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The Catholic Church and Evolution:

The U.K. Daily Mail reports that "Pope Benedict XVI has sacked his chief astronomer after a series of public clashes over the theory of evolution":

Although the Vatican did not give reasons for Father Coyne's replacement, sources close to the Holy See say that Benedict would have been unhappy with the priest's public opposition to intelligent design theory.

Father Coyne's most notable intervention came after Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, a former student of the Pope, put the case for intelligent design in an article in the New York Times in July last year.

The cardinal, responding to an explosive debate on evolution in the US, had argued that Darwinian concepts of "random variation and natural selection" were incompatible with the Catholic belief that there is a divine purpose and design to nature.

The cardinal also said that the evolution had become an atheistic ideological dogma that was being used against the Church.

The views of Cardinal Schonborn, one of the authors of the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, were criticised just a month later in an article written by Father Coyne for the London-based Tablet magazine.

God "is not constantly intervening, but rather allows, participates, loves," Fr Coyne wrote, adding: "Religious believers must move away from the notion of a dictator or designer God, a Newtonian God who made the universe as a watch that ticks along regularly...."

I don't have to add much to the story, but if you're interested in reading the astronomer's article that the story mentions -- an article that, as I read it, is much more about theology than about science as such -- I found it here.

Zed (mail) (www):
From discussions at other locations, it would appear that the conflict is almost entirely manufactured. Coyne was in his 70s and recovering from cancer, and simply retired. He was reputedly replaced by someone no less devoted to science.
8.23.2006 6:56pm
Randy R. (mail):
Manufactured by whom? Why is there a need for manufactured conflict at all? Why not just accept science and move on to more pressing matters, such as concern for the poor and the infirm?

Oh wait, this is the catholic church. It's concerned with dogma.
8.23.2006 7:08pm
Snowball:
As Zed mentions, Coyne was well past retirement age and recovering from cancer. His replacement is 30 years younger, also a Jesuit, and has worked under Coyne at the Vatican observatory for several years. In addition, Cardinal Schoenborn, perhaps realizing that he had been hoodwinked by the Discovery Institute, has quietly backed away from his NY Times op-ed. So I doubt Coyne has been "sacked" for his statements in defense of science.

I would take with a *giant* grain of salt any report on the Catholic Church in a British tabloid.
8.23.2006 7:26pm
Brian Day (mail):

Oh wait, this is the catholic church. It's concerned with dogma.


You forgot to add the sex-abuse scandal.

BTW, the biggest provider in the world of services to the poor and the infirm is the Catholic Church.

So your point is?
8.23.2006 7:27pm
MPVA:
I would point you to the inimitable John Allen's recent dispatch regarding the current pope's plans to have a scholarly discussion about Catholicism and evolution during his annual get-together with his former students scheduled for Sept. 1-3. (Allen, who writes for the National Catholic Reporter, is hands-down the single American journalist with the best access to Vatican insiders.) It would seem that Fr. Coyne's "dismissal"--if that's what it is--is much less likely due to his thoughts on evolution than to his muddle-headed theology. See here for criticism of Coyne's ramblings by Steven Barr, a Catholic scientist and pro-evolution debate partner with Cardinal Schoenborn, and here for more criticism, again of Coyne's theology and not his science.
8.23.2006 7:53pm
Ijustwannapostasaguest (mail):
I don't find evolution particularly convincing - not much concrete proof, a lot of proof later exposed as fraud, and it (the theory) seems to depend on too much circular argument. Also, evolutions most ardent defenders are as extreme as any fundamentalist religious fanatic.

I also tend to think that it is pretty bad due to its effect on human morals: culture of death, athiesm, communism's death tolls, etc. all of which can be found to have been influenced by this theory.

That being said, I'm neither going to restrict God's creative activity to the 6 days of Genesis, the 6000+ biblical years since Adam, nor to "billions and billions" of years of evolution, intelligent design, or some completely different agency.

I think that it is important to point out that without the Catholic Church, science today would be somewhat set back from what it is now. Christianity is the only faith that is not based upon mysticism and unknowable secrets. The Catholic Church holds that God is a rational God, that his works follow (or are created under) rational laws, and as such they are observable and knowable by men. If the world (or God) were mystical, there would be no cause and effect, and no reason to experiment because there would be no way to verify the outcome through duplication.

At any rate, we have the Catholic Church to thank for the University system, as well as monastic contributions to saving scientific knowledge during the "dark ages." Also, it is my understanding that a Catholic priest first proposed the big bang theory, and, of course, Mendel, "The Father of Genetics" was a priest.
8.23.2006 7:59pm
Francis (mail):
I don't find gravity particularly convincing - not much concrete proof, a lot of proof later exposed as fraud, and it (the theory) seems to depend on too much circular argument. Also, gravity's most ardent defenders are as extreme as any fundamentalist religious fanatic.

I also tend to think that it is pretty bad due to its effect on human morals: culture of death, athiesm, communism's death tolls, etc. all of which can be found to have been influenced by this theory.

...

[what, this isn't just as accurate as the prior post? frankly there are lots more problems with gravitional theories than there are with evolutionary ones. and it's just as accurate to blame communism on gravity as it is to blame it on evolution.]
8.23.2006 9:09pm
Randy R. (mail):
If the church is the biggest provider of services to the poor, then it should be expert on the causes and conditions of it. As such, they can and should be an active player on the world stage arguing for the rights of the poor and such. I don't see any op-ed pieces on this topic coming from the church at all, and I certainly don't see any priests taking a political stand on behalf of the poor, and they would actually be in a good position to do so.

Instead, when politics comes up, they urge parishioners to vote against any gay rights or anything that would benefits gays in general. And then the article about evolution. In that sense, they are more interested in pushing their dogma onto the world than actually getting politicians -- and society at large -- to actually do something that would help the poor.
8.23.2006 9:11pm
Randy R. (mail):
We also have the church to thank for burning heretics over the centuries who dared to oppose the church on any grounds, sent missionaries around the world who then caused tremendous upheaval and harm to indigineous peoples in order to convert them, and so on. Did I mention Galileo? No less a scientist than Copernicus put off publishing his thesis that the sun is the center of the solar system until after his death, because he so feared what the church would do to him.
That's the reality, my friend -- the church changed only after the Reformation and subsequent Englightment forced them to embrace the explosion of scientific wonders being created or discovered.
8.23.2006 9:14pm
Randy R. (mail):
This isn't a forum to debate evolution, and I won't be dragged into such ignorance.

However, if you don't believe in evolution, you better give up any benefits that have been derived or discovered because of it. Tell your doctor.
8.23.2006 9:16pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
I don't find evolution particularly convincing - not much concrete proof, a lot of proof later exposed as fraud, and it (the theory) seems to depend on too much circular argument.

I'm reminded of the wonderful column on English 101 by Craig Vetter:

This is your enemy: a perfectly empty sheet of paper. Nothing will ever happen here except what you make happen. If you are stupid, what happens will be like a signed confession of that fact.
8.23.2006 9:20pm
Randy R. (mail):
I don't know whether Christianity is not based on mystery and unknowable secrets. (What about the mystery of the mass, and how we don't know who God really is?) However, there are plenty of religions that can actually make that claim. Buddhism, Taoism, Islam are just three. Paganism allows for rational thought and certainly atheism, although not a religion, is just as valid a belief system.
As for the crediting the catholic church for advancing science, why is it that China and India were far more advanced in science and mathematics before western society? Why is it the Islam in the middle ages was scientifically way ahead of us at that time?
Of course, the church did keep alive the science of the ancient Greeks by copying their texts, but in the field of medical science, the church specifically prohibited any study on human bodies, keeping medicine literally in the dark ages for about 1500 years. Only after researchers shook off the church did progress get to be made.
8.23.2006 9:24pm
vynette (mail) (www):
I'd like to just place the tip of my toe into these troubled waters and recount to readers something that was pointed out to me by my old Hebrew Professor. Now this man, who must remain unnamed without prior permission, is an internationally renowned authority on the subject of Biblical Hebrew.

What fascinating fact did he point out to me? Well, that an understanding of the very first Hebrew word in the Bible, 'bereshith', may provide the answer to a question upon which gallons of ink, whole forests of paper, and now excessive amounts of bandwidth have been expended.

This Hebrew word is actually four words in English. It means 'in the beginning OF'. (For the more technically minded, bereshith is actually in the 'construct state' meaning that we must append 'OF' to 'in the beginning')

Only one little word - OF - has been left out of the English translation. But, dearly beloved, the significance of that one little word.

It changes the entire meaning of the introduction to the Bible. Paraphrased then: In the beginning OF God's creation of the heavens and the earth, the earth was without form and void and darkness was on the face of the deep.

What the Bible tells us is that God did not create the world 'ex nihilo', he IMPOSED ORDER ON CHAOS.

But the subtlety of it! The beauty of it!

Surely, proof positive that 'he who sits in the heavens" has a sense of humour.

On a more serious note, some Hebrew scholars may be inclined to argue the point. Nevertheless, it bears just a little consideration...
8.23.2006 9:31pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
In Humani Generis an encyclical written by Pope Pius XII, in 1950, he states, in part:

36. For these reasons the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter -- for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God. However, this must be done in such a way that the reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church, to whom Christ has given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scriptures and of defending the dogmas of faith. Some however, rashly transgress this liberty of discussion, when they act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already completely certain and proved by the facts which have been discovered up to now and by reasoning on those facts, and as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this question.


The current Pope isn't looking to overturn this.

I don't know whether Randy R. is too young to remember it, but the "activist" branch of the Catholic Church got slapped down by the Vatican during John Paul II's papacy because their engagement in trying to fix the problems of poverty became too political. "Liberation Theology" simply went too far from the notion that the principle purpose of the Church was to save souls, not necessarily bodies. It wandered from Theology into Sociology, with a strong dose of Marxist cant to push it along. That wasn't where the Church was interested in going.
8.23.2006 10:39pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
I went to Catholic school for 14 years, and I don't remember any part of that which was not mysticism. The mystery of the Trinity is not rational, and no Catholic has ever claimed that it was.

Can anybody tell me whether the Vatican Observatory has observed anything in the last, say, 200 years?
8.23.2006 11:25pm
Randy R. (mail):
That might very well be true (I know that was going on in central America). But one need not become a socialist in order to combat poverty. The church can and should, in my opinion, pester politicians to do something about poverty. What about providing basic medical help to the poor, or the elderly? How about basic education? If you argue that these are issues of the body, not the soul, then why is the church the biggest player in poverty programs, as was argued above? Why has the church always been keen about educating children in third world countries where they have missionaries?

I don't think you can have it both ways -- work to alliviate poverty, illness and illiteracy, but than also say that thes issues are of no concern.

And the church can get very political when it wants to. Ex. priestly pedophilia. It has worked hard in some dioceses to get statute of limitations laws passed to avoid prosecution of its priests or otherwise avoid accountability. Saving souls? At least at some times, It wants to save it's neck first and foremost.
8.23.2006 11:28pm
MBH19:
The following from Stephen Jay Gould is one of the best discussions I have seen on this topic. In addition to the Hunami Generis encyclical, Dr. Gould also provides excerpts from John Paul II's less ambiguous embrace of evolution.

8.23.2006 11:32pm
MBH19:
Apologies, here is the proper link to the Gould article.
8.23.2006 11:34pm
MBH19:
Wow, I am incompetent. Sorry folks, this is my first time posting here. I'll just give the URL.

http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_noma.html
8.23.2006 11:36pm
JohnAnnArbor:

Can anybody tell me whether the Vatican Observatory has observed anything in the last, say, 200 years?

Yes, it does actual work.
8.23.2006 11:40pm
Syd (mail):
I have a hard time with this story. John Paul II accepted the theory of evolution as consistent with Catholic beliefs (MBH19's citing a related article), and I don't see the Catholic Church suddenly punishing people who don't accept intelligent design.
8.24.2006 12:35am
Lev:

It changes the entire meaning of the introduction to the Bible. Paraphrased then: In the beginning OF God's creation of the heavens and the earth, the earth was without form and void and darkness was on the face of the deep. What the Bible tells us is that God did not create the world 'ex nihilo', he IMPOSED ORDER ON CHAOS.


Maybe it's just me, but that doesn't seem to hang together very well.

Assuming for the sake of argument that


What fascinating fact did he point out to me? Well, that an understanding of the very first Hebrew word in the Bible, 'bereshith', may provide the answer to a question upon which gallons of ink, whole forests of paper, and now excessive amounts of bandwidth have been expended.
This Hebrew word is actually four words in English. It means 'in the beginning OF'. (For the more technically minded, bereshith is actually in the 'construct state' meaning that we must append 'OF' to 'in the beginning')


"In the beginning OF God's creation of the heavens and the earth," would mean, it seems to me, that at the beginning, not the middle or the end, of the creation of the etc. everything was formless, which in turn is completely consistent with the creation the heavens and earth began with the creation of formlessnees and the deep. In order to create form, one must first create the raw material.

For vynette's position to work, it seems to me that bereshith would have to mean something such as "When God began" creation of the heavans and earth, the earth was without form and void and darkness was on the face of the deep. Which is to say, he started work on the voidness and the deep that existed before he got started.

Maybe it's just me, but relying on newspaper to report accurately something going on in the Vatican with respect to theology, dogma, disagreements on policy etc., especially British rags, would be like relying on al Jazeera for accurate coverage of anything.
8.24.2006 12:49am
plunge (mail):
"Also, evolutions most ardent defenders are as extreme as any fundamentalist religious fanatic."

Shrug. Try spending your life talking to a brick wall and see how patient and polite YOU are to the latest brick wall you ecnounter. I find that fundamentalist religious fantatics have terrible, insultingly bad arguments, while extreme defenders range from the unbelievably nice to grumpy assholes, but generally all have very good arguments and are about as far from dogmatic fanaticism in their methodology as you can get. ymmv.

"I don't find evolution particularly convincing - not much concrete proof"

Twin nested heirarchy? Patterned cladistic trait homology found at every single known level without notable exception, complete with cross confirmation? Logically established core principles and mathematical systematization showing the basic concepts work, while field evidence demonstrates that it works in practice? Rates of variation in nature demonstrated to be orders of magnitude higher than necessary for even the fastest known historical morphological changes. There comes a point when you start to wonder what more else there could possibly be.

"a lot of proof later exposed as fraud,"

A "lot" of? I find that most people who make statements like this have no clue as to the scope of the evidence involved, and how miniscule and irrelevant the handful of major frauds have been compared to the vast quantity of solid data. The vast majority were treated skeptically right from the start, and then exposed by competing scientists: just as the process is supposed to work. The few exceptions that lasted for a long time often lasted because they were simply ignored as not particularly interesting finds in the first place.

"and it (the theory) seems to depend on too much circular argument."

This sounds like the old "survival of the fittest" or "fossils used to date strata" rigmarole. Both are downright silly allegations.

"I also tend to think that it is pretty bad due to its effect on human morals: culture of death, athiesm, communism's death tolls, etc. all of which can be found to have been influenced by this theory."

Good grief.

Read it and weep for the lengths to which someone can take a good idea and turn it into something vile:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Jews_and_their_Lies

Any idea can be misused, and communism is a particular stretch considering that they persecuted non-Larmarkian biologists pretty durn nastily.
8.24.2006 3:21am
Seamus (mail):

[what, this isn't just as accurate as the prior post? frankly there are lots more problems with gravitional theories than there are with evolutionary ones. and it's just as accurate to blame communism on gravity as it is to blame it on evolution.]



Since few of us are floating off into space as we sit here, I suspect we've actually observed gravity working. Few of us, however, have observed species originating through evolution.

Oh, yes, another problem with the evolution/gravity analogy: The theory of evolution is a theory that purports to explain why and how species evolve (i.e., because natural selection causes the survival of certain adaptive traits that, through accumulation over time, cause populations to diverse sufficiently that they constitute different species). There is no comparable theory of gravity that purports to explain the mechanism by which gravitational attraction works. It's just assumed that it works (and observed that objects are attracted by gravity, with a force that is inverse to the square of the distances), but no one has yet put forth an explanation of *why* objects have such an attraction.
8.24.2006 10:37am
U.Va. 2L (no longer a 1L) (mail):
but no one has yet put forth an explanation of *why* objects have such an attraction.

I thought that was the curvature of spacetime. (You know, picture a bowling ball laid on a rubber sheet, it makes a "dent," now put a marble in the vicinity of the bowling ball, and it follows the "dent" to the bowling ball.)
8.24.2006 10:54am
Randy R. (mail):
Actually, we have plenty of evidence showing evolution of a species and it has been observed. It's called 'the fossil record.' If you go to the American Museum of Natural History here in Washington, or the National Museum in NYC, you will see a full and actual example of the evolution of the horse over the millenium. There are bones from every stage of it's development. You can actually see how the horse grew from an animal the size of a large dog to the great beast it is today. More importantly, you can see how it adapted to changes in the environment, and became a grass-eating animal, thereby changing it's jaw, teeth, nose and mouth. These changes were gradual, of course, but that's the good part -- you can practically see the horse growing and changing right before your eyes.

And this is only one example -- there are plenty of others. Human DNA has the code of our entire history as a species and how we changed, going back thousands of generations.

It's just that people choose to ignore it, or dismiss it, as I'm sure some people here will soon do.
8.24.2006 11:46am
jallgor (mail):
Seamus,
I was always taught that the idea that species evolve is a fact not a theory. The mechanism by which evolution takes place is theoretical and there are many competing theories. You cite to only one of those theories (probably the most well known). Because the theoretical mechanism you describe is so well known, many people confuse that particular theory of evolution with the scientific fact of evolution. We know species change we just aren't entirely sure how.
8.24.2006 11:51am
Hoosier:
I always feel abit like an interloper on this site, since I have no training in law.

It warms my heart to hear the likes of Randy R. try to discuss the Church, especially when he discusses "the poor," amd the Church's attitude toward them. I then realize that I actually do know something, and am not the only person who shoots off his mouth on stuff he doesn't know much about.

One often runs into the mistake, made by Catholics and non-Catholics alike, of assuming that what they observe in American Catholicism is representative of "The Church."

Does anyone really think that the hundreds of millions of Catholics in Africa and Latin America would agree with Rany's summary of the Church and politics, to wit: 'when politics comes up, they urge parishioners to vote against any gay rights or anything that would benefits gays in general.' This isn't even an issue in, say, west Africa. On the other hand, economic justice and human rights are issues there, and the Church is very active in these movements. And, yes, those awful missionaries that you attacked with such a broad brush are on the forefront, along with the indidenous cleargy whom the missionaries have (largely) educated. (I don't know of any people on this earth who are more self-sacrificing and deicated than members of the Church's misisonary orders. The SVD's in Asia, the Franciscams in Africa and Latin America--they deserve better than Randy is giving them.)

It's also worth noting that Continental European and South American conservative parties have often avoided the tendency to dismiss government welfare programs, and to worship strict anarcho-capitalism, due to the the deep, rich current of Christian Democratic thought in those countries. ("Solidarity" was a term introduced by a German Jesuit before being adopted by pro-democracy reformers in neighboring Poland. And the concept of "Solidarity" is sesneless outside of a religious/RC context: There is simply no motivation for it without reference to Church social teaching.)

Christian Democracy is a direct outgrowth of Vatican social justice teaching since Rerum Novarum. And it has kept a lid on right-wing nationalisms in placed like Germany, Austria, and Italy, which have traditionally had strong CD paties.

So, on the whole, not a bad record for the Church Militant.
8.24.2006 1:23pm
Hoosier:
UVa 2L is partly right, and that raises the point that needs to be made about evolution. Newton's theory of universal gravitation works perfectly well for us-sized stuff: Why do things on earth fall down? Newton answered that.

But Newtonian physics can't explain why, for instance, galaxies attract each other in space. But Einsteinian physics can do so, by reference to space-distortion that UVa mentioned. Similarly, Euclid's plane geometry works well for architects, but not for astronomers, who have to deal with an expanding universe, curved/distorted space, etc. (Parallel lines actually DO meet, way out there in infinite space.) So we needed a new form of math.

All this to say: Evolution CLEARLY explains a lot. It's without doubt the best theory that we have about why we once had trilobites, then we had dinosaurs, and now we have VCers and other lesser creatures.

BUT the science-minded shouldn't get provoked into saying "Evolution is NOT a theory, it is a FACT!" I doubt that my grandchildren will be studying intelligent design. But I suspect that they will be studying a theory of evolution that looks very different from the linited one that we have now. (Like Newton and Euclid, it works for some things. But some things have yet to be answered.)

That doesn't mean that ID is the answer to evolution's shortcomings. Just that we shouldn't pretent to know more about the natural world than we currently do.

Better simply to point out that evolution is a "theory" in the way that science uses that word. ID is NOT a "theory" in this sense. It's a belief.
8.24.2006 1:32pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
seamus sez 'Few of us, however, have observed species originating through evolution.'

That's true, but it would be meaningful ONLY if none of us had. I know people who have observed species originating through evolution in real time. In Hawaii, for example, in isolated patches of rainforest called kipuka, fruit flies have been observed to speciate in under 20 years.
8.24.2006 3:29pm
Roger Sweeny (mail):
plunge,

It is extremely frustrating talking to brick walls, especially if they have been fed a load of cr p from people who should know better. Unfortunately, the people who should know better take problems with the science of evolution and exaggerate and take them out of context.

My solution has been a cheerful, "That was wrong. Of course, nobody should use that as evidence." But I get frustrated when defenders of evolution use the Miller-Urey experiment to argue that scientists have a good idea of how life started. Miller-Urey was a dead end and should be allowed to pass into history. Right now there is no good or even half good theory for how life began. To tell non-scientists that we have one is damn close to fraud. So let's not pretend there is and unnecessarily piss off people. Even anti-evolution people believe in dog breeding and development of anti-biotic resistance. Since everyone believes in "micro-evolution," let's just concentrate on expanding people's acceptance to more and more "macro-", something which should be becoming easier with continuing advances in evo-devo.
8.24.2006 3:38pm
Michael B (mail):
Another view, contra Schonborn, by Stephen Barr, theoretical particle physicist and self-described traditional Catholic, here at FT. Also, Barr's Modern Physics and Ancient Faith.
8.24.2006 4:08pm
Michael B (mail):
Too, the UK's Daily Mail as exegete of this is rich in and of itself. Perhaps al-Reuters could suggest an accompanying photo, or is that in fact an al-Reuters photo, suggestively dire as it is? Hilarious. The desperate manner in which ideological religionists need their beliefs shored up is precisely that at times, hilarious, sadly hilarious.

And btw, addressing science qua science more generally vis-a-vis the Catholic church, Galileo Galilei, et al. were contradictory of Aristotelian naturalism and scholasticism in general, not of church doctrine and dogma per se first and foremost. In much the same sadly hilarious manner as noted above, ideological religionists can't even tell themselves the historically accurate version of Galileo Galilei. Not that historical accuracy, or veracity in general, or even being very informed (hence the UK's Daily Mail as exegetical source), is their primary objective.
8.24.2006 6:21pm
Lev:

It's called 'the fossil record.' If you go to the American Museum of Natural History here in Washington, or the National Museum in NYC, you will see a full and actual example of the evolution of the horse over the millenium. There are bones from every stage of it's development. You can actually see how the horse grew from an animal the size of a large dog to the great beast it is today. More importantly, you can see how it adapted to changes in the environment, and became a grass-eating animal, thereby changing it's jaw, teeth, nose and mouth. These changes were gradual, of course, but that's the good part -- you can practically see the horse growing and changing right before your eyes.


Does the exhibit show the horse evolving into or from a large dog? Into or from a zebra? LLama? Antelope? Elephant? Wolf? Oak tree? Or does it just show a small horse evolving into a larger horse?
8.25.2006 12:27am
Ijustwannapostasaguest (mail):
Francis is just rude with his gravity remark. That was pointless and uncalled for.

To be more specific, I don't have a particular aversion to micro-evolution. Environmental factors can work like selective breeding to create a predominance of characteristics in a given population. Black moth / white moth, etc. These are characteristics that already exist in in the species, and changing environmental factors will change the predominant characteristics.

Macro-evolution is where everything breaks down in my opinion, and evolutionists lose credibility when they try to use micro examples to prove macro evolution. The horse example offered shows this. I'm not too familiar with this exhibit so I can't comment on it in depth, but it purports to show variations within the horse population (micro-ev), not such interesting macro-ev events like fish-to-horse or the evolution of an eyeball. Evolution doesn't deal with the irriduceable complexity issue very well, and so remains unconvincing to me.

The gut reaction of evolutionists to treat sceptics as ignorant country bumpkins when we express our doubts is particularly distasteful when their theory is incomplete.
8.25.2006 6:35am
Randy R. (mail):
The horse exhibit shows the evolution of equus over a period of several hundred thousands of years. It is particularly striking in that you can see how the diet changed to an entirely grass diet, the teeth became longer and stronger to withstand the grinding action needed for breaking down the fibers.

No it doesn't have the fossils of zebras and the like, but it shows the family tree so that you can see how zebras are closely related.

As for the 'gut reaction' of evolutionists: Here's why they treat sceptics as ignorant country bumpkins: Because you are! I mean, the theory of evolution was first proposed by Darwin, and all evidence gathered since then has only strengthened the theory, not weakened it. Moreover, whole new disciplines, such as genetics and DNA analysis have only proved it (Check out the fascinating Human Genome Project going at the National Geographic Society). A few years ago, PBS did a terrific series on evolution. All medical science now is based on the proposition that evolution is true-- not just micro (a distinction made up out of whole cloth by the anti-evolution crowd) but macro as well
Among biologists, anthopologists and all fields of natural science, there is simply no doubt that evolution occured. The only 'doubters' are those who actively refuse to learn what evolution really means, throw out evidence they don't like, and simply say "I'll believe what I want to believe."
Science is not a religion! It is not based on faith, but on evidence. When there is evidence of creationism, science will go that way -- but there simply is none.
It's like if you hold up a piece of paper and say this is white, and a person insists it is black, at some point, you will get frustrated, angry and have a gut reaction that this person is an idiot or is willfully being difficult to not acknowledge the obvious. And I can argue all I like about evolution (and I'm not a professional by any means! Just an educated person), but I also know that for some people, religion trumps everything, and no argument is going to change that.
8.25.2006 11:37am
plunge (mail):
"Does the exhibit show the horse evolving into or from a large dog? Into or from a zebra? LLama? Antelope? Elephant? Wolf? Oak tree? Or does it just show a small horse evolving into a larger horse?"

One of the more telling things it shows is how the modern hoof evolved from several tetrapod toes.

"Francis is just rude with his gravity remark. That was pointless and uncalled for."

Why? We understanding evolution far far better and in more detail than we understand gravity. It's not as easy to learn about, because it's less of an everyday experience for most people and thus requires a lot more extra knowledge to start out.

"To be more specific, I don't have a particular aversion to micro-evolution. Environmental factors can work like selective breeding to create a predominance of characteristics in a given population."

Yes.

"Black moth / white moth, etc. These are characteristics that already exist in in the species, and changing environmental factors will change the predominant characteristics."

But new characters undeniably are always coming into being, and they too are selected for or against. To take a common example, the genes for a pug simply did not "already exist" in the common asiatic wolf from which all domestic dog breeds seem to have been descended.

"Macro-evolution is where everything breaks down in my opinion, and evolutionists lose credibility when they try to use micro examples to prove macro evolution."

Micro examples are just PART of the overall demonstration of common descent: microevolution and speciation demonstrate that all the basic mechanisms necessary are plausible, really happening even in the here and now, and so on. Once you concede microevolution, you've basically already conceded the game, even if you don't realize it.

"The horse example offered shows this. I'm not too familiar with this exhibit so I can't comment on it in depth, but it purports to show variations within the horse population (micro-ev)"

Look: mammals are, despite their vast variations, not so incredibly different from each other, and in the past, they were far more similar. The horse series shows in fantastic detail how a pretty generic mammalian creature developed all the traits that we see as being being characteristic of horses. For instance, proto-mammals have limbs with digits with nails on the end. The horse series shows how this generic form was over time modified so that most of the toes were very nearly lost (though the remnants of these structures are apparent even in modern horses both genetically and physically) and the nails on the main one thickened and grew into hooves. The fact is that MOST of the major transitions in evolutionary history are like this: the modification of a common starting point radiating out in different directions.

not such interesting macro-ev events like fish-to-horse or the evolution of an eyeball."

"Evolution doesn't deal with the irriduceable complexity issue very well, and so remains unconvincing to me."

I've never seen the IC complaint presented very well: i.e. with a demonstration that some supposedly IC structure really couldn't have evolved. Virtually every single example raised has collapsed.

"The gut reaction of evolutionists to treat sceptics as ignorant country bumpkins when we express our doubts is particularly distasteful when their theory is incomplete."

The problem is that we've heard these doubts so many times that we probably know the book you read or the source you heard them from or even the misapprehension you developed yourself better than you yourself do. I for one find it hard to be oto hard on even nasty scientists: after politely enduring people basically implying that they are vile frauds, atheists when they are actually Christians, conspirators when they are actually powerless, and so on, I can see getting a little pissed the 1000th time someone basically implies that their entire FIELD of research doesn't even exist because evolution is just speculative.
8.25.2006 1:46pm
Randy R. (mail):
Thanks, plunge, for explaining it all better than I.

One good thing -- the exhibit on evolution at the National Museum on the mall in Washington has the words EVOLUTION in letters so big it grabs your attention across the (huge) museum. No wishy-washy scientists work there!
And the exhibit is fantastic -- they took pains to explain evolution so that even the most dunder headed person could understand it. They explain all the things that bother everyone so much, such as how things can get more and more complex, evolutionary dead ends, and so on.
It makes you proud to be an American. Sort of.
8.25.2006 9:21pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Funny how some people can, without ever reading any of the research (as is only too obvious), critique biology.

If somebody came into their own fields, whatever those might be, and started making ignornant remarks, how would they react?

They'd probably think they were in the presence of ignorant rubes.
8.26.2006 3:51pm