Saturday morning mailbagl: How could natural selection “do it” without some intelligence?

Orac gets e-mail.

Most of it’s just brief notes with a link that someone thinks I should check out (and possibly blog about). Even though I occasionally make sarcastic remarks about being deluged with one story or other from time to time, I actually do appreciate those. Many have been the times when I didn’t really have anything that floated my boat enough to blog about that a juicy tidbit sent by a reader prevented the blog from going dark for a day. Whether that’s always a good thing, I leave to the reader to judge.

Occasionally, I get mail profusely praising the blog. Affectation of an egomaniacal computer from a late 1970s British science fiction show notwithstanding, my first thought in receiving such e-mail is the famous line from Wayne’s World: “We’re not worthy, we’re not worthy!” Whether I’m worthy or not, Ieave to the reader to judge. Not surprisingly, given the prickly nature of the Orac blog persona, some mail is equally profusely negative, often with numerous spelling errors, long sections of ALL CAPS, and references to homeopathy curing cancer and suggestions that God will strike me down one day. (Given that we all eventually die, doesn’t that mean God, if he exists, eventually strikes each and every one of us down, regardless of our righteousness as perceived by fundamentalist loons?)

Then occasionally I get mail like this. Or like this:

It seems that instead of discussing the [non-insolent] facts, you make personal attacks. It’s weak and unscientific. Most of your followers do also – much like an angry mob. Why all the mud slinging? What are you so afraid of? Do you actually think that if you are louder and more obnoxious that you are some how more right?

There are a number of things missing in your theories and statements… too many to discuss in an email. But I’ll just throw a couple of questions at you. Tell me this… 

“Natural selection” operates, according to the science, on what force? Where do the four forces (gravity, magnetism, strong and weak nuclear) come from? Did these evolve too?
How did the vast universe plant one little green and blue planet in one remote location in a secluded and protected arm of the Milky Way and then grow life on it?
What is the life force and why do we die?
When and how did love evolve?
Why is it that there is that one smell that reminds you of the house you grew up in?

Isn’t it true that science can only state what exists now or based on the “evidence” predict what may occur in the future? 

It’s like looking at a picture of a “family”, this evidence, you call it branch diagrams. These ones look alike and they are grouped like a family (mother, father, children, grandmother, uncle and aunt, etc.). Their DNA are similar too – Look! 80% to 100% of their DNA matches. They must be related. They must be a family then, yes? Until you find out the truth…  Everyone in the neighborhood has DNA. It even turns out that each member can be traced back to the same 10 original genetic codes… go figure. Now what?

The fact is the evidence is MISLEADING because every living thing is made of the same stuff. It even looks like it was all made in a particular order. [Imagine that – order in the universe.]  And you say that Natural Selection did it!  Pretty tricky, that NS… how could NS do it without some intelligence?

We all know the “evidence” of evolution. Your attacks on others who “don’t understand” is ridiculous. These people are educated, can read, deduce, infer, conceptualize, investigate, and understand (and they do) what ever monkey-poop you decide to throw their way. The assertions made by your victims are valid, not “fallacy”. These are their view points deduced from the body of evidence including that which you (so-called scientist) discard because it is, in your mind, associated with “religion”. (Very scientific approach by the way – you can’t SEE natural selection, but you know it’s there because of your evidence… You can’t SEE God, but you know he is there because…[if you are looking] you will see the evidence. There it is again… NS and God – two peas in a pod!)

Evidence you’ve heaved into the refuse pile so that you don’t have to think about it 
  that this perfect order — that resulted in 
our most habitable planet, in a secluded location, protected from attacks, 
housing an unbelievably diverse ecosystem that furnishes - delicious food, perfect life-giving water, materials for housing and clothing, beautiful vistas, etc.- 

EVERYTHING WE NEED and more —
is statistically-speaking V. HIGHLY IMPROBABLE. And moreover, it’s existence is evidence of something incredibly intelligent.

That’s right. I said it. It’s highly improbable without a CREATOR and you, I’d venture to guess that by all of your blah-blah-blahzo, already know it! 

Did I say that loud enough so you could hear it? (I only ask because you’re probably screaming at someone else at the moment.)

Ask yourself this… who’s misleading you and WHY?

Think about it.

First, I thank L. (I will be nice and not reveal the name of this correspondent) for being so concerned about me and whether I’m screaming. Actually, I’m not screaming I might have giggled just a little between bouts of scratching my head trying to figure out just what L. was saying, but I’m definitely not screaming. Second, I’m a bit puzzled. It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged about creationism, “intelligent design” creationism, or evolution, now that I think about it. L. must have found some of my older stuff. I will thus thank L. for inadvertently reminding me that I should come back to that subject more often, especially as it relates to medicine. Indeed, my Medicine and Evolution series hasn’t been updated in a scandalously long time; so I’ll definitely keep an eye out for suitable scientific studies to write about that show the utility of of the principles of evolution in understanding disease and how to treat it.

In any case, I was puzzled by the series of questions, especially these two:

Natural selection” operates, according to the science, on what force?
Where do the four forces (gravity, magnetism, strong and weak nuclear) come from?Did these evolve too?

Why is it that creationists are always bringing physics into their arguments, as if these arguments are somehow daggers thrust into the heart of the theory of evolution? For the purpose of whether evolution is true or not, it doesn’t really matter where the four forces came from; they were in existence at the time life began. As for natural selection, why does L. assume it must “operate” on a force. One could argue that natural selection is a force operating on random variation, pushing it in a direction that provides the greatest reproductive advantage to an organism, but I don’t want to push that analogy too far. As for L’s question about why there is that “one smell” that reminds you of the house you grew up in (actually, for me there isn’t; I can’t recall any one smell that reminds me of the house I grew up in), I have no idea. Perhaps L would be so kind as to explain the relevance of that question to the validity of evolution as a scientific theory.

In any case, the rest of L’s argument boils down to a slightly less obvious version of the arguments about a tornado in a junkyard assembling a 747 and the claim that because nature is complex and contains a lot of order in it, there must have been a Creator–excuse, me–Designer. My favorite bit, however, is this:

We all know the “evidence” of evolution. Your attacks on others who “don’t understand” is ridiculous. These people are educated, can read, deduce, infer, conceptualize, investigate, and understand (and they do) what ever monkey-poop you decide to throw their way. The assertions made by your victims are valid, not “fallacy”. These are their view points deduced from the body of evidence including that which you (so-called scientist) discard because it is, in your mind, associated with “religion”. (Very scientific approach by the way – you can’t SEE natural selection, but you know it’s there because of your evidence… You can’t SEE God, but you know he is there because…[if you are looking] you will see the evidence. There it is again… NS and God – two peas in a pod!)

The first part of this is, in essence, “Why are you being so mean to us? We’re intelligent.” This is the same sort of complaint frequently thrown back at me by antivaccinationists, and here’s my usual answer: So what if you’re intelligent? Intelligence without knowledge and understanding of a subject leads you astray, especially when warped by ideology. Antivaccinationists are so convinced that vaccines cause autism and/or are the Root of All Evil, causing numerous chronic illnesses, that they ignore the science that says otherwise and cherry pick any evidence they can find to damn them. Likewise, creationists, be they of the “intelligent design” variety or the more honest (albeit even more wrong) young earth variety, so believe that there absolutely must be a creator and are so troubled by the implications of evolution as far as the (lack of) uniqueness of humans as animals that they ignore the science that supports the theory of evolution and desperately cherry pick any little study they can twist into “evidence refuting Darwin.” As for calling creationists and antivaccinationists “stupid,” my retort would be: Stop saying such brain-fryingly stupid things, and I’ll stop calling you stupid.

As for the comparison to religion and science in terms of “invisible evidence,” there’s one huge difference. Science generates hypotheses that make predictions. If those predictions are falsified, so are the hypotheses, which must then be either changed, fine-tuned, or scrapped altogether in favor of new hypotheses, all based on evidence from observation and experimentation. The contrast to religious belief could not be more stark, where faith is valued above all, even when the evidence conflicts with belief.

Thus endeth the mailbag.