Mr. Knapp Catches Up On Some Unfinished Business

Sometime in December, 2005 Mr. Knapp posted a letter on his website that he had originally submitted to the letters section of the local newspaper.   (See here for the intact version of the letter.)  The letter was submitted in response to several letters to the editor that I, and others, had written previously.   These letters all were part of (or were intended to be part of) a series of commentaries dealing with the evolution/creation controversy that appeared in the Bonner County Daily Bee in the first part of 2005.  Because of the space limitations placed on these letters in the newspaper, it is not possible to properly address the many inaccuracies that the creationists invariably include in them.  Since I am not encumbered with such restrictions in this format, I will comment on Mr. Knapp's last letter in some detail.  In what follows, Mr. Knapp's comments are presented in standard type while my responses follow in bold type.

My response to Mr. Knapp's unpublished letter -

Jack DeBaun(7/28) expresses concern with the future of science education because evolution is being challenged in public schools. More propaganda. One of the key errors of this article is to equate the success of science education with the teaching of evolution.

In the words of the noted biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."  The theory of evolution is the fundamental concept that unifies all the varied disciplines of the life sciences.  As explained here, "The unity, diversity, and adaptive characteristics of organisms are consequences of evolutionary history, and can be understood fully only in this light.And as discussed here, evolutionary principles play an integral role in such diverse fields as pharmaceutical development, disease prevention, agricultural research, forensics, and computer problem solving.  The importance of teaching evolutionary biology in science class has been emphasized by all the major scientific organizations in the country including: The National Academy of Sciences, The American Association for the Advancement of Science, The National Science Teachers Association, and The National Association of Biology Teachers.  (See here, here, here, here, and here.)  Furthermore, over 10,000 clergy members have now signed a petition urging "school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge."  (See here.) 

If Mr. Knapp wants to hide in a dream world where the study of evolution is not essential to a comprehensive science education, so be it.  Fortunately, real scientists (and many clergy) who live in the real world know better.  (See here.)  The fact that he can't tell the difference between genuine concern by the scientific community and "more propaganda" shows just how out of touch he is with the reality of the situation.       

To operational science, i.e., the science that puts men on the moon, finds biomedical cures for diseases, physics, chemistry and so on, evolution is irrelevant. Itís not the same science.

There is no such thing as a separate branch of science known as "operational science."  That is an ad hoc term concocted by creationists in hopes that they can weasel their supernatural explanations into what they also mistakenly designate as "origins science."  There is only one kind of science and it employs strictly naturalistic methodology.  (See here.)  Biological evolution is irrelevant to "biomedical cures" like the germ theory is irrelevant to disease prevention and Genesis is irrelevant to creationism.  (See here, here, and here.)

Consider this comment in the respected journal Geotimes .

Consider that creationists are betting most people will be fooled into thinking these comments are from a peer-reviewed article in Geotimes.  Consider that, after a little detective work, it was discovered that these comments really appeared in the un-refereed letters to the editor section of the journal.   Consider that these letters contain a diversity of opinion, some of which represents a minority viewpoint.  Consider that these ill-founded comments (see below) by a non-biologist in no way represent the mainstream, pro-evolution stance of the journal.  (See here

 "Evolutionists have physics envy.

Creationists have evidence envy.  Those who accept evolution have all of it on their side.  (See here.)

They tell the public that the science behind evolution is the same science that sent men to the moon, and cures diseases. Itís not. The science behind evolution is not empirical, but forensic.

It's both.

Because evolution took place in history, itís[sic] scientific investigations are after the factó

So what?  Most criminal investigations are "after the fact."  People can be executed based on the information gained from "after the fact" investigations.  Is the author of these comments suggesting that convicted criminals should not be punished because, in many cases, nobody actually observed them in the act of committing a crime?   Criminals leave evidence that can later be examined to establish their guilt.  Evolution leaves evidence that can later be examined to establish its validity.

Did any creationists directly observe the events that supposedly occurred during the biblical week of Creation?  Aren't their "investigations" occurring "after the fact" as well? 

no testing,

Wrong.  Go to the PubMed Central webpage, search for "testing evolution," and see how many hits you get.

 no observations,

Wrong.  See here and here.

 no repeatability,

Wrong.  See here, here, and here.  Studies of the processes that drive evolution (mutation/natural selection, for example) have given repeatable results in the laboratory and the field.  In the broader sense, repeatability in science can refer to observations of specific aspects of a phenomenon; not reproduction of the macro-phenomenon itself.  In a historical science like the study of biological evolution, the data examined must be reproducible and consistent with theoretical predictions.  For example, if dinosaurs are found in specific geologic strata in one part of the world, scientists would expect to find them in the same strata in other parts of the world.  And if they are not found above or below those strata in one hemisphere, evolutionary theory would predict the same would be true worldwide. That is what is actually observed, and that is an example of what is meant by "repeatability" in the context of macroevolution.  Just because a geologist cannot replicate full-scale volcanoes in the laboratory does not mean that valuable scientific information about how volcanoes are formed cannot be gleaned from conducting replicated studies of the rocks that make them up.  And just because scientists cannot create full-scale lightning bolts on demand does not mean that repeated observations of  lightning storms cannot lead to useful hypotheses about how lightning originates.   Likewise, studies of evolutionary processes and such things as the arrangement of fossils in the geologic strata can provide valuable scientific information about development of life on earth.

So-called "scientific creationists" argue that events connected with the biblical flood are supported by sound scientific evidence.  Have they replicated Noah's ark, loaded it with all the "kinds" of animals that existed on earth at the time, and maintained them with a crew of eight in rough seas for close to a year without taking on any additional supplies?  (Remember, to duplicate the event, they will have to find someone who is 600 years old to captain the ship.)    Until they do, they have no justification whatsoever for carping about the lack of repeatability in the evolutionary sciences.

 no falsification,

Wrong.  See here and here.  It would be very easy to falsify evolutionary theory as it now stands, if it were actually false.  All one would have to do is find something like a human artifact embedded in the same strata as a fossilized T. rex  or a flowering plant fossilized in Cambrian sediment.  Unfortunately for the creationists, no such anomalies have ever been found and authenticated.  Is it any wonder they suffer from evidence envy?

Out of one side of their mouths, creationists argue that evolution cannot be falsified.  Out of the other side, they insist they have already falsified it.  One wonders which version of their doubletalk they believe themselves.          

 nothing at all like physics.

Would that be the same physics that developed the radiometric dating techniques that show the earth is several billion years old?

I think this is what the public discernsóthat evolution is just a bunch of just-so stories disguised as science."

What the general public, which is for the most part only marginally educated in the sciences, and a misinformed physicist discern about biological evolution is irrelevant to the validity of the theory and its virtually unanimous acceptance throughout the scientific community.  I have to admit though, in the just-so-story department, creationists win hands down.  (See here.)

Jack Debaun (8/16) argues that the burden is on the doubters to provide a mechanism that prevents microevolution adding up to macroevolution. This is ridiculous logic. Just the opposite is true.

Mr. Knapp could obviously benefit from a refresher course in the basic elements of logical argumentation.  As discussed below, someone is definitely using "ridiculous logic," but it is not me.

The believers need to provide us with a mechanism that can show these limited variations (microevolution) can add up to large scale changes (macroevolution).

You asked for it, you got it.  How about a combination of mechanisms: mutation, recombination, gene flow (migration), genetic drift, natural selection, and sexual selection + time.  See here.  For a source of well-documented evidence that demonstrates these processes do "add up to large scale changes," see here.

By the way, scientists are not "believers" in evolution.  They "reason" that evolution is the best explanation for the diversity of life on earth because that is what the evidence supports.  Creationists are believers in a collection of prescientific stories that, when taken literally, fly in the face of the evidence.  Scientists base their acceptance of evolution on evidence and critical thinking.  Creationists base their belief in creationism on dogma and faith.

Asking doubters to provide an anti-mechanism does not provide evidence FOR microevolution-to-macroevolution.

Of course not.  Simply asking creationists to cough up such information does not provide evidence for micro-to-macroevolution.  Nonetheless, when creationists are repeatedly asked to provided substantive evidence in support of their putative "anti-mechanism," they consistently fail to do so.  Evolutionary scientists have accumulated libraries full of evidence showing that micro-to-macroevolutionary changes have occurred.  In spite of their inability to provide any verifiable supporting evidence on their behalf, creationists continue to assert that their "anti-mechanism" is for real.  They seem oblivious of the basic fact that, in logic, an assertion without evidence is not accepted as true.  Surely if creationists have any evidence to back up their claim, they would have produced it by now.  It reasonable to conclude from their consistent failure to deliver the goods, that they don't have any goods to deliver?               

  Jack, give us one example of a micro evolutionary change in a living organism that can empirically substantiate such a claim.

I must say, I haven't seen logic this "ridiculous" in quite some time.  To explain why Mr. Knapp's request is so "ridiculous," let me present the following analogy.  Consider the example of a hiker walking on a deserted beach from point A to point B while leaving a trail of footprints in the sand along the way.  The hiker also leaves a trail of crumbs from a pastry he is eating and produces a sequence of indentations in the sand from a walking stick he is using.  He is accompanied by his pet dog who also leaves footprints and a line in the sand from a stick he carrying in his mouth. The trail is not continuous, but is broken for short distances at some points by wave action.  Nonetheless, by walking back from point B to point A and examining the evidence they left behind, it is possible to construct a reasonably accurate picture of the actual route taken by the hiker and his dog and to conclude they actually traversed the distance.

Now assume the hiker and his companion reach point B just as Mr. Knapp arrives on the scene.  In analogy to his line of thinking regarding macroevolution, Mr. Knapp would insist that, just because they had arrived at point B and had left a recognizable trail of evidence along the way, it is unreasonable to assume that the hiker and his canine companion actually walked from A to B.  After all, like all good reality deniers, Mr. Knapp would remind his detractors that nobody was actually there to see them make the journey.  In addition, when asked to explain what prevented the hiker and his dog from progressing one step at a time to reach the final destination, Mr. Knapp would demand that those who question his assessment of the situation must identify one single set of footprints, one crumb, one indentation of the walking stick, or one small segment of the line drawn by the dog's stick that proves they completed the walk.  (This request is as nonsensical as Mr. Knapp asking for one example of a micro evolutionary change that substantiates macroevolution.  An understanding of large-scale evolution is arrived at from a  comprehensive overview of all the pertinent evidence.  It is the manner in which all this evidence fits together to give a coherent and consistent picture that substantiates macroevolution.  Although each piece of evidence is important in assembling the evolutionary puzzle, no single piece can be expected to give a complete representation of the big picture.  Likewise, no isolated point on the path in the analogy above can be expected to delineate the entire the path followed by the hiker and his dog or to even establish that they took a walk.)  To top it all off, Mr. Knapp's interpretation of the situation would be based on an ancient manuscript that claimed hikers and their dogs could not reach point B by walking because, on this beach, the only way to get there is by magic teleportation.

As established here, evolution has left definitive trails in the fossil record and in the morphological, biochemical, and molecular genetic patterns of existing organisms.  Laboratory and field studies have confirmed the operation of evolutionary processes.  This evidence is so voluminous and so persuasive (to those not wearing ideological blinders) that every reputable scientific organization in the world accepts it as confirmation of evolutionary theory.  Mr. Knapp is making the assertion, baseless as it may be, that there is some mysterious braking process that prevents microevolutionary changes from accumulating over time to produce macroevolutionary changes.  Evolutionary scientists have fulfilled their obligation by providing an abundance of evidence that leads to the logical conclusion that no such braking mechanism exists.  Mr. Knapp is the one making a positive assertion about the existence of this elusive mechanism that is totally unknown to science and contradictory to all the available evidence.  Therefore, it is he who must produce the proof of his assertion.  Contrary to Mr. Knapp's "ridiculous logic," scientists have no obligation to prove a negative for him, i.e., to prove that his imaginary mechanism does not exist.  If creationists cannot provide positive evidence to support their own assertions, that is their problem.

Recent studies have shown that relatively minor genetic modifications can have significant evolutionary consequences.  For example, one study has shown that a relatively minor mutation in a Hox gene can cause large-scale changes in body plans.  (See here.)  Another study has shown that the introduction of white skin in humans was caused by a single alteration of one letter of the 3.1 billion-letter DNA genome. (See here.)  And another study has shown that a variation in a single regulatory gene may account for the fact humans have more brain power than apes. (See here.)  Considering these examples and the fact that humans and chimpanzees differ genetically by no more than 5%, it is hard to imagine how anyone* could argue that a steady accumulation of relatively small genetic modifications over time could not result in rather profound evolutionary changes, i.e., macroevolution.  *Anyone with critical thinking skills and an open mind, that is.                    

  Dr Scott Todd, an immunologist at Kansas State University, in the journal Nature said this; ĎEven if all the data point to an intelligent designer, such an hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic. Quite revealing is it not?   

Yes, Dr. Todd told it like it is. If it ainít naturalistic, it ainít science.  Supernatural hypotheses are not permitted in science, regardless of how much the data might seem to point to them.  (See here.)  While some might look upon this restriction as a limitation of the scientific method, it is this "limitation" which has enabled science to become the most effective system ever devised by man for unlocking the secrets of the natural world.  Furthermore, since the data do not necessarily point to a supernatural intelligent designer, the foregoing statement is purely hypothetical.  What is "quite revealing" is the realization that Mr. Knapp does not appear to grasp the fact that methodological naturalism is a fundamental tenet of the scientific method.

This is the crux of the matter and should be exposed for what it is. Arguments for design, even though superior, imply a supernatural designer and therefore must be excluded from any discussion of origin science. Why? Because they do not meet the evolutionistís self-serving philosophy called naturalism. This is not an honest search for the truth nor a tenet deducible by the experimental method. It is a religious/philosophical assumption from outside science.

Nice regurgitation of Phillip Johnson's philosophical diatribe against mainstream science.  Mr. Knapp appears to never tire of beating this dead horse.  All of the sciences, not just the evolutionary sciences, must abide by the rule that only naturalistic explanations are permitted in formulating scientific theories.  No gods, spirits, demons, ghosts, leprechauns, fairies, etc. can be advanced as causative factors in science.  While they may be right at home in religious texts, ghost stories, and fairy tales, they are not welcome in the book of science. 

Mr. Knapp has raised this argument a number of times in the past, and I have answered it each time much as I have in this instance.  Obviously, the message is not getting through to him.  Since he persists in insinuating that evolutionary scientists are somehow unique in practicing methodological naturalism,  I have repeatedly asked him to identify one established scientific theory from any discipline that invokes anything other than naturalistic causes and effects.  Silly me.  I once thought his inability to produce even one such example would cause him to re-evaluate his claim that evolutionary scientists were alone in adhering to naturalistic explanations.  Unfortunately, at the time, I did not appreciate how the creationist mindset enables them to simply ignore contradictory evidence and pretend it doesn't exist.                 

    To[sic] much importance is placed on the teaching of evolution. It is irrelevant to the operational sciences. Science will march on regardless of the pseudo claims of evolutionism.

See above.

By the way, I noticed no response from Jack regarding the *NCSEís lying director in a follow up article that was published in the Bee.  Is that what we call mainstream lying Jack?

The fact that a creationist would accuse a mainstream scientist of lying is enough destroy the most robustly built irony meter ever manufactured.  If anyone should know about the fine art of  prevarication, it is the creationists.  They have had a lot of practice.  (See here, here, and here.)  I am afraid when it comes to telling tall tales, evolutionary scientists are rank amateurs compared to their duplicitous counterparts.  Some creationists are so habituated to fibbing that they can't even restrain themselves when they are testifying in court under oath (which they undoubtedly swore on a Bible.)  The following is an excerpt from the conclusion to the  judge's decision that was rendered in the Dover, Pennsylvania school board trial on 12/20/05:

The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.  (emphasis mine)

Apparently the judge did not realize that, according to a good many creationists, lying is okay so long as it is done to advance the anti-evolution cause.  Unfortunately for the creationists in Dover, the judge did not see it that way.  (For more on the outcome of this trial see here.)

As regards the situation with Eugenie Scott, this is clearly a case of some suit-happy anti-evolutionist trying to make a mountain out of a mole hill.  For more discussion on this topic, see here and here.  The plaintiff in this lawsuit claims Dr. Scott's statements about him are defamatory because they expose him to "hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy."  Subsequent to the lawsuit, Dr Scott submitted a revised version of the article that initially caused such hyperventilation among the Darwin doubters.  The revised version, with clearly identified corrections and additions, can be found here.  I leave it to the reader to determine if the plaintiff was crying wolf or if the modifications were relatively minor, as Dr. Scott contends.

Post Script -

Due to serious difficulties with my previous Internet service provider, I was forced to change providers in September, 2005.  As a consequence, I have lost most of my page listings on the various search engines.  On November 9, 2005, I sent Mr. Knapp the following email:

In the interest of helping you keep your links up to date, please note that the URL for my website "Evolution/Creation Dialogues" is now http://home.nctv.com/jackjan/index.htm.

Jack DeBaun

As far as I can determine, the URL for my website is listed on only one page of Mr. Knapp's website.  As of 12/16/05, it had not been updated in accordance with my email.  I have always linked to Mr. Knapp's web pages when I have discussed them on my site, and I have now prominently posted a link to his website on my homepage.   I would expect, in the spirit of fair play, that Mr. Knapp would return the favor.