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Thursday, August 16, 2007

It has begun #2

Scott, always more civil towards skeptics than most of his fellow evolutionists, replies on Monkey Trials:

PZ thinks Vox's argument is, well, phony. He claims that Vox has lifted a remark from Gingerich as to the amount of generations it might take to evolve an elephant from a mouse (Vox didn't specify sources in his original post), and he thinks that the argument depends upon a distorted understanding of how biologists measure rates of evolution. Whatever one thinks of this argument, I have to admit that I haven't heard this particular line of reasoning before. I wonder what Phil Gingerich might think about this? I think I shall ask him!

Vox, with an update to his original post, thinks PZ didn't read his argument very carefully and suggests that evolutionary experts should provide a prediction as to how long such a transition might actually take place, at the end of which time we should collect our Nobel Prizes.

At any rate, Vox used both a personal anecdote as well as this example as an explanation of the gnawing misgivings he has about evolution and natural selection. I'm still not sure what he thinks the actual status of these items shall be from his reply, but (no surprise) I think we can rule out any pan-adapationist orientation from Vox. Before I reply further, I think I would like to give Vox a chance to ask me any sort of follow-up question on this topic.

Dr. PZ is exhibiting his customary intellectual clumsiness. How is my argument "phony" in any sense of the word? And one wonders how he derives innumeracy from a single example of correctly applied math, especially when he managed to come up with a different result. It seems math is hard for butterfly collectors! As for the the information, it came, as I stated in the original post, from Talk Origins, specifically Douglas Theobald's 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution, section 5.7, which cites Gingerich, Reznick, Williams, Rightmire and others.

Anyhow, Scott asks if I have any questions for him. Here's a few simple ones to start:

1. Do you understand the difference between a historical model and a predictive model? If you don't mind, would you quickly explain to those having problems understanding the difference why this is relevant to a discussion of evolution? And which type of model, in your opinion, is a better description of the current state of Neo-Darwinian theory?

2. Is Talk Origins a reliable source? I seem to have come under an amount of criticism for relying on it. If it is unreliable, can you suggest an acceptable one?

3. Is the acceptable margin of error greater for economics or evolution? (It's much larger for both than people realize.) What margin of error is too great to allow a discipline to be reasonably considered a science?

4. A change in the frequency of alleles within a population is the genetic definition of evolution. What is the genetic definition of speciation? Are nucleotide substitutions to be regarded as the genetic equivalent to darwins? If not, what would be a reasonable definition of a "mendel" that would allow us to track the average rate of genetic evolution as one species transforms into another?

5. Is it correct to say that "we just don't see clear evidence of speciation in the fossil record"? This appears to contradict what I have been taught about evolution since elementary school.

6. Based on the number of known species, the aforementioned darwins/year required for a significant transformation and the average rate of darwins observed in the wild, I calculate there should be an average of 194.6 166.5 new species evolving each year. Is this correct? If not, how many new species evolve in the average year? Perhaps PZ would care to double-check my math.... (The math was fine, but I was thinking in terms of time, not velocity, on the first run through.)

And for those evolutionary fundamentalists who can't seem to understand that this is a debate about EVOLUTION, please understand that however tempting it might be to avoid uncomfortable questions and turn the discussion towards Creation Science, Intelligent Design, game design, God, George Bush or the Iraqi Occupation, none of those subjects have anything to do with my debate with Scott. Evolution must stand or fall on its own merits; to assume the inherent truth of anything based on one's ignorance of an alternative is a basic logical fallacy.

UPDATE: Scott begins his response.

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