Saturday, March 1, 2008

Ben Stein admits he has only a "little pea brain."

Ben Stein wrote this article, "Florida's Darwinian Interlude," for The American Spectator. He begins by asking a few "tiny, insignificant little questions" such as "How did the universe start? Where did matter come from? Where did energy come from? Where did the laws of motion, thermodynamics, physics, chemistry, come from? Where did gravity come from? How did inorganic matter, that is, lifeless matter such as dirt and rocks, become living beings? Has anyone ever observed beyond doubt the evolution of a new mammalian or aviary species, as opposed to changes within a species?" He then claims that Darwinism has no verifiable answers to them and then he admits to having only a "little pea brain" this way:

To my little pea brain, these are some pretty big issues about evolution, the origins of life, and genetics that Darwinism cannot answer. Now, to be fair, does anyone else have verifiable answers either? Not as far as I know.

Alas, what Ben Stein's little pea brain isn't able to grasp is that Darwin's theory doesn't need to answer most of those questions any more than Einstein's theory of relativity does, or Newton's theory on planetary motion, or Galileo's and Copernicus' theory of heliocentrism answers them. Those are still successful scientific theories in spite of the fact that none of them tell us how the universe started or where matter and energy came from? Would Ben Stein throw out Einstein, Newton and Galileo along with Darwin because they didn't provide answers? Would he insist that a Bible based "theory" about a flat earth and an earth centered universe be taught along with heliocentrism because none of the questions about where the matter, energy and the universe came from are answered?

Scientific theories have limited scope. The only questions Stein asks that are appropriate to Darwin's theory are "How did inorganic matter, that is, lifeless matter such as dirt and rocks, become living beings?" and "has anyone ever observed beyond doubt the evolution of a new mammalian or aviary species, as opposed to changes within a species?" And note that he only asks about mammalian and avian species. This is a clue that Ben Stein knows he is full of bullshit. He knows that we have observed the evolution of new plant species, insect species, amphibian species, and new "bacterial species."

Even though not directly observed by scientists we can be fairly certain that mammals like domestic cows and sheep, which probably descends from the wild mouflon of south-central and south-west Asia, are a result of humans using artificial speciation and selecting existing genetic variants within species or hybridizing different subspecies or breeds to create new species that are more suited to human use. We can be pretty sure that cows are descended from the extinct species of wild cattle Bos primigenius.

Also, the evolution of new species has also been observed in the fossil record numerous times which includes the fossil bird Archaeopteryx.

Now turn that question around and ask Ben Stein if anyone has ever observed beyond doubt the divine creation of new plant, insect, or bacterial species?

Ben Stein asks:
... if there are no answers that can be reproduced in the laboratory, isn't any theory about them a hypothesis or a guess? Isn't any hypothesis worth thinking about?

No. Evolution is not just a hypothesis or a guess, it is a theory. It's a theory where certain answers can be reproduced in the laboratory and in the field. It has lines of evidence no other theory about the diversity of life can touch. And no, not all hypothesis are worth thinking about and more importantly, they are not all science.

Florida did not (as Ben Stein was told) consider "legislation that would make it illegal to allow teachers or students in public schools to discuss any hypothesis about origins of life or the universe except that it all happened by accident without any prime mover or first cause or designer -- allowing only, again, the hypothesis, which is considered Darwinian, that it all started by, well, by, something that Darwin never even mentioned." Going farther Stein says:

... we know now that Darwin was wildly wrong about some subjects such as genetics, and, again, although he wrote about the evolution of species, never observed an entirely new species evolve.

That's partly true, Darwin was wrong about a few things, but not "wildly" wrong. He didn't directly observe an entirely new species evolve either, but he found significant evidence for his theory. Remember, Einstein never observed time slowing down and he only followed a beam of light in his imagination.

However, Darwin didn't write a Bible that's the supposedly infallible Word of God, so he's allowed to make a few wrong guesses. The theory of evolution has grown and expanded a lot since Darwin wrote that very old book. Yet after more than a hundred years of testing and challenges, Darwin's basic theory has held up with only minor corrections. What we've learned since then has only confirmed most of what Darwin theorized. For example, we now know that human beings and apes are genetically similar with human beings and chimpanzees sharing about 99% of their DNA. This genetic similarity is a confirmation of one of Darwin's basic ideas: that human beings and apes have a common ancestor. And Darwin created his theory before we knew about DNA. Darwin had no mechanism for evolution and he predicted one. That is the way science works. Theories are created to explain observations; theories generate predictions; predictions are confirmed or refuted. Our ability to read and compare DNA provided further confirmation of Darwin's theory far beyond comparing men and chimps.

We know that thousands of separate species are descended from a few common ancestors, which are descended in their turn from an even smaller number of common ancestors, you would expect that these ancestral relationships are reflected in DNA, and they are.

To Stein the proposed Florida school standards were "beyond Stalinism":

Stalinism decreed that only Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin knew all the answers, but it did not say that subjects they never mentioned could only be studied if the student guessed at what they might have said. The proposed law in the state of Florida was an anti-knowledge, anti-freedom of inquiry law on a scale such as has rarely been encountered. Maybe in Pol Pot's Kampuchea there were such laws, but they have been unknown in the USA until now.

Good grief! What a load of steaming, stinking bullshit. This guy is actually worse than Vox Day when it comes to psychotic hyperbole. Nothing in that above bit of quoted paragraph is true. Stalinism never decreed that only Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin knew all the answers. Florida's school board only established that evolution was a fundamental concept that every student should understand. And what the hell does "subjects they never mentioned could only be studied if the student guessed at what they might have said" even mean exactly?

... at the last minute, the state of Florida changed the proposed regulations. They backed off powerfully saying that only Darwinism could possibly make sense and said they would allow discussion of differing theories about the origins of life. That's the current proposal as I write this on the afternoon of the 19th of February.

Allowing discussion of differing theories about the origins of life may not be a bad idea because they need to teach kids why arguments like Ben Stein's are so utterly fraudulent. The fact that some people actually find Stein's claims convincing is solid evidence that we have failed to educate too many Americans.

I suspect the now omitted proposals would have been unconstitutional in any event (although this always depends on the court you ask). Freedom of inquiry is part of freedom of speech. That is basic. That is what America is all about. Whatever the proposed -- now discarded -- regulations were, they have nothing to do with freedom, very little to do with science, and not even much to do with Darwin, who had a lot more respect for freedom of thought than his henchmen in Florida apparently do.

Ben Stein thinks the omitted proposals would have been unconstitutional even though he doesn't seem to know exactly what they were, saying: "Whatever the proposed -- now discarded -- regulations were." If such regulations are so bad one has to wonder why it's the Intelligent Design advocates that tend to loose in court cases like Dover's Kitzmiller case.

Dr. Debra Walker of the Monroe County School Board noted in an Orlando Sentinel article that those counties passing anti-evolution resolutions are the ones where the students have the lowest scores in the state on the science portion of the FCAT.

The graph below compares the average raw FCAT scores of the counties that have indicated support for or rejection of teaching evolution with the statewide FCAT scores:

In those counties where evolution is strongly supported, FCAT science scores are significantly higher. In the counties where evolution education is strongly opposed, science literacy is below the state average. That ties in with my earlier post, "Religion as a force for ignorance and delusion," where I point out the inverse correlation between a country's religiosity and its per capita GDP.

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