The Stork Theory of Human Reproduction

November 21st, 2010

I don’t know the whole story behind this film, but it appears that a visit to the University of Oklahoma by Richard Dawkins generated some controversy. Imagine! Dawkins responds with a brilliant video that demonstrates an alternative theory to human reproduction that has about as much evidence to support it as – the bloodthirsty man in the sky who requires human sacrifice for his approval created the world in seven literal days days about 6,000 years ago.

Comments

  • Clay:

    Great show by Dawkins! There needs to be more of this.

    In related scientific news, I hear that hundreds of climate scientists have gotten together to form a quick strike reaction team to stand up to the conservative political attacks on the global warming consensus. Science by and for the political and religious hacks is getting more dangerous all the time.

  • Clayvessel:

    When I read Dawkins book, The God Delusion (yes, Rechelle, this Christian homeschooler read it) years ago, what struck me on every page was his astounding arrogance. He demonstrates it again here in this speech. (“I don’t want to blow my own trumpet” Oh yes you do).

    His play with semantics is deceptive to the listener. To use the argument that gravity is a “theory” and evolution is a “well-established fact” is an example of his bull-shitting his audience. Gravity is a well-established fact. Who would dispute this? Apparently the awesome Mr. Dawkins. The “theory” of gravity is science’s proposed explanation of it which is in flux. The fact of gravity’s existence can be proven.

    The same cannot be said for evolution. The “theory” of it is some science’s proposed explanation for the existence of the world. That is also in flux. Facts are provable, reproducible and indisputable. So many of the “proofs” of evolutionary theory have been disproven and abandoned but since a long memory won’t help the argument for the “well-established fact”, let’s not bring those up.

    Cue the name-calling…

  • Nadine:

    Wow, Clay, I won’t call you any names, but I will inquire whether you missed the unit on irony in your high school English lit class.

  • Clay:

    Gravitation is indeed a theory and not a fact, because the word represents a concept. Things fall down, and massive bodies are attracted to each other; these are facts and they are not called “gravity”. Gravitation is an explanation for those observations, so it is a theory. But arguing semantics is always a poor dodge to avoid the issues of logic.

    In science, explanations are always theories, not facts, but in some cases a theory is so well supported by facts that it achieves the same acceptence as fact. This is the case for evolution, which is one of the basic concepts in biology.

    Anyone who says that evolution is not supported by facts knows very little about biology, paleontology and genetics.

    • Clayvessel:

      @Clay-So by your definition there are no scientific facts?

      Isn’t it true that many things in evolutionary theory have changed based on new “evidence” over the last century? How can evolutionary theory be “a well-established fact” (Dawkins’ exact words) if it is subject to change? Facts do not change.

      Please recognize my point of Dawkin’s manipulation of words (“theory” and “fact”) to make his opinion.

      • Clayvessel:

        Btw, I agree with you, Clay, that evolution has “achieved the same acceptance as fact” but I would disagree that it is because it is well-supported.

        • Clay:

          Okay, what are the arguments for evolution that you say are not “well supported” and what evidence is there against it.

      • Clay:

        What “definition” did i give that said there are no scientific facts? Slow down and see where I said that falling objects and attraction of massive objects are facts.

        Yes, some things in evolutionary theory have changed in the last century. What has changed is our understanding of how it happens, not whether it is happening or not. The evidence of speciation and a continual introduction of new species over time has never been seriously challenged in the scientific community for the last hundred years or more.

        I wouldn’t have said that evolution is a “fact” as Dawkins did. I will just have to say again that this fixation on semantics is beside the point of the existence of evolution.

      • jalf:

        @clayvessel: yes, it is strictly speaking incorrect terminology to talk about “fact”s at all, or to call evolution “a fact”. Just like it is incorrect when I say that it is a *fact* that the apple I’m holding will drop to the ground when I release it. We don’t *know* that. But we’ve got a very solid theory which says so. And we’ve got a lot of observational evidence to back it up (it fell to the ground when I tried the same thing yesterday. I can see that I, myself, am getting pressed to the ground right now)

        It is no “fact” that the sun will rise tomorrow. But we’ve got theories that say so and we’ve observed it happen before, and we usually *call* it a fact.

        It is no “fact” that you or I exist. But we’re usually willing to call it so, because it’s close enough, and it makes our communication a whole lot easier.

        And likewise with evolution. No, it is not, strictly speaking, a *fact*. (In fact there is one possibility in particular we can’t avoid. It could be that all those fossils are laid down by a god who wanted it *to look* as if the theory of evolution is correct. That god would have had to go to a lot of effort, not just laying down a bunch of animal-looking bones, but carefully putting the right ones in the right places, making sure the number of fossils of each type is correct, that each has lost *just* the right amount of not just one, but a dozen or more different unstable isotopes, in order to trick our dating methods into giving *just* the right answers.

        Such a god, playing a joke on us, is an alternative we can never dismiss. But if it is true, we might as well assume that he made the illusion perfect, and in that case, we might as well assume that it really *is* evolution at work. It won’t make any difference.

        @clay: “Gravitation is indeed a theory and not a fact, because the word represents a concept. Things fall down, and massive bodies are attracted to each other; these are facts”

        No, that’s not a fact. What gives you that idea? Don’t be absurd. We merely think that we’ve observed it happening for thousands of years. Again, God could’ve been playing a trick on us. Maybe we’ve been hallucinating. Or maybe it’s happened for thousands of years, *but not any more, starting from tomorrow*. It is no more “fact” than evolution is.

        (In other words, the evidence is pretty damn conclusive).

        But you make a good point, in separating the observations from the theories. We can (and have) observed that mass is attracted to mass. And we’ve come up with theories to explain this.

        And we can (and should apply the same logic to evolution.

        We have observed, in countless ways, that evolution *does happen*. We have observed new species emerge *today*, over the last couple of years. And we have studied the ground we walk on closely enough to be damn sure that it also happened thousands and millions of years ago.

        In clayvessel’s words, “To use the argument that evoution is a “theory” and gravity is a “well-established fact” is an example of his bull-shitting his audience. Evolution is a well-established fact. Who would dispute this? Apparently the awesome Mr. clayvessel.”

        Once again, we have *seen* speciation happen, in the lab and in the real world. And we *know* that the species that existed in the past weren’t always the same. We know that the ones living a billion years ago were more similar to those living 900 million years ago than they are to a modern day animal like a horse. We know that there haven’t been horses around for more than a couple of million years, and even those looked *different*. We can’t *prove* that evolution is the cause of this, but it *exactly* fits the pattern that we would expect to see if evolution was true. (While *no* other theory has ever been proposed that’d explain this. The Bible falls at the first hurdle, by failing to explain why life in the past was different from life today.)

        But the same thing is true for gravity. Sure, we’ve observed planets moving *as if they were* attracted by stars, for example. But who’s to say it isn’t just the Giant Space Crab stalking around pushing the planets? All we can say is that “it fits the pattern that we would expect to see if gravity was true”. (If anything, gravity is the most uncertain one. We’ve only seen indirect evidence of that: We’ve seen planets and stars move *as if* they were affected by gravity, but we don’t know that gravity was what caused that to happen. On the other hand, we’ve seen new species emerge *while we were watching*, direct evidence, which is much more solid)

        The “theory of evolution” is just the theory we’ve come up with to explain the observation that evolution occurs. A theory that so far, no one has been able to disprove or displace. A theory which occasionally gets tweaked, yes, but has not been shaken or had to be *seriously* modified for a century.

        @clayvessel: “Isn’t it true that many things in evolutionary theory have changed based on new “evidence” over the last century? How can evolutionary theory be “a well-established fact” (Dawkins’ exact words) if it is subject to change? Facts do not change.”

        See my previous point. The fact that evolution occurs has not changed. The *theory of evolution* has had small corners of it changed many times over the last century. That is to be expected as we learn more about the species alive today and in the past. But the basic observation that “evolution does occur, and it is responsible for creating the species we see around us, starting from small blobs billions of years ago” has not changed *once*, because it is, in your terminology, a “fact”-

        “Please recognize my point of Dawkin’s manipulation of words (“theory” and “fact”) to make his opinion.”

        Not quiet. We have no facts. We have observed certain things occurring for a long time, such as gravity and evolution. Those are technically speaking still not facts, but they’re close enough that we usually call them facts as it is a bit more convenient.

        The *explanations* of why and how these processes occur are theories. And the *theory* of evolution is also not a fact, but as with the “observation” of evolution, it looks like it’s pretty much spot-on. We can’t prove that it is, but we often get lazy and call it a fact, just like we get lazy and call a lot of other theories “fact”.

        The important thing, and something that Dawkins is absolutely correct about, is that theories and observations aren’t the same things. We can observe (and we *have* observed) that evolution occurs, but that doesn’t tell us *how* it works. We need a theory for that.

        We can observe (and we *have* observed) that gravity occurs, but that doesn’t tell us *how* it works. We need a theory for that.

        The difference between the two is that the theory of gravity has been *radically* altered over the last century. The theory of evolution has only had a few minor niggles smoothed out. Dates have been changed, the answers to which species evolved from which, and when, has changed as we uncovered more fossils and realized that “hey, there really were a few tiny small shrew-like mammals around at the same time as the dinosaurs”. And general patterns like “is evolution smooth, or does it mostly occur in bursts” have been changed a couple of times, but not a single modification has threatened the theory itself.

        But Dawkins does cheat. If he were to use the correct terminology, then he could *never* talk about facts *at all*. We *have* no facts. Not the attraction of mass, not that evolution occurs, not that I existed yesterday (or that I was born in ’82), not that the sky is blue, or anything else. These things aren’t facts. But they’re close enough that we, and Dawkins, call them fact. Dawkins uses a lazy or incorrect terminology. Just like you do, and just like every other human being does. And because of that you refuse to believe him?

        “So many of the “proofs” of evolutionary theory have been disproven and abandoned but since a long memory won’t help the argument for the “well-established fact”, let’s not bring those up.”
        No, let’s bring them up, please. A long memory absolutely does help the argument. If you remember disproved “proofs” for evolution, and the scientific community doesn’t, then it appears you’ve got something significant to contribute. Please enlighten us. Give us a single example of such a “proof.

        If you want to know what won’t help your argument, it’s “I know all these things, I just can’t be bothered to tell you about them”. If you know of such failed proofs, tell us about them. And if you know a way to disprove evolution once and for all, tell us.

        Who knows, one of us might even *learn something*. It’s worth a shot, isn’t it?

  • amy:

    @ Clayvessel:

    You complain as though the fact that science is constantly changing and growing and learning is a bad thing. Those things are precisely why science is awesome and vastly superior to a stagnant faith in an ancient collection of writings.

    Scientists are continually testing and challenging each other’s theories and ideas. So, when one idea proves faulty, new ideas emerge. That way, there are all sorts of challenges to each new idea and each idea has to withstand all kinds of scrutiny. When an idea is found to be deficient, it is thrown out.

    Believing the bible is believing in one “divinely proclaimed” idea with absolutely no room for testing or new theories when the old ones are found deficient. Which practice sounds less rigorous? Which practice sounds more likely to be wrong?

    Remember, the earth is flat if you truly accept the bible’s teachings…

  • JJ:

    Nice comment jalf. I especially liked how you referred to us being lazy in our use of terminology. I have always felt that those taking a literal interpretation of the Bible are searching for the easy way out. Science through its own process requires so much work! How easy it is to just be able to say “the BIble says.” I think God ( I know , I know…) would be very disappointed. Look at all he gave – the intelligence, freedom of choice, emotion, even your fingers to pick up things and eyes to observe, oh and commons sense – and his most devoted are closing their eyes, minds and hands to exploring the world around them. I think he is banging his head against a cloud wall up there…

  • Clay:

    There is a very good discussion of all these thoughts at Wikipedia’s entry on “Evolution as Theory and Fact”. It includes a section that compares evolution with gravity.

    At several points it justifies the use of “fact” as a description of evolution, and the reasons for saying so. There are several reasons and situations that justify it. Here is one quote:

    The National Academy of Science (U.S.) makes a similar point:

    Scientists most often use the word “fact” to describe an observation. But scientists can also use fact to mean something that has been tested or observed so many times that there is no longer a compelling reason to keep testing or looking for examples. The occurrence of evolution in this sense is fact. Scientists no longer question whether descent with modification occurred because the evidence is so strong.[18]