Science and anti-Science
Please send any reasoned disagreements to me.
If your facts and logic are convincing, I'll change my mind !
People should believe facts and reality,
not lies and delusions and scams.
Science And Religion section
(including ESP, Astrology, Quack Remedies)
What Science Says section
Evolution, and Science section
My guesses at historical roots of anti-science attitudes, in order:
- Galileo and the telescope (and Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, etc).
1600's. First time the Catholic Church perceived science as a direct threat to their doctrine and power ?
Showed that the heavens weren't full of perfect spheres, Earth wasn't the center, there were things
not described in the Bible or known by the Church, etc.
- Franklin and the lightning-rod.
From "The Wrong Kind of Snow: How the Weather Made Britain" by Antony Woodward and Robert Penn
[On June 18 1764, the steeple of St. Bride's church in London was struck by lightning. One of many
prominent church-steeple-strikes over the decades that had done serious damage, collapsing steeples and
The event has huge consequences. St. Bride's is a site of antiquity. The first Christian church
is built here in the sixth century and seven churches follow ... [After the strike] King George III
consults the American polymath Benjamin Franklin, famous for his groundbreaking experiments
conducting lightning. ...
The concept of a lightning "attractor" or rod, which renders the uncontrollable force of a storm harmless,
is hugely controversial. It challenges a fundamental aspect of Protestant and Catholic theological
meteorology - that storms are delivered by the "Prince of the Power of Air", Satan himself, and the
only means to resist them is through prayer. Franklin is an arch-infidel, according to people like
John Wesley. In the heated eighteenth-century struggle between science and religion, the lightning
rod is an excellent weapon. And it works.
- Workers against automation.
Luddites (1810's) and others reacted against job loss or change of jobs due to use of machinery.
- Gas warfare (mustard gas, chlorine gas) and machine-guns in WW I.
- Evolution (Scopes trial, 1925). The start of USA Christianity labeling Science as the enemy of Christianity.
- Gas chambers, and massive fire-bombing of civilian cities, in WW II.
- Atom bombs in WW II.
Incredibly powerful new weapons, horrible effects on Japanese civilians,
terrifying invisible radiation. Spawned anti-nuclear movement.
- Cold War / missile gap / Cuban missile crisis / space race.
Fear whipped up by the military-industrial complex, so they could build and sell more weapons.
- Thalidomide (1961).
- Industrial pollution.
Point sources such as Love Canal (1970's; wikipedia's "Love Canal").
General situations such as Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" (1962), or DDT.
Big oil spills in the oceans. Smog.
- Vietnam War.
Agent Orange, napalm, carpet bombing. On TV.
- Tobacco industry.
Major attack on science as a defense against lawsuits and changing public opinion.
From wikipedia's "Tobacco politics":
"The first major study that showed the causal link between smoking and lung cancer was published in a study done by Sir Richard Doll in 1950."
Insufferable Intolerance's "3 Things That Science Deniers Don't Understand About Themselves"
John Timmer's "Ars Science Q&A: How to deal with science denialists"
Skeptical Raptor's "Science denier indicators - the pseudoscience bullsh*t meter"
Steven Novella's "Liberal vs Conservative Antiscience"
Atul Gawande's "The Mistrust of Science"
My guesses at modern USA roots of anti-government and conspiracy attitudes:
- J. Edgar Hoover (1920's to 1970's).
Started out fighting anarchists, using mass arrests and deportations.
Soon saw Communists and homosexuals everywhere, and worked to persecute them.
Later broadened the fight to personal enemies, political dissidents, and the civil rights movement.
Used illegal methods, and secret files.
Wikipedia's "J. Edgar Hoover"
- McCarthyism (1950).
Whipping up fear of Communists everywhere, in government and Hollywood, for political advantage.
- JFK assassination (1963).
Very popular president, hints of Mafia and Cuban and Soviet involvement.
Followed by assassinations of MLK and Robert Kennedy.
- Vietnam War.
Tonkin Bay deception, lies about body-counts and casualties and atrocities and secret bombing and imminent victory.
Class discrimination in the draft rules.
- Watergate (1973).
Dirty tricks against enemies and other political party, CIA involvement, lies by President and top men.
Dangers from anti-science attitudes:
Some people think the government or "scientists" are
conspiring to hide alien UFO's or to ignore ESP. But:
- Our government has proved itself totally
incompetent at keeping its biggest secrets
(atom bomb secrets, names of agents in Russia, diplomatic cables, etc).
Why should it be amazingly competent at hiding alien UFO's ?
In the last 60 years this is supposed to have gone on,
at least one minimum-wage security guard
or dirt-poor enlisted man would have sold some real,
testable evidence to a tabloid. A piece of metal alloy no one's ever seen before.
A piece of alien flesh totally unlike any animal on Earth.
Similarly, the record is full of cases where the CIA failed to predict coming
world events (fall of Shah of Iran, fall of Berlin Wall, breakup of Soviet Union, 9/11). Cases
where major covert government efforts failed (decades of attempts to assassinate Castro).
- If our government really had amazing secret technologies,
wouldn't it have used them against our enemies ? Don't you think our
government and military used every tool they had against North Vietnam,
or the Soviet Union, or Saddam Hussein, or Osama bin Laden ?
- "The government" is not a monolithic organization.
Not only are there multiple "governments" (local, county, state, federal),
but often people and agencies within each government body are in heated competition
with each other. They fight over offices, budgets, committee assignments, perks, jurisdiction, power, promotions.
They leak to media to make the other side or the other guy look bad.
Within the CIA, within the military, within the Congress, within the White House,
there is competition and conflict and backstabbing. There's no way they could
all set aside their differences to keep some big nasty political secret for any length of time.
And they'd have plenty of evidence to show when they revealed it, to protect themselves.
- "Scientists" are not a monolithic body;
they fight among themselves constantly, compete with
each other for money and positions and lab space,
and pride themselves on being mavericks and independents.
Besides, there are tens of thousands of graduate students
and associate professors desperately looking for
something new that would make them famous; they'd love to get a
Nobel prize for being the first to prove ESP or alien UFO's are real.
If they were real.
- It doesn't help their credibility that many people who claim to
know the "real truth" about alien UFO's, for example, also claim to know
the "real truth" about the Kennedy assassination,
the moon landings, Roswell, Area 51,
the Illuminati, the prophecies of Nostradamus, the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg group,
TWA flight 800, HIV/AIDS, Princess Diana's death, global climate change,
HAARP, chemtrails, FEMA death camps, the "mainstream media", Obama's birth certificate,
crop circles, cattle mutilations, and every other possible
conspiracy. Not likely.
- It doesn't help their credibility that many people who claim to
know the "real truth" about something disagree with each other.
They're united in "the official explanation is a lie", but completely contradict
each other on what the "real truth" is.
From Marin Cogan's "The Last Stand of the JFK Truthers":
"According to an upcoming History Channel documentary, 311 distinct conspiracy theories
point blame at 42 groups, 81 assassins, and 214 people."
- It is revealing that, mere hours after a major incident occurs, a dozen conspiracy-theories about it
have been created. The theorists aren't waiting to hear facts or working to find facts; they're making things up.
- Some of the people pushing these theories are making money from it (Alex Jones, Glenn Beck, various TV shows, etc).
They are making money by fooling people.
See my Conspiracy Theories page
Why do some people hate the government or "science" so much ?
- People fear/hate things they don't understand.
- People fear/hate things in authority over them, things that
tell them what to do, things that extract taxes from them.
- People who are in pain because of job loss or other failure want
to find someone else to blame for their troubles. They want to blame their failure
on some malicious or complicated thing. The same feeling lies behind much racism,
nationalism, anti-immigrant feelings, anti-globalism, gun rights advocacy, etc.
It's much more satisfying to feel oppressed or victimized than to just be a loser.
And you get to be part of a group of like-minded people, not just alone with your own troubles.
(based on 2009 study)
Daniel Denvir's "GOP Assault on Truth: Why Do Conservatives Pretend They Know More About Science Than Scientists?"
Sean McElwee's "Yes Virginia, The GOP Is Anti-Science"
Andy Borowitz's "Republicans Consider Welcoming People Who Believe in Math and Science"
Exaggerating or hyping science stories is counter-productive:
Some recent stories that have been exaggerated or hyped:
- "NASA is building a warp drive !"
Reality: a scientist has theorized that elementary-particle-sized space-time bubbles
might be possible, and proposed some kind of diffraction experiment to test it.
Far, far, FAR from "building a warp drive".
- "We can make a light-saber!"
Reality: someone demonstrated some kind of binding of two photons.
- "Asteroid mining to start in 2016 !"
Reality: a company hopes to launch a satellite in 2016 to start watching
asteroids pass by. If they can track asteroids, maybe a decade later they'll
be able to have a vehicle intercept an asteroid and study it.
Maybe a decade after that, they can try altering the orbit of an asteroid.
- "All of the great electronics we have today come from NASA and the space program !"
Reality: Most of the "spinoffs" claimed for the manned space program actually came from elsewhere.
Some from WW II (RADAR, jet engines, computers sort of), some from military or telecomm industries
(missiles, satellites, transistors, integrated circuits, etc). Some from the unmanned part of NASA.
The new technologies specific to the MANNED space program are small in number, and mostly developed in the 1960's.
And NASA always was a "niche" consumer of new electronics and materials; the military and telecomm
industries (and now the consumer electronics industry) were far bigger and more influential drivers.
Michio Kaku went on book tour 3/2014 to sell his book "The Future of the Mind", and said all kinds of wild things
about future brain technology we MAY have someday. Copying a brain to disk, controlling a human's behavior completely,
downloading new memories and skills into a human brain, etc. We've taken only the barest minimal
steps toward any of this today. Yet he's hyping it as if we'll have it all in 20 years or something.
And he's extrapolating wildly on every one of the capabilities. Much of it may never work to anywhere near
the degree he's talking about.
This kind of exaggeration will cause the public to feel fooled, and increase
distrust of science and science journalism.
From Dave Barry's "Year in Review 2012":
"In science news, a group of physicists announces that, after decades of research costing billions of dollars,
they believe they have confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson, which according to them is an extremely
exciting tiny invisible thing next to which all the other bosons pale by comparison. This is breathlessly
reported as major news by journalists who majored in English and whose knowledge of science is derived
exclusively from making baking-soda volcanoes in third grade. Back in the lab, the physicists enjoy a
hearty scientific laugh, then resume the important work of thinking up names for exciting new invisible
things they can announce the discovery of."
Science And Religion
Can science and religion co-exist ?
Sure, but that doesn't mean they're equally true or valid. There is one science, tied to and
verified by testing against the real world. There are a thousand religions, all artificial (most likely),
actively resisting any kind of testing, denying the power of reason, insisting on blind faith,
shutting their eyes to any contrary opinion or fact. Sure, science and all of the thousand religions
But as soon as any religion gets specific
about the real world, it tends to conflict with science, or just be wrong.
Unless you really torture the language to take most meaning out of it, the Bible conflicts with science and reality.
Religions on the Creation
For example, science has proved that the Universe and Earth are far older than the Bible says.
Human genomics shows that we are not descended from just two original humans.
Richard Dawkins says interesting things about religion and science:
> I find it disappointing that so many scientists want
> to rule out the existence of god, rather than keep an
> open mind, as surely to be a good scientist you should
> be willing to consider all possibilities.
You completely misunderstand the nature of science.
Science is a process of putting forward a hypothesis on the basis of logic
or some observational evidence, then collecting further evidence, comparing
it to the predictions of the hypothesis being tested, then either modifying
the initial hypothesis or discarding it, then proposing a new hypothesis.
The scientific process is not about treating all possibilities, however
ridiculous and unsupported by logic or observational evidence, as being equally
valid and only discarding a possibility when evidence is found that does not support it.
When theologians can provide unequivocal evidence that an aspect of the Universe,
or a process operating within it, is the work of a divine supernatural being, then
science will examine that evidence against the predictions of the "god" hypothesis
and accept or reject it. Thus far no evidence has been found that requires a supernatural
explanation of the phenomena or process, not even creation of the Universe.
The persistence of those that believe in a god or gods in the face of an absence of
evidence for divine actions is what characterises religion and distinguishes science from dogma.
Thus far science has found no need to invoke the existence of a god or gods as an explanation
of the Universe, what exists and happens within it.
From Jerry Coyne's "Emperor Has No Clothes Award" acceptance speech
The problem I call "accommodationism" is increasingly widespread in the U.S.
It's the view that science and religion are buddies. They answer different kinds of questions
but in different spheres but they can be harmonious, and maybe they can help each other
or mutually reinforce each other. I think that's completely bogus.
Why is there widespread opposition to evolution? We don't have widespread opposition to black holes
or gravity or antibiotics. It's because evolution hits you in the solar plexus if you're religious.
It attacks the most powerful argument for god that ever existed, which is the design argument.
... The false idea is that religion can produce knowledge. Religion doesn't increase any kind of knowledge. Science does. ...
... Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
That's the way religious people "know" stuff. They just find it in their heads through intuition.
Or they're taught it by their parents.
Religious ideas don't change by finding out more stuff about nature. Religion does not progress
in its understanding of the divine, if there were a divine. Theology or religion changes because
of two things: Science shows it's wrong, which is what happened with evolution and Adam and Eve
and the flood stories. Or secular morality forces religion to change because they just can't
stand up against secular ways of morality ... Things like gay rights and rights of women have been
pushed on churches by changes in secular views, not by religious people themselves.
In science, faith is a vice. In religion, faith is a virtue. In science, there are ways of
knowing that you're wrong. I could give you a list of evidence that would convince me that
evolution was wrong: fossils in the wrong place, adaptations in one species that are only useful
for another species, a whole list of them. None has ever been found.
... there are scientists, good scientists, who are religious ... This doesn't show compatibility
in anything more than a trivial sense. What it shows is that as humans we have an amazing ability
to hold two different contradictory concepts in our mind. ... It shows cognitive dissonance.
It doesn't show compatibility.
The incompatibility rests then on three things. First is the methodology. In science we are
wedded to nondivine explanations for a natural phenomenon. We don't sit there and pray for an answer.
We go into our labs or out in the field and look for stuff. And that works! We actually find things out,
like antibiotics and how to fly to the moon. We can make predictions.
[Second is the philosophical] view that since assuming there's nothing supernatural has helped us make
so much progress, then there must not be anything supernatural, because assuming there is a supernatural
hasn't helped us one iota in understanding anything about the universe.
[Third:] When science and religion interrogate nature, you get different results.
Some examples of things that are religious truths are the creation myth, the great flood,
the efficacy of prayer, the afterlife, etc. Science doesn't support the existence of these things. ...
... It could be scripture did give us an accurate scientific understanding of the world, but it didn't.
If it's inspired by god, then you have to ask yourself "why not?"
The answer from theologians to what I just said is invariably this: But the bible isn't a textbook of science;
it's not meant to tell scientific truth.
When you hear that, you have to reinterpret it as this: The bible is not true. That's what they mean
when they say it's not a textbook of science.
There is another palpable difference between science and religion. What do you do when you make an
assertion about the world that you know turns out to be false? In science it goes into the dustbin
of discarded results like cold fusion or any number of falsified theories.
When a religious claim is falsified like creation or Adam and Eve, [religious people] simply turn it
into a metaphor. "We didn't really mean it, folks. It wasn't meant that way. It means something else completely."
... religion doesn't tell us anything about reality. It tells us what's imagined or desired, not what is out there.
Does religion produce truth? No. I've interrogated readers on my website about this for three years
by asking them "Give me one example about the truth of the universe that religion has produced."
I should start offering a prize for that. There's never been an answer, at least one that makes sense.
From Ask An Atheist's "The Failures of Faith"
People often have discussions about whether scientific theories like evolution are compatible with religion.
The answer is that it depends on the religion. But if you were to ask if science is compatible with faith,
then the answer is simply, "No". It isn't.
Science and faith are incompatible, because they are diametrically opposite methods for determining truth.
When science finds a question that it cannot answer, it honestly says "I don't know".
It doesn't end there, because an "I don't know" is an invitation to exploration, examination and discovery.
This refusal to make assumptions is the opposite of faith. Faith looks at an unanswered question
and pretends to know the answer to it. It asserts much about things we don't actually know. Sometimes
it even makes assertions in the face of contrary evidence.
Let's define faith. Faith is claiming knowledge of something not because you have evidence for it,
but because you really want it to be true.
The problem with faith existing as one of many methods in a search for truth is that faith
is just speculation without the need for investigation or evidence. It's just the assertion
of fact without the proof to back it up.
[Science has given us both dangerous knowledge and beneficial knowledge. But:]
Faith-based thinking is in the exact same place that it was in the Dark Ages, where its
best achievements are comforting lies about things that no human being could possibly know.
"Science adjusts its views based on what's observed.
Faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved."
-- Tim Minchin
Jerry A. Coyne's "Why Scientists Have No Faith in Science"
Lawrence M. Krauss's "All Scientists Should Be Militant Atheists"
Benjamin Frankin on Faith and Reason
And then there's simple willful ignorance:
A lot of people seem to think it's a binary choice, either science or Christianity must be true, it's one or the other,
so they attack science.
No, there is science and then there are hundreds or thousands of religions. Science or any one of the religions could
be true, or they all could be wrong and something else could be right. Science happens to be the one that matches the facts.
; religion doesn't.
God is my pilot
In response to Why do they believe that in defiance of the facts ?
Religious people get all kinds of benefits from believing what their community tells them to believe,
from not rocking the boat, not irritating people. If the priest/church/Bible says to believe in Creationism,
why not believe in it ? Doesn't really cost them anything, gives benefits.
Various modes of thinking:
[Generally from least productive or useful, to most:]
- Religion, superstition.
- Guessing / random.
- Tradition / inertia (do what we've always done).
I had no idea: some people say science came from Christianity !
There were scientists before there was Christianity: ancient Egyptians and Greeks and Romans and more.
Jim Walker's "The Myth of Christianity Founding Modern Science and Medicine"
N. S. Gill's "Inventions and Discoveries of Ancient Greek Scientists"
Crystalink$ "Ancient Egyptian Science and Technology"
Wikipedia's "History of science and technology in China"
Wikipedia's "History of science in early cultures"
I don't know if/when any of these pre-Christian societies actually codified
the "scientific method". But they did science (experiments, observations, reasoning) and technology and engineering.
Science flourished in Europe starting around 1600's DESPITE Christianity, not BECAUSE of Christianity.
Most European scientists then were Christians because in many countries, people HAD to be Christians, or suffer punishment.
The Church fought desperately against the findings of Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, etc, and lost.
The Christian, Biblical view of the universe (perfect unchanging objects and spheres,
Earth in a privileged position, etc) was proven to be wrong. Later, the Church fought
against Science on other subjects (ages of Earth and universe, Evolution), and again was proven wrong.
Today, the Church still is an obstructive force on scientific matters (stem-cell research, Evolution).
The search for "meaning":
Some people say science can tell you how the world works, but "the meaning
of life, the universe and everything" is the province of religion. Thus
religion and science are not in conflict, and religion is needed, etc.
In "Travels" by Michael Crichton
he says people want to know "why", and
science can't answer that question.
But maybe there is NO built-in meaning. Maybe life and the universe just "happened".
Would that be horrible and unacceptable ? Why ? Would that mean that we should
all just give up and go crazy and commit suicide ?
Science doesn't say "there is no meaning". It says "there is no good evidence that there is any meaning".
If someone comes up with evidence, Science will change it's view.
And suppose we concede that there must be meaning, and science says nothing about meaning.
Does that imply that religion
must be the right way to find meaning ? And does
it imply that the "meaning" from your
favorite religion is the right one, out of the hundreds of human religions ?
Religion does not "answer" the question of "why". Religion dictates a belief to you, but has no
real foundation for that belief. It is not giving you a valid "answer".
Never see a church with free Wi-Fi
Religions in the future
From Slashdot article:
... 7 clear signs that show something to be pseudoscientific:
- The use of psychobabble - words that sound scientific and professional but are used incorrectly, or in a misleading manner.
- A substantial reliance on anecdotal evidence.
- Extraordinary claims in the absence of extraordinary evidence.
- Claims which cannot be proven false.
- Claims that counter established scientific fact.
- Absence of adequate peer review.
- Claims that are repeated despite being refuted.
ESP (Extra-Sensory Perception):
Very interesting book partly about this: "Travels" by Michael Crichton
99% of claims of ESP probably are fraud or delusions, designed to make
money or fame. There have been some cases which seem fairly solid.
But there are standing offers of large cash prizes for anyone who can demonstrate ESP in
a laboratory, and the prizes have gone unclaimed.
Wikipedia's "List of prizes for evidence of the paranormal"
There may well be faint signals produced by the body and brain,
that can be received by other bodies or brains. Science may be able to
detect and explain these in the future. This might explain telepathy or
mind-reading or "auras". This wouldn't be too surprising; we have lots of
other examples of faint signals in science (electricity, gravity, light, pheromones, etc).
Some animals and plants can sense or react to things (magnetic fields, electric fields, subsonic vibration) that we think humans can't
sense, but suppose humans do
have some very basic subconscious ability to sense those things ?
We have some "senses" we don't usually think about, such as time sense, body position sense (proprioception),
skin heat sense, pain sense (nociception). We use some of our other senses in ways we don't usually realize (echolocation via hearing).
Perhaps we can "taste" chemicals or pheromones in the air, sense changes in humidity or barometric pressure or gravity,
sense sub-sonics or other vibrations, etc. We can "read" the body language or faces of other humans, to varying degrees;
perhaps we can sub-consciously read their breathing, their scent, etc also.
ESP involving information about the future is harder to explain; no known
phenomenon involves signals from the future to the present. But maybe
science will find such a signal. Or maybe that kind of ESP is untrue.
Same for "messages from the dead".
Brian Palmer's "Investigative Intuition (Do psychics ever solve crimes?)"
You don't have to be an "official scientist" to do a scientific experiment to test ESP.
Here are some tests you could do if you or a friend thinks they have ESP:
- A test of premonitions:
Every single time you have
a premonition that something will happen, write it down immediately,
with the date and as many specifics as you can.
Keep the list of them for a while
(maybe a year), and see how many have come true.
- A test of mind-reading:
Person who claims to read minds (MR) and person to be read (X)
sit down together with a piece of paper and a deck of playing cards.
X shuffles the cards, pulls one out, and looks at it without letting MR see it.
MR writes down what suit (clubs, diamonds, hearts, spades) they think it is, based on what they "read" from X's mind.
No vagueness allowed, no changing their choice afterward, just write down the answer.
X shows the card, marks what MR wrote as True or False.
X puts the card back into the deck, shuffles, repeats the process.
After doing this a fairly large number of times, say 100, see if the score is much different from 25% right (random chance).
If you get 40% right, I think you have a positive result.
But, heck, if mind-reading really works, shouldn't you get 80% right or more ?
- A test of communicating with the dead (seances, etc):
Relative of dead person writes down several specific questions to be asked of the dead person
by the "medium", and writes the answers too (don't show to the medium):
In the seance, get the medium to ask those questions of the dead person, and
if they can't get specific, correct answers, they fail.
Don't let them guess a whole lot of answers until they happen to hit one that's correct;
why shouldn't the dead person know the right answer on the first try ?
- What were the names of your brothers and sisters ?
- What were manufacturers and model names of a couple of the cars you owned ?
- What was the name of a pet your family owned ?
- Name a company you worked for.
From Skeptoid's "Prove Your Supernatural Power and Get Rich"
... we all want superpowers. We all want your supernatural ability to be proven true.
And we want it so much that a large number of groups around the world will pay you to prove it.
... many members of the [testing] groups joined because they, too, have always dreamed of having a superpower.
Should you win the money and prove that a supernatural ability is possible, you'll not only turn the world
on its head, you'll be handed money by people who have never been happier to sign a check.
... I encourage you to go for it. Nearly everyone is rooting for you. We human beings have looked in a
lot of places trying to find real magic or real superpowers, and we haven't found any yet. I hope, for all
our sakes, that you will be the one who does.
Horoscopes, Astrology, the Zodiac:
From Wikipedia's "Astrology"
While astrology may bear a superficial resemblance to science, it is a pseudoscience because
it makes little attempt to develop solutions to its problems, shows no concern for the evaluation
of competing theories, and is selective in considering confirmations and dis-confirmations.
Contemporary science considers astrology a pseudoscience. Criticisms include that astrology
is conjectural and supplies no hypotheses, proves difficult to falsify, and describes natural
events in terms of scientifically untestable supernatural causes.
Astrology has repeatedly failed to demonstrate its effectiveness in controlled studies,
according to the American Humanist Society. The group characterised those who continue
to have faith in astrology as doing so "in spite of the fact that there is no verified scientific
basis for their beliefs, and indeed that there is strong evidence to the contrary."
One well-documented and referenced paper, for instance, which conducted a large-scale scientific test,
involving more than one hundred cognitive, behavioral, physical and other variables, found no support for astrological accuracy.
In 1953, philosopher Theodor W. Adorno conducted a study of the astrology column of a Los Angeles newspaper
as part of a project examining mass culture in capitalist society. Adorno concluded that astrology was a
large-scale manifestation of systematic irrationalism, where individuals were subtly being led to believe
that the author of the column was addressing them directly through the use of flattery and vague generalizations.
... Shawn Carlson's double-blind chart matching tests in which he challenged 28 astrologers
to match over 100 natal charts to psychological profiles generated by the California Psychological Inventory (CPI) test.
When Carlson's study was published in Nature in 1985, his conclusion was that predictions based on natal astrology
were no better than chance, and that the testing "clearly refutes the astrological hypothesis".
From The Straight Dope's "Is astrology for real ?"
Studies have shown that
(1) astrologers trying to deduce someone's personality from his chart do no better than chance;
(2) astrologers studying the same chart come to opposite conclusions as often as not;
(3) the birth dates of people with occupations linked to certain signs (e.g., politicians, scientists, soldiers)
are in fact randomly distributed throughout the zodiac; and
(4) couples with "incompatible" signs get married and divorced at the same rate as compatible couples.
The fact is, people who want to believe in astrology will convince themselves it works no matter what.
In one study of 22 astrology buffs, half were presented with their real horoscopes and half were
presented with fake charts saying the exact opposite. Both groups said their horoscopes were 96 to 97 percent accurate.
My response to someone who says astrology is "one of the foundational sciences", because various early scientists
also were astrologers, and astrology is embedded in various historical parts of science:
Yes, some of science grew out of astrology, as science grew out of superstition and religion and alchemy
and culture and economics too. And many early scientists were also astrologers, just as today
a few scientists maybe still are, and many scientists today definitely are religious. But that doesn't
mean that either astrology or religion is "a science".
The crucial difference is that science is based on TESTABILITY, testing against reality.
That is why astrology is not a science: it doesn't use testing and testability.
And in fact astrology fails tests against reality. So as well as not being a science, it's not true, either.
[Astrology also doesn't try to come up with new ideas (and test them), which is another
reason it's not a science. It's just a static system of (incorrect) knowledge.]
There are multiple astrological systems: Western, Indian, Chinese. And in Western astrology you
could have a basic sun-sign analysis, or a "full" analysis. And there were older systems:
Babylonian, Hellenistic, Medieval Islamic. I doubt they all agree all of the time, so most (or all) of them must be wrong.
From Skeptoid's "All About Astrology"
Most astrology systems rely on "houses", basically chunks of sky corresponding to each constellation.
When a planet moves through a particular house, it's supposed to have a meaning different from when it's
in another house. Unfortunately, there are all sorts of varying systems for defining where these houses
are (Campaneus, Regiomontanus, and Placidean are the most popular methods in Western astrology), and
every astrology system around the world has a completely different interpretation of what the houses mean.
But these only scratch the surface. Most astrological systems are extraordinarily complex, requiring years
of study to master, and take many details into account ...
While it's possible for astrologers to precisely codify exactly how their system is to be used,
there are so many different systems, and so many different schools of thought within each, that there
are probably as many different ways of doing astrology than there are astrologers.
Every single school of thought contradicts another, and every overall system often profoundly
contradicts the others. The question "How is astrology done?" has only one right answer:
It depends on who your astrologer is.
Some people try to make astrology seem legitimate by throwing in a lot of trendy scientific buzzwords (such as chaos theory, fractals,
quantum) to claim a scientific basis. That's all a distraction; all that matters is "does astrology work ?".
And the answer so far is "no".
A simple test of horoscopes: go to a big library and read your
horoscope for last week or last month in every magazine and newspaper you can find,
omitting the ones that come from the same syndications (have exactly
the same wording). Write
down the major points of each one. Then look at the whole
list; are there contradictions ? Why ? And why do some
of your horoscopes mention one thing strongly while others
don't mention it at all ?
Even simpler test of horoscopes: have a friend clip today's horoscopes out of a newspaper,
cut each "sign" into a separate piece, note which one is for your sign, black out or cut off the names of the signs, and shuffle the pieces.
Then hand the clippings to you; can you tell which horoscope is for you ? Which one matches your situation or personality ?
Horoscopes almost always are vague, and often very long. They never say something simple and direct
and testable: "You will find a $20 bill on the sidewalk this week". It's usually "Love interest is possible
this month, but may be disappointing. Mercury indicates a focus on money. Ceres in the Third House
means your career could use some improvement. Green is a good color for you." It's a scattergun approach, trying to lead you
to stretch events in your life to fit the horoscope and say "wow, it's right !".
Another way of thinking about horoscopes:
There are about 7 billion people on Earth.
Assuming random distribution of birthdates, about 1/12th will be Cancers, 1/12th Pisces, 1/12th Gemini's, etc.
So you share
your sign of the Zodiac with about 7/12 billion, or about 583 million people.
So when you read today's horoscope for your sign, it's not just for you
for you and 583 million other people. So, for example, if it says you're going to meet a tall, dark, handsome stranger,
it means you and 583 million others are all going to meet tall, dark, handsome strangers !
Little reliable info, but many estimates that about 1/3 of people really believe horoscopes are true.
Some info in:
George Dvorsky's "Why Believing In Astrology Is Not As Harmless As You Think"
And it varies by culture:
Rahul Tandon's "Astrologers look to the stars to help Indian businesses"
About.com's "Astrology: Art or Science?"
About.com's "Astrology FAQ: Who Cares?"
About.com's "Is Astrology a Pseudoscience?"
Relatively Interesting's "Astrology and Horoscopes Debunked"
Understanding Science's "Astrology: Is it scientific?"
Ishmael N. Daro's "The unparalleled nonsense of astrology"
Skeptoid's "How to Spot Pseudoscience"
Robert Matthews' "Astrologers Fail To Predict Proof They Are Wrong"
Madhavankutty Pillai's "The Scientific Case against Astrology"
Skeptico's "Testing Astrology – Again"
Washington Times's "Comprehensive study of 'time twins' debunks astrology"
Astrology & Science's "The Scientific Exploration of Astrology"
Skeptic's Dictionary's "Forer effect"
Chris Mooney's "More and More Americans Think Astrology Is Science"
Skeptoid's "All About Astrology"
Bad Astronomy's "Astrology"
Astrological blood transfusion
Sign at planetarium
Ah, the morning horoscope.
"Today will be a day like every other day"
D'oh! It just gets worse and worse.
-- Homer Simpson
From "Mr. Monk and the Two Assistants"
On Friday morning, my horoscope didn't say anything about unpredictability or romance.
Instead, it told me I was creative and resourceful.
It was nice to hear, but I prefer my horoscopes to tell me the future,
not offer me insights into my personality.
I rely on fortune cookies for that.
From Liz Szabo's "How to guard against a quack"
Tips to spot questionable health providers:
- They claim to have cures no one else knows about.
- They claim that others are trying to suppress their discoveries.
- They want cash upfront.
- The treatment is only available outside the USA, such as in Tijuana, Mexico.
- They make amazing claims.
- They rely on testimonials.
What I wrote in response to a "natural-remedy" claim that seemed like quackery
This sounds like quackery to me because:
1- It gathers in tons of unrelated buzzwords that no consumer really understands or that cover
just about EVERYTHING: anti-oxidant, immune system booster, viral and bacterial and retro-viral infections,
cancer, bowel syndromes, arthritis. The mechanisms of most of these areas are known to some basic level,
and most of them have completely different mechanisms. The list of legitimate medicines/substances
that work across all of these unconnected areas is ZERO. So this is an indicator of likely falsehood.
2- It says nothing about dosage, specific scientific studies, or any downsides whatsoever. All of those
things are hallmarks of real medicines in the real world. Something claimed to work at ANY dose you choose,
with no controlled studies by mainstream people with positive results, and with NO downsides, is likely to be bogus.
3- The subtext of "natural remedy" and anti-establishment. Just because something is "plant-based" or "natural"
doesn't mean it works or is good for you. A shark eating you is natural. Hemlock is natural. Arsenic is natural.
And the subtext is "here's something those smarty-pants scientists don't want you to know about; and don't get me
STARTED about the gummint !"
4- The information source. This posting comes from a guy who also touts another miracle, natural remedy.
Would be interesting to compare the spiel for the benefits of that one to the spiel for this one.
Next month it will probably be some other miracle thing with an enormous list of benefits.
None of this PROVES that this remedy or the prior one is bogus. But it all makes it VERY LIKELY that they are bogus.
[Got back a response that listed the sins of the medical industry and "Big Pharma".]
I agree with everything you say about the medical industry, Big Pharma, etc. They haven't
researched plants enough, go only for big profits, hate herbal remedies, thrive on sickness, etc.
However, that has nothing to do with the specific claims made for this particular natural wonder-substance.
For example, any thing/drug/plant that claims to work on many major, wildly unrelated areas or diseases
probably is bogus. Can you see that ? We know a fair amount about how infections work, for example.
Each virus or viral family is unique, and no anti-viral drug or compound ever invented or found
has worked on more than one type of virus. Bacterial infections work completely differently from
viral infections. HIV is a retro-virus, a very specific thing. Yet this remedy is claimed to work against
many/all of these. This just flies in the face of reason. Can you see that ?
[Got back a response that some plants help multiple conditions, such as cannabis with glaucoma and appetite and more.]
[After some more back-and-forth:]
Would you agree that the burden of proof is on the person making an extraordinary claim ?
And that claiming one thing can cure every disease known to man is an extraordinary claim ?
And that pointing out most bogus wonder-natural-drug notices follow the same pattern
(the 4 items I listed) is not a very extraordinary thing to claim ?
[Got back a response that said the wonder-remedy seemed to be working for a bunch of people he knew.]
But you understand why these anecdotes ("over 15 people on boats here are using the wonder-remedy ...
and ALL claim an improvement in their condition") are useless, right ? Maybe some other
factor accounts for this (maybe the barometer has changed, or humidity, or they all ate
the same better food since they started taking the remedy, or once they started the remedy
they stopped taking something else). Or maybe they feel better, but objective testing would show
some of them actually are worse off (higher blood pressure or something). Or maybe they don't
want to feel like fools for buying it, so they say "yes, it's working". Or maybe they feel
better because they expected to feel better by taking it, and fooling them by giving them
sugar-pills would have produced the same effect. Or maybe they all feel scientists are evil,
and so they're lying about the drug working. Or maybe it really is a wonder-drug.
Can't tell from those reports. That's why scientists do controlled tests, instead of just collecting anecdotes.
What's the list of things NOT cured or helped by this wonder-drug ?
From TheSciNerd on reddit
[Apparently, there was some discussion before this part.]
> please, tell me why a mushroom CAN'T contain medicine?
> Tell me why a mushroom CAN'T contain unique
> polysaccarides that your body will use? Tell me why
> it MUST come from a white pill. You will be wasting
> your breath to tell me that NONE of the compounds
> we use for health can be found naturally and all
> must be synthesized.
We can talk about medicine from mushrooms. The most famous example is penicillin
from the fungus Penicillium chrysogenum. The first attempts at mass production
of penicillin were done with large fermentation cultures of the fungus, and then
the penicillin was purified out.
was written more than 10 years after the first large scale productions for the Army.
Skimming through the data, you'll notice that the peak penicillin production of a fungal
culture was 2,000 units/mL at 8 hours. A normal dose of I.V. penicillin for an adult is
anywhere from 2,000,000 to 24,000,000 units per day, depending on the sensitivity
of the bacteria being treated. A normal course of antibiotics is 10-14 days. Do that math.
So, now you know why, at least for penicillin, how the fungus itself is worthless to medicine,
but mass producing one of its chemicals in a laboratory has made a global impact on human health.
I'm not having this discussion with you to tell you that you are wrong and to rub your nose in it.
I'm talking to you as a skeptic. We are not skeptical enough. If you question everything and
accept nothing without reproducible evidence, you won't be had.
For example, did you know that your anti-medicine/pro-alternative health is not actually a
stick-it-to-the-man grassroots movement that you probably believe it is? The natural medicine
ideal in this country was not only marketed to the American public, but bullishly protected
in Congress by lobbyists paid for by the largest nutritional supplement companies
(e.g. Rexall/Sundown, Nu Skin, etc). The result of their public propaganda campaign
and millions of lobbyist dollars resulted in the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994.
Thanks to the propaganda campaign the act gained a great deal of public support, and was thus passed.
Misguided Americans successfully fought for, and won, their right to be sold unregulated potentially
harmful 'supplements' that promised to cure any and every condition not strictly defined by the
FDA (i.e. Energy supplements are marketed as "alertness aids", because "fatigue" is an FDA-defined condition).
I just wanted to clarify that the "Big Pharma - money/greedy/evil" attitude is equally valid
for the "Big Supplement" companies that push these worthless remedies. And, I say worthless now,
and a tentative truth, as none have been proven through scientific methods (ie. clinical trials)
to show any significant impact on any sort of disease process.
You touched on the idea that medicine comes from nature. You are 100% correct. Medicine as we know it today,
originated from the folk medicine still practiced today by "alternative practitioners". The reason that
Saw Palmetto has been used for hundreds, if not thousands, of years in folk medicine, but it is not used
in Medicine today, is because it doesn't actually do anything. If you are interested in a systematic review
of current available data for any of the "huggaballoo", as you called it, you should look at the
It's an independent non-profit that tries to assess the effectiveness of any 'medicine' available worldwide.
As for not being able to patent novel therapies, that's simply not true. A folk medicine plant can't be patented,
but if anyone actually found a compound or family of compounds in a plant that had some medicinal qualities,
you bet your bum they would patent it. Big and small pharma/biotech companies do exactly this.
They take a 'medicinal plant', use different extraction solvents, and screen their extracts for medicinal compounds.
Even known and previously patented compounds can be re-patented for a different purpose.
Fluoxetine is the drug in Prozac, which was patented and FDA approved for depression.
After the drug went off patent, it was later FDA-approved to treat menopausal symptoms, and re-patented
under the brand name Sarafem. The point here is that, if something works provable (ie. randomized, double-blinded,
placebo-controlled clinical trial), someone is going to patent it and make money.
The brilliant political stunts that the 'supplement' industry pulled off is similar, in that
they are selling a product that is making billions per year, but with two big exceptions:
(1) They don't have to prove their product is safe. (2) They don't have to prove that their product is effective.
Think about what that means.
Thanks to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, I can put dry grass clippings in
a capsule with a bottle that reads, "Ingredients: Organic Bermuda, aerial parts", and sell it to you,
because it will cure your breathing problems.
I write "breathing problems", but because you have asthma, you read "asthma", or you have emphysema, so you read "emphysema".
My Bermuda grass cures asthma. It cures emphysema. It cures lung cancer. If you were born without lungs,
my Bermuda grass would make you sprout fully functional lungs.
I don't need to prove any of that. But, who needs a clinical trial, when we have the living proof of
Ms. Laney Dickinson from St. Louis, MO. She had been suffering from asthma since she was 2 years old.
She was on every medication there is, was hospitalized for numerous asthma attacks throughout her life,
and was being managed by a whole medical team, including Allergists, Immunologists, and Pulmonologists.
Nothing was helping her asthma. So she stopped with Western Medicine, and turned to TheSciNerd's Bermuda grass.
After 3 doses her symptoms subsided, and she now takes my Bermuda grass every day, and she lives asthma-free.
Sound familiar? Complete Bullsh*t, and 100% legal.
Additionally, my neighbor might have sprayed some toxic fertilizer and pesticides on my Bermuda grass.
Luckily, I don't need to prove it's safe before I sell it to you for consumption.
I don't understand how consumers are not more disgusted with supplement companies than pharma companies.
So, let's talk about diet. I am a firm believer in preventing disease with a healthy lifestyle.
That includes diet, exercise, stress reduction, not smoking, not drinking excessively, etc.
I think you'll find it difficult to find a trained health care professional who disagrees.
There are mountains of data supporting healthy lifestyle choices being positive determinants of health,
in terms of disease-free life, quality of life, and longevity. The problem is that the benefits of diets
that prevent disease are being extrapolated into the realm of treating diseases without any evidence
of effectiveness. Is there a place for a modified diet in certain treatment plans? I wouldn't be surprised
if diet could serve to improve outcomes of a disease treatment. Can diet alone cure cancer, as in the two stories you told me? No.
I say, no, because I have never seen any documented evident of a single person being cured of stage 4 lung cancer by eating nuts and berries.
Additionally, if a special diet was curing cancer, the evidence would be literally everywhere – in the news,
in peer-reviewed science/medical journals, being discussed in classrooms all over the world.
It would only take a small proof-of-concept clinical trial to demonstrate that a certain diet can shrink cancer.
It would be so easy, and all of humanity would benefit. There are 'clinics' and 'practitioners' all over the world
that will swear by their diet, and tell you how many patients they have cured. The patients of those clinics
will even tell you that they are cured! However, not one of them has tried to publish their findings under
the scrutiny of peer-review. This is when you should be asking all of those experts why they don't want to
prove to the world that their diet is real. There are two possibilities, either the diet doesn't work,
and they don't want to lose their revenue when the diet is proven false, or their diet works, but they don't
want to share their secrets so that they keep all the revenue! The latter is unlikely, but either way,
screw that guy. He's a money-grubbing jerk.
And, that is really what ALL of this comes down to. Money.
Everybody wants to sell you something.
When it comes to disease I can choose a treatment that has to be proven safe and effective, or I can choose
a treatment that does not need to be proven safe nor effective.
Both of those treatments are being sold by someone who wants my money.
Guess which one I'm choosing.
From Gold, Ames and Slone's "Misconceptions About the Causes of Cancer" (PDF)
The major causes of cancer are: 1) smoking, which accounts for 31% of U.S. cancer deaths and
87% of lung cancer deaths; 2) dietary imbalances, which account for about another third, e.g.,
lack of sufficient amounts of dietary fruits and vegetables; 3) chronic infections, mostly in
developing countries; and 4) hormonal factors, which are influenced primarily by lifestyle. There is no
cancer epidemic except for cancer of the lung due to smoking. Cancer mortality rates have
declined 19% since 1950 (excluding lung cancer). Regulatory policy that focuses on traces of
synthetic chemicals is based on misconceptions about animal cancer tests. Recent research indicates
that rodent carcinogens are not rare. Half of all chemicals tested in standard high-dose animal
cancer tests, whether occurring naturally or produced synthetically, are "carcinogens"; there are
high-dose effects in rodent cancer tests that are not relevant to low-dose human exposures and
which contribute to the high proportion of chemicals that test positive. The focus of regulatory
policy is on synthetic chemicals, although 99.9% of the chemicals humans ingest are natural.
More than 1000 chemicals have been described in coffee: 30 have been tested and 21 are rodent
carcinogens. Plants in the human diet contain thousands of natural "pesticides" produced by
plants to protect themselves from insects and other predators: 71 have been tested and 37 are rodent carcinogens.
There is no convincing evidence that synthetic chemical pollutants are important as a cause of
human cancer. ...
From Sense About Science's "Making Sense of Chemical Stories"
sci-ence.org's "The Red Flags of Quackery"
Stephen Barrett and Victor Herbert's "Twenty-Five Ways to Spot Quacks and Vitamin Pushers"
Robert L. Park's "Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science"
Skeptoid's "How to Spot Pseudoscience"
Science vs. Pseudoscience
Avi Roy and Anders Sandberg's "7 Science Cliches That Are Complete Garbage"
Science-Based Medicine's "Answering Our Critics"
Steven Novella's "Evidence Thresholds"
Barry L. Beyerstein's "Why Bogus Therapies Often Seem to Work"
Helen Branswell's "Some herbal products don't contain what label promises ..."
Paul Offit's "The Vitamin Myth: Why We Think We Need Supplements"
The Daily Beast's "Whole Foods: America's Temple of Pseudoscience"
Cari Romm's "Vitamin B.S."
Yvette d'Entremont's "The Bullsh*t Hypocrisy of 'All-Natural' Foods"
The Logic of Science's "Medical errors may be the 3rd leading cause of death, but that's not as bad as it sounds"
The reality boils down to six points:
- You can't lead a chemical-free life.
- Natural isn't always good for you and man-made chemicals are not inherently dangerous.
- Synthetic chemicals are not causing many cancers and other diseases.
- 'Detox' is a marketing myth.
- We need man-made chemicals.
- We are not just subjects in an unregulated, uncontrolled environment, there are checks in place.
From Skeptoid's "Asking the Socratic Questions":
Is there any effective way at all of getting someone to consider a different explanation?
The answer is yes, and it involves getting the believer to arrive at alternate explanations on his own. ...
Socratic questioning helps people to take a second, closer look at their own beliefs,
and to apply critical thinking even when they least expect it.
There are six commonly described categories of Socratic questions:
- Questions of Clarification (such as: "Just so I'm clear, do you mean
you saw something unidentified, or you actually identified it as something from another planet?")
- Questions that Probe Assumptions (such as: "What are the characteristics of alien spacecraft?")
- Questions that Probe Reasons and Evidence (such as: "How were you able to make a positive identification of 'alien'?")
- Questions about Viewpoints or Perspectives (such as: "You seem to have the perspective that anything
unfamiliar to your personal experience must be alien. Is that correct?")
- Questions that Probe Implications and Consequences (such as: "Don't you think someone in science or government
would have expressed an interest if so much of astrophysics were suddenly proven wrong?")
- Questions about the Question (such as: "Do you think these are important questions that should be asked?")
Distorting science to support some belief:
Some people cherry-pick facts from science, or snipe at science, to try to justify
some "spiritual" or "sciencey" belief system. Often beliefs such as multiple universes,
connectedness of everything, existence of "spirit" or "soul", etc. Or just a standard religion.
Typical tactics they use:
- Picking new theories from science and contending they're proven or "accepted":
sometimes the multi-verse theory, consciousness theories, string theory.
Scientists speculate a lot, and some popular-science writers speculate wildly
to sell articles and books and make a name for themselves.
"Accepted" is not a scientific term; all that matters
is whether something is supported by facts.
And if you look closely at any one of those new theories, you'll find they're not a single theory,
they're whole families or trees of theories and sub-theories, with much disagreement.
- Picking facts from science and contending they prove some favorite theory: usually quantum physics, or uncertainty, or
now the Higgs boson.
How does detection of the Higgs boson prove that your belief about
the universe is true ? It doesn't. Does Heisenberg's uncertainty principle mean that all scientific fact or all knowledge is uncertain, and thus
anything you choose to believe is equally valid, equally true ? No.
- Picking some scientific statement and moving it to a completely different context: usually quantum physics, or uncertainty.
Okay, the rules of quantum physics are unusual; don't move them to human-scale and try to use them there to say "woo" things.
Yes, atoms are mostly "empty space"; does that mean we mostly don't exist ? No.
- Sniping at gaps in scientific knowledge and contending they prove some favorite theory: usually the Theory of Evolution.
Even if you've found some flaw in the Theory of Evolution (you haven't), how does that prove that your belief about
the universe or God or souls is true ? It doesn't. If science can't yet explain consciousness,
or the self, does that mean your belief about it is right ? No. Science may never be able to explain some
basic things (mass, time, space, quarks, fundamental forces)
in terms of simpler elements. Does that mean those things (mass, etc) don't exist, or that God must be doing it ? No.
- Sniping at gaps in scientific knowledge and contending science will NEVER be able to explain some things:
usually consciousness, or what caused the Big Bang.
There is a long, dismal record of failed predictions of this kind.
I wouldn't bet against science.
Actual Predictions That Were Absolutely Wrong (many not about science)
Usually this comes down to Cartesian "dualism", Rene Descartes' contention that the realms of science and spirit are separate.
I've never seen any explanation of how he came up with this, or what evidence he had that any realm of "spirit" actually exists.
- Demanding that scientific knowledge be perfect and complete, while waving away any question about their own beliefs:
usually Theory of Evolution.
Probably we'll never have evidence of every single step in evolution from bacteria to humans.
Does that somehow mean Evolution is false ? No. We have mounds of evidence, of many different types,
supporting Evolution, but we'll never have EVERYTHING. And if we did obtain all of the details, the
deniers would come up with something else to demand. Do you have any SCRAP of evidence that your
belief is true ? Even a little ? No. Matthew 7:5
- My theory explains more than science's theory, so mine is better:
Mostly this comes from different meanings of
"theory" in science and in common vernacular.
A scientific theory is "good" if it matches the facts. A theory that explains everything but doesn't match reality (facts) is useless.
One such theory is God. In science, a "theory" is not a "guess", it's an explanation of a body of facts.
- The guy advocating my favorite belief is an MD or scientist, so it must be right:
Smart and successful people can be as wrong as anyone else, especially when they reach outside their usual field of work.
Before getting to each proven-correct theory we have today, science has proposed, tested,
and rejected hundreds of incorrect theories, many of them proposed by eminent people.
Some theories were around for hundreds of years (without evidence), before
being proven wrong. Tests of a theory are: does it match the facts, explain the facts, make predictions we can test ?
Not: how impressive is the guy supporting the theory ?
A common feature among all of these: people saying things about science often don't understand the science.
They pick words or concepts and run with them, never bothering to look them up in Wikipedia or through Google and read about them.
If you ask them a few basic questions about the science (Evolution, or Higgs boson, or Big Bang, etc), their ignorance becomes clear.
Making money from pseudo-science:
What Science Says
Scientific view of the chain from Big Bang to humans:
How life "self-assembled"
- We ("Science") don't know what happened before the Big Bang or what caused the BB. We have no evidence.
Lots of possibilities (many based on some piece of mathematics that fits our current evidence):
multiverse (many types: Wikipedia's "Multiverse"),
oscillating universe, etc.
From World_Police on reddit:
I want to start by correcting the single largest misconception people have about the Big Bang - that it is
a theory of the origins of the universe - it isn't. The Big Bang Theory is a model which describes
the formation and progression of large scale structure in the universe - things like the distribution
of elements, the location of galaxies, and the expansion of the universe. It ultimately is not too
difficult to understand, that is, until you get very near the beginning of the universe.
The Big Bang Theory has a few fundamental equations, one of which is called the Friedman-Lemaitre-Robertson-Walker metric.
This equation describes how distances in the universe change as a function of energy density and time.
It turns out that there is a term in this equation which scales the universe over time. This is what leads
to the theoretical understanding of the expansion of the universe. Combined with observation we can say
things about the age of the universe and its properties.
What we can not say, at least directly, is what the origin of the universe is. We know how old it is,
and we know how big it is at any given time, but what process gave rise to it is outside the theory.
- The Big Bang occurred some 14 billion years ago, and we have evidence: microwave echoes and more.
CWRU's "Big Bang"
- In the Big Bang, all of the Universe's matter and energy came into being, some fundamental laws and constants
came into being, space came into being and started expanding, and time started running.
We ("Science") don't know how that happened or why those particular laws
and constants were created. Those laws and constants determined the existence and behavior of
particles (quarks, electrons, protons, etc) and forces (gravity, electromagnetism, strong nuclear, weak nuclear) then and now.
[Maybe particles are just ripples or vibrations in fields, but anyway ...]
This set the rules for all of physics, chemistry, etc.
We still don't understand some basic things, such as what mass or time really are.
From discussion on reddit:
It's not appropriate to say the Big Bang was at any "place". The Big Bang was merely the process
of the universe starting to expand, and energy density dropping, because there was more space for a constant amount of energy to occupy.
The Big Bang happened everywhere, because it was a process occurring on the universe in its entirety.
... assuming the Big Bang was actually a point singularity (which it probably wasn't, but that's another story),
every point in the universe was at the same place at that time, and accordingly every point in space was the location of the Big Bang.
Wikipedia's "Big Bang"
Ethan Siegel's "The Big Bang for Beginners"
The Onion's "Universe Older, Wider Than Previously Thought"
- For the first 380,000 years or so after the Big Bang, the universe was so hot
that only plasma (extremely hot basic particles, as in the interior
of a star) existed. As the universe expanded and matter in the universe cooled, by calculation and experiment we
know when atoms could first form, molecules could first form, etc. Only hydrogen and helium and lithium and beryllium were
produced directly this way; the nuclei for them formed in minutes after the BB, but the atoms much later.
History of the Universe timeline
Wikipedia's "Big Bang nucleosynthesis"
- From observing radiation from stars, and calculating how stars form and change and die,
we can calculate when stars and galaxies formed, how far away they are, how fast they're moving, etc.
First stars formed about 300 million years after the Big Bang.
All elements other than hydrogen and helium and maybe lithium were produced inside stars.
Normal stars such as Sol produce elements up to iron; elements above that are produced by super-novae.
- Great quantities of many basic molecules, including water, have been detected in "empty space":
Wikipedia's "List of interstellar and circumstellar molecules".
And more-complicated molecules have been found in space and in meteorites:
Luba Ostashevsky's "How did life begin? It's Chemistry 101, but in space".
- From studying rocks, we can see much of the history of the Earth, and how the surface has changed.
But plate tectonics and weather have destroyed much of the evidence of past geology and life.
The Earth formed about 4.5 billion years ago, but was lifeless for the first billion years or so,
then had only very primitive life (algae, cyanobacteria, etc) for another two billion or so years.
Early atmosphere was "reducing" (hydrogen, methane, ammonia) for first 2 billion years.
Emissions from life (using photosynthesis) put lots of free oxygen into
the atmosphere about 2.4 billion years ago, and the increased energy-processing of
oxygen-based metabolism enabled development of multicellular organisms.
Plants and animals started developing around 550 million years ago.
Humans arose a few million years ago;
recorded history only a few thousand years ago.
Wikipedia's "History of the Earth"
Wikipedia's "Evolutionary history of life"
Wikipedia's "Timeline of human evolution"
Wikipedia's "Great Oxygenation Event"
[But from "Life Everywhere" by David Darling 2001
New consensus among geologists and geochemists is that
there was no reducing atmosphere before the oxygen event. Life has been found in many unexpected places, and so may
have arisen in any/all of them: sea-floor hot vents, shallow hot vents,
microscopic pores in hot underground rocks, moist surfaces of minerals, aerosol particles in atmosphere,
as well as shallow coastal ponds or inland ponds.]
- Laboratory experiments show that a few basic chemicals plus some electricity results in the formation of
Wikipedia's "Miller-Urey experiment"
Duke's "Miller/Urey Experiment" (includes Juan Oro)
Also, shock waves in atmosphere can form all four RNA bases:
John Timmer's "Mimicking an impact on Earth's early atmosphere yields all 4 RNA bases"
- Organic basics used by life are not too complicated, in essence:
Organic molecules tend to be large numbers of just a few types of atoms (CHON);
inorganic molecules tend to be small numbers of varying types of atoms.
- Carbohydrates ("watered carbon"):
- Sugars: sucrose (C12H22O11), glucose (C6H12O6),
others. Plants produce glucose through photosynthesis, then convert it to starch.
- Starch: a large number of glucose units joined by glycosidic bonds. Produced by plants as an energy store;
can be easily converted to release energy.
- Cellulose: linear chain of several hundred to over ten thousand linked D-glucose units (C6H10O5xN).
An important structural component of the primary cell wall of green plants and some algae.
- Lipids: fats, oils. Typical formula might be C57H104O6.
The main biological functions of lipids include storing energy, signaling, and acting as structural components of cell membranes.
- Proteins: in milk, blood, etc. Large biological molecules consisting of one or more chains of amino acids
(such as glycine, NH2CH2COOH).
Contain nitrogen, and often sulphur and phosphorus, in addition to carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.
[Info in this section mainly from Isaac Asimov's "Life and Energy"
- Formation of cells:
From "Life Everywhere" by David Darling 2001
"When exposed to ultraviolet, even a very simple starting ice of frozen
water, methanol and ammonia, in the same proportion thought to occur in space ice, yields a slew of interesting organics.
Ethers, alcohols, ketones and nitriles ... also HMT, which does something especially interesting if you add it
to warm, acidified water - it forms amino acids".
Some of the carbon-based molecules found in this ice mixture, when added to water, "organize themselves
spontaneously into tiny rounded capsules that look strikingly like cells. When you examine these structures closely,
you see they are bounded by a leaky membrane, two molecules thick. Just as in living cells, the membrane
is made of molecules having hydrophilic (water-loving) heads that line up on the membrane's outer and inner
surfaces, and hydrophobic (water-fearing) tails that point into the membrane's interior."
Also from "Life Everywhere" by David Darling 2001
"Cell-like structures emerge spontaneously when some organic materials found in meteorites are added to water.
In fact, whenever oily or fatty chemicals occur in a watery environment they tend to arrange themselves
into bubbles or globules that have the appearance of primitive cells."
Paraphrased from Scientific American interview of Adam Rutherford,
author of "Creation: How Science Is Reinventing Life Itself"
Life is more likely to have arisen at undersea hydrothermal vents, instead of coastal pools or lakes,
because life generally needs a flow or "disequilibrium"; it is a continual process of consuming nutrients,
reacting to changing energy, etc. A static environment doesn't suit it.
Undersea vents are important not for the heat, but the flow of chemicals and energy (ions),
and rock with lots of cell-sized pores or hollows in it. The biochemicals to operate a cell
could have developed in such hollows, and later cell membranes enclosed them.
Jack Szostak at Harvard has been working with simple versions of the molecules that make up cell membranes,
and found that they easily pop together to form complete cell-membranes, and they easily divide to make
two complete cell-membranes. This may not be exactly how early cells worked, but it shows how easily
these things could happen.
Scripps' "Scientists Find Potential 'Missing Link' in Chemistry That Led to Life on Earth"
Michael Marshall's "The secret of how life on Earth began"
- We can see that amino acids are used to form RNA and DNA. We can see how they
are used to store information, and how they operate to enable cell operation, and reproduction.
Many details still are unclear: protein folding, control mechanisms, ageing, cancer, junk DNA, multiple forms of RNA, etc.
- We can see how all living things on Earth use the same building blocks and structures (amino acids, RNA, DNA, proteins, enzymes,
cell walls, etc), with simpler organisms using less of them and simpler forms of them, and complex
organisms using more of them and more complex forms of them.
Marshall Brain's "How Evolution Works"
- We can see how simple organisms have clumped together to form more complex organisms
(jellyfish), or how simpler organisms or pieces of them have been absorbed into more complex organisms to do useful
things for them. Human cells contain mitochondria; human guts contain microorganisms.
We can see how a simple change makes an important difference between a simple organism and a more complex one.
- We can see how evolution has operated, resulting in incredible variation in some families of organisms,
vestigial structures left over inside organisms, close relationships between species that at first
seem quite unrelated.
Marshall Brain's "How Evolution Works"
(but he gets the "three parts of Evolution" wrong: they are variation, selection, inheritance; he says variation, selection, new species)
See Evolution section, later in this page.
- We can see evolution and its parts (variation, inheritance, selection) operating even today,
in organisms that reproduce extremely quickly (bacteria, fruit flies, etc).
- Big Bang created matter, space, energy, time, basic laws.
- Matter (basic particles) cooled and formed atoms.
- Atoms cooled and formed molecules.
- Molecules cooled, and clumped together into stars, planets, asteroids, gas clouds, etc.
- Stars ignited and formed bigger atoms.
- Atoms in space or on Earth combined to form elemental molecules such as H2, O2, N2,
and simple molecules such as H2O (water), NH3 (ammonia), HCN (hydrogen cyanide),
HCHO (formaldehyde), H2S (hydrogen sulfide), CH4 (methane),
and related ions such as NH4+ (ammonium ion), OH- (hydroxyl ion), etc.
- Simple molecules or ions and energy (heat or energetic particles or electricity or UV radiation)
acted to form more complex molecules, including tholins
and amino acids (such as glycine, NH2CH2COOH).
- Various molecules or ions combined to form polymers (including proteins, which are polymers using amino acids).
- Amino acids and other molecules combined to form pieces of RNA (viruses or viruslike objects), which may have been self-replicating.
There may have been earlier, similar things (PNA, TNA, GNA) based on simpler nucleic acids, which were later superseded by things based on RNA.
- Viruses or pieces of RNA got enclosed to form prokaryotic cells (bacteria, algae, etc).
- Somehow pieces of RNA were combined or changed to form DNA. (RNA does both heredity and catalysis;
the later "DNA for heredity and proteins for catalysis" scheme is more complicated but better. And DNA is
a stronger, more stable molecule than RNA.)
Wikipedia's "RNA world hypothesis"
Robert F. Service's "Self-Assembling Molecules Offer Clues to Life's Possible Origin"
- Cells captured or were invaded by useful pieces (viruses, bacteria, algae, etc) to do work inside the cells
(organelles: mitochondria, chloroplasts, Golgi apparatus, nucleus, etc),
becoming eukaryotic cells.
Diffen's "Eukaryotic Cell vs Prokaryotic Cell"
Wikipedia's "Cell (biology)"
- Cells grouped in symbiotic or parasitic ways to form multi-cellular organisms.
- Multi-cellular organisms became more and more complex (cells, tissues, organs, systems).
- Organisms joined non-physically to form societies (ants, bees, termites, animal packs, herds, human society).
There are large gaps in our knowledge (see for example
Natalie Wolchover's "The 9 Biggest Unsolved Mysteries in Physics"
Four fundamental forces
, dark matter, dark energy),
we certainly don't know most of the details,
we can't control or create much of this in the laboratory, and
we have much
more work to do. And some of it (what was before the BB; exact configuration of the surface of the Earth
at every stage; the exact steps from one species to another; species that arose and then went extinct without leaving any trace)
may never be known.
We can see that none of these steps requires the existence of God or some kind of magic to operate.
Sure, you could invent God and paste Him in there somewhere, but that would be superfluous.
Some philosophers claim you need God to explain the existence of basic things such as cause-and-effect,
and uniformity of laws throughout the universe. I think their arguments amount to
"I don't know how it's done, therefore God must be doing it".
Facts/evidence trump everything: if new facts come to light, science will change its thinking.
But zillions of facts and millions of experiments and observations and discoveries have produced the statements above, and back them up.
And future new facts or understanding don't invalidate
previous facts; they add
to them, and new understanding
has to account for the older facts, which remain true.
Science or Not's "Established scientific models are supported by multiple independent lines of evidence"
Jakob Magolan's "Do not be afraid of organic chemistry" (video)
Starting with Plato but mainly represented by Descartes, some people have contended that mind/soul/spirit and body/matter are separate
and science will never be able to explain the mind. But science has an amazing record
of eventually understanding things that once seemed completely beyond reach;
I wouldn't bet against science. And as far as I can tell, soul and spirit are completely
fictional inventions (I think "Modern Dualism" drops them completely), and the rest of Dualism amounts to "we don't understand
what mind is, so let's assume it's completely separate from matter and there's something magic going on". Seems bogus to me.
From Rodney Brooks in "The Next Fifty Years" edited by John Brockman 2002
For at least the last five hundred years, science and technology have confronted us with generalizations
that eroded our sense of ourselves and our world as unique, and made us variously uncomfortable, enraged,
and even violent. ... [Galileo and] the position of earth in the celestial scheme. ... Charles
Darwin generalized humans as just a part of the animal kingdom, directly related to it by bloodlines ...
following the work of Crick and Watson, it became clear that many of our most fundamental genes have diverged little
from those of yeast or fruit flies. At the end of the century, we were faced with two more such
generalities: Perhaps our version of life did not originate here on Earth but was seeded from a life source on another planet.
And finally we found that humans did not have as many genes as were expected, and in fact had fewer
genes than many other animals, and even potatoes. We are not unique on that count, either.
Each of these generalizations has challenged our view of ourselves.
We have become less special, part of a bigger reality. The loss of
specialness has often been hard to bear ...
The [next] generalization that we are facing is that we humans are machines - and as such,
subject to the same technological manipulations we routinely apply to machines. ...
The central unstated tenet of modern molecular biology is that everything about living systems,
ourselves included, is a product of molecular interactions. Modern biology is
based on strict materialism. There is nothing else besides molecules interacting according
to mixtures of various forces and subject to the randomization caused by temperature and quantum effects. There
is no elixir of life, there is no life force, there is no mind that is not materially based, there is no soul.
These attitudes are not in question among scientists, just as there is no question that we and
potatoes evolved from a common ancestor. ... [There are details to be worked out and some ideas
will change, but] The central tenet - that we are the product of trillions upon trillions of mindless molecular
interactions and nothing more - will stand: It is not phlogiston or ether but a
fact confirmed in thousands of new experiments every day of the week, every week of the year.
From Michael Pollan in "The Omnivore's Dilemma" 2006
... One by one science is dismantling our claims to uniqueness as a species, discovering that such things
as culture, tool making, language, and even possibly self-consciousness are not, as we used to think,
the exclusive properties of Homo sapiens. ...
All possible explanations for the creation of the universe:
- Multi-verse: this universe is just one of many created some way, or from some higher universe.
But then the question becomes "what created all of them, or created the higher universe ?".
- Simulation: this universe is just a simulation running in a computer/universe outside our own.
But then the question again becomes "what created the computer or outside universe ?".
- Some inanimate natural process did it.
Something that created or explains the singularity before the Big Bang.
- Universe has always existed, there was no beginning.
We already have an example of a domain where the laws of causality seem to be different
from everyday laws of causality: quantum mechanics. Maybe the universe-creation domain
is another such domain.
- Some supernatural being (god) did it.
But then the question becomes "what created the god ?". If you respond "The god always existed, it has no beginning",
then you're back to the equivalent of "Universe has always existed, there was no beginning".
If a god created the universe, which god ? There are hundreds or thousands of them.
Why would you think it had to be the Christian god ?
And of course we have no good evidence that any god exists.
- Some powerful natural being (alien) did it.
Hard to see how an alien could create the universe it is inside, but maybe
it could. If it created this universe from another universe outside, how did that
one get created ?
Evolution, and Science
The Theory of Evolution has three parts (variation, inheritance, selection).
Variation involves changes from parent to offspring, inheritance involves the characteristics of
that offspring being passed to its offspring, selection involves the environment acting to affect
the reproductive success of organisms.
(It's surprising how many people feel free to criticize the theory bitterly, without even knowing
the definition of it.)
Wikipedia's "Introduction to evolution"
Common misstatements or misunderstandings of Evolution:
The Logic of Science's "10 common myths about evolution"
Science AF's "Top 5 Misconceptions About Evolution And Why They're Wrong"
Wikipedia's "List of common misconceptions - Evolution"
- Evolution is "survival of the fittest"
Nothing in the theory of evolution says only the fittest survive, or even that the fittest must survive,
or that the less-fit must die, or that the more-fit must do better than the less-fit.
The "natural selection" part of the theory just says that those better adapted to the
environment will tend to do better (have greater reproductive success),
in the long term, on average. It's entirely possible for many or all of the "fittest" species at some time to
be wiped out by accident or disease or environmental change. It's entirely possible for all kinds of competing species,
including those "less fit" for the environment, to co-exist for long periods of time. (Also can replace "fit" with "complex" all
through this argument; nothing in evolution says newer or fitter species have to be more complex.)
- Current species are the "most successfull" or "best" there have ever been
As environments change, or accidents happen, species disappear. Dinosaurs thrived for 135 million years.
Many current large-animal species (elephants, tigers, whales, etc) may go extinct soon. Does that mean
that what survives after them is "better" ?
- Humans are the "best" or "most successfull" species there ever has been or ever will be
Bacteria have thrived for a couple of billion years; dinosaurs thrived for 135 million years;
humans have been around for less than a million years.
Who knows what will supersede or succeed Homo Sapiens ?
A smarter version of Homo ? Or maybe we'll wipe ourselves out, and
the rest of the species on Earth will continue without us.
Perhaps a few million years from now, some new species will dominate, unrelated to humans
and much smarter.
"Intelligent Design" versus Evolution:
From someone on reddit:
Theists deny Evolution on the grounds that an evolved man is one without the Garden of Eden and/or the fall of man.
And a world with no original sin, is a world with no need for a personal Savior.
So Evolution is an assault on a central building block of the faith. Every argument against it comes from this starting position.
Evolution is just a theory
Proponents of "Intelligent Design" try to seem reasonable, saying "oh,
Evolution is just a theory, so let's give equal weight to another
theory, Intelligent Design".
But there are lots
of other possible
theories. For example: (1) that life on Earth was created by aliens who are still here and
controlling us, or (2) that the non-living parts of the world were
created by intelligence and life is an unintended parasite, or (3) that we're just programs "living"
inside a computer. These
additional theories have just as much evidence in their favor (zero) as
"Intelligent Design" does, so why shouldn't we present them also ? I'm sure
we could come up with another dozen theories, also unsupported by facts. Should we teach all
of the possibilities
in schools ?
From comment by William Young on an Alternet.org article:
"Do you know what a theory is ? It is not an opinion.
All scientific idioms are theories. Gravity, heliocentrism, the periodic law, etc.
A theory is the best explanation for the data observed and will change when better data is found ..."
From James J. Krupa's "Teaching Evolution"
Stephen Jay Gould said it best: "Evolution is a theory. It is also a fact.
And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty.
Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts."
From someone on reddit
[When you say "just a theory":]
Words in science:
You're confusing theory with scientific theory. What the average Joe calls a theory is
"that thing you wrote on the back of a napkin last night at the bar".
In science, that's called a hypothesis. A scientific theory is a proven explanation of how nature works.
Think of it more like you would germ theory, or music theory.
(mostly from Library of Alexandria's "Fact vs Theory vs Law vs Hypothesis vs Proof"
Is Evolution "only" a theory because it's disputed ?
- A hypothesis is a testable explanation of some phenomenon.
- A fact is an objective and verifiable observation.
- A theory is a well-tested explanation of some phenomenon, based on a body of facts.
- A law is a statement based on repeated observations of facts, but not an explanation.
- Proof is not a word in science; the best you can say is an experiment rejects a hypothesis or fails to reject it.
So a theory is not a "guess". A theory does not become a law when it is "proven".
There is no "proof".
Patrick Allan's "The Difference Between a Fact, Hypothesis, Theory, and Law In Science"
So far Evolution is the theory that is supported by the facts. And it has far more facts than
just the fossil record supporting it: commonality and increasing complexity of DNA and cellular structure across
animals from viruses and bacteria up to humans, for example. Continuing evolution in modern times,
such as the appearance of antibiotic-resistant germs and pesticide-resistant insects,
or lactose-tolerant mutation in humans about 5000 years ago.
From someone on reddit
"Hey, buddy, gravity is just a theory. Let's teach both
sides and let the kids decide."
Skeptoid's "How to Debate a Young Earth Creationist"
Godless in Dixie's "Does Evolution Contradict Christianity?"
Evolution vs Design
A common gambit: "The human body (or the eye, or the cell) is so
amazing that it had to be created by God
But scientists have discovered simpler organisms that form all
the steps between raw elements and the complete
human body. From elements in "primordial soup",
someone has done experiments that show how electricity
through the "soup" can create amino acids. Algae and
amoebae show simple molecules and amino acids combining
to form very simple life, with reproduction and inheritance.
Simple cells combine and
evolve and aggregate to form multi-cellular organisms.
Addition of a single
light-sensitive cell to such
an organism gives it a tremendous advantage over its totally blind
competitors, an advantage which improves
its chances of surviving (a key part of evolution).
Although many steps are still fuzzy and there are major gaps, science can
show how the human body evolved from lower life forms
over stunningly large periods of time. It only seems
impossible if you don't know about the scientific data,
or don't want to hear about it.
Human eye vs. Evolution
By the way, new species and features are not always more complex than older ones.
From a discussion of "teleological biology" (the idea of a universal intent encouraging
the development of life, reason, consciousness) in
H. Allen Orr's "Awaiting a New Darwin"
(review of Thomas Nagel's " Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False"):
Nagel's teleological biology is heavily human-centric or at least animal-centric.
Organisms, it seems, are in the business of secreting sentience, reason, and values.
Real biology looks little like this and, from the outset, must face the staggering facts
of organismal diversity. There are millions of species of fungi and bacteria and nearly 300,000 species
of flowering plants. None of these groups is sentient and each is spectacularly successful.
Indeed mindless species outnumber we sentient ones by any sensible measure (biomass, number of individuals,
or number of species; there are only about 5,500 species of mammals). More fundamentally,
each of these species is every bit as much the end product of evolution as we are.
The point is that, if nature has goals, it certainly seems to have many and consciousness
would appear to be fairly far down on the list.
Similarly, Nagel's teleological biology is run through with talk about the "higher forms of organization
toward which nature tends" and progress toward "more complex systems."
Again, real biology looks little like this. The history of evolutionary lineages
is replete with reversals, which often move from greater complexity to less.
A lineage will evolve a complex feature (an eye, for example) that later gets dismantled,
evolutionarily deconstructed after the species moves into a new environment (dark caves, say).
Parasites often begin as "normal" complicated organisms and then lose evolutionarily many
of their complex traits after taking up their new parasitic way of life. Such reversals
are easily explained under Darwinism but less so under teleology. If nature is trying to
get somewhere, why does it keep changing its mind about the destination?
... science, finally, isn't about defining the space of all formally possible explanations of nature.
It's about inference to the most likely hypothesis. And on these grounds there's simply no
comparison between neo-Darwinism (for which there is overwhelming evidence) and natural teleology (for which there is none). ...
A few points summarized from terrific article by H. Allen Orr in 5/30/2005 issue of The New Yorker magazine:
- Biology is full of examples of parts/proteins/structures that have been re-used
or modified to serve other purposes, sometimes leaving behind vestigial or degenerate pieces or duplicate or
competing mechanisms. This is far more consistent with evolution than some sort of direct design.
- Just because biologists can not explain every detail of some organism or part or how or in what order it
evolved does not mean that evolution is wrong. Can we explain every detail of how some city grew,
or some war started, well after the fact ?
- Intelligent Design advocates are completely focused on tearing down evolution, instead of
building a positive case in favor of Intelligent Design. There is no positive case,
except religious faith.
- Intelligent Design is a political movement masquerading as a scientific theory.
What other "theory" has laws forcing its teaching ?
What other "theory" produces no avenues for experimentation or confirmation or contradiction ?
- "Evolution" does not equal "atheism". Perhaps God decided to use evolution to create everything.
Many scientists who accept evolution believe in God.
A few points from article by Neil deGrasse Tyson in 11/2005 issue of Natural History magazine:
- The human body has lots of examples of bad design.
Breathing and eating through the same orifice is a bad design: lots of
people choke to death every year because of it. Having the reproductive
and excretory organs share a lot of plumbing is a questionable idea.
Our backs are not designed well for our upright posture.
- Small design additions could have made the human body far better: the ability
to see many more wavelengths of light, the addition of gills so we wouldn't drown
and could live underwater, feedback that could tell us about the health
of our arteries and heart and blood pressure and so on.
- Embracing ignorance is fundamental to the philosophy of intelligent design:
What do you do with that line of reasoning ? Do you just cede the solving
of problems to someone smarter than you, someone who's not even human ?
Do you tell students to pursue only questions with easy answers ?
- I don't know what this is.
- I don't know how it works.
- It's too complicated for me to figure out.
- It's too complicated for any human being to figure out.
- So it must be the product of a higher intelligence.
From someone on reddit
It baffles me that saying "I don't know yet" isn't an acceptable answer.
If I asked someone "What is 20548 x 5436 ?" they could answer with "I don't know yet, let me work it out".
It's not acceptable to immediately say "AHA! There is no answer, obviously only god knows!".
Just because it's hard doesn't mean there isn't an answer.
From article by Burkhard Bilger in 22 Nov 2010 issue of The New Yorker magazine:
"There is no such thing as an individual", Lynn Margulis, a biologist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, told me recently.
"What we see as animals are partly just integrated sets of bacteria."
Nearly all of the DNA in our bodies belongs to microorganisms: they outnumber
our own cells nine to one. They process the nutrients in our guts, produce the chemicals
that trigger sleep, ferment the sweat on our skin and the glucose in our muscles.
They work with the immune system to mediate chemical reactions and drive out the most common
infections. Even our own cells are kept alive by mitochondria - the tiny microbial engines in their
cytoplasm. Bacteria are us.
"Microbes are the minimal units, the basic building blocks of life on earth",
Margulis said. About half a billion years ago, land vertebrates began to encase themselves
in skin and their embryos in protective membranes, sealing off the
microbes inside them and fostering ever more intimate relations with them.
Humans are the acme of that evolution - walking, talking microbial vats. ...
Ratio of number of human cells to microorganism cells in body may be more like one-to-one:
Alison Abbott's "Scientists bust myth that our bodies have more bacteria than human cells"
From "A Short History of Nearly Everything" by Bill Bryson
There are trillions more [bacteria] tucked away in your gut and nasal passages, clinging to your hair
and eyelashes, swimming over the surface of your eyes, drilling through the enamel of your teeth.
Your digestive system alone is host to more than a hundred trillion microbes, of at least four hundred types.
Some deal with sugars, some with starches, some attack other bacteria. A surprising number, like the
ubiqitous intestinal spirochetes, have no detectable function at all. They just seem to like to be with you.
Every human body consists of about 10 quadrillion cells, but about 100 quadrillion bacterial cells. ...
Bacteria, never forget, got along for billions of years without us. We couldn't survive a day without them.
They process our wastes and make them usable again; without their diligent munching nothing would rot.
They purify our water and keep our soils productive. Bacteria synthesize vitamins in our gut, convert the things
we eat into useful sugars and polysaccharides, and go to war on alien microbes that slip down our gullet.
We depend totally on bacteria to pluck nitrogen from the air and convert it into useful nucleotides and amino acids
for us. ...
From NPR "Science Friday" 6/15/2012:
Microbial populations can vary greatly from person to person. The same jobs (digestion, etc) have to be
done in every human body, but they might be done by completely different types of microbes in one person
than in another. And even if two people have the same type of microbe X doing job Y in their bodies,
those two populations of microbes often have slightly different DNA and characteristics.
Great similarities or identical structures in humans and lower animals:
- I am unaware of any building block unique to the human body; they're all present in some other animals too.
Some enzymes or proteins might be most complicated in humans.
- Laboratory animals are used for drug tests and experimentation because they have systems
so similar/identical to those in humans, including:
- Zebra fish: genetic makeup and embryonic development very similar to humans.
- Mice: genetically similar to humans.
- Pigs: circulatory system and digestive system very similar to humans.
- Cats: neurological system very similar to humans.
- Ferrets: reproductive cycle (oestrous) and hormones similar to humans.
- From Atrazine page:
"Thyroid hormones, testosterone, estrogens, and the stress hormones are identical in all animals
and serve similar functions regardless of the species. The brain neurohormones are identical
in all animals and the sequence of prolactin very similar in all animals."
- Even plant cells are quite similar to animal cells:
Diffen's "Animal Cell vs Plant Cell".
- From a BBC program 6/2012: Animals with complex brains exhibit many of the same psychological
behaviors/diseases as humans do: OCD, separation anxiety, self-injury, attraction to intoxicants.
Just because humans evolved from earlier animal species, and humans share most biology with the other animals and
life on Earth, doesn't mean that humans are "just" animals or that there's nothing special about humans.
Few if any other animals have reasoning and consciousness to the degree that we do, as far as we can tell.
And we have developed tools (such as language, writing, metals, electronics, etc) far beyond what any other
species has done. We are unique (on Earth) in many ways.
Main ways that Intelligent Designers attack Evolution:
TalkOrigins' "Index to Creationist Claims"
- Evolution is just "randomness", and it is incredibly unlikely that the eye, or humans, or life, or the universe occurred
by random chance.
First, Evolution is not just "randomness"; it has three parts (variation, inheritance, selection). The "variation" part has some randomness in it.
Second, although randomness is a major quality of the "variation" part, that is not "total randomness" or the mathematical
definition of "random", it is a "constrained randomness". New proteins or body structures are not formed by
random assembly from raw atoms; they must fit into or build upon existing frameworks. You can't just add atoms
at random to a molecule of DNA; they either won't stick, or will destroy the molecule, or produce a totally
non-functional molecule. You have to follow the rules of physics, chemistry, and molecular biology. Similarly,
you can't just add a new chemical at random to a cell or organ or the human body; almost certainly it will
be poisonous, or damaging, or rejected. Something new has to fit in with the existing rules and functions.
Third, things only seem unlikely if you ignore the huge amounts of time and huge numbers of organisms involved.
Uncountable numbers of bacteria and algae churned away in the oceans for a couple of billion years to develop the basic pieces
that form our bodies today: cells, organelles, amino acids, proteins, energy cycles, RNA, DNA, etc. Our human bodies did not develop
suddenly from raw atoms a few million years ago; we humans are only slightly different from a primate ancestor back then.
All that was required over that few million years was to tweak a few parameters: make the brain bigger, arrange some bones and muscles a little
differently, let the fetus gestate longer, less hair, etc.
- Development of life, or complex life, violates Second Law of Thermodynamics. So God must have done it.
This is based on a misstatement of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Statements of the law vary, and
misstatements of it vary too. But the basic issue is that the law applies overall to a closed system,
and attackers try to apply it to just one piece (life). (And the law does not apply to "complexity".)
Increased order (decreased entropy) in one place (life)
is offset by decreased order (increased entropy) in another place (the sun, or food, or some other source of mass and energy).
No violation of the law.
- Cross-species evolution has never been shown to happen; science can't show any case where
species Y evolved from species X.
"Cross-species evolution" also seems to go under names of "macroevolution" and "speciation" and maybe "interspeciation".
The Straight Dope's "Do creationists accept microevolution but not macroevolution?"
Basically, Evolution deniers seem to say "you can't prove that one species evolved from another, ever".
This is their fallback position, after having been proved wrong on evolution via small changes within a single species.
They seem to want scientists to provide fossils or something that show the before-and-after: here's one individual
that was species X and here's its daughter that was species X-prime, and members of X can't mate with those of X-prime.
Basically, they're demanding ironclad, detailed proof that we'll probably never have in the wild, because fossilization
is rare and DNA doesn't survive it, and who can be watching every butterfly-birth and say "aha, that's a new species coming out" ?
If we ever DID provide such proof, they'd find something more to demand. All while waving away any call for
the SLIGHTEST piece of evidence that God exists; just take that completely on faith.
Some examples of a new species evolving out of an older one:
TalkOrigins "Observed Instances of Speciation"
TalkOrigins "Some More Observed Speciation Events"
Michelle Starr's "A New Bird Species Has Evolved on Galapagos And Scientists Watched It Happen"
Another common gambit: "There are big gaps in the fossil record
; science can't prove every step
of evolution from algae to humans".
From "A Short History of Nearly Everything" by Bill Bryson
It isn't easy to become a fossil. The fate of nearly all living organisms - over 99.9 percent of them - is to
compost down to nothingness. When your spark is gone, every molecule you own will be nibbled off you or sluiced
away to be put to use in some other system. That's just the way it is. Even if you make it into the small
pool of organisms, the less than 0.1 percent, that don't get devoured, the chances of being fossilized are very small.
In order to become a fossil, several things must happen. Only about 15 percent of rocks can preserve fossils,
so it's no good keeling over on a future site of granite. In practical terms the deceased must become buried in
sediment, where it can leave an impression, like a leaf in wet mud, or decompose without exposure to oxygen, permitting the
molecules in its bones and hard parts (and very occasionally softer parts) to be replaced by dissolved minerals,
creating a petrified copy of the original. Then as the sediments in which the fossil lies are carelessly pressed
and folded and pushed about by Earth's processes, the fossil must somehow maintain an identifiable shape.
Finally, but above all, after tens of millions or perhaps hundreds of millions of years hidden away, it must be found
and recognized as something worth keeping.
Only about one bone in a billion, it is thought, ever becomes fossilized. ... [then they have to be found] ...
Fossils are in every sense vanishingly rare. Most of what has lived on Earth has left behind
no record at all. It has been estimated that less than one species in ten thousand has made it into
the fossil record. ...
... The fossil record is almost absurdly biased in favor of marine creatures. ...
From "Beginnings" by Isaac Asimov 1987
Naturally, the record is not complete.
Even today, known fossils represent only about 200,000 different species of life,
and this cannot be more than 1 percent of the total. ...
[To form a fossil, life form must be trapped in mud, buried in conditions
where it won't decay, lie preserved for a very long period while its atoms are
slowly replaced by atoms from surrounding rock, and survive geological upheavals. Then be found by humans.]
All in all, the fossil record is not only terribly incomplete but may
remain so forever. Still there is enough in it to demonstrate evolutionary change forcibly.
It must also be remembered that the scientific view of evolution doesn't depend on fossils alone
but on evidence from many branches of science, all of which strongly confirm what
the fossils tell us.
From a show on NPR 2/2007:
Apparently, Intelligent Design proponents have been
forced to acknowledge that evolution occurs in just about every species
except the human species. They still maintain it doesn't occur there.
[But since humans have lots of symbiosis in them, such as the bacteria in the
intestines, and our cell structures show direct lineage from other organisms,
this stance isn't very tenable.]
From Mark Gordon on Facebook:
The big political problem with evolution is that much of Christian theology since Augustine of Hippo
has been built on a literal reading of the first few chapters of Genesis. Without the fall from grace
and original sin, there's no need for a universal redeemer. That's why so many Christians are clinging
so desperately to Creationism. Certainly, some Christians are willing to let go of Augustine's theology, but many cling to it desperately.
For centuries, religion has had a series of defeats of its claims about the real world.
Religion claimed the heavens were unchanging and perfect spheres; Galileo showed that to be wrong.
Religion claimed God created all species and they never went extinct; Georges Cuvier showed that to be wrong.
Religion claimed only God could have created life and humans; Darwin showed that to be wrong.
Apparently, some opposition to the Theory of Evolution was dishonest right from the start:
From Isaac Asimov's "The Solar System and Back"
Botanical Society of America's Statement on Evolution
John Rennie's "15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense"
Steven Novella's "Ten Major Flaws of Evolution - A Refutation"
"Index to Creationist Claims" edited by Mark Isaak
Ethan Siegel's "22 Messages of Hope (and Science) for Creationists"
"Five Major Misconceptions about Evolution" edited by Mark Isaak
Dennis O'Neil's "Evidence of Evolution"
TeachThemScience's "What evidence is there for evolution?"
Carl Zimmer's "Evolution Hidden in Plain Sight"
Science or Not's "Established scientific models are supported by multiple independent lines of evidence"
Chris Mooney's "7 Reasons Why It's Easier for Humans to Believe in God Than Evolution"
[When Darwin's "The Origin of Species" was published in 1859, English zoologist Sir Richard Owen]
was horrified. Natural selection, as Darwin described it, was a blind force,
changing species through its action on random variations among individuals.
Owen could not accept evolution by random effects and he came out against Darwin.
That, of course, was his right. It was even his scientific duty to disagree with all his might.
Darwin's suggestion, like all scientific suggestions, had to survive the battles fought in the intellectual
arena, and no honorable weapon was outlawed in such battles.
weapon. Owen chose to review Darwin's "Origin of Species" in as many
different outlets as he could wangle. He chose to make those reviews anonymously and to quote
extensively and with worshipful approval from his own work, making himself sound like a crowd.
He chose to give an unfair summary of the contents of the book and to ridicule it rather than
to present opposing testimony objectively. Worst of all, he encouraged others to denounce Darwin,
vitriolically and unscientifically, before lay audiences, feeding them the necessary misinformation
for the purpose.
In short, Owen was cowardly, spiteful, and contemptible ...
Some people try to compromise by saying (in effect) that the youngest point in
history or development that science can't explain
must be where God starts; God is the explanation for what science can't explain.
If science couldn't explain how the Earth was created, then
God must have created it and the Bible tells us how. If science couldn't explain how the moon and stars and planets
moved, then God must be controlling them. If science couldn't explain how life arose, then
God must have created it. The problem with this is that science keeps
improving and understanding more things. By this rationale, soon "God" will be limited to "what happened
before the Big Bang and how the values of the cosmological constants were determined".
From "A Short History of Nearly Everything" by Bill Bryson
Chemical reactions of the sort associated with life are actually something of
a commonplace. It may be beyond us to cook them up in a lab, a la Stanley Miller and Harold Urey, but
the universe does it readily enough. Lots of molecules in nature get together to form long chains
called polymers. Sugars constantly assemble to form starches. Crystals can do a number of lifelike things - replicate, respond to
environmental stimuli, take on a patterned complexity. They've never achieved life itself, of course,
but they demonstrate repeatedly that complexity is a natural, spontaneous, entirely commonplace event.
There may or may not be a great deal of life in the universe at large, but there is no shortage of ordered
self-assembly, in everything from the transfixing symmetry of snowflakes to the comely rings of Saturn.
So powerful is this natural impulse to assemble that many scientists now believe that life may be more inevitable
than we think ...
Certainly there is nothing terribly exotic in the chemicals that animate us. If you wished to create another
living object, whether a goldfish or a head of lettuce or a human being, you would need really only
four principal elements, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, plus small amounts of
a few others, principally sulfur, phosphorus, calcium, and iron. Put these together in three dozen
or so combinations to form some sugars, acids, and other basic compounds and you can build anything that lives.
From "Is Anyone There ?" by Isaac Asimov circa 1965
The human body is composed of some 50 trillion cells.
Within every cell are smaller bodies. The nucleus
contains chromosomes, which control the machinery of inheritance.
Outside the nucleus are mitochondria which contain the energy-handling
apparatus. In plant cells are chloroplasts which are living versions of
the solar battery, equipped to convert the energy of sunlight into the
chemical energy of stored food.
All these "organelles" may represent the remains of primitive "pre-cells". Such
pre-cells may finally have come to exist in co-operation, forming complex
structures much more efficient than themselves taken singly. These pre-cell
co-operatives (what we now call cells) then took over the world.
Cells don't exist without chromosomes, but chromosomes (after a fashion) exist without cells.
These objects, which resemble bare chromosomes, are what we call "viruses". ...
Viruslike objects may have existed billions of years ago, before the evolution of cells,
and may have been capable of independent reproduction. They may have had
within themselves all of the capacity for growth and multiplication, and may therefore have
been somewhat more complex than modern viruses.
For the viruses that exist today have been spoiled by the very availability of cells. The modern virus
is a complete parasite that has shed the equipment it needed for independent life and merely maintains
itself, no more, outside the cell. Once it gets a chance to enter a cell of the proper type,
however, it can make use of the cell's
chemical machinery for its
own purposes; multiplying itself at the expense of the cell's own needs and sometimes killing
its host in the process.
From James Agenbroad on Facebook:
At some point you have to decide whether the people who wrote down the bible were lying to you,
or GOD was lying to you when he created a universe that appears very, very old.
Doonesbury on Evolution
Family Guy's version of Creation (video)
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