selling evolution

While I was sitting here reading the ACLU page on Intelligent Design and its implications for religious freedom in the U.S. I received two emails that each related to some degree. The first, from Kez, included the image from the Onion that I’ve copied here, and the second one, from a reader named Jessica, contained a link to a great evolution-themed ad from the folks at Guinness. And, somehow, the combination of all of these things has left me feeling a bit more optimistic than usual. The people on our side of the debate, I just realized, aren’t only more intelligent, but they’re more creative. Sure, the other side has fear, a few Biblical passages and a couple of “museums” with dioramas showing men frolicking with playful dinosaurs, but we’ve got an overwhelming advantage when it comes to people who can actually create things. Surely that has to count for something.

And, as for the Guinness ad, it has me inspired to start writing to other companies, asking them to incorporate the general concepts of evolution into their ads whenever possible. I read a great article a few years ago about the whole “designated driver” concept and how it was popularized in great part thanks to the fact that several influential television producers got on board and agreed to work the phrase into plots of their popular shows. (I can’t recall, but there may have been government money behind the initiative as well.) What if, I’m wondering, something similar could be done now with evolution? What if we could convince several producers to champion the cause? It might be worth pursuing.

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41 Comments

  1. dorothy
    Posted October 26, 2005 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    i feel i must take this time to apologize for all the idiots in pennsylvania who have created the mess(no pun intended) near harrisburg, causing another monkey trial. my son lives there and says he can hardly hold his head up he’s so embarassed. are these people really so ignorant, or are they so afraid of the implications of evolution?

  2. Posted October 26, 2005 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Which fork is the dead end!
    This morning Mark Maynard has a good post over here about selling evolution. The question that scares me is which human development fork is the evoulationary dead end? Is it the faith-based unintelligent designers or the reality based community? A …

  3. Posted October 26, 2005 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    thanks for the links. Hope counts for a lot.

  4. Posted October 26, 2005 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Johnny Walker has a similar add, but rather than devolving the people go from sea mammals to land mammals in one step.

    washed up drunks

  5. chris
    Posted October 26, 2005 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    Much as I believe in evolution…not really sure its a good thing. As the years go by we have adapted by fully exploiting our environment and it has not been able to adapt as fast as we need it too. Again, a sad aspect of evolution…we have created our own extinction. I mean, how fucking dumb is that when we are dumber than the dinosaurs that we frolicked with?

    Cool Johnny Walker add. It reminds of this amzing RC cola commercial from the late 80’s early 90’s directed by Spike Jones, anyone see that?

  6. Teddy Glass
    Posted October 27, 2005 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Someone, maybe a fast food company, should show the forward evolution of our species in their marketing materials. I’d like to see humans morphing into huge, lumbering beasts, their dumpy asses dragging until they become tails.

  7. Posted October 27, 2005 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    I loved the guinness ad, but I could also just sit and watch the 30-second animated evolution sequence from Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” on a continuous loop.

    Since I haven’t heard anyone say it recently, and as it seems appropriate:

    “If evolution is outlawed, only outlaws will evolve.”

  8. Shanster
    Posted October 28, 2005 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Mark-
    I have to give you guys the edge on creativity; that image from the Onion is hilarious.

    Sam-
    I think you are misinterpreting the data of CBS’ poll, but I could be wrong. It looks to me like magical randomevolutionists gained 1% since the last poll, while strict creationists lost 4%. The biggest growth was in the center, among people who believe in a guiding creator.

  9. chris
    Posted October 28, 2005 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    Again, would someone please tell me why I cannot believe in God AND evolution. The left is not telling (at least me anyway) telling the conservative christians to abandon their God in favor of evolution, and yet they feel they have the exercisable right to have us abandon evolution in favor of God.

    Why does the right always want to tell people what they can’t do? It is either their way or the highway.

    You cannot have an abortion
    You cannot have premarital sex and if you do you cannot contracept
    You cannot marry the same sex
    You cannot believe in evolution
    You cannot believe in conscientious abjection
    You cannot be a man or a woman if you are a minority (compliments Trent Lott)
    You cannot, and on and on…feel free to add to this list.

    The left? Do whatever you want just don’t be selfish.

    Good God just leave us the fuck alone already.

    Its not like affirmative action is a policy.

  10. Posted October 28, 2005 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Chris, I hope the “middle ground” Shanster refers to might include some people that would fit the bill, depending on how much “Guiding” they think the “Creator” did.

    I personally wish the “Watchmaker” philosophy of the 19th century would get more press, which basically proposed that God “Made the watch”, but its mechanical movement from that point on (i.e., evolution) was completely self-sustaining.

    Of course, I guess you’d need to wind it at some point, but you get the basic idea.

  11. Shanster
    Posted October 29, 2005 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    I found a “peer-reviewed” paper by Steven C. Meyer here:

  12. Posted October 29, 2005 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Shanster- The link is missing. No pun intended.

    Brett- I like the Watchmaker analogy. The idea of an ordered universe is appealing. It reminds me of the older astronomical clocks, like this one-

    astronomical clock

    I like the idea of Emergence also. It says that simple sets of rules create complex patterns. However, althought it might explain evolution through “randomness”, it does not address the questions about the origins of the rules.

    The other thing that is cool about emergence is that it supports the idea that WE are part of something larger that functions according to simple rules.

    I am of the opinion that there is a connection between existence and perception, and that the primary force behind evolution is to develop the ability to sense the external world. I would guess that if someone were taking a stab at the 4 or 5 simple emergence rules governing evolution, one of them deals with perception. Those simple rules may cause us to rethink our definition of what life is too.

    Plato and the Pythagorians believed that the planets had souls and that the earth had a world soul that is the whole of which we contain parts of.

  13. Doug Skinner
    Posted October 29, 2005 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    I love the Prague astronomical clock! I have pleasant memories of sitting in the bar across from it, sipping absinthe and listening to Czech Dixieland.

    The idea of an ordered universe is appealing, but that doesn’t make it true. The stars are not laid out in neat patterns! The geocentric universe was appealing too.

    I find it useful to remember that the “laws of nature” were made by men, not by nature, and limited by our often dinky intelligence.

    I like the idea that the primary force of evolution is to develop us to the point that we can create the universe, when the end of time connects with its beginning. This makes as much sense as any other speculation; plus, it keeps us busy.

  14. mark
    Posted October 29, 2005 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Interesting thought, Doug. I think that I’ll join you in it.

    (Lovely “link” comment, Dave.)

    Personally, I don’t think that humans were destined for anything. I think it was just the luck of the draw. If the world was covered in water, the dolphins would have been the ones in charge. It just so happens that we had big brans and thumbs. And, as everything is still evolving, I suspect that we’ll eventually be replaced by something else anyway.

  15. Shanster
    Posted October 29, 2005 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Sorry about the missing link…here it is: http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=2177&program=CSC%20-%20Scientific%20Research%20and%20Scholarship%20-%20Science

  16. chris
    Posted October 29, 2005 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    I too, with my brother Dan, enjoyed the Prague astronomical clock. However, I was unable to find any absinthe…Golem’s grave but no absinthe.

    True dat about evolution Mark. We assume evolutin brings us to a better place but more likely we who adapt are just making the last cut before the big finale.

  17. Posted November 1, 2005 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    Shanster- Thanks for the link. I am not sure what to think of the Discovery Institute. They are smart people and, as far as I can see, they seem to be earnestly trying to point out flaws with evolution, but it seems they are taking the fact that the change from one “Novel Form” to another has not been observed as a way to introduce another idea that is ( currently ) untestable- the idea of intelligent design.

    One thing that is interesting to me is that their argument is built upon the acceptance of the application of information theory to biological information. If I understood the article right, they are claiming that large chunks of information are added in relatively small time frames and that mutation, variation and natural selection alone cannot account for this. What I find interesting about this is that they admit biological information follows Claude Shannon’s Information Theory, and that computer simulations by John Conway ( Game of Life ) and Thomas Ray ( Tierra ) have been able to generate artificial evolution with what seems like random development of “Novel Forms” / new species.

    So, my question for you is if you let their argument for intelligent design rest on the acceptance of novel forms being created by the addition of information and it has been proven through computer simulations that these novel forms can develop out of a simple set of rules, then would you agree that maybe there is a problem with the DI’s argument?

    I have to admit that I did not read the whole article, but I think I got the point. Please correct me if I have misunderstood.

  18. Posted November 1, 2005 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    ( Site address corrected for harpedonaptae )

  19. Posted November 1, 2005 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    Shanster-

    Some links for you:

    Tierra at wikipedia

    what is tierra

    Game of Life

  20. Shanster
    Posted November 2, 2005 at 4:34 am | Permalink

    Dave-
    I think we have a common understanding of the article, which I have also only skimmed. I haven’t looked into the other links, but thank you. The acceptance of the rules of development doesn’t weaken the argument. My understanding is that the key to the argument is what you called the “addition of information”. They would point to that addition as the intervention of God, the watchmaker downloading version 2.0 to add new features to the watch.

  21. Posted November 2, 2005 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Shanster-

    What I thought was interesting was that the DI’s ID argument accepted that the creation of form is based purely on information. The artificial life and artificial evolution models that people are putting together start from this accepted premise also. The models use simple sets of rules and are showing us that more complex novel forms can evolve from simple ones while obeying these rules. The results are often unexpected.

    The implications of all this are a bit frightening at times. It requires an enormous amount of rethining of assumptions and beliefs, and implies a very uncertain future. However, I don’t think that this implies there is no god, at least not in my conception of god. The more we discover, the more questions we discover- so there will always be a “gap” for god to hang out in.

    The Dominicans that taught me evolution and the creationism of Genesis believed that God was revealed in Truth.

  22. mark
    Posted November 2, 2005 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    I’m in a coffee shop waiting for some people that may or may not show up. If they don’t show, I’m going to try to figure out what the fuck you guys are talking about. I’m going to sit here and I’m not going to get up until I’ve got it.

  23. mark
    Posted November 2, 2005 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    OK… it’s a few hours later now and safely back inside my blogging cavern… After waiting around for about half an hour I decided to head for home. And, once home, I checked my email and realized that the meeting had been cancelled. So, I wasn’t stood up… You might also be interested to know that I didn’t keep my word and read the articles being discussed by Dave and Shanster. In case you didn’t already know it – I suck.

  24. Posted November 3, 2005 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Here is a great quote from a book I am currently readind titled ” Darwin among the Machines” by George Dyson ( Freeman Dyson’s son. )

    “The great globe itself, and all that it inhabit, appear to be in a perpetual state of mutation and improvement….. The world itself might have been generated , rather than created; that is, it might have ben produced from very small beginnings, increasing by the activity of its inherent principles, rather than by a sudden evolution of the whole by the Almighty fiat…What a magnificent idea of the infinite power of the Great Architect! The Cause of Causes! For if we may compare infinites, it would seem to require a greater infinity of power to cause the causes of effects, than to cause the effects themselves.”

    Erasmus Darwin ( Charles grandfather ), from ” The Temple of Nature; or, the Origin of Society” – 1803

  25. Shanster
    Posted November 7, 2005 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Dave-
    I’m not sure how you interpret those games/simulations of evolution, but to me they show the inherent necessity for the “Cause of causes”. They start with just a few rules, but that is just an example of an intelligent design, since you are controlling it to a certain extent.

  26. Posted November 8, 2005 at 2:25 am | Permalink

    Shanster-

    That is exactly how I interpret the simulations. The placement of the rules is outside of the system. They are the governer of the cause / effect cascade. The “creation” of the rules is the cause of causes. The evolution of novel forms does not require any further intervention.

    This is an argument by analogy though, so caution should be used.

    The Discovery Institute is not ( as far as I can see ) making this argument. Their argument is at the cause/ effect level rather than at the cause of causes level. Neither can be made subject ( at this point ) to experiment and ( in my opinion ) should be discussed as a theological or metaphysical subject.

    I agree with Doug Skinner about our definition of Laws of Nature. We put a frame around an idea to understand it and overlook the fact that it is just a part of a much larger whole that will always be a mystery. I don’t think that means we shouldn’t make attempts at larger understandings.

    Trying to assign God the attribute of intelligence puts a frame on something unsensible. I prefer to think of God as the unmeasurable quantity that is present when the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

  27. Shanster
    Posted November 8, 2005 at 5:15 am | Permalink

    Dave-
    It seems that the simulations all level off at a certain point. Please correct my assumptions or reasoning, but let’s look further at this argument by analogy. If the nature of a randomly developing system is to level off at some point, then further intervention would be necessary for it to develop further. I would accept part of the Watchmaker theory, but I would say that the different stages of creation are the windings that occur because the rules of the system require that in order to avoid entropy.
    Further, if we remove the miraculous, as I assume you don’t accept the possiblity of the active intervention of God, we could hypothesize that the introduction of new information was by natural means (weather anomalies, asteroids, et al). Since these things led not to the destruction of the earth and elimination of all species, we can again point to the design of the universe. (ie. the Almighty could have planned a large asteroid to break off from some unknown system on November 8, 45million BC. That asteroid was destined for Sicily, with the intended result of introducing certain chemicals to the environment to cause the emergence of new life forms).

  28. Posted November 8, 2005 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Shanster-

    The simulations do level off ( homogenity ) or end ( parasites destroy host population ). This may be an indication of our fate. Or it may be the result of flawed rules at the beginning. Or it may be due to the fact that they are imperfect models that are similar but is not the same.

    As for punctuated interventions by the divine- I don’t know how to respond to the comment about entropy. My limited understanding is that the term entropy as used in science deals with the measuring of dissipation of energy. I am not sure that it is synonymous with disorder. Our fate ( or at least the matter and energy that we are made up of ) may be the black hole waiting for us at the center our galaxy, but we will not be around to know for sure.

    There was an episode of NOVA a few weeks back that talked about the introduction of amino acids from comets and space junk. If I remember correctly, they were saying that all life is composed of these introduced substances- kind of like a big box of Legos. Adding more legos does not necessarily mean the creation of new forms. If there were the introduction of new Lego parts – maybe. But even that could be the result of the following of simple rules.

    The idea of an ” intervention of God ” is confused by the desire to make God a benevolent paternal figure that is separate but still engaged. It is a much easier to accept idea than a distant and aloof God. My rather clunky and constantly under construction belief is more pantheistic. If God is all, then the question of intervention is absurd.

    Here is another recommendation. I saw this movie a few years back. It is about apoptosis, or programmed cell death. The title is Death by Design: Where Parallel Worlds Meet.

  29. Posted November 8, 2005 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    That movie will be too tough to find. As a compromise, I’ll watch Vanilla Sky and The Passion of the Christ simultaneously.

  30. Doug Skinner
    Posted November 8, 2005 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Since my name was mentioned here, I may as well jump in with another two cents.

    It’s useful to remember that the Laws of Nature are formulated by man, not by nature. It’s also useful to remember that these laws have started looking more and more inadequate since the 1920s, when poor Niels Bohr tried to apply them to subatomic physics. Classical causal physics falls apart when you get into quantum mechanics. And it goes beyond the fact that photons don’t act Newtonian: the very principles of measurement and predictability don’t even work. Even plain old objective positivism doesn’t work. What this may mean is that these principles are quirks of the human brain; and may in fact hinder our understanding of nature, rather than help it. Or, to put it another way, every model of the universe is really a model of the human brain making a model of the universe.

    (There’s a good article on some of this annoying subject at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qm-copenhagen/)

    So, I’m suspicious of any attempt to find order in the universe. The watchmaker analogy seems part of a Newtonian ontology that now seems to have gaping holes in it. Any thoughts, pilgrims?

  31. Posted November 9, 2005 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    I have read a few pop culture books on Quantum Mechanics ( Amir Aczel’s Entanglement, etc. ) It still does not make much sense to me, and I probably would have better spent my time taking a physics class to understand more clearly Bell’s Theorem.

    One idea that fascinated me was the “Spooky Action at a Distance” and the implications of it. The thought that two entangled particles could be at opposite ends of the universe and effect each others “spin” instantaneously is absolutely bizarre.

    My original intent in this thread was to attempt a rebuttal of the Discovery Institutes argument. My ship apparently got caught in a riptide and I have lost sight of land. There are some interesting things floating around out here though, like the idea that consciousness is a fundamental component of the universe.

    If we did not break the continuous into discrete elements, there would be no way ( that I can imagine at least ) of exchanging ideas- no communication. Is this the quirk of the mind you are referring to? The desire to make parts of the whole for the sake of comprehension and communication? A divide and conquer routine that loses that “whole is more than the sum of its parts” quality?

    I’m going to start paddling in toward shore now before my boat springs a leak.

  32. Shanster
    Posted November 9, 2005 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Doug-
    I am amazed that I actually understood your last post, but I have no comment on it. Except I like Isaac Newton and Fig Newtons, but not Wayne Newton, because he was in Vegas Vacation and therefore part of the curse on our fair city.

    Well, it’s really just great that the youth of Dover will not be subject to any of this type of debate. They will just get to accept whatever the majority of the scientists currently tells them, unquestioningly, without being offered the information about where to get the information to possibly back up any other argument, which would be terrible because it would cause them to think critically.

  33. Doug Skinner
    Posted November 9, 2005 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Shanster — Why are you amazed that you understood my post? Quantum mechanics has been around for awhile; those ideas are nothing new. As for Wayne Newton: a friend of mine interviewed him, and reports that he’s a smart and gracious guy. Please don’t burn him for turning your milk sour!

    Maybe the best way to teach the Dover kids critical thinking is to teach them logic and methodology.

    Dave — I didn’t mean to interfere with your navigation. I was just amplifying my earlier point about the Laws of Nature. The mental quirks I refer to are the basic principles of physics, mechanics, and logic that we use to formulate those laws, and which quantum mechanics will not obey: causality, time and space, continuity, etc. The fact that these principles are not universal means that the universe is much less orderly than we thought — or that we still haven’t figured out the order. It may also mean that our attempts to impose order are misguided. That’s the bit of quantum mechanics I thought was relevant here. Meanwhile, bon voyage!

  34. Posted November 9, 2005 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Doug-
    I have tried following the siren song you are singing, but rather than crashing me on jagged rocks I find it lures me further away from land.

    Thanks for the well wishes. As usual, your comments are very thought provoking and I look forward to them.

    Shanster-
    Thanks for the debate. I thought it went pretty well. I appreciate your sharpness and politeness.

  35. Doug Skinner
    Posted November 9, 2005 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    Dave — My fondest wish is to save others from those jagged rocks!

    The URL I gave a few posts back is actually a good article on the philosophical implications of quantum mechanics, helpful for us non-physicists.

  36. Shanster
    Posted November 10, 2005 at 4:37 am | Permalink

    Doug-
    The reason I was amazed was that since I’m not a physicist, I sometimes assume that such concepts are beyond my grasp. Either your presentation was extremely adroit, or my understanding has increased since I’ve begun to re-study these issues.

    Dave-
    Thanks. I’ll keep paddling my canoe, too. Although I find I’m usually going upstream rather than out to sea. Beware of the Lorelei!

  37. Posted November 10, 2005 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Doug-

    Thanks for the link. I will read it over when I have some free time. At first glance, most of it looks familiar. I am interested in the role of perception in Quantum Mechanics, and I think that Bell’s Theorem has something to say about it – not sure though. My understanding is that at the sub atomic level things “exist” in this hazy state and become specific upon being perceived, which is absolutely mind boggling if I understand it correctly. This would imply that we are acting out the equivalent of a ball game where all the rules have been agreed to but does not mean that other games with other rules could not be played…

    A friend of mine brought me to a play here a few years back called “Copenhagen.” It was a dialogue between Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg on a sparse set composed of a ring formed of a snake eating its tail painted on an off kilter disc. It is amazing that the planet is still in one piece with the likes of people like Werner Heisenberg and John Von Neumann…

  38. Doug Skinner
    Posted November 11, 2005 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    Shanster — Oh, I see! I didn’t know what you meant. I’m no physicist either; I’d like to learn more. I’m certainly fascinated by the ideas.

    And Dave — As I get it, Bell’s Theorem does violate the idea of locality (“spooky action at a distance” was actually Einstein’s mockery of it). But even before that, Bohr was frustrated by the fact that particles could not be located, counted, or predicted in the usual mechanical way. The fact that perception seems to “fix” events is also troubling — but then, philosophers have been grappling with subjective reality for centuries!

  39. Tony Buttons Esq.
    Posted December 21, 2005 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    It seems as though evolution came out on top in the Pennsylvania case. Details can be found here:

    http://www.nature.com/news/2005/051219/full/051219-8.html

    To quote Federal Justice John Jones: “The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory.”

  40. Tom Clinferton
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Evidence Of
    Evolution

    Miley Cyrus
    Naked

  41. T
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Why, of all the women in the world, would you choose that one? I’d sooner site Heidi Montag.

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