Monday, September 26, 2005

Macro-Micro Controversy

Still very busy with classes and not much (or much time) to report. Nevertheless, in rooting around the web about the evolution controversy, I ran across this article by Bruce Alberts and Jay Labov, both from from the National Academies of Science, on teaching evolution in schools:

[...]this lesson plan uses the terms “microevolution” (defined by Intelligent Design proponents as genetic changes within existing species) and “macroevolution” (defined by proponents of Intelligent Design as genetic changes that lead to speciation) in ways that make them seem like two distinct processes. In fact, evolutionary theory makes no such distinction; the processes that lead to changes within species, when accumulated over time, also can give rise to new species.

Interesting that it is precisely the most controverted aspect of natural selection that the NAS wants to equivocate: the idea that micro- and macro-evolution are absolutely identical is exactly what needs to be proven!

Meanwhile, the Discovery Institute's 2003 document examining the treatment various textbooks give the macro/micro debate claims that

[t]he scientific controversy over whether processes observable within existing species and gene pools (microevolution) can account for large-scale changes over geological time (macroevolution) continues to this day.
and gives quotations from recent papers and says that their authors are all "believers in Darwinian evolution, and that all of them think the controversy will eventually be resolved within the framework of that theory."

On the other side, I ran across this page that claims to give examples of "speciation events" (i.e., macro-evolutionary). I'm making inquiries about the truth of these examples, but I'd appreciate hearing from any experts out there in web land.

Whether these examples hold water or not, any intellectually honest person has got to wonder why the Academies feels the need to blur the macro/micro distinction without scientific inquiry.

Strictly speaking, such a pattern of obfuscation is only circumstantial evidence of untruth. It's possible these guys are being completely honest. It could be they are telling the truth, but just feel guilty about it because it justifies (in their minds) an impure intention.

My own intention is to give them the benefit of the doubt, while such doubt exists, despite their apparent determination to demonstrate guilt.

Bruce Alberts and Jay B. Labov "From the National Academies: Teaching the Science of Evolution," Cell Biology Education (Volume 3 Summer 2004).


Oolong said...

I think the real question is why the distinction should be ACCEPTED without any scientific inquiry. Everyone accepts "micro" -- so why don't lots of changes add up to "macro"? Seems reasonable to me as a hypothesis unless you are assuming some sort of magic "wall" that logically or physically prevents changes from moving further. If so, prove it. Until then, it seems like a reasonable inference.

Lawrence Gage said...

[T]he fatal serialism of the modern imagination—the image of infinite unilinear progression which so haunts our minds. Because we have to use numbers so much we tend to think of every process as if it must be like the numeral series, where every step, to all eternity, is the same kind of step as the one before…. It is like the famous Irishman who found that a certain kind of stove reduced his fuel bill by half and thence concluded that two stoves of the same kind would enable him to warm his house with no fuel at all.
—C.S. Lewis,
The Abolition of Man, chapter 3, para 25, 16.

The difference between micro- and macro-evolution is not one of degree, but is altogether qualitative: micro-evolution represents a loss of genetic information while macro-evolution requires a gain of information. So we might say that micro- and macro- will be equivalent when negative one equals positive one.

The equivalence may be a reasonable inference, but even reasonable inferences require empirical evidence before they become established science above all debate.

Notice I said science, and not simple belief--you are certainly free to believe whatever you like with as little warrant as your conscience can tolerate. You're just not free to call it science.