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Accepting the Reality of Biological Evolution

Kunstformen der Natur (1904), plate/planche 49: Actiniae, by Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919) [PUBLIC DOMAIN]  The author of this work died in 1919. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 95 years or less.

Color plate illustration of Actiniae showing various sea anemones, from Ernst Haeckel’s (1834–1919) Kunstformen der Natur (1904), plate/planche 49. [PUBLIC DOMAIN]

The well-established fact of biological evolution is being increasingly and frantically denied in the USA by creationists, and as I write this, a public opinion poll has announced that some 46% of the U.S. public identify themselves as creationists. According to a recent study carried out at Michigan State University, acceptance of evolution by Americans declined from 45% in 1985—already a shameful statistic— to 40% in 2005. It also found that only Turkey and the Vatican trail the U.S. in this denial of fact.

Not accepting the reality of biological evolution is equivalent to not accepting the stark fact of gravity. You can deny gravity, or claim that Earth is flat, but such simple denials do not in any way prove a point. Evolution is the single, unifying scientific explanation for the diversity of life on Earth, and the foundation upon which the biological sciences are built. The scientific theory of evolution is accepted by an overwhelming majority of scientists around the world as the cornerstone of biology. To deny the reality of evolution is to deny the foundation upon which modern medicine and related biological sciences are built.

Of course, creationists do not believe that they are denying the reality of anything. Their reality is that evolution is false and that creationism is true. They also do not claim that this is all based in faith; no, they think that they’ve got science behind them, and it is here where they are wrong, and where scientists can show why.

I’ll present here the example of cephalopods—which include octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish—which have one central systemic heart and two branchial hearts. The dominant central heart supplies blood to the body, to the ten tentacles of squid, and to the eight tentacles of the octopus. If such redundancy is okay for sea creatures, how come we humans can’t get in on the plan?

I’ve used such examples of poor design many times, along with two of my own favorites—those delightful kidney stones, and cataracts—but I also have some derived from my personal and professional point of view. I celebrate the fact that scallywags like me— magicians—can produce some of our illusions because of the phenomenon known as persistence of vision, as well as the fact that the imaging part of the brain automatically switches off when the eye moves rapidly from one point to another, and that the mind—to better bridge gaps of information—can and does invent images that just aren’t there. While such illusions can serve a survival function as satisfying substitutes for the facts, and can assuage certain fears, the awkward facts often insist on emerging, and the resulting induced alarms are often useful indicators of very real dangers and threats.

Evolution is possibly the most firmly established, well-defined, evidence- based fact of nature that we have ever developed through science. Regularly, we discover new support for its validity. There are only a limited number of “missing links”—those chimeras that the creationists gleefully flaunt, but their numbers diminish every year. The fact that you can’t see the base of a mountain doesn’t prove that it floats in the fog, and some experienced and rational media see the situation clearly.

In my opinion, one reason so many people don’t accept the reality of evolution is that they just can’t imagine the numbers involved. They suffer from a sort of innumeracy, the inability to understand basic mathematics, though there’s no shame attached to that. The billions of individuals of the multitude of species that are born and die every second of each hour, tend to survive— and thus reproduce—better, if and when some tiny mutation or gene combination gives them a few more minutes of time, a better view, better nourishment, or a better choice and selection of a mate. And that process has been going on now for far longer than 6,000 years, despite those strident claims to the contrary.

Not accepting the reality of biological evolution is equivalent to not accepting the stark fact of gravity. You can deny it, but such denial does not in any way prove a point.

From Giant Redwoods to crickets and diatoms and ferns to whales, they all get either an advantage or a push backward from random or induced DNA/chromosome changes, and the advantaged tend to survive; the losers are often eaten. The time element goes unappreciated, too. Billions of years have passed to allow these various denizens to trot, wriggle, squirt, swim or fly across the world stage, and the process continues. Human beings have learned how to inhabit—infest?—very inhospitable parts of the world by wearing protective garments—often made from the remains of those losers who were eaten—and we have discovered that organizing fallen trees and rocks into houses is also a very good way of surviving. Most of us had to die to provide this experience, but we’re replaced regularly, so, no worries.

Just think of a common mouse, in its tiny perfection, able to survive—as a species and as an individual—long enough to produce enough descendants— 10 to 12 at a time—to meet the culinary requirements of various predators. That can call for dozens of mice from each male-female pairing, very often over a short life span, but nature provides enough for that purpose to feed snakes, birds, cats and such… It’s a neat and merciless process, but it’s nature, and it works very, very, well. True, for one or more reasons the common house mouse (Mus musculus) may vanish some day, but any number of other beasties will promptly drop right into place to fill that gap.

The uninformed often don’t care much about the history of how they got here. They’re surviving chunks of protoplasm who merely take from the environment and then move on and out. What a pity. But scientists can fall into that trap, too. Dr. Allan Rex Sandage (1926–2010) was a well-known and highly accomplished astronomer who answered a few very basic questions about the probable age of the universe, among other puzzles. Then in 2001 he published a short essay, A Scientist Reflects on Religious Belief which attempted to answer the question: Can a person be a scientist and also be a Christian? His answer was:

Yes … the world is too complicated in all its parts and interconnections to be due to chance alone. I am convinced that the existence of life with all its order in each of its organisms is simply too well put together. Each part of a living thing depends on all its other parts to function. How does each part know? How is each part specified at conception? The more one learns of biochemistry the more unbelievable it becomes unless there is some type of organizing principle—an architect for believers—a mystery to be solved by science (even as to why) sometime in the indefinite future for materialist reductionalists.

Notice the assumption in the phrase “too well put together,” which already assumes the “designer” notion, and the rather inane—and equally assumptive—“How does each part know?” question. What Dr. Sandage missed here, is that biology has effectively answered how “each part is specified” and he needed to have a much better grasp of biochemistry, in my opinion. Though evolution- derived science has already answered his queries definitively and decisively, such essays provide the woo-woos with an argument that involves a prominent scientist who supported— by faulty reasoning—belief in a Biblical myth. This essay was a blow against rationality, a surprising and unfortunate error from a person of such quality and experience.

There exists a strange notion among creationists that somehow our Sun was designed specifically to accommodate life on Earth, that the variable distance of Earth from the Sun, the changing slope of the Sun’s illumination, and the shielding effects of the Van Allen Belt are heaven-sent and specially provided blessings. They rant on about the differences in temperature, oxygen content, and atmospheric pressure that would—if not remaining within rather small tolerances—doom us. They either choose to ignore or seem unaware that certain forms of life—known as extremophiles— not only exist but thrive under conditions that would instantly kill us, the deity-appointed and chosen species. The blatant facts that they fail to see are that if these conditions had not existed, such questions about life could never have been asked, and the plausible answer is that present life forms developed—dare I say, “evolved”?—to survive under these conditions and with the changes they’ve undergone. Some extremophiles—the wonderful scarlet-and-yellow “tube worms” serve as wonderful examples— are not only happy under very unhuman conditions, but unhappy to the point of extinction if exposed to O2, and some perish if they’re not living in highly acidic water boiling at temperatures far above 100°C due to the extreme pressures at extreme depths. That high-pressure requirement also means that they explode when harvested and brought to our environment for examination, with results not easily imagined… Theirs are certainly conditions more suitable to Hell, and not to a pleasant afternoon for humans on Earth.

Over the ages, countless billions of species—not just individuals—have evolved, developed, flourished, and become extinct simply because they could not adapt to changes. The fossil record abounds with such examples, but we only need to visit a few Pacific Islands to find giant centipedes with up to 346 legs—talk about innumeracy!—all marvelously coordinated and performing their daily tasks. How very beautiful.

Personally, I have no problem with the fact that my own life expectancy grows shorter daily, due to the fact that I just cannot survive beyond a certain limit, but I take some comfort in knowing that medical science has progressed to the point that it defeats some of my more serious sources of possible demise, though imperfectly. Making room on an overcrowded planet seems a good idea to me, and I accept that inevitability. Not easily, but philosophically. Sigh…

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (page 1)

A few years ago, The Skeptics Society put together a concise little pamphlet that provides answers to common objections to evolution, such as: If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans?; Only an intelligent designer could have made something as complex as an eye; The second law of thermo-dynamics proves that evolution is impossible; Evolution can’t account for morality; and more…
Download “Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)” (PDF)

Amateur scientist that I am, I have little fear that our species can tinker enough with the powerful forces of evolution to bring about major changes that could doom us to extinction, though I do harbor a suspicion that our constant patching and pasting of our environment makes us dependent on tinkering in order that we survive beyond Nature’s optimal age of utility— I’d guess that to be about 35 or so, seeing the afflictions that appear to be served up to us at about that age. Vaccinations, antibiotics, surgical procedures, hygienic precautions, and general alertness to invasions by various tiny intruders, along with repairs of various parts—teeth and eyes come immediately to mind—are certainly required if we wish to survive to old age. I’m all in favor of this goal, not only since I’ve enjoyed my survival, but I find that I’m now dipping into my experiences of the last four-score-plus years to come up with the words you are now reading… END

About the Author

MacArthur “genius award” recipient James Randi is a professional magician, author, lecturer, and in vestigator of unusual claims. His books include The Mask of Nostradamus, The Faith Healers, Flim-Flam!, The Truth About Uri Geller, Houdini—His Life and Art, Conjuring and An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, & Hoaxes of the Occult & Supernatural. He belongs to numerous humanist and scientific organizations and was recently granted an honorary doctorate. Mr. Randi has logged over 100,000 miles a year in his research into pseudoscience. Isaac Asimov called Randi “a national treasure,” and Carl Sagan said of him: “We may disagree with Randi on specific points but we ignore him at our peril.”

About the Article

James Randi wrote the “’Twas Brillig…” column regularly for Skeptic magazine until issue 19.2 (2014). The above article was Randi’s second-last column, which appeared in Skeptic magazine 19.1 in 2014, under the title “Let’s Get Real, Even if it Hurts.”

58 Comments

  1. Bad Boy Scientist says:

    I liked this. I generally like Randi’s thoughts… however, this sort of essay is preaching to the choir (if you’ll forgive the impertinence of using that expression here). You see, Creationists do not reach their position by grappling with evidence and reason, they are carried there by their faith. Trying to lead them anywhere else by reason is as fruitless as if one of them were to ask us scientists to keep praying until we accept the Earth is only 6,000 years old.

    I find the best retort to True Believers is to start by agreeing “Well, God’s ways aren’t man’s ways so He could do things that do not make sense to us. Maybe He created a Universe that works exactly how the scientists say it does – that would solve a lot of the puzzles. Now, that may not sit well with many of the faithful BUT we have established that God’s ways aren’t man’s ways, and we don’t want to say God couldn’t do it if He wanted to. None of us KNOW the mind of God.”

    Their argument has uncertainty built right into it.

    • Forceoffire says:

      Well said! I recently read a one-liner that describes what you say best: “to the true believer, the myth is more sacred than the evidence”.

    • uncle greezy says:

      Great points, BBS.

      Arguing doesn’t work, and pure rationality certainly doesn’t work. Often, arguments, no matter how rational, tend to galvanize those bent on living in dissonance. So, speaking in the language of the believer is really the only way of going about communicating scientific realities such as evolution.

      Personally, I also like to ask creationists if they feel their views limit God– because no believer wants to limit God, right? After all, isn’t God supposed to be omnipotent and capable of anything, including evolution?

    • Jim1950A says:

      I think that’s what the Catholics say.

  2. Paul Yates says:

    Lovely, refreshing and necessary writing to keep logic, science and reason in the proper position of our understanding about how all this works. My father was a chaplain, has died long ago now, and I’m still pissed at him for the mind-numbing stupidity I was forced to endure for all those years. I love you dad, but sorry, you were wrong.

  3. Lyn says:

    I liked this too. Mr. Randi, I’d like to hear your perspective on transgenderism (anyone on this site, to be honest). Full disclosure: I’ve been a trans-advocate for over 20 years, but imo gender-identity issues (that only fairly recently completely disregard actual biology) have become ridiculous. It’s kind of fascinating that radical feminists find ourselves allied with religious right-wingers on issues of public policy, whereas the trans community finds allies with religious right-wingers on issues of gender-binary (socially-constructed) roles. To clarify where I’m coming from (why I’m asking), transgenderism relates to creationism simply because believers in both/either believe that their beliefs are innate/immutable and that gender *is* A or B (even though they fundamentally disagree on how it plays out) – BBS above said “grappling with evidence and reason”… yes, exactly. I think that critical thinking skills matter, and that *biology* trumps identity-beliefs, or biased ideologies… I guess I’m looking for objective (?) opinions/perspectives outside of the obviously subjective/biased forums (echo-chambers) that currently exist.

    • Ronnie says:

      To Lyn.
      To keep it as simple as possible: We all start of as a single cell which multiply into a ball of cells. Different groups of cells will differentiate into different organ structures of which one is the gonads, which eventually will become either the testes or ovaries. To put it bluntly – at this time we are an “it”, no gender at all, only the possibility to become a male or female, or for an unfortunate few any combination in between. Eg: person with both testes an ovarian tissue, genitals anywhere between a vagina and penis etc.
      In all of this, the brain also has to be “primed” to be male or female or alas, again, anything in between.
      So, despite what anybody has to say, the reality is that male and female is the opposite ends of an inverted biological bell curve with all the permutations of transgenderism in between. Yes! Tragenderisms is, to quote Randi, a fact like gravity.
      Hope this helps.

      • uncle greezy says:

        Great answer to Lyn, Ronnie.

        I only wish the Christians I know would accept that argument. For many believers, sex and gender are inextricably tied and immutably binary. The truth, of course, is more complex.

        I come from a psychology background, so I claim to be nothing but a social scientist. That said, biology and psychology will always be tied, and it is in the interest of all social scientists to be scientifically minded.

        Sex and gender are two different things. Sex is biological, and as many species demonstrate to us (including humans), there are many variations within biological sex. Humans with intersexed conditions are evidence of this. Gender, on the other hand, is a concept we humans created to differentiate between the roles played by the male and female sexes.

        There is no law in nature that says one’s biological sex is necessarily going to match one’s gender identification, especially when one considers the possibility of hormone-based brain development in utero, etc.

  4. Doug Bartake says:

    I’m glad we preach to the choir. It helps reinforce some of what we know and helps us to glean a tad bit more of what we don’t know. Great!

  5. Asoka Indrasoma says:

    Creationists only need to sniff their excrement to understand that they are not a special being, ‘made in the image of god’…

  6. Roy Niles says:

    Nice, but it would help if the writer understood that biological systems design themselves, and that their creation is not, and cannot be, simply due to random sets of “some tiny mutation or gene combination.”
    The lack of understanding that biological evolution is and has to be an intelligent process is as much the reason for creationists ascribing the obvious intelligence that it must have taken to construct us to a universal God rather than accepting the neo-Darwinist version of ascribing the intelligence of any living creatures to its “emergence” somehow in the more advanced species of humanoids.
    And of course it was clear that we’ve been intelligently designed and constructed for no otherwise understandable reason, because intelligence has not been known to have existed elsewhere in the universe, except as a superstitious gift of some imaginary celestial creator.

    • Gerry Rising says:

      (1) If you accept Niles’ opening sentence you can go anywhere. This represents a perfect example of a logical argument based on faulty assumptions. And (2) it is a useful debating trick to put your opponent’s concepts in quotes. Sorry, Roy, those quotes are supported by mountains of evidence and your claims not by evidence but by faith.

      • Roy Niles says:

        “Sorry, Roy, those quotes are supported by mountains of evidence and your claims not by evidence but by faith.”
        My claims are supported by mountains of much more logical evidence, and faith has nothing at all to do with it. You must have heard of the theories of adaptive mutation, also known as self-engineering, and yet you still insist that claims made by these patently non-religious scientific theorists (James A Shapiro being the best example) are supported by faith. Someday I’d like to see an article here where the neo-Darwinists take on the adaptive mutationists in an open minded debate, but then again I’m fairly sure the editors would see no purpose there.

  7. Randy Weiss says:

    To Roy Niles: Maybe I misunderstand your argument, but I always balk at the term, “…designed and constructed for … [any] purpose …” I think the point of getting to a true understanding of evolution is to accept specifically that THERE IS NO PURPOSE! (other than survival itself.) We humanoids were not ‘designed to emerge’, with “Emergence” as the goal. Our relative dominance of this planet is the result of entirely ‘blind’ experiments – millions of them – that collectively happened to develop intelligence as a successful solution to ever-changing climates in Africa 2-5 million years ago.
    A ‘biblical’ version of evolution has been presented to me where that mythical god had decided that man would be the result even when there had yet to be multi-cellular animals…and the intervening steps all part of the design and construction that was pre-destined to become man. This “intelligent’ design is NOT how evolution works.
    ===
    One point Randi failed to explain: when confronted with the ‘narrow conditions’ that led to human development, and folks think that we would be too ‘lucky’ to have conditions suitable to us (and therefore conditions were ‘designed’ to fit us) … the truth is just the opposite: we evolved INTO those conditions. If the conditions on earth had been different, then we might (not certainly) have evolved to fit them (as the tube worms, etc). Science fiction authors understand this well.

    • Patrick Stirling says:

      My favorite analogy to counter the “fine tuned universe” argument is that of a puddle thinking how amazing it is that it fits into this hole in the ground so perfectly – it must have been made just for this hole!

      • Justin Case says:

        I suppose one could argue that when a child is conceived, it could be for the purpose of carrying on the family name? I think of the Marilyn Monroe movie where she wants to mate with the dowdy professor, so her child will have great looks and great brains. He asks her, what happens if he had my looks and YOUR brains?

      • Syd Foster says:

        This is in reply to the post two places above, about the puddle, it got posted in the wrong spot.

        That’s my favourite analogy too, but you got the last bit the wrong way around: the puddle thinks the hole was made for it, just as devotees of the Anthropic Principle think the universe was fine tuned and the Earth was created to fit our biology, when in fact our biology evolved to suit the conditions available. The puddle was indeed made for the hole… by gravity and the properties of water. No miracle in that! The mistake creationists make is in believing the puddle came ready formed before the hole existed, and that the hole was carefully shaped to fit the puddle!

    • Roy Niles says:

      “Our relative dominance of this planet is the result of entirely ‘blind’ experiments – millions of them – that collectively happened to develop intelligence as a successful solution to ever-changing climates in Africa 2-5 million years ago.”
      There’s nothing that has the ability to make a blind experiment that doesn’t already have its making as its purpose. You can’t have a solution to something that cannot have been seen by any non-intelligent thing or system as a problem. There’s no purpose that can exist without intelligence, and any argument that claims that non-intelligent systems can by a series of collective accidents happen to develop intelligence is as illogical an assessment as any supposedly scientific assessment can hope to be.
      “-to accept specifically that THERE IS NO PURPOSE! (other than survival itself)” is to accept that survival obviously IS the overriding purpose of our evolutionary progression.

  8. John Heininger says:

    As a Skeptic involved in systems design and IT I do not regard cosmological and biological evolutionary “historical theories’ as the real science. Neither does the Nobel Committee. As New Scientist notes the Nobel Committee does not regarded evolutionary “historical theories” as prize worthy science. As Stephen J Gould of Harvard once put it the Nobel Committee does no regard evolution “As the real thing”. So there are times when Skeptics need to be Skeptical of the Skeptics, however much we we value Skepticism. In short, , The creationist are absolutely right on this issue.
    As stated by Soren Lovtrup, author, Darwinism: Refutation of a Myth”I believe that one day the Darwinian myth will be ranked as the greatest deceit on the history of science. When this happens many people will pose the question: How did this ever happen?”-

    There are mountains of books, magazine articles and other material supposedly proving evolution to be true. None of which represents any experimental of observational science for evolution – none. What is presented is entirely subjectively opinion based ideological assumptions, inferences, circular reasoning, interpretations contrived to fit predictions That’s it, nothing more! In fact, the most repeated experiment and observation on planet earth affirms that every form of life in existence has “reproductive boundaries” and “crossbreeding limits”, without exception – as every breeder and horticulturist who has ever lived knows: Making the “supposed” evolutionary continuum from earth to Einstein impossible. Natural Selection has no “overall perspective” and no “predictive” power: And thus wouldn’t have the foggiest notion of where anything and everything is evolving to, or even why. Making it “impossible” to ever account for the profound fully integrated and interconnected matrix of life and environmental systems that surround us. Evolution is not a scientific theory, but an unverifiable hypothetical “historical” theory. Based on what “supposedly” happened in the unobserved distant past. In reality there is no possible way of ever scientifically verifying that events happened one way, and not another way, or even whether evolution from goo to you via the zoo happened at all.
    In fact the theory of evolution turns reason and science on its head. Its the only theory know to science where the effect is not only far greater than the cause, but “opposite” to the cause: Life comes from non life; consciousness from non-consciousness; intelligence from non-intelligence; reason from non-reason; the personal from the impersonal; morals from amoral etc etc. And we are told that all these natural miracles occurred without a self-creating miracle worker anywhere to be found in the universe. Which all Skeptics would have to concede is “really miraculous”.

    • Patrick Stirling says:

      John H, you’re betraying a lack of understanding of the scientific method, and of the difference between a hypothesis and a theory. Forensic scientists of all types regularly use present day evidence to reconstruct past events with, dare I say, miraculous accuracy.

      • Donnski says:

        John Heininger – Nonsense!

      • John Heininger says:

        Actually, the Scientific Method has no role to play in testing and verifying unobserved and repeatable events in the distant past. None! It is impossible to subject unobserved distant past event to the scientific method using experimentation and observation. In order that the experiments can be repeated and publicly observed by others. I can jump up and down to test and publicly verify the theory of gravity. No one in all of human history has ever observed a bacteria become anything other than a bacteria, or yeast become anything other than yeast, and so on. So, if you know of any experiment where a bacteria turns into anything other than a bacteria the Nobel Committee would like to hear from you. I need again tell you that You can’t put “past events” into a test tube or any other device used to conduct experiments. Meaning, NO evolutionary “historical theories” operate on methodological naturalism and the scientific method. They are all hypothetical theories based on the “metaphysical”naturalism. Namely, the metaphysical religious belief of philosophical naturalism and scientific materialism: The unproven “blind faith” belief that science is the only real source of knowledge and truth, and that everything in existence can, and will, be explained solely by natural processes and causes alone. We have a name for this unproven and unverifiable religious belief. It’s call SCIENTISM, masquerading as science.
        Furthermore, we don’t have “present day” experimental or observational evidence for the supposed evolutionary continuum. We cannot make predictions based on present day observations because there are none. We directly observe the earth going around the sun in the present and make prediction about the past based on that direct present observations. No one has ever observed any form of life chance into something different, bacteria or otherwise. It’s nothing more than an inference. This is precisely why the debate has been gong on for 200 year and may well go on indefinitely. The true believes cannot “close”. There is nothing there to close with. Conducting “science by assumptions and contrived explanations” on the assumption that “Evolution is a fact – until proved wrong.” violates the scientific method, reason and common sense. That’ why millions like myself don’t buy it. And regard the theory of evolution as the fairy story for adults, as the creationists rightly do.
        p.s. Bactria become resistant to antibiotic drugs to ensure they survive “as bacteria”.

        • Roy Niles says:

          J H, I part company with you more than a bit in stating that “No one has ever observed any form of life chance into something different, bacteria or otherwise. It’s nothing more than an inference.” By which you are proposing the seeming certainty that evolution, as a theory, is nothing more than a mythological conception.
          And yet evolution, as defined in my dictionary, is “the process by which different kinds of living organisms are thought to have developed and diversified from earlier forms during the history of the earth.”.
          And thus it seems that what we’ve come to consider evolution has been determined by a thinking process that’s nothing less than the use of logical inference, and those logical inferences, along with logical deductions, are what we use, not only to remember the lessons of the past, but to predict the possible consequences of the future. And yes, evolution of biological creatures can be inferentially predicted, since microbiologists, for example, have been able to conduct observational experiments that have caused them to logically deduce that the microbial evolution continuing to happen in the present can and must be logically assumed to be a continuation of this same sequence of continuously changing and changeable events that, and again logically, must have been caused by a sequential series of quite similar events we’ve been regularly observing to happen in the past. And since something cannot logically come from nothing, must have had an evolutionary beginning at some point of time that’s no longer present.
          But what the hell, I’m just having a bit of fun with you as well, because what you’ve just proclaimed was so silly that I couldn’t help myself. Obviously evolution that’s happening in the present has to be the result of something that’s been happened in the past. And if that can’t be seen as evolution, I’ll have to throw away my dictionary.

        • Ronnie says:

          John, regarding your comment about evolution being the greatest hoax played on mankind, I would like to quote Seth Lloyd’s (Quantum Mechanical Engineer – Massachusetts Institute of Technology)answer to John Brockman’s question in the Edge booklet, “What we believe but cannot prove – Harper Perennial 2006”

          “Unlike mathematical theorems, scientific results can’t be proved. They can only be tested again and again and again until only a fool would refuse to believe them.
          I cannot prove that electrons exist, but I belief fervently in their existence. And if you don’t believe in them, I have a high-voltage cattle prod I’m willing to apply as an argument on their behalf. Electrons speak for themselves.”

          My humble opinion would be that Donald Prothero’s response to your comment would be in the same vein.

    • Roy Niles says:

      “And we are told that all these natural miracles occurred without a self-creating miracle worker anywhere to be found in the universe. Which all Skeptics would have to concede is “really miraculous”.”
      John H, the Skeptics we’ve found here don’t concede to anything that relies on logic as a form of evidence.

  9. David Ward says:

    For those who struggle with the concept that we live in a non-determined universe I say this. Were all those conditions not right for life to have evolved, you would not be reading this email. There is no mystery as to why things were just right, because had they not been, things would have been entirely different. We are because the situation is. When they change we may no longer be. Think on that!

    David Ward

  10. Roger Brumley says:

    It is difficult to understand why the intelligent design premise continues among presumably intelligent beings when easy and constant observations clearly demonstrate endless chaos throughout the known universe and, particularly, life on our small “blue dot”. The positive human attributes we assign to our numerous, constructed deities do not fit the actual state of life on earth, above or below the oceans.

  11. Rev Jeeter Jones says:

    Summery of EVILootion

    From goo to you by way of the zoo

    It certainly does giv us Pause

    • bruce says:

      Rev Jeeter Jones,
      I think you mean it certainly does give us paws.

      • Rev Jeeter Jones says:

        Pun was intentional.

        Evil Hoot Shun …

        Come from scum
        Climb from slime
        Trudge through sludge

        attributed to Gardner Ted Armstrong

        a Real Knee-slapper in DeBeque CO in 1975

  12. bruce says:

    Interesting retort, Mr. Heininger.

  13. Richard Boren says:

    I love this, and I love all of the very intelligent comments, with no ad hominem attacks. Congratulations to all of you.

    I have one small criticism. In referring to the prospect of his own death, Randi says “Making room on an overcrowded planet seems a good idea to me,” which suggests that he bought into the whole Paul Ehrlich thing. To those who haven’t read it, I recommend Julian Simon’s The Ultimate Resource 2. His opposing view, well-documented and reasoned it seems to me, is optimistic to the max.
    Overcrowded? Far from it.

  14. Dennis S Baber says:

    What about the possibility that mice aren’t producing the required number of offspring to support birds, snakes, cats, etc. but are just producing what their genes dictate. The number of birds, snakes, etc are limited to the numbers that can survive on the available food source. Then what happens when the mice become extinct ?

    • Donnski says:

      Correct!

    • Syd Foster says:

      As stated in the article, some other species of animal drops into the niche as soon as it becomes available! Nature is prolific. If a gap opens up, something evolves to fill it.

  15. bruce says:

    Donnski, it might be useful if you leave reasons for your single word postings of “nonsense!” and “correct!”. Otherwise why bother posting anything as you’ve added nothing.

  16. Somniphile says:

    I often wish that the smug derision that makes its way into many of these types of posts were curtailed, as such an approach does nothing to promote the idea of evolution itself, and probably, actually does its promotion a disservice. But this piece is less derisive than most, and it makes some very good points.

  17. Phil Walsh says:

    I think Mr. Randy is too loose with his use of the word fact and, I think, its use here perpetuates a misunderstanding of what we mean by evolution. We object to creationist equivocating with the use of the word Theory. I do not think we should equivocate (and therefore muddle) our use of the word fact.

    The National Academy of Sciences states:”Fact: In science, an observation…” We observe things; cells, molecules, fossils, rock, etc.

    They continue: “Theory: In science, a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.

    The contention that evolution should be taught as a “theory, not as a fact” confuses the common use of these words with the scientific use. In science, theories do not turn into facts through the accumulation of evidence. Rather, theories are the end points of science.”

    An overwhelming amount of individual facts substantiate what we call evolution (an explanation of some aspect of the natural world). Evolution itself is not a fact. If you still question this, try putting evolution on a bench-top to observe or try observing what we call evolution in the field. I contend we can’t. We observe things. Evolution is always described in terms of the observed changes in these things. The individual facts.

    • Jay says:

      How do you explain successive antibiotics resistance and viral-drug resistance?

      • Phil Walsh says:

        Your use of the word successive is key here. The facts at t=0 and t=n are presumably different in your example. Subsequent resistance would be inferred by our observations at t=n as they are compared with our observations at t=0. As I see it, we analyze the facts. That analysis is not the individual facts themselves.

  18. Leif Riksheim says:

    It’s almost unbelievable that discussions like these still take place. Where I live, teachers telling children f.eks.that earth is a few thousand years would be fired.

  19. Swami says:

    I think what we have been seeing is really two things.

    First, the continued conflation by creationists of “Evolution” and “Origin of Life.”

    Second, a growing realization among those that profit from religion that in the long run, losing the “Origin of Life” to science puts them out of a job. You can squeeze God and Evolution into your belief system if you try, but Origin of Life? To believe in a science based origin of life scenario, AND a god, you have to believe that an omnipotent superbeing was cruising along through the universe one day, chanced upon a planet with a flourishing sentient species that had arisen with no help at all from him/her/it, and decided, “This is my lucky day! I bet they need a Deity!”

    Just doesn’t work. And they see this, and so their efforts have been stepped up.

    • Rev Jeeter Jones says:

      your scenario is pretty thin compared to what was REALLY believed.

      The Valentinian religion was destroying western civilization with madness that is hard to imagine

      The Nicene Creed was a Citidel of clear reasoning compared to what was offered.

      Nutshell::

      Elder Gods begat insane offspring who created Reality as we know it

      Jesus had to die to save us from the Madness of the Workshop dudes who created the bad/good delusion

      Read the works of Mircea Aliede for more sky fun in old times

      • Ronnie says:

        Jeeter Jones, you say “The Nicene Creed was a Citidel of clear reasoning compared to what was offered.”
        Is this the same Nicece Creed who contemplated how many angels can dance on a pin head?

  20. Tas Walker says:

    There is a great article on evolution by Alex Williams. Quote: “Darwin’s theory of speciation via natural selection of natural variation is correct in principle, but it cannot be extrapolated to universal ancestry. What we see instead is different kinds of organisms having been designed for different kinds of lifestyles, with enormous potential for diversification built-in at the beginning, but with time this potential for diversification has become depleted by selection and degraded by mutations so that we are now rapidly heading towards extinction.” Google “how life works williams”.

  21. Jeff Pedigo says:

    James Randi is my hero.

  22. John Heininger says:

    I thought you would enjoy this little poem on evolution;

    Once I was tadpole like when I did begin
    Then I was a frog with my tail tucked in
    Then I was monkey swinging in a tree
    Now I’m a bio professor with a PhD

    • Rev Jeeter Jones says:

      I done read your Poem at my Sermon at the

      Hunker Arkansas Holiness church and How Maw s Pickling Society

      You shore done shown them phoney egghead commie fag scientists up!!

      It was a real knee- slapper!!
      Dubbie McHayseed done laffed so hard he farted right in church

  23. The_Penguin says:

    As a European and heir to the Enlightenment, I find it extremely strange that this ‘argument’, if such it be, still rages over the most scientifically developed nation on earth. What it is with you people? Reason and faith are two sides of the same coin; you cannot mix one with t’other. They are indeed mutually exclusive; so do not try. You will never convince someone of faith to bow before reason just as you will never convince someone of reason, but no faith, to bow before faith. Humankind has a natural propensity to conjure reasons for its existence; it is the blessing or the curse of our species. Whatever one might think, reason as well as faith has blighted the history of our tiny proportion of this planet’s fauna.

  24. John E Hein says:

    Christian believers can be reached with reason, although probably not with an article like this (someone mentioned “preaching to the choir”). Many theologians accept Theistic Evolution, and most theologians do not hold to a Young Earth view. Injecting a bit doubt into a believers mind about their position is step one; then bring further one step at a time (can be very difficult). “The Language of God” by Francis S Collins is a great book about genetics for a believer (maybe even an atheist). He says Evolution is undeniable, which can be significant to a believer since he is one of them.

  25. Robert says:

    A wonderful article except for one claim: where on earth does Mr. Randi get the idea that the Vatican as a body is in denial of scientific evolution? It is most decidedly not, has no official position on the subject, and allows its scientists and followers to come to their own conclusions. In fact, Pope John Paul II in a 1996 address stated his personal support for evolution as “more than a hypothesis.”

  26. Dave says:

    “Many theologians accept Theistic Evolution, and most theologians do not hold to a Young Earth view.”

    This was not the case just decades ago…so why the change in view? Because scientific findings on such subjects are so overwhelming that to deny them leaves you in the intellectual dust of history – and they’re so easily accessed now. Geocentric? Heliocentric. Flat earth? Round. On pillars? Not to be observed. Firmament? lol. Stars are angels? Not. The moon shines of its own light? Reflected. Pi = 3.0? smh…

    And the church will continue to come along, revamping its views when each is no longer supportable. I imagine this will continue right up to the point of their own collapse – brought on by the ever-decreasing number of gaps for their g-d to fill.

    • sittingbytheriver says:

      Religion will never die. People need it. They need to feel safe and loved, and, especially, not helpless. They do this through personal projection of an all powerful all loving parental figure. That’s why they created God in the first place. : )

  27. OldNassau says:

    I agree with Dr. Randi. One observation, however, “In my opinion, one reason so many people don’t accept the reality of evolution is that they just can’t imagine the numbers involved. “ Perhaps a reason, but the main reason is that creationism makes people #1, whereas evolution shows humanity to be only the latest “descent with modification” of one of many lines of speciation. Creationists and/or Intelligent Designers do not question, for example, Einstein’s theory of relativity, Lavoisier’s of oxygen combustion, Wegener’s of plate tectonics, or Planck, Heisenberg, Bohr’s of quanta, etc. because these ideas do not challenge humanity’s being created in the image of God .

  28. Thys Human (Pretoria) says:

    It is time – and has been so for some time – to stop referring to evolution as “a theory”. It is not. Evolution is a fact as demonstrated by thousands of scientific papers, beginning with Darwin’s Origin of Species. It is verifiable, has been proven and cannot be undone.

    How evolution works, can be explained by theories. There are (as I see it) at least four main theories in the scientific world: Darwinism (including neo-Darwinism), punctuated equilibrium (a la Stephen J Gould), microbiological symbiosis (refer Lynn Margulis) and “cataclysmic upheavals” (if that is the correct name for some ideas that only have limited support).

    In recent years there has been a strong move within religious (mainly Christian) beliefs that evolution can and must be accepted as fact, that it merely reflects the ongoing “creation” of God and is going on exactly as God planned it. This view, known as “Theistic evolution”, allows believing scientists to continue working in evolutionary sciences without “conflict” and allows believers in a “supreme being” to accept the views of scientists and the facts of evolutionary life. (It has a couple of problems such as how and when the “soul” was “implanted” in Homo Sapiens, but that is their problem!)

    My suggestion is that writers and commentators such as Randi concentrate on talking to and with believers in theistic evolution. To try and convince dyed-in-the-wool creationists is a waste of time and energy. They will eventually die out – maybe in a thousand years!

  29. Gordon Megson says:

    As always!

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