User:Kallium/Letter to PJR

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An Open Letter to PJR[edit]

This is primarily in response to PJR's recent comments on my CP talk page, which stemmed from his Tree of Life essay, which was based on WIGO talk. Since this started on RW, I will finish it here. Also, if I responded on CP, TerryH would probably have another temper tantrum. Besides, what's one more page when the discussion is already spread over three others? This is also my final reply to CP members regarding, well, probably anything, as explained at the end.

Letter follows:

First, let me explain New Scientist to you. It is a popular-press magazine. The goal of such publications is solely to sell subscriptions and/or advertisement space. This means that just like Scientific American and even the typical newspaper, New Scientist likes to add hype and a touch of exaggeration in order to get readers. Sensationalism sells, and it pays very well. In addition, and regarding your comment, "article" and "news"- especially in a popular press magazine- are nonsynonymous. If USA Today printed an article summarizing the Clinton Presidency, would that be news?

Now to the main points. Like your CP counterparts, you treat this case in binary terms. It's not as simple as something being accepted or rejected, right or wrong. This is especially ironic since you accused me of promoting a dichotomy far less false than yours- that either evolution or biblical creation are correct. In fact, even your news item explicitly claimed that evolution only stays around because evolutionists don't like the alternative. You dropped your veil a bit there. It's not a one-or-the-other: even if evolution is wrong, that wouldn't make creation, at the very least your version of it, right. There is an enormous -infinite, in fact- number of other possibilities. If you incessantly attack evolution in order to validate your personal religious beliefs, you are wasting your time. Disagreeing with evolution is one thing, demonstrating biblical creation is another issue entirely. Demolishing one building will not construct another in its place, regardless of which blueprints were correct to begin with.

No "central tenet" has been thrown out- it has been modified. Changing our view of ancestry to accommodate phenomena such as lateral gene transfer and endosymbiosis does not "throw out" common descent. The update is recognizing that vertical transmission is not the only game in town. We have gone from "vertical descent" to "vertical descent plus a bit of lateral gene transfer and endosymbiosis". That's not throwing out one thing in favor of something completely different. How does one mechanism invalidate a utterly non-mutually exclusive one? This is just like claiming that wind resistance destroys the notion of g = 9.8 m/s2, i.e.

g is dead! Long live g! It looks like a "central tenet" of gravitation- constant acceleration- is being discarded (new measurements have shown that objects fall at different rates). But does this evidence mean that a constant g is wrong? Of course not! We'll just invent a new version of gravity (involving so-called "air pressure"), because we can't have those "blinkered" heavy-things-fall-faster folks being right!.

It does not follow that a "modified major" piece is by extension "majorly modified", or that it must have such an effect on the larger context. A spark plug is a central component required to start my car in the morning; putting in a better one doesn't require redesigning and rebuilding the engine. Unless you replace your transmission with every oil change, I didn't "switcheroo" the meaning of anything.

You said, "I thought science was supposed to toss out discredited ideas, not hang on to them at all costs." As I said in the line you were responding to: that's what happened. The now-discredited idea is that all inheritance in organisms is from their ancestral lineage. The vast majority is, but lateral transfer and endosymbiosis occur nonetheless- "all" has been replaced with "almost all". Were we hanging on to the idea of the linear tree of life at all costs, you wouldn't have seen that article in the first place. I am continually amazed how individuals such as Ken- and now apparently yourself as well- repeatedly encounter examples of science functioning properly and try to twist them into evidence of it not working at all. You called my little dialog on the talk page "complete fiction" and then swiftly proceeded to fulfill your role within it.

Of course, your real gripe isn't that part of the model was modified in accord with new discoveries and in line with the way science works, it's that any of the model remains at all. In your own words, "Is evolution really dead? No, of course not. But that's the point. It should be dead, but it won't die." The problem is that you seem to think that this single example alone is enough to accomplish that. Let's say for a moment- hypothetically- that this did in fact completely disprove the tree of life concept and all its variants in their entirety. This would still leave at the very least natural selection, heritable variation, and horizontal gene transfer- but those are the things you indicate not disagreeing with. So speaking of people switching definitions of evolution, what is yours? It must be different that any I've yet heard.

You also inquired what form a major change in the evolutionary "hypothesis" might take, implying that such a thing would not be allowed to happen. Well, I can't predict the nature of a future change, so a more immediately practical question would be, "What could trigger a major change?" Here are a few that come to mind:

  • Single-generation appearance of new species (i.e. a fish giving birth to a cat).
  • Lack of response to selection in genetically variable populations.
  • Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian. (J.B.S. Haldane)
  • Showing that succession of entire and complete fossil ecosystems is an illusion.
  • Demonstrating continued and complex periodicity in rapidly deposited strata.
  • Demonstrating that perfectly linear positively-sloped isochrons can easily occur in open systems.
  • Proving that magnetic fields of entire planets can oscillate on the scale of hours.
  • Calculating how continental drift could have occurred much more quickly without leaving any evidence for it.
  • Showing that there is a discrete, quantitative point at which species are too genetically different to share a common ancestor.
  • Providing an alternative explanation for why gymnosperms consistently appear before angiosperms in the fossil record.
  • Demonstrating that organic chemicals cannot be produced abiotically, disproving a large body of chemical literature.
  • Explaining away the correlation between the genetic divergence of extant organisms and their fossil record.

Now that's all I'm going to say on the matter to anyone on CP, and here's why. If you think evolutionary scientists are suppressing new discoveries, you accuse them of being unscientific- fair enough- but if they freely acknowledge and incorporate new discoveries, as presented in the article, you still accuse them of inappropriate behavior because they didn't discard all of evolutionary biology (or, to the rest of CP, whichever area is the subject at the moment) based on one modified piece- which incidentally is not how science works. As I said earlier, you complained about my joking dialog while following it almost to the letter. Much like Ken, you have begun grasping at any and every little change in any part of evolutionary theory, however small, as evidence of it being wrong in its entirety. That is a desperate and highly fallacious argument. I though- we all thought- that you were better than that. Are you really concerned about the science? Apparently not, otherwise you would have noted the fundamental difference between the linear tree of life and common descent in the first place rather than be taken in by a hyped-up article from the popular press. All this was about is that the "tree" has some cross-branches and is more web-like near its base, that not everything is vertically linear. Fascinating new discoveries (among many), not a foundation-shattering new paradigm. Speaking of fundamentals, you acknowledge natural selection yet disagree with "the whole "descent with modification" aspect"? You have some serious reviewing to do.

Kalliumtalk 00:08, 25 January 2009 (EST)