Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Evolution Is a Theory and a Fact

Don't forget about my talk tonight at McMaster University in Hamilton (Ontario, Canada). It's sponsored by the McMaster Association of Secular Humanists (MASH) (Hamilton) [Evolution is a Theory and a Fact, with Prof Laurence Moran]

The subject is Evolution Is a Theory and a Fact. Come to room HSC/1A1 at 7pm. (HSC is the (Health Sciences Building, or the Hospital, map here.)

Cost: $2 (free for members of the MASH)

Tomorrow night I'm at the Centre for Inquiry, 216 Beverley Street in Toronto. (Beverly St. is the southward extension of St. George St. The Centre is on the west side of the street about one block south of College.)

The talk begins at 7pm.
Cost: $4 (*special announcement: students Free*) FREE for Friends of the Centre
The public event at CFI will also serve as the official launch of Cafe Inquiry, a project of the University of Toronto Secular Alliance, sponsored by CFI Ontario. Similar to Cafe Scientifique hosted by the Ontario Science Centre, we will serve food and beverages and encourage discussion with the audience. Bring your questions and comments on this controversial issue!


  1. A good article. However, I would like to posit an analogy and also make a minor correction.

    1. It is not correct to say that Newtonian mechanics was replaced by Relativity Theory. The former still provides a high degree of accuracy in describing most most problems in celestial mechanics, with relativistic effects treated as small (very small) perturbations. In this sense, the relativistic corrections to planetary motion look just like corrections due to the (Newtonian) gravitational effect of other planets and possible quadrapole effects if the the major body differs greatly from spherical symmetry.

    2. Consider the analogy of the Copernican heliocentric solar system with common descent. Both are observable facts. The mechanisms that explain those facts, namely Newtonian/Einsteinian mechanics and Darwinian natural selection are theories. These theories provide explanations which not only explain currently known phenomena but also make testable predictions. For instance, the existence of the planet Neptune was predicted, based on computations on the orbit of Uranus which did not agree entirely with observations (it is mind boggling to consider just how small those deviations were; they are a tribute to the great accuracy of astronomical observations, probably the most accurate observations of which humankind is capable). Similarly, the evolution of bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics is strong evidence for mechanism of natural selection.

  2. I like the paper and slc's correction re: the relationship between quantum and Newtonian physics. I hope the lecture goes well. It's hard to believe how many North Americans (including most members of my family) continue to deny evolution. I've yet to figure out why being created from a handful of dirt is deemed superior to sharing common ancestry with other primates.

  3. OK, there's something seriously weird with how hyperlinks are being processed in comments on this blog. I'm using exactly the same technique as I use everywhere else -- wrapping the link text in your basic "href" HTML tag -- but somehow, the end tag is simply not being picked up.

    Is this just me? What's the deal? Larry, have you set some funny setting with respect to hyperlinks in comments?

  4. Re the chaplain

    I have to make a small correction to Mr. chaplains' comment where he cited quantum mechanics. The theory of quantum mechanics is very different in philosophy and implementation from the Theory of Relativity which I cited. Unlike the relationship between Newtonian and Einsteinian mechanics there is no such relationship between Newtonian mechanics and quantum mechanics in that the concept of treating the latter as a perturbation on the former makes no sense. One must apply one or the other. A couple of quotes about quantum mechanics are, perhaps apropos here. Thus Richard Feynman,
    "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics." Steven Weinberg, "Quantum Mechanics is a totally preposterous theory which, unfortunately, appears to be correct."

  5. But it is correct to say that special relativity replaced galilean relativity in classical mechanics, which seems to be Gould's intent.

    That we keep theories that makes easier calculations or facilitates education is IMO incidental. We also keep or invent toy models that capture but a few characteristics of reality to try out new methods in.

    I imagine that a similar effect in biology is to use the subset of evolutionary mechanisms that predict a certain phenomena, as the full set is AFAIU neither definitive nor always needed.

  6. Don't forget about my talk tonight at McMaster University in Hamilton (Ontario, Canada). It's sponsored by the McMaster Association of Secular Humanists (MASH) (Hamilton) [Evolution is a Theory and a Fact, with Prof Laurence Moran]

    Your going to miss WNED's broadcast of 'Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial', which airs tonight at 8pm.

  7. It's all just shadows on a cave wall.

  8. It’s all just shadows on a cave wall

    Is that the metaphor from the prologue of Penrose’s ‘Shadows of the Mind’? My ‘faith’ is that the shadows on the wall providentially provide us with a tractable decoding problem: the ‘data samples’ provided by the shadows on the wall can ultimately be made sense of.

    As for evolution there seems to be a lot of sense in what Dobzhansky, Eastern Orthodox Christian, says:
    “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution” (Dobzhansky). (See Larry’s article)