Goodenough Gismo

  • Gismo39
    This is the classic children's book, Goodenough Gismo, by Richmond I. Kelsey, published in 1948. Nearly unavailable in libraries and the collector's market, it is posted here with love as an "orphan work" so that it may be seen and appreciated -- and perhaps even republished, as it deserves to be. After you read this book, it won't surprise you to learn that Richmond Irwin Kelsey (1905-1987) was an accomplished artist, or that as Dick Kelsey, he was one of the great Disney art directors, breaking your heart with "Pinocchio," "Dumbo," and "Bambi."



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» Evolution discussion at Ambivablog from The Uncredible Hallq
Amba's post Intellectual Stalinism in the Scientific Establishment spawned some interesting discussion. [Read More]

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Adam

Scary stuff. I didn't realize it was this bad. I kinda feel sorry for the evolutionists because I think any admission of weakness to the theory will be blown all-out-of-proportion in the public's mind. Any admission will be played as a victory for creationism or its more high-brow variant intelligent design. As I have stated before, I think there is a way that they could work together in harmony.

These guys have been under seige so long, they've become nuts.

I am very glad that the field in consciousness studies has moved beyond that. They frequently, and without remores, make references to Eastern religion and even parapsychology. Certainly, such things are viewed as a bit flaky by other scientists and are by no means universally accepted within the field, but you can mention all sorts of stuff and not get into trouble.

Sarah

Yes, and the scientific establishment is also "dogmatic" about gravity, which is just a theory, after all. Why won't scientists promote intellectual discourse by respecting challenges to gravity?

Look, ID and evolution aren't incompatible at all. But one can be supported using experimentation and observation and the other cannot. One belongs in philosophy class and the other in biology. Why is that so hard to understand?

Adam

While I think we broadly agree, Sarah, this involved an outright attempt to destroy a man simply because he dared allow a paper by a Cambridge philosopher into a scientific journal. Destroying a man for his beliefs, or in this case, his mere openness to the question is very scary and totally unscientific.

However, I will quibble with your separation between philosophy and science. The boundary between philosophy and highly speculative hypotheses can be blurry. The ID folk seem to be slow in coming with good experiments, but I think there ought to be empirical consequences of this sort of belief.

As technology improves and these sorts of ideas crystallize there may well be experiments to perform or at least data to analyze.

But you are right that we are dealingly now primarliy with philosophy rather than science.

amba

Sarah, if evolution is a "fact," why be so defensive about it? Why the need to try to kill the messenger? Just politely tell the ID people to go design some experiments. Why is it such a threat?

koszmic

Amba, are you suggesting that nobody has thought to ask intelligent design supporters for experimental evidence? Even if that is the case, do they actually need to be asked? Goodness, maybe they just forgot!

I'm sorry, but experiment is a prerequisite for anything to be considered scientific. Evolutionary theory does a great job explaining the diversity of life we witness now, and each newly discovered fossil fails to contradict it. So, in an inductive fashion, evidentiary support for evolutionary theory does nothing but get stronger.

As far as I am able, I hereby issue the call to ID'ers to provide valid experimental evidence for their notion. Only then should ID be considered anywhere near the same plane as evolution.

Adam

Koszmic,

Would you consider some of the aspects of particle physics which have yet to be tested due to a lack of powerful enough particle accelerators, and thus fail to have experimental evidence, to be unscientific?

Of course that is a fine and somewhat tangential point. Of course, present-day ID is no match for evolutionary theory. It has nowhere near the same explanatory power. I really don't ask myself if something akin to ID would replace evolutionary theory, I wonder if ID (very broadly construed) could possibly complement evolutionary theory.

There is a term used in philosophy of mind called closure of the physical which views the physical entirely shut off from mental or "spiritual" influences. While accepted by many philosophers, it is just an axiom. After all, we accept that seemingly intangible things like a magnetic or gravitational field can have influences on everyday matter. If we have these analogies, maybe it could be possible that some external force, "God", could somehow steer the process of evolution in the flexibility afforded by "random" mutations, or the fuzziness allowed by quantum mechanics. True, this is all just speculation, but I think the real value of the ID debate makes people think hard about what is truly known or unknown.

I'm not particularly impressed by what I've seen from the ID folks so far, but what I find disturbing is the tendency for people to make broad claims about evolutionary theory. I could go on and on all day about how wonderful newtonian mechanics is, perform countless experiments, and say wow newtonian mechanics is flawless--look at all the evidence. But if I didn't do the right experiments I would never discover relativity or quantum mechanics.

I just sort of think that it may be possible that there are whole aspects of life that we have yet to understand: perhaps just as strikingly different as Newton is from Schrodinger. But you know, we're still teaching Newton hundreds of years later.

It just sort of bugs me when people express this overwhelming confidence in evolution. But it is also bugs me when any failing in evolution is a victory for present-day ID, as if a blow to Newton was a victory for Aristotle as opposed to Einstein.

koszmic

Adam,
I enjoyed reading your post. It made me think about how it is certainly true that established theories have come crumbling down once a new one comes along. Newtonian gravitational theory was subsumed by Einsteinian general relativity, which accounted for all the successes of Newton and made new predictions (Mercury's anomalous orbit, apparent change in position of background stars due to Sun's gravity) that Newton's theories could not account for.

That being said, what caused the paradigm shift? Verifiable evidence. This is the rock which the ID ship has to sail toward, NOT the supposed "immoveable object" of evolutionary theory. The sailors on the ID ship thus far, as I perceive it, have failed to take on the experiment hazard. Rather, they are content to shout at the evolution ship crew, taunting them to sail it again and again. Insufficient.

I was tempted to extend the silly analogy, but I think I will just shut up now!

Chris Hallquist

The talk of destroying Sternberg is, as far as I can tell, hyperbole. Acording to this, the OSC opinion does not "documen[t] any actual injury to Sternberg, who still has his unpaid research position, an office, keys, and access to the collections." His reputation certainly took a hit, but to dislike someone who promotes bad science is not "Stalinism." Hell, it's even a bit out of line to call what McCarthy did Stalinism, given the lack of gulags in that case (and that of Sternberg).

amba

Did you actually read the OSC? The campaign against him was quite vicious and unwarranted, in that he hadn't actually violated any rules or confidences. He doesn't have the same keys or access he had before, and they will terminate him as soon as they can. Panda's Thumb is a favorite site of the fervent defenders of evolution. You have to balance the two fervencies against each other, not just take one (or the other) as all true. (For instance, one column mentioned that Sternberg's marriage had dissolved. I don't see how you can blame that on the pro-evolutionists' attacks. A good marriage would get tighter under stress.)

As for "Stalinism," no, it was not full-blown Stalinism, but when you read the viciousness of the attacks on Sternberg (one site I read kept saying "he had it coming to him") and the desire to silence and discredit him, the initial impulse is there. We have checks and balances in this society to prevent it from becoming full-blown -- hopefully ever -- but the desire to control what can be thought and said is closer to Stalinism than it is to science.

Adam

Chris,

As someone who is a friend of evolution, let me offer some PR advice, inspired in part by the advice recently given to NARAL by the Mighty Middle: NARAL Can't Even Blog.

(1)Choose your battles wisely.

A full-blooded theory of evolution by natural selection that denies any possibility of divine interference will be flat out rejected by a large number of Americans, likely by even a sizeable majority.

People have great capacity for believing things despite the evidence, and, in this instance, a total acceptance would require a deep and fundamental shift in their religious outlook.

Holding an extreme stance and especially insisting that people adopt your stance is a sure-fire way to entrench the other side. You want to radicalize the opposition, not be radicalized yourself.

Since this battle primarily focuses on what school children are taught, focus on evolution, not evolution by natural selection. Be strong and unwavering on the phenomenon of evolution, not the mechanism--basically natural history. That kids understand the gradual unfolding of complexity and the relation of organisms should be central. No one can deny, well only the real radicals can, that dinosaurs existed millions of years ago or that all organisms share the same genetic code. Focus on things like that.

When it comes to natural selection, explain it, and say that the great majority of scientists accept it. People will believe what they want, and the kids who are interested in biology will explore it more in college.

If asked: "Is there some disagreement about natural selection?" simply reply, "Yes, there is." Don't get into a battle over minutiae. If asked, "Could it be false," again reply, "Yes."

Whatever you do, don't call the dissenting scientists crackpots even though they may be. You need to have at least the appearance of an open mind.

(2)Make common cause with all those who accept evolution in some form. If someone mostly believes in evolution, they're your ally!

(3) People must warm to the idea of evolution, so do not insist on full acceptance. Again, defer the fight until college.

(4) Finally, recongize the possibility that while evolution may be a stunningly successful theory, so is Newtonian mechanics.

Leave open the possibility for major and fundamental ways in which life could be viewed, even ways which might today appear "mystical nonsense." If you look back to Newton's time, you can find cartoons ridiculing his theory as exactly that, "mystical nonsense." After all, how can one object reach through empty space and attract another? True, today we believe in warped spacetime, but it would have been ludicrous to reject Newton's theory purely on philosophical grounds.

(5) Related to the above, don't let the opposing sides dogmatism entrench your own. It's very unbecoming to a scientist and very bad PR.

(6) Finally, keep in mind the Taoist idea that:

"Whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.

Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life.

The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail."

amba

Wow, Adam! Sometimes I think I'll just shut up, step aside, and let you take over!

Definitely an old soul -- how else would you have had time to think so much through?

Adam

Really, amba? I kind of felt that I ought to have held off and let Chris digest your post and saved this for later. I read the OSC and it was pretty scary.

I kind of feel what I write is more or less monothematic: I harass poor traditionalists and secularists :)

I think whatever discernment I have stems from a rapid traversal through traditional Christian as a young child, nihilistic atheistic as a young teenager, gung-ho mystic as a late teenager, and a more laid-back prospective scientist with Buddha humming in the background at present. It also has to do with a mentor who got me out of my atheist stage and into my mystical stage. He's a very much a Taoist but with a bit of the scientist and the mystic thrown in. He introduced me to a lot of the Buddhist/Hindu/Christian fusion I espouse.

But with the evolution advice, to me it's a trivial exercise. All you have to do is simulate how people are feeling and how people would react in a given circumstance. I understand how the religious person feels, the atheist, the scientist, and how someone in between feels.

So I just run the simulation in my mind of how people would react and counsel thusly. It ain't rocket science. But the evidence indicates to me that not everyone finds these analyses self-evident:)

I can understand how someone would have difficulty in math, learning a foreign language, learning to dance or play a musical instrument; but the way people think sometimes just makes me wonder what are they smoking? Were they raised by wolves, come on people :)

Chris Hallquist

Damn Adam, good post. Who are you? Do you have a blog.

First, I probably was a little to quick to dismiss Sternberg's case. Still, to hear the reaction, one would think he'd been fired in retaliation.

On your advice:

1) I wouldn't be so quick to de-emphasize natural selection. It's undoubtedly a driving force in evolution, whatever additions or nuances may be necessary. (Incidentally, I just posted a link to a column on mainstream debate in this area.) Saying natural selection could be false is misleading; the chance that it played no role in evolution is negligible. On ID, there's a need to walk the fine line between "there might have been a designer" and "a designer is a good scientific explaination of evidence." I actually think it would be worth while for schools to afirm 1 while rejecting 2 to soothe parent's fears.

2) Sort of. People like Michael Behe may do more good than harm because they allow the debate to be focused on a fairly narrow range of claims. That does not mean there should be a full scale embrace. See my reference to Behe in "An exchange on ID," listed on Amba's sidebar. I've done similar stuff in letters to the editor.

amba

Said this before, but my own questions about evolution (before I ever heard about ID, and not based on traditional religiosity) centered not on natural selection but on the question: "Is mutation completely random?"

sleipner

The real question to me is...why was he publishing an article by a PHILOSOPHER in a journal about BIOLOGY? That's always been the fundamental divide between evolution and ID...one is science, the other philosophy.

Until and unless the IDers can come up with ANY experimental evidence other than statements like "we think things are too complex to have occurred naturally" they do not belong in ANY scientific journal.

Granted the campaign to demonize this guy went so far that it hurt the credibility of the demonizers, but the article should never have passed editorial review.

The HIV virus alone is a perfect example of accelerated random evolution in action. When one virus can end up with hundreds of variants within 25 years, many of which have independently attained resistance to multiple different drugs that have only become available within the past 10 years, it is a perfect example of how natural selection works.

Though some fundies may think it, somehow I doubt the Hand of God is down there twiddling with the RNA to make HIV mutate faster or in some particular direction.

Adam

Chris,

Who are you?

No one really. Just a dude with too much time on his hands. I'm 24, have an undergrad degree in neuro, and took two years of physics and math as well. I hope to go on to grad school in neuro fall '06. I'm blogless: I actually want to scale back my time on the net rather than increase it. Besides, Amba and other centrist blogs find the juicy stuff for me.

You make good points, Chris. As for natural selection, kids need to understand how it works and that most scientists consider it the dominant mechanism. The real key is not to get caught up in a debate concerning the credibility of the ID people. Acknowledge their existence and simply state that most scientists disagree with them. Acknowledge that it could possibly be wrong, but that most scientists consider it unlikely. Use the "wikipedia" technique of neutral point of view. People can't really argue against the fact that most scientists believe it. And people will take that for what it's worth. ID folks say teach the controversy: Well then do it. Say that there are some scientists who disagree, but that most scientists do not consider their views mainstream.

In any case, kids will hear about ID anyway: it's dumb to ignore it in school. It has the appearance of close-mindedness.

In some sense this is akin to the idea that if Roe were overturned the pro-lifers would lose because most people support early term abortions. Basically, you're giving up a little, but winning the war.

Could the IDers be right? Maybe. Remember that your target audience is not the hardliners but the people in the middle who haven't made up their minds yet.

Yeah, you have to be careful with whom you ally yourself: the point was really to expand one's potential base of support. It's debatable, but popular wisdom in some quarters nonethelesss, that the right looks for converts while the left looks for heretics. I was drawing the parallel here.

Sleipner,

While it turns on the specifics of the article, the line between philosophy and science can blur especially in controversial areas. If you look at journals in consciousness studies, there is a balance between submissions between philosophers and scientists. I myself have found scientists to be bad philosophers, and sometimes philosophers can help them think through difficult areas and even propose experiments.

Furthermore, don't forget that scientists still get there doctor's of philosophy. If you look at the history of philosophy, when an issue becomes tractable it leaves philosophy and becomes a separate discipline. You know, science used to be called natural philosophy afer all.

Philosophy concerns those things for which we have yet to develop a methodology for solving. I think some people make the mistake of believing that anything that is philosophical is insoluble.

Certainly, some questions may have an irreducible philosophical residue, but optimist that I am, I believe that many things that are in the domain of philosophy today will move into the domain of science eventually. That has been the trend in the past, and I hope it continues.

Adam

Oh and sleipner,

Most IDers accept the sort of natural selection you're discussing. You know, they accept microevolution but not macroevolution. I consider it a somewhat artificial division but that's what they think anyway.

sleipner

Frankly if a virus can go from SIDS to a multiply-drug resistant human variant in one (human) generation, I see no real reason why it couldn't mutate into, say, the Black Plague in another few generations.

The big problem with those who think macroevolution is dicey is that they see microevolution occurring, yet fail to extrapolate that process out to the amount of time over which evolution has occurred. Given environmental stresses, some organisms can become infertile with each other in just a few dozen generations. Some bugs have generations of a few hours...there is no reason why an ant now couldn't be the ancestor of a beetle in a few million years, given the proper conditions.

The idea of punctuated evolution, or watershed events that cause rapid changes in species due to extreme environmental or reproductive pressures is (imo) sufficient to explain any "sudden" (aka a few million years) leaps in development. And always remember...there's just as many species that die out as there are new ones evolving. Especially today

Adam

I don't disagree with you Sleipner. If I'm in a mystical mood, I would favor a gentle steering of course. After all, I would imagine that there would be multiple solutions to given environmental pressures for a given organism. I certainly wouldn't support a micromanagement approach because, if that were the case, whoever was doing the micromanaging certainly isn't doing a superlative job.

The major challenge in favoring a "mystical" approach, in my view, is reconciling it with natural evil: natural disasters, parasites, etc.

The way I would reconcile it is to posit some linkage between the laws that govern consciousness and those that govern the natural world. Since it is "legal," for us to be filled with hate and greed, tsunamis and ticks are also legal.

I would imagine the world of Buddhas, were it to exist, would not suffer from these defects as their consciousness would be "constrained" to be a beacon of peace and compassion. I would imagine that a Buddha would be able to think "bad thoughts" but if it did so for too long, it might have to reenter samsara. The moral environmental laws wouldn't permit such emotional "pollution." :)

Likewise, if we refined our emotions and fulfilled our purpose, we could "move on up" as well.

James Thompson

Got a good laugh out of the requests for experiments and evidence from the ID proponents. As if there were experiments and evidence supporting evolution. As has been been admitted by many leading evolutionists, there is no evidence, just theory and a lots of extinct, completely formed, perfectly functioning organisms.

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