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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Repeatedly Forgotten Debate about the Human Eye

So this cartoon raises a popular argument against evolution. The snappy student asks the teacher to "...explain the simple evolution process of the human eyeball" and of course, in the cartoon, the teacher doesn't know what to say. I've never seen this debate go this way, although I have seen the anti-science person turn away and not listen to the answer.

Notice the strange phrasing, though? Sound a little like Bill Clinton talking about (and/or talking to [sic]) "that woman [,[sic]] Miss Lewinsky"? There's a reason for it! This argument previously had not included the word SIMPLE. The word SIMPLE was added in response to a debate that takes a little longer than the cartoon to understand. Basically, it goes like this:

Student: Explain the evolution process of the human eyeball
Teacher: Well, it started with a very simple cell capable of detecting light, and small incremental changes eventually added up to a complex organ like the mammalian eye.
Student: I can't imagine those steps, they must not exist.
Teacher: Well, they aren't that complicated, there are just a lot of them. Consider that light detecting cell in the middle of a patch of skin. A slight concavity of the surrounding skin would give some improved directional information.... [45 minutes later]... Then the slightest adjustments in the aperture...
Student: ... sorry I wasn't listening. I was publishing an article about how Kolmogorov complexity proves that life was designed by God. What were you blabbing about?
Teacher: Actually, the uncomputability of Kolmogorov complexity shows that you can never prove irreducible complexity, and I just explained in detail how the evolution of the eye could have occurred in very small steps.
Student: Whatever... I doubt the people reading my site know what Kolmogorov complexity is anyway... and it makes me look smart. Besides, doesn't your long complex explanation violate Occam's razor, making it bad science? Do you have a SIMPLE demonstration that the eye is not irreducibly complex? I DIDN'T THINK SO!
Teacher: Sure I do. Close your eyes and move your head around. Can you detect the sources of... [ring]
Student: I don't know, but I definitely hear a bell ringing. Time for lunch!

And so it goes. If it's not lunch, then it's some other excuse to change the subject so that they can refer back to "the human eye" as one of the arguments they won, proof that evolution is still "just a theory" -- whatever that means.

As for the other cartoons on this page, none of them even resemble something that was ever an attempt at a rational argument against evolution, so my response to them is simply "nuh-uh".

Tune in next time when I explain to the complexity-theory challenged what Kolmogorov complexity and Entropy are (and what they are not).

For more on the evolution of the eye:
Here is a nice, easy to read, article: http://library.thinkquest.org/28030/eyeevo.htm
And the more detailed wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_of_the_eye

Monday, September 10, 2007

Authors of "Christians Misunderstand ... Evolution According to ChristiaNet.com Poll" and ChristiaNet.com Poll Misunderstand Evolution

According to this article, it is important for Christians to learn the difference between micro and macro evolution. Of course, the better one understands evolution, the less meaningful the distinction becomes. Like distinguishing between a "creek" and a "river", the distinction seems clear at the extremes, but when you look for the line that separates the two, you realize that it's not a matter of a fuzzy line, but rather a line that truly doesn't exist, and in order to be precise we need a richer technical vocabulary, which involves actually studying the subject -- uh-oh.

Of course, what's really going on here is an attempt to inoculate people against science education. It isn't about facts at all, but rhetorical devices. And following the rules of science is completely out of the question!

Tune in next time when I explain how the simple expression z2 + c generates the infinite variety of the Mandelbrot set and what this means for the argument that "simple things cannot generate complex things" -- and other one-liners from the anti-science folks.