Irate Christian E-Mail

A rare piece of irate e-mail.

Hi Mr. Rundkvist,

This is Gregory from the US. I was reading your thoughts on Dr. Moller and the Exodus Case. You criticize Moller for not trying to disprove his hypothesis. Tell me; do evolutionists try to disprove their theory? You know they could if they tried. It is the scientists job to gather evidence for his hypothesis. But you lefty liberals don’t want to believe in the Bible, so you go to great lengths to discredit scientific evidence that supports the Bible, no matter how irrational you sound.

1. Yes, biologists make a lot of experiments to see if evolution works or not, and so far all the data indicate unanimously that it does. Read up, don’t believe what your pastor says.

2. I don’t know about the general willingness to believe among lefty liberals. But I do know that you’re right about successful scientists: they do not want to believe in anything. They want to find out what the world is really like. And the idea that everything is exactly as set out in one of the several sets of >2000 years old religious writings worldwide, well, that’s just silly.

I wonder why the fundies tend to ignore me despite my bold posturing as a lefty liberal atheist. Probably they see me as irrelevant because I’m not an American.

Fundies everywhere, I grew up in Connecticut! I’m not only a lefty liberal atheist, I’m an elitist suburban East Coast lefty liberal atheist! I find Obama way too conservative! I favour a 30% income tax! I’m a feminist! Can’t you see, I’m even scarier than PZ!

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73 thoughts on “Irate Christian E-Mail

  1. You criticize Moller for not trying to disprove his hypothesis. Tell me; do evolutionists try to disprove their theory?

    Of fucking course. Science is not some kind of quest for truth — it’s a quest for falsehood. We want to discover everything that is not the case. The basic question of science is: “If I were wrong, how would I know?”.

    Is evolution a falsifiable hypothesis? I can’t think of any hypothetical scientific discovery, short of discovering an obelisk like in 2001 Space Odyssey, that would displace evolution as the scientific explanation for the origin of species.

    A fossil rabbit skeleton in Silurian rock would spell deep, deep trouble for the theory of evolution…

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  2. “Science is not some kind of quest for truth — it’s a quest for falsehood.”

    It would be more accurate to say that science is a quest for truth as tested by a quest for falsehood. And this only applies to hypothesis-driven science. It doesn’t really apply to exploratory, strictly observational studies. Most of the neuroanatomical work for which Santiago Ramon y Cajal is famous was not really hypothesis-driven. Rather, his work led to the positing of many hypotheses tested by other methods.

    “A fossil rabbit skeleton in Silurian rock would spell deep, deep trouble for the theory of evolution…”

    If such a fossil were found (assuming that it would not be disregarded as an artifact) it may be trouble for evolution, but it would not prove the truth of Christianity either. Neither does the absence of such a fossil invalidate the idea of some kind of divinely guided evolution. (Doesn’t Francis Crick believe something like that?) Evolution does not invalidate all religion, and all religion does not invalidate evolution. These things exist in separate spheres with very little overlap. The tiny intersection creates a lot of noise only because it’s become a front in a silly culture war, which like most wars, is unproductive and has more than anything to do with the desire of some humans (on both sides) to feel superior to other humans.

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  3. Is evolution a falsifiable hypothesis? I can’t think of any hypothetical scientific discovery, short of discovering an obelisk like in 2001 Space Odyssey, that would displace evolution as the scientific explanation for the origin of species.

    A cat giving birth to a dog.
    Or, as David mentioned above, fossil rabbits in the Cambrian

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  4. “A cat giving birth to a dog.”

    This is the point I’m trying to make. If a cat giving birth to a cat is considered proof of evolution, it is not a falsifiable hypothesis. Rather, evolution is the only thing we can think of without positing extraterrestrial or divine intervention, the origins of which we would still have to explain.

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  5. It wouldn’t hurt us to have a little humility. For 200 years we thought Newton was the last word in mechanics. For much longer, the Western world’s most learned men believed in the pre-Copernican model of the universe. And you know what? The model fit the existing astronomical data. (Of course, the model was tortured to fit to data.) Recognizing the inherent limitations of our disciplines will also make us better scientists as we will better understand what it is that we know, what we still do not know, and what we cannot know based on current methods.

    Religious people are not inherently opposed to science. Very few have any objections to medical research, for example. The religious people I’ve known have been very positive about my being a scientist. Then again, I don’t go around telling them that their beliefs are infantile or that their experiences are the wild delusions of weak minds.

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  6. This is the point I’m trying to make. If a cat giving birth to a cat is considered proof of evolution, it is not a falsifiable hypothesis.

    I didn’t say that cat giving birth to a cat was proof of evolution. You asked for something that would falsify the theory of evolution. I gave you an example. You seem to be confusing what is meant by ‘falsified’ and ‘falsifiable’. Just because evolution has not been falsified, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be.

    If such a fossil were found (assuming that it would not be disregarded as an artifact) it may be trouble for evolution, but it would not prove the truth of Christianity either.

    Are those goalpost heavy?
    Your original question made no mention of Christianity, or any other mythology.
    Do you seriously think that if evolution were falsified the only alternative would be that load of old dingo’s kidneys?

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  7. “A cat giving birth to a dog.”

    Obviously, cats don’t give birth to dogs. This is something clearly observable in real time every day. The statement implies that the fact that cats give birth to cats is consistent with evolution. But it is also consistent with every religion on earth, and so it has no discriminatory power. Furthermore, even if there were some freak occurrence of a cat giving birth to a dog without artificial means, assuming we believed the report, it still would not disprove evolution. We would simply posit that occasional cross species reproduction confers a selective advantage (or at least does not confer a selective disadvantage). As for the rabbit, in practice, the occasional fossil evidence in the “wrong” geologic layer would just get dismissed as the result of disturbance (earthquakes, tectonic movements, ground squirrels, boy scouts…). Even if we found a lot of such fossils, the fact of the matter is, we would not concede defeat. We’d just adjust the proposed timing and/or sequence, as we do on a much smaller level all the time when we find new fossils.

    “If such a fossil were found (assuming that it would not be disregarded as an artifact) it may be trouble for evolution, but it would not prove the truth of Christianity either.”

    “Are those goalpost heavy? Your original question made no mention of Christianity, or any other mythology.”

    This whole discussion derives from an “Irate Christian E-mail.” I’m just discussing the post.

    “Do you seriously think that if evolution were falsified the only alternative would be that load of old dingo’s kidneys?”

    As I said, “Rather, evolution is the only thing we can think of without positing extraterrestrial or divine intervention, the origins of which we would still have to explain.” So go ahead. List some plausible alternatives to evolution to explain the fossil record and diversity of life on earth. I’m interested to see what you come up with.

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  8. Elmo,
    My point was that if some organism were to appear which obviously wasn’t genetically related to its parents, that would falsify evolution. That was what you asked for. An example of something that would prove that evolution was false. The same goes for the rabbit. If someone ever showed that any species existed at a time before it could possibly have evolved, like a rabbit before there were mammals, evolution would be false. Therefore, your claim that evolution can not be falsified is wrong.

    So go ahead. List some plausible alternatives to evolution to explain the fossil record and diversity of life on earth. I’m interested to see what you come up with.

    What?
    There is no other plausible explanation. That isn’t a weakness in evolutionary theory. If evolution were disproven, then we would be forced to come up with an other explanation. once more, that does not mean that evolution is not falsifiable.

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  9. And my point is that evolution as a hypothesis is flexible enough to survive any plausible scientific discovery. (An animal giving birth to genetically unrelated offspring is too implausible to be useful here. It’s like saying that Zeus could come down and smite us all with thunderbolts for our unbelief, and then we’d know.) Do you really think that if a rabbit fossil were found in Silurian or Cambrian rock, that proponents of evolution would declare defeat? But let’s say for the sake of argument that there will soon be a series of startling and incontrovertible discoveries of rabbit fossils in Silurian rock, and that the scientific community rejects evolution as the basis for the origin and radiation of species. So, “without positing extraterrestrial or divine intervention,” what would the alternative hypotheses be? What are your non-“dingo kidney” ideas? Let’s have them.

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  10. Elmo’s just trolling you, Malcolm. Don’t waste too much time with him unless you find it fun. He’s convinced that if he shakes his head and says “nu-uh” and then demands that you synthesize from whole cloth an entire new theory that takes into account the diversity of life better than 150 years of research into the ToE, then he “wins”. And, it is this “win” that is the only goal that Elmo is after, not understanding and not compassion for those on the other side of the culture war.

    Elmo, you clearly have a sophomoric understanding of the theory of evolution. Someone has convinced you that the ToE is unfalsifiable, and that premise is now unfalsifiable in your own mind. You’re stuck. Until you can get rid of your own assumption on this point, I’m afraid you’ll never get anywhere with anyone that knows anything about the subject. Good luck with that.

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  11. You G–dammed, satan worshippin, athiest libral. Overun by the demons of liberalism infectin the area you live like a stinking cloud. Whering womens clothing is an abomation.

    Godless fukin Swede – yer gonna brun!!!!

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  12. Please read my posts again without hostility. People are getting all upset over nothing. We’re just scientists discussing science. If you don’t think we’re stuck with evolution as our only available scientific option, just come up with another one. It doesn’t have to be good, just different. In my opinion, evolution in its most general sense of radiation of increasing complexity from simpler progenitors is all we have as scientists to explain the origin and diversity of life on Earth. The problem stems from the generality of the hypothesis, and this may be an insurmountable problem. No matter what observations we make in the future, we will put it into this context because we have no competing models. In practical terms, it is not falsifiable within the confines of science, and there is very little we can do about it. (What would Karl Popper do?) If you disagree, come up with a scenario in which evidence is found that causes the scientific community to reject evolution. What model might we turn to? I would enjoy reading it. But I would reiterate that just as we look back on pre-Copernican astronomers as primitives, one day our own understanding of science will also seem naive. If the string theorists turn out to be wrong, one day school children will read about that work and laugh at us. What if it turns out that use-dependent synaptic plasticity is not the basis of declarative memory? Well, at least that is a testable hypothesis. Given how much we have yet to learn, we would do well to exercise some humility in our dealings with the public. You know, the public that funds our work and pays our salaries.

    Baka na Kimpatsu, Nihonjin janakereba, Nihongo o tsukau no wa urusai yo. Nihonjin dattara, gomen. Oyasumi.

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  13. In my opinion, evolution in its most general sense of radiation of increasing complexity from simpler progenitors

    But … evolution doesn’t imply increasing complexity. It just happened that way for a few lineages. Back to the books, Elmo. 🙂

    But look at this in a historical context. I think part of the reason why evolution seems unfalsifiable to you is that, well, so far, everything fits. Whereas biologists interpret this to mean that evolution is probably true, you interpret it to mean that we’re just making things up to fit the theory. I don’t agree. Predictions have been made about what we should find in the fossil record as well as what molecular data should look like if the ToE is true. If those predictions had been wrong, the ToE would have been in for some trouble. But they weren’t. So far, all the evidence corroborates the theory, to the point that by now, it’s very difficult for us to come up with anything else.

    If you think that it happened a different way, because you’ve seen some anomaly in the evidence that people seem to be ignoring, you start working on a competing theory. That’s what Darwin, Wallace and others did. While doing it for fun, as a thought experiment might work, it’s a lot more difficult. Why, it’s very much like simply making things up…

    I’m rambling a bit here which is funny because I was going to finish by asking: Elmo, what’s your point?

    Also, I’m not Japanese and don’t speak the language, so this is a guess: are you telling Kimpatsu that one shouldn’t use japanese if one is not Japanese? Cause that’s weird. 🙂

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  14. So did you feel for a moment, that you were up there in the ranks of hated atheists? Because I just don’t think you qualify if you haven’t had incoherent rants from illiterate fundies. And the email that inspired this post was just way too reasonably written and all to lacking in irony.

    Personally, I love you godless fucking Swedes. But once upon a time, I was a burgeoning fundamentalist (ironically, it was my inability to reconcile ToE with anything approaching my religious beliefs and maintain intellectual honesty that brought it all down) and I know how to play the part.

    I’m sorry that you can’t seem to attract the “right” sort of religious nuts (not really, because invariably they are my fellow Americans). I hope that you got a chance to feel the glee that must accompany the reception of such rants, even if only for a moment.

    Elmo –

    If you don’t think we’re stuck with evolution as our only available scientific option, just come up with another one. It doesn’t have to be good, just different.

    It’s not all that likely that anyone here actually believes that ToE is likely to be disproved or falsified. The objection is to your rather extremely unscientific take on it. You are clinging to ToE with a rigidity that is the antithesis of good science. There are in fact hypothetical circumstances in which ToE would be falsified. That they are exceedingly unlikely is irrelevant – unlikely as it is, the potential remains.

    That said, it really is exceedingly unlikely. It would require that a rather massive bar be jumped, a truly magnificent body of evidence would have to be disproved. But when we accept with your rigidity that ToE is that much as absolute, we are accepting a dogmatic approach that is absolutely the same and just as irrational as the most fundamental theist.

    Don’t be a fundie Elmo, science and reason does not need fundamentalism. In fundamentalism lies the seeds for the most magnificent destruction. In fundamentalism lies the seeds for impenetrable hatred. In fundamentalism lies the seeds for everything negative about revealed religion and does not require the good bits.

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  15. Maybe I should have explained things in a more linear way and without digressions into attempted humor, but the last two posts continue to miss the point. Well, see you around.

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  16. “I’m even scarier than PZ!”

    Not “over here”. You’re on the other side of that little pond.

    “In practical terms, it is not falsifiable within the confines of science,”

    In practical terms, theories that are actually true will almost never get falsified. But if the theory was actually false, then someone, somewhere might discover something that would be evidence that it was false. So, if such evidence is conceivable, then the theory is falsifiable. I can conceive of “anti-gravity”, so if it is discovered, then the theory of gravity will need to be modified.

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  17. Elmo,
    The germ theory of disease is also extremely well supported by evidence and unlikely to be falsified any time soon. Should we be more open-minded about the humour theory of disease?

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  18. Elmo –

    It is not me who is misunderstanding here. It’s simple – there is always the potential that any scientific theory will be disproved. Thus it is that ToE is falsifiable, in much the same way that the germ theory of disease is falsifiable. Who knows? We may well discover that there is a god, that god has been fucking with us (or “allowing” Satan to fuck with us) and all that evidence really is a load of crap. Could be that all of a sudden it will be quite apparent that disease really actually is demonic in nature, that ToE is a load of shit and holy shit, the world is flat – resting on the backs of four (five?) elephants that in turn are riding a great cosmic turtle. While this is highly unlikely (well, except for the last bit), it is a glimmer of a possibility. Or (and probably more unlikely) maybe the germs really do thrive around the actual diseases we think they cause, instead of causing the diseases that folks get.

    All of that is exceedingly unlikely. It is probably more likely that I will wake up tomorrow, having been imbued with the ability to make things float by the power of my mind and start shitting gold bricks (not terribly likely, unfortunate, as I am about to lose my current home and probably have to drag my family across country back to midwestern hell). But it certainly is a wee glimmer of a possibility and while it is such – or there is any glimmer of a possibility we are actually wrong, it is falsifiable.

    Let me reiterate; rigid adherence to absolutes – even exceedingly likely absolutes that are supported by mountains of evidence, is fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is ugly, even when the fundamentalist is likely correct in their assertions. Fundamentalism and it’s bastard child, ideological purity are responsible for the vast majority of ills in the world, the rest are the result of malfunctioning brains.

    And because I love pedantry (who doesn’t really?), actually the theory of evolution has been falsified and completely restructured – more than once. Ultimately, it is probably being falsified right now and we will change the state of our understanding. I know that there are significant debates going on about lots of aspects of ToE and there probably always will be. In just the time I have been out of highschool (sixteen years) the text has been updated several times and what a kid learns now is rather different than what I learned about. Not because I didn’t get taught ToE, not because better people write the text books – it’s because our fundamental understanding of how evolution functions is very different today

    And guess what? The germ theory of disease, that’s changed too. Not as drastically as ToE, but then GToD is not quite as complex (at least not in the same way), as ToE.

    Full Disclosure; I’m not a scientist, I’m a high school dropout (I also like to curse a lot, not very genteel).

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