May 16 2013

An Interview with Don McLeroy, Part III

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25 Responses to “An Interview with Don McLeroy, Part III”

  1. eiskrystalon 16 May 2013 at 8:41 am

    We actually know how humans form and grow from a single cell to maturity in a mere 18 years and 9 months and it’s far more complex than a single cell, yet at no point has a “mystical being makes humans grow” theory been put forward.

    However apparently a mystical something is needed for a set of cells over millions of years to show even a sliver of such complex morphing through DNA. A complexity we HAVE seen happen and HAVE tested.

    This is akin to people not believing that bricks can be stuck together to form new shapes, but happy to live in houses.

  2. CWon 16 May 2013 at 9:05 am

    Steve wrote:

    “The fossils do not occur out of temporal sequence – no horses in the Cambrian or elephants living with dinosaurs. In fact there isn’t a single dinosaur fossil seen above the K-T boundary.”

    Could Creationists/ID advocates argue that since birds are descended from dinosaurs, there are likely to be dinosaur fossils above the K-T boundary? The reason why I ask is because many science communicators talk about the relationships between birds and dinosaurs to the extent, where many say that ‘birds are dinosaurs’ just to drive that point home.

    In other words, is it possible that the transition from dinosaur to bird could be above the K-T boundary – or is that too many millions of years?

  3. Bruce Woodwardon 16 May 2013 at 9:10 am

    I really have enjoyed all of these posts but something has been bothering me since the beginning. Don seems to be intent on saying he is not a creationist, and is being very coy on stating his outright position. Even if he were arguing a valid point where we may or may not know the answer scientifically he has yet to come up with any counter hypothesis or anything to explain any of the things that have been discussed. While you would not expect everyone who ever argues to ever come up with alternative hypothesis, he has said he has been studying this for 30 years or so… I would ask him what hypothesis he would put forward to explain the evidence that is presented to us. What is his theory? How does it stand up to scientific scrutiny? Any good scientist or critical thinker would have come up with at least one or two theories of their own in 30 years.

    His gambit is one long “I am only asking questions” spiel and your square earth point Steve really sums up this whole argument. We are saying the earth is a sphere (or near enough), he sees a mountain and is saying that obviously mountains are not on round things, so ergo we are wrong. He has no interest in pulling out to see the whole picture, he has his mountain and he will stay close to the safety of its non-sphereness… he doesn’t even have the guts to say the earth is square or flat, he just says it is not round and 30 years of looking at the mountain and the land around him that the earth is not a sphere.

  4. delphi_oteon 16 May 2013 at 9:31 am

    By his logic, why not teach the weaknesses and holes in the theory of gravitation? It seems odd that he’s stuck on evolution. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that his skepticism coincides with his religious beliefs.

  5. oldmanjenkinson 16 May 2013 at 9:43 am

    You hit the nail on the head as it were Dr. Novella in your Conclusion section “…Don wants to stick to criticisms of evolution, rather than being put in a position where he has to defend evidence for creationism.” This is a typical tactic of someone who does not have a counter theory so resorts to either ad hominem attacks or straw man fallacy.

  6. FullMetalMarmotteon 16 May 2013 at 10:31 am

    Regarding cell complexity:
    It is indeed an argument FOR evolution. Or at least against ID. A cell is so complex because a lot of new functions derive from gene duplication and mutation and reuse of the same basic structure. Why would an intelligent designer use such an inefficient way to design new functions? You don’t use mechanical parts to build a computer, even if they were used for millennia. Humanity developed new tools and technology, but apparently, the almighty “designer” is too stupid to do that and use duplication, random rearrangement. Seriously, why not cold fusion powered flying whales? Why reuse terrestrial structure for a swimming animal?

  7. eiskrystalon 16 May 2013 at 10:45 am

    True FullMetal. The efficiency of plants converting sunlight is quite dire compared to what solar panels can achieve. Why can we trivially beat an all powerful designer at designing?

    Forget perfection, how about a complex creature design that can survive a few million years without going extinct… or turning into a chicken.

  8. tmac57on 16 May 2013 at 10:49 am

    Science!!! Harrumph! First they say that light is a wave,then they argue that it is a particle.And now,they say that it’s both!!!!??? How convenient!!!

    So, god created every particle in the universe,and set it all in motion,and created the earth and populated it with all of these millions of species with incredible complexities,even down to the cell level with it’s own incredible complexities,boy,kind of makes you think that something so complex MUST have had a creator…hmmm ,god must be very,very,very complex to do all of that…makes you kinda wonder…right?

  9. gordtullochon 16 May 2013 at 11:20 am

    Very interesting discussion, it certainly presents a much more articulate view of the position of the creationists than we see normally, looking forward to the next installment.

    I mourn the missed opportunity for a zinger – I would have said “Just because you can provide evidence that the Earth isn’t totally round doesn’t mean it’s FLAT!” Seems more appropriate for the Medieval perspective Don is mired in!

  10. slartyon 16 May 2013 at 11:42 am

    At the risk of someone calling Godwin’s, there are strong parallels between Don’s attempts to invalidate evolution and Holocaust deniers’ attempts to do similarly with the Nazi holocaust. Let me make clear here that I am in no way conflating Don McElroy with such people except in one single area, the tactics used to further his arguments. Just as we can dismiss the Holocaust deniers’ arguments, so we can similarly dismiss Don’s.

    Typical HD’ers will try to foster doubt about the Holocaust by focussing on areas where they think the evidence is weakest or not accessible, or on arguments going on within the field between legitimate experts about the details and minutiae of what happened. All the while ignoring the huge mountains of other evidence showing that the Nazi’s systematically murdered millions of civilians and POW’s across Europe in the name of racist superiority – or that species today descended from common ancestors over millions of years.

  11. rezistnzisfutlon 16 May 2013 at 2:20 pm

    Putting aside the fact that Don is a creationist and his agenda is to remove evolution from the science classroom, all I’ve seen from him so far are strawmen of the “weaknesses”. In other words, he’s not arguing actual weaknesses in TOE, but weaknesses in his strawmen. And people wonder why we are critical of peoples’ beliefs, because peoples’ beliefs inform their actions as illustrated by Don – they can’t leave very well alone in their efforts to spread disinformation.

    See, this is why the school boards should not be selected from the general population or comprise politicians, for the most part. They should at least mostly consist of subject-matter experts, educators, and at most a few representatives of parents and legislatures. You get, quite frankly, idiots like Don on education boards who don’t have a clue what they’re talking about and have a clear religious agenda.

  12. Enzoon 16 May 2013 at 3:09 pm

    I don’t really have a problem with someone poking at the weaknesses of evolutionary theory without proposing an alternate hypothesis, but as Steve mentions, the “weaknesses” evolution deniers are calling out are imaginary. It would be different if they had legitimate criticisms of the actual evidence. After all, not being able to come up with an alternate hypothesis (especially for non-scientists) doesn’t necessarily mean the current hypothesis is a good option if the evidence is too weak — they can simply not know.

    Despite this, the evolution deniers seem incapable of taking a step back and viewing the evidence as a whole and have a hard time appreciating the detailed magnitude of the evidence in the literature. Calling writers out for choosing examples rather than present the molecular evidence for every single signaling pathway in the cell? That’s absurd! and the funny part is there is probably detailed information for a lot of that if you did want it — from the evolutionary nature of protein families (i.e. DNA binders) to the development of macromolecular structures (i.e. ribosomes or flagellar motor protein complexes).

    I would say the problem is we don’t have a one-source, easily accessed, well indexed and easily searchable database for evolutionary evidence that we can show them (Hitchhiker’s Guide to Evolution, anyone?) on the spot. The evidence is scattered over hundreds of thousands of papers)…But we all know even if we had such a collection they would still find ways to deny the evidence.

    As an aside, if we get him addressing creationism evidence, I wonder what Mr. McLeroy has to say about vestigiality in the fossil record (as in the hindlimb remnant in whales). This is my favorite question to ask evolution deniers.

  13. HHCon 16 May 2013 at 3:35 pm

    Its very true, Steve, about the evangelicals using “weaknesses in evolution” to proselytize their biblical Christian point of view. We used to read “The Plain Truth” because it was free, and it made great toilet literature. They would preach Evangelical Christianity alongside all these lovely picture of species which somehow were the weakest links in evolution. It made biology exciting with colorful pictures when I was a kid.

  14. LCon 16 May 2013 at 6:11 pm

    It’s not clear whether Don is reading these comments (or even Steve’s blog posts). I suspect that he’s only reading Steve’s emails. Nevertheless, I’m posting this in the hopes that Don -is- reading, or at least that Steve might incorporate this into one of his responses to Don.

    After listening to the interview on SGU and reading the subsequent blog posts, I don’t see Don’s side moving forward. Don raises points in the interview, to which Steve responds. Don then re-raises the same points in his follow-up emails to Steve, as though he were ignoring Steve’s responses. Repeating the same points over and over without listening to the answers doesn’t move the discussion forward, and simply makes you look obstinate.

    So rather than repeating (again) the same points, I’d like Don to respond to the following:

    1. You have repeatedly brought up Fordham describing the Texas standards as “exemplary.” Steve explained why this was misleading. Is there something about Steve’s answer that was unsatisfactory? (Follow-up: If the answer is “no,” then why do you continue to bring it up?)

    2. You have repeatedly brought up the complexity of the cell as a weakness of evolution. Steve answered this on the podcast, and I read that he will address your objection further tomorrow. Is there something about Steve’s answer that was unsatisfactory? (Same follow-up.)

    3. You have repeatedly brought up stasis and sudden appearance as problems for evolution (going so far as to call punctuated equilibrium a “convenient explanation” and accusing science of “moving the goalposts’). Steve carefully answered (multiple times) why this was consistent with evolution (including explaining that the science has advanced considerably in the last 150 years, and that P.E. best fits the evidence). Is there something about Steve’s answer that was unsatisfactory? (Same follow-up.)

    4. You have emphasized the “suddenness” of the Cambrian explosion repeatedly. Steve explained that it was a matter of context — “sudden” geologically still means a great deal of time in realtime — and in fact, plenty of time for the events upon which you are casting doubt to occur. Is there something about Steve’s answer that was unsatisfactory? (Same follow-up.)

    5. You have repeatedly brought up that “the evidence” is weak by trying to shoot down specific details of evolution. Steve has provided multiple answers to this line of reasoning: 1) Your criticisms are misleading at best (i.e., we would EXPECT the fossil evidence for biochemical evolution to be scant to nonexistent) and incorrect at worst; 2) You focus on smaller details as though they disprove the bigger picture, while ignoring the massive amounts of evidence that demonstrate conclusively that evolution occurred; 3) Your approach is contrary to the way science works, which is ironic considering we’re discussing high school science standards. Is there something about Steve’s answers that were unsatisfactory? (Same follow-up.)

    Anyone who’s married has probably been in the frustrating situation of being in a disagreement with your spouse who brings up Point X (whatever it is), and even after you provide a perfectly good answer to Point X, simply resorts to bringing up “Point X,” “Point X,” “Point X” over and over. There’s no learning curve, and there’s no progress. It stops being a discussion, and starts being a diatribe.

    Don, you have brought up several points, all of which Steve has answered. Can you please stop repeating the same points without addressing the responses?

  15. Dmitrion 16 May 2013 at 8:08 pm

    “The scientific community should be free to determine what is science and what the evidence currently says.” Very good point. You don’t see a massive movement by scientists get instructors in religion classes to “teach the controversy” about the great flood, virgin birth or resurrection. Leave science education to scientists!

  16. Davdoodleson 16 May 2013 at 8:14 pm

    @Don “But for me, the lack of scientific evidence for the evolutionary development of the complexity of the cell–which must underlie morphological complexity–is evolution’s greatest difficulty.”

    This is an argument from incredulity, mixed with the lottery fallacy.

    The fact is that these complex cells exist. Even in the absence of any other evidence (which is only an assumption for present purposes), it is not a difficulty for the theory of evolution, it is merely a scientific question awaiting a solution.

    Or, to put it another way, the theory of evoolution is not dogma, it is science. Only dogma has “difficulties” when faced with no, or conflicting, evidence. Science only has has unanswered questions, which it sets about methodically solving.

    @ Don: “…science is tested by the evidence–period. It is not tested by “just-so stories” and unsubstantiated statements.”

    Good, something we can agree on.
    .

  17. rezistnzisfutlon 16 May 2013 at 9:17 pm

    @Enzo,

    Talkorigins.org is a pretty decent collection of articles on evolution, etc., that actually addresses common creationist/ID claims, as you brought up wishing there was a single place to look up scientifically supported information on evolution.

  18. rocken1844on 16 May 2013 at 11:24 pm

    poor chap he is not reading enough Richard Dawkins – “If a molecular machine requires so many precisely positioned parts to function, how could it possibly evolve? That question has been part of a populist attack on evolution but, contrary to its proponents, scientists have a number of ideas about the evolution of this machinery. It’s just that those ideas can be very hard to test, since we can’t go back in time and look at the predecessors to today’s machines.

    Advances in DNA sequencing, however, have allowed us to calculate what the earlier proteins must have looked like. And scientists have now started to engineer DNA sequences that “resurrect” these long dead proteins, and examine how they function. In the latest work of this sort, a team has resurrected parts of an ancient molecular machine, and shown how some of its specialized protein components evolved.”

    from
    http://old.richarddawkins.net/articles/644523-evolution-of-complexity-recreated-using-molecular-time-travel

    again we confront this problem that Dr Novella and others have described: that a criticism of evolutionary theory is not a proof of ID or creationism. Second, just because we don’t have all the answers yet, why should we call our ignorance ID or God? again Dawkins from “The God Delusion” “It is therefore unfortunate, to say the least, that the main strategy of creation propagandists is the negative one of seeking out gaps in scientific knowledge and claiming to fill them with ‘intelligent design’ by default.”

  19. Bruce Woodwardon 17 May 2013 at 5:50 am

    Oh, also, when he says he is not using the god in the gaps argument because he is not putting Creationism forward, but then uses the god in the gaps argument, or rather the We-don’t-understand-it-so-it-must-be-something-all-powerful-that-i-am-not-stating-outright-in-the-hopes-no-one-thinks-i-am-a-putting-a-creationist-agenda-forward in the gaps argument.

  20. BillyJoe7on 17 May 2013 at 6:19 am

    LC: “Don, you have brought up several points, all of which Steve has answered. Can you please stop repeating the same points without addressing the responses?”

    It’s all part of the wedge strategy.

    Don wants to get the wedge in the door. So, first of all, he’s absolutely not going to discuss creationism. That’s the first part of the strategy. All he is going to do is talk about evolutionary theory, specifically what he calls the “weakness” of evolutionary theory. When he identifies what he calls a weakness” of evolutionary theory and it is demonstrated to him why his example is either not a weakness or has no effect on the correctness of evolutionary theory, instead of addressing the refutation, he simple restates it as a weakness. He never defends his bold claim, and he never intends to. This is another part of the strategy.

    Prove me wrong, Don.
    …oh wait, he’s not even reading this.

  21. SimonWon 17 May 2013 at 6:20 am

    I was going to comment as rocken1844.

    The attack on Dawkins seems entirely fatuous. Dawkins will happily explain what we know of the evolution of cell complexity. Cells don’t leave fossils although they can leave structure and chemistry in the fossil record which suggest increasing variety and complexity over the period one would need for evolution to be occurring. So what we know is nearly all complex genetics and biochemistry.

    I’m not sure what he is proposing here as a better explanation, that multi-cellular creatures evolved from designed cells, after a few hundred million years of cells mucking about on their own. Or that a simple cell was evolved or was created, went on to evolve, and then a more complex cell was engineered for others to descend from. The cells, both single and multi-cellular then continued to evolve subsequently? I suppose it is possible aliens visited and said “no don’t do it like that, lets mix these ones with those ones”, does he have any evidence for any of this or is it just personal incredulity.

    There is clear evidence of cell types merging, if he doesn’t know this, then he doesn’t know his cell biology. It is, according to evolution, why mitochondria have DNA. So Dawkins is not making vain claims, and if questioned I’m sure he’d happily defend them.

    Those daft evolutionists use variation is cell mitochondrial DNA to map how closely related species are. Any other explanation other than common descent would have to explain why they all have mitochondrial DNA and why it varies between species as it does, although it was more popular when sequencing all the DNA in a cell was prohibitively difficult or expensive.

    I have a hard time believing a species with members with the critical thinking skill of Don have the capacity to make iPhones, or Superconducting super colliders, but I tend to accept the evidence that this has happened, rather than hypothesize without any evidence (as some have) that aliens are landing this stuff in Japan and California. I’m sure if I was curious I could probably tour Intels CPU plants, and go speak to engineers like my cousin, and find out how they make mobile phones, but arguing they can’t possibly be man made from a position of ignorance of the alleged process marks folk out as a bit “nutty” in most people’s view. Don should ponder this, and go read more Dawkins.

    Surely the question is what should be taught to biology students is best answered by people like Dawkins, whose job it was to teach people what we know about biology, and how we know it. We don’t teach gravity with reference to the anomaly of a few fractions of a percent in the path of Voyager, or that it doesn’t explain the shape of galaxies (without a lot more stuff than we can’t see). We explain gravity by telling students how we (well Gallileo and Newton, and a handful of astronomers mostly) arrived at the theory, what it does explain. Sure some discussion of areas it should explain but doesn’t is welcome but it isn’t central to understanding gravity. But gravity isn’t really endangered as a theory by these anomalies, and evolution explains SO much about biology you really can’t understand the world scientifically without a firm grounding in it.

    As Hrab put it, some people have trouble with things known as FACTS. Mostly when it goes against what their culture has taught. Which is why they were so hard on Gallileo, because to them the bible was, and still is, crystal clear on the point that the earth is stationary. It is still wrong on this point, some still hold it is inerrant, go figure.

  22. pdeboeron 17 May 2013 at 12:42 pm

    Don’t speculate around Don.

    Darwin speculates the pattern that evolution takes, Don takes that as a keystone argument for all of evolution to lean on.

  23. ccbowerson 18 May 2013 at 8:36 am

    “It seems that evolutionists have ‘moved the goalposts’ for what the fossil record should demonstrate.”

    This is ironic, because ‘moving the goalposts’ is precisely what creationist do when they refer to ‘missing links’ in the fossil record. As new specimens are found which further support evolution, they argue that the specimen creates a new gap or they just focus on other areas of the fossil record. Nevermind that specimen fell in line with what evolution predicts.

    I find it funny how he misuses the term ‘moving the goalpost.’ This term is used when an argument arbitrarily shifts the threshold for evidence after that threshold is met or surpassed. However, he states :
    “It seems that evolutionists have “moved the goalposts” for what the fossil record should demonstrate.”

    What he calls ‘move the goal posts’ is really improving a theory to better fit the evidence, and this is not just an ‘ad hoc’ change (or ‘just so story’), it has resulted in better predictions of what we should observe in the fossil records and everywhere else we find evidence for evolution.

    What he calls ‘moving the goalposts’ is ironically scientific progress. Not so ironically, a creationist finds scientific progress a weakness, because creationist theories never change despite evidence- and they think that is a strength

  24. norrisLon 19 May 2013 at 6:50 pm

    I can still remember vividly to this day the conversation I had with a VERY intelligent man (with regards to his own topic of mathematics) at Kings College at the University of Queensland in 1982. This conversation was my first introduction to the “fact” that the earth was 6000 years old. I simply could not believe that such a brilliant mathematician could believe such rot. I asked Neil how come we can see stars and galaxies that are more than 6000 light years away. His answer: The speed of light is slowing down. So, Neil, will this deceleration continue until C = 0 m/s? If so, what will happen to the earth that god created for you? Not much of an answer to that one.

    Neil, why did old testament people live for so long? I expected a simple answer; that is that they used a different system of marking time and when this system is calibrated against the Julian system, the old testament dudes would live a the life span that we would expect from illiterate bronze age nomadic shepherds, about 20-40 years. But, no. Neil’s answer was that there was a thicker atmosphere in those days and this prevented cosmic rays from passing through the atmosphere and then causing illness in humans, but funnily enough, not in animals.

    There were several of us at the dinner table involved in this conversation, and I think that NEil was the only one on his side, and yet he kept producing “proof” to back up his theories. It turns out that his father was a pastor in a lutheran church.

    I simply could not believe that such an intelligent man could believe in this stuff, other than to realise that this stuff had probably been banged into him by his similarly deluded parents since he was 18 months old.

    So, we do have religious crazies here in Australia, but ours tend to be a fair bit quieter when they are out in public than the American religious crazies, and I suspect you probably have a higher percentage of such people in your population than we do, although this may be an artifact caused by the aforementioned quietness of our crazies over here. I recently came across a youtube video comparing IQ and degree of religiosity in the US states. I’ll leave you to consider for yourselves what correlation was found.

  25. Bruce Woodwardon 20 May 2013 at 6:35 am

    norrisL, I would be VERY careful when looking at any data regarding IQ. It is a notoriously flawed measure. I would also suspect that there are a high number of intelligent people who believe in some very strange things, as you yourself said, the guy you were arguing with initially was a very intelligent man.

    Correlating woo, religiousity with any kind of education level or intelligence quotient is very dangerous as there are so many factors that go into someone believing in something and in how they develop their critical thinking skills.

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