can only explain how the earth spins around the sun a lot!)

    Now, answer Ken’s questions would ya?

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  39. Gerry said (@ #28):This is what I know to be the theory of evolution in broad outlines:

    1. Proponents start from already the existence of species,

    No. What they begin with are a set of observations, to do with variation between individuals, heritability of some of that variation, competition for resources (because individuals tend to produce more offspring than the environment can cater for – look at us!), differential reproductive success, & so on.

    2. Then they postulate random mutation for the beginning, just the beginning, of a new species different from the already existing species,

    No, they recognise that mutation is the source of novel genetic variation. What happens next depends on the nature of that mutation & whether it’s visible to natural selection.

    3. This beginning of a new species will develop through billion and billions and billions and billions of years,

    er, no. This planet’s been around for about 4.6 billion years, & the earliest forms of life (ie cellular organisms) for around 3.5 billion years. Species may develop quite quickly. A mutation involving the whole chromosome set (polyploidy) can produce immediate reproductive isolation between the parent & offspring generations: speciation in a geological instant.

    4. And at last for example man the new species will come about, with consciousness and intelligence.

    Not necessarily. It’s nice that we’re here looking back & discussing our history, but evolution isn’t directional & doesn’t led progressively to us. After all, for about 2 billion years the only life forms around where various forms of bacteria, & if some of them hadn’t evolved the capacity to produce oxygen as a waste product, that’s how things would have stayed. As the late Steven Jay Gould used to say, an awful lot depends upon contingencies.

    5. All this process is called natural selection.

    A resounding no – what you’ve ‘described’ is not natural selection. As Cedric’s already said, you do need to learn some basic biology if you expect people to take your arguments seriously.

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  40. @25:

    Even if you don’t read all of evolution, my post before yours–posted a day earlier–points out that the sentence analogy doesn’t work for genomes. It’s fine as an example that mutations (changes) + selection can produce surprising and meaningful complexity, which I imagine is what Dawkins will be trying to demonstrate. It is not a description of evolution, but an illustration of the ability of variation + selection working together to generate quite complex, “meaningful” things.

    You have left out that species exist as populations, that most of individuals in a population don’t change, the rate that mutations actually occur (your objection about a word not remaining fixed would only work if the mutation rate were millions of times higher than it actually is), the many different kinds of variation events (point mutations are only one), selection forces, inheriting genes, etc., etc. In other words, more-or-less all of biology!

    What you have given isn’t an example of evolution, so not surprisingly it’s not relevant to it. (What was that you were saying about not having to answer to things that are not relevant again?)

    @28:

    Reading science textbooks is not necessary to answer my observation.

    If you want to criticise something, you have to know what it is that you are criticising.

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