The Science of Sustainability

Happy Birthday Charlie!

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This month marks the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species. If Darwin were alive today, I think he would be very pleased.

He would undoubtedly be very excited about everything we've learned about biology since his time. Like the rest of us, he would be awed by the beauty, grandeur, and complexity of life on Earth.

He would also be pleased that his ideas about natural selection and evolution are to date the only scientific explanation for all of this. His ideas pervade every aspect of modern biology from medicine to genomics to ecology.

His theories dominate because they are supported by mountains of evidence (Read Why Evolution is True to find out more about the data that supports evolution. You can click here for a review of the book.). The evidence in support of evolution is so overwhelming that there is no real debate about it among biologists.

Of course, like any scientific theory, not every "t" is crossed nor every "i" dotted. But that is more of a reflection on how science works rather than the theory itself.

A scientist gathers some data and then proposes a hypothesis to explain that data. Then the scientist does some experiments to test the hypothesis. The new data either supports the hypothesis, requires that the scientist modify the hypothesis to fit the new data, or requires the scientist to come up with a new hypothesis that better explains the data. Then scientists repeat this process over and over again until the hypotheses can be unified into a theory.

This has gone on for 150 years or so for evolution and if anything, evolution is stronger than it was before. Sure, every now and then a hypothesis within the theory needs to be modified but the theory remains as strong as ever.

In fact, no point of contention has yet been raised that is the straw that will break evolution's back. And there is nothing obvious on the horizon that will.

Darwin would also probably not be surprised that his theory remains controversial because it seems to fly in the face of a Creator. Which is of course nonsense. Despite worries about how Earth being the center of the Universe would cast doubts on the Creator, Christianity survived Copernicus and Galileo. And it will survive Darwin as well.

I heard this interesting interview on NPR over the weekend with Richard Dawkins about his book, The God Delusion. In the interview, Dawkins states that it seems unlikely to him that God would create a Universe that could be explained by natural causes. I disagree.

My understanding is that Christianity is based on faith. If a Creator made the Universe in such a way that scientists could show the Earth was 10,000 years old, then of course a Creator exists. That is the only possibility. So where is the faith in that? How would it be different than the Creator greeting each person and welcoming him or her to the Creator's Universe?

To me it makes sense that a Creator would make a world that was or could be formed naturally. In which case it doesn't really matter scientifically whether life arose on Earth through a Creator or by chance. Both ways require evolution. Thank you Charles Darwin for giving us this great framework within which we can understand life here on Earth.

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Dr. Barry Starr

About the Author ()

Dr. Barry Starr is a Geneticist-in-Residence at The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, CA and runs their Stanford at The Tech program. The program is part of an ongoing collaboration between the Stanford Department of Genetics and The Tech Museum of Innovation. Together these two partners created the Genetics: Technology with a Twist exhibition. Read his previous contributions to QUEST, a project dedicated to exploring the Science of Sustainability.
  • http://www.fiorentinoresearch.com jfiorentino

    I just want to make a rather specific comment on this article, as I have no desire to open up what certainly seems to be the eternal creation/evolution debate.

    What I do think is necessary though, is for both sides to understand the other. In other words those who believe in creation should have a good undertanding of the theory of evolution, and evolutionists should have a good understanding of creationism/ID, etc.

    While I agree with Dr. Starr in his assessment of Dawkins, I would like to point out the following:

    It is a major misconception that the majority of those who espouse creationism/ID believe the "Earth is 10,000 years old."

    It is true there are some, referred to as "young Earth" creationists who make this claim.

    However, there is absolutely no Biblical support for such a notion. The "age of the Earth" and the "age of man" have absolutely no connection either necessarily or by any other interpretation.

    A proper reading of Genesis for example, gives no support to the idea of a 10,000 year old Earth. In fact it indicates quite the contrary, stating that the Earth was here for some time (not precisely specified) before the creation of life.

    There is also an indication in that same book, of what might be perceived as two separate creative events, although this is not definitive.

    I will not attempt to debate the fossil record, what may be perceived by some as the fossil record (dating of those remains etc.) or interpretation of what some may refer to as "transitional fossils."

    I will try and give an understanding as to the age of man, which creationists generally accept as being approx. 6,000 yrs.

    For the evolutionists, try as they might, there is in fact no accepted verifiable history beyond about 5,000 yrs. Anything beyond that time is what scientists refer to as inference.

    Libby made this assessment: Willard F. Libby Radiocarbon dating
    Nobel Lecture, December 12, 1960 (excerpts)

    The first shock Dr. Arnold and I had was when our advisors informed
    us that history extended back only to 5,000 years. We had thought
    initially that we would be able to get samples all along the curve back to
    30,000 years, put the points in, and then our work would be finished. You
    read statements in books that such and such a society or archeological site is
    20,000 years old. We learned rather abruptly that these numbers, these ancient
    ages, are not known accurately; in fact, it is at about the time of the
    First Dynasty in Egypt that the first historical date of any real certainty has
    been established.

    I hope this helps.

  • http://www.fiorentinoresearch.com jfiorentino

    "Both ways require evolution."

    Well, no they really don't.

    At least not "macro-evolution."

    The Bible states that all species will reproduce "after its kind."

    There is NO evidence that any else has EVER happened. Nor that anything else EVER WILL happen.

    I hope this helps.

  • http://www.fiorentinoresearch.com jfiorentino

    I don't want to hog the show, but I do feel compelled to make this comment.

    If I had to sum up the theory of evolution, in one word, it would be:

    SPECIOUS

  • http://www.thetech.org/genetics/index.php Barry Starr

    I assume in your last comment you meant species? Or maybe speciation?

    My point about both ways requiring evolution was predicated on an assumption that the existence of a Creator is based on faith. Creating a world stocked with all of the current living species would be an obvious act of a Creator and so to not believe would not be logical. There isn't a lot of room for faith there.

    If a Creator were to make a world where belief in that Creator required faith, then evolution would be one way to do it. That was my only point.

    I also sent out your comment (see below) to Ken Miller and Jerry Coyne to get their views on it. Here is your comment:

    "For the evolutionists, try as they might, there is in fact no accepted verifiable history beyond about 5,000 yrs. Anything beyond that time is what scientists refer to as inference."

    And here are their reactions:

    Ken Miller wrote:

    While it is certainly true that the oldest recorded historical documents date to somewhere between 5,000 and 5,500 years, that applies only to written records of historical events. Scientists regard the geologic ages, which date to several billion years, as accepted and verifiable, and astronomers would also agree that an age for the universe itself is now accepted and verifiable.

    The very fact that we can measure the speed of movement of distant stars and galaxies by empirical methods provides a verifiable method to determine the age of the universe, and the same consideration applies to radiometric dating techniques for the ages of rocks and geologic formations.

    The most powerful of the radiometric dating techniques, which I explained on pp. 69-76 of my book “Finding Darwin’s God,” make only one assumption — and that is that the laws of physics and chemistry are constant. More to the point, the isotopic compositions of rocks are empirical, verifiable facts. Can these facts of composition be explained by the hypothesis that the planet is only a few thousand years old? Absolutely not. In reality, the suggestion that the planet is that young can be tested and falsified by well-accepted scientific techniques.

    The scientific rigor of these techniques not only provides us with a direct, scientific way to measure the ages of these formations, it also provides us with an objective life history of the planet in the forms of the preserved remains of living organisms. The combination of geology with paleontology is testable empirical science in the very best sense, because it allows hypothesis testing and the possibility of empirical disproof.

    Sincerely,

    Ken Miller

    Jerry Coyne

    No verifiable history? Not that the first traces of life appear 3.5 billion years ago, and true cells about two billion years later. Not that there are dinosaurs that gave rise to birds about 150 million years ago, or whales from land animals about 50 million years ago? Not that the continents were all joined at one time, and separated via continental drift? Or, for that matter, not that the Universe is 14 billion years old, and the earth 4.6 billion years old. This person needs to think about what we mean by "verifiable", and also to read my book, Why Evolution is True, to see all the VERIFIABLE and FALSIFIABLE evidence for evolution. If he doesn't change his mind, then he's immune to facts and not capable of being persuaded by evidence.

  • http://www.fiorentinoresearch.com jfiorentino

    (editor's note: this comment has been edited to remove inappropriate personal remarks and duplicate content. John – you are not new to this site, and are welcome here as long as you remain civil. This is your last warning.)

    I will try and respond to this mish-mosh of obfuscation as best as I can. Nothing like the old college football "pile-on." heh?…anyway, here goes:

    But first, before I get a little "gnarly" let me say: I have communicated with Barry on numerous occasions, I like Dr. Starr, so this isn't personal, at least on my end.

    I have communicated many times also with Ken Miller. I have corrected at least one of his misconceptions, which he even acknowledged, and which he was indicating to many in his various lectures across the country.

    I don't know Jerry Coyne personally.

    Now all that being said, and provided it passes the censors, let me devote much time and try and respond.

    "I assume in your last comment you meant species? Or maybe speciation?"

    No, I MEANT specious. I was, as I stated giving a one word assessment of my thoughts on evolution. For those not familiar with the word:

    "SPECIOUS"

    adjective

    Definition: describes something that sounds true, but is actually false

    Synonyms: misleading, incorrect, plausible, wrong, untrue, false, deceptive, ostensible, presumable

    Antonyms: true, right, correct

    Specious is derived from the Latin speciosus, which means "appearance." Specious describes things that appear to be true, but are really false.

    I think the easiest way to continue is to paste the above responses from Dr. Starr, Ken and Coyne and put MY responses in the body of the text: in ( )

    My point about both ways requiring evolution was predicated on an assumption that the existence of a Creator is based on faith. Creating a world stocked with all of the current living species would be an obvious act of a Creator and so to not believe would not be logical…(You don't believe it, do you?).. There isn't a lot of room for faith there…. (It still requires faith, because it can't be proved scientifically. And of course, it is constantly under assault by those who espouse evolution. The idea of creation is indeed faith based, so your logic fails you, I'm afraid)

    If a Creator were to make a world where belief in that Creator required faith, then evolution would be one way to do it. That was my only point….(It MIGHT be "one way to do it" but obviously not the ONLY way. And since I don't believe evolution WAS the way, and yet I have "faith" in a creator, your logic again, fails)

    I also sent out your comment (see below) to Ken Miller and Jerry Coyne to get their views on it. Here is your comment:

    "For the evolutionists, try as they might, there is in fact no accepted verifiable history beyond about 5,000 yrs….(Dr. Miller agrees) Anything beyond that time is what scientists refer to as inference."… (Neither Starr, Miller or Coyne chose to acknowledge this fact) (Nor, I noticed did Barry relay to Miller and Coyne, that Libby made that assessment. Perhaps they would care to rebut him?)

    And here are their reactions:

    Ken Miller wrote:

    While it is certainly true that the oldest recorded historical documents date to somewhere between 5,000 and 5,500 years, that applies only to written records of historical events…..(Miller is wrong here about just "written records" but I won't quibble on this point) Scientists regard the geologic ages, which date to several billion years, as accepted and verifiable, and astronomers would also agree that an age for the universe itself is now accepted and verifiable……(That's all very interesting, but irrelevant… (I may require a clarification as to what Ken meant by "geologic ages" in this context)….I never questioned either the age of the earth, or the universe. In fact, I indicated there is NO Biblical support for a "10,000 yr. old Earth")

    The very fact that we can measure the speed of movement of distant stars and galaxies by empirical methods provides a verifiable method to determine the age of the universe,….(Irrelevant)…. and the same consideration applies to radiometric dating techniques for the ages of rocks…(irrelevant)…. and geologic formations…(again, I might need a little clarification, re: "geologic formations")

    The most powerful of the radiometric dating techniques, which I explained on pp. 69-76 of my book “Finding Darwin’s God,”….(well, I don't have the book in front of me, so perhaps Ken should have been more specific)… make only one assumption — and that is that the laws of physics and chemistry are constant….(This is a little unclear. If Ken is indicating for instance in the case of radio-carbon dating, that everything remains "constant" then he is simply wrong, and should know better (see Libby)…… More to the point, the isotopic compositions of rocks are empirical, verifiable facts. Can these facts of composition be explained by the hypothesis that the planet is only a few thousand years old?….(I never said it was)….Absolutely not. In reality, the suggestion that the planet is that young can be tested and falsified by well-accepted scientific techniques…(irrelevant, and never suggested, nor solicited)

    The scientific rigor of these techniques not only provides us with a direct, scientific way to measure the ages of these formations, it also provides us with an objective life history of the planet in the forms of the preserved remains of living organisms. The combination of geology with paleontology is testable empirical science in the very best sense, because it allows hypothesis testing and the possibility of empirical disproof……(Lots of words which don't address any of the issues I raised)

    Sincerely,

    Ken Miller

    (Either Ken didn't read what I wrote, read something into what I wrote that wasn't there, missed the point entirely, or can't or didn't choose to address the issues. His constant hammering about the age of the earth demonstrates he lacks an understanding about what I conveyed re: creationism.)

    Jerry Coyne

    No verifiable history? Not that the first traces of life appear 3.5 billion years ago,…(Verification?)… and true cells about two billion years later..(verification?)… Not that there are dinosaurs that gave rise to birds about 150 million years ago,….(verification?)…. or whales from land animals about 50 million years ago?….(verification?)….. Not that the continents were all joined at one time, and separated via continental drift?…(OK)….. Or, for that matter, not that the Universe is 14 billion years old, and the earth 4.6 billion years old..(Irrelevant)…. This person needs to think about what we mean by "verifiable",…(Well, honestly I don't know what he means by "verifiable" since he didn't verify anything. I DO know what I mean by verifiable, and what most people mean by the use of that term)… and also to read my book, Why Evolution is True,…(based on what I've seen so far, I'll take a pass on the book idea)….. to see all the VERIFIABLE and FALSIFIABLE evidence for evolution. If he doesn't change his mind, then he's immune to facts and not capable of being persuaded by evidence…..(I'll call that semi-ad hominem, if there is such a thing. The only thing Coyne does here is pontificate. He only makes thunderous statements, yet provides no back-up. He fails to comprehend, that his statements are indeed the issues in question, and the fact that HE says so, is simply meaningless fodder)

    In essence, I think all of the above made my point, about those that espouse evolution needing a good understanding of what is in FACT meant by creationism. No one above addressed the issues I raised, but rather blathered on about points I never raised. I think Barry tried to respond as best he could. I think Ken missed the point entirely, and Coyne's "response" was "no response."

    I do hope after all the time invested, someone will have the courtesy to respond to my response. I will be happy to relay to Ken anything he wishes to clarify all of this, if need be. The same goes for Barry. Coyne can continue his ride on the merry-go-round with Daffy Duck.

  • http://www.fiorentinoresearch.com jfiorentino

    A good friend of mine, Vernon Grose has allowed me to post his comments here:

    Hi John!

    I have waded through this long dia or trialogue and admire your attempts to
    resolve very obtuse ideas.

    As you know, my objective — from the beginning — has been to focus on
    ORIGINS rather than on variation. Further, my purpose is to confirm that
    SCIENCE cannot ever know ANYTHING about origins. It can extrapolate,
    ruminate, speculate or pontificate — but there is no way for the scientific
    method to be applied to conclusively prove how, when, why, or where
    everything began. Darwin made some significant contributions to science
    that I acknowledge when I declare that microevolution is a scientifically
    valid theory to explain variation among species.

    A feature film, WINGS OF WAX, is going to be produced based on my book,
    SCIENCE BUT NOT SCIENTISTS. Its two-fold objective is to (a) successfully
    remove all discussion of origins (naturalism and theism) from science —
    placing them in appropriate fields like metaphysics, philosophy or religion,
    and (b) provide a bridge of reconciliation between science and religion that
    overcomes the needless and unfortunate hostility between them.

    Thanks for always having a heart for Truth — Whom we both know and rightly
    worship!

    Vernon L. Grose, BS, MS, DSc.

  • http://www.fiorentinoresearch.com jfiorentino

    Since Dr. Starr's post of 9/April/09 I have been in touch with Ken Miller who clarified a few things:

    Dear Dr. Miller:

    I hope this finds you and yours well.

    You recently responded to an internet posting of mine sent to you by Dr.
    Barry Starr, who has subsequently posted your response to him on the
    website.

    I must say that your response was not at all like any dealings I've had with
    you previously. And knowing a bit about you, I can only conclude that you
    were not sent my ENTIRE post, but rather an excerpt wherein I commented on
    remarks made by Walter Libby from his Radiocarbon dating Nobel Lecture,
    December 12, 1960.

    I should like to send you my ENTIRE post, as quite frankly, the majority of
    your response dealt with issues never raised, suggested or solicited by me.

    I hope you can find the time to perhaps acknowledge my COMPLETE posting and
    revise your response.

    I have included the post below, along with a URL to the website. You may
    certainly respond back to me if you wish rather than posting directly on the
    site.

    Regards,

    John E. Fiorentino

    FIORENTINO RESEARCH
    PO BOX 324
    OAKHURST, NEW JERSEY 07755
    USA

    John,

    Sure.

    – Ken Miller

    —–Original Message—–
    From: John Fiorentino [mailto:johnfiorentino@optonline.net]
    Sent: Sat 4/11/2009 9:10 PM
    To: Miller, Kenneth Raymond
    Subject: Re: Your response to Barry Starr

    Well, since I agree, may I post this and indicate you never reviewed my
    entire post?

    Just a quick yes or no is ok.

    John F.

    —– Original Message —–
    From: "Miller, Kenneth Raymond"
    To: "John Fiorentino"
    Sent: Saturday, April 11, 2009 9:03 PM
    Subject: RE: Your response to Barry Starr

    Dear John,

    I simply don't have time to comment in detail
    on your post. Your friend asked me to comment
    on this statement:

    ""For the evolutionists, try as they might, there is in fact no
    accepted verifiable history beyond about 5,000 yrs.
    Anything beyond that time is what scientists refer to as inference.""

    I responded by pointing out that there are in fact
    many scientifically-verifiable ways to date events
    much older than 5,000 years. And, naturally, I
    stand by that response.

    Sincerely,

    Ken Miller