The Minority Retort

At a funeral a few years ago, I had a memorable conversation with one of Geoffrey’s brothers. He is the in-laws family scholar, a PhD, with degrees in philosophy (Catholic) and law (yup – Catholic).  He is also extremely conservative, has a large family of children, who are home-schooled and then enrolled at a local Catholic college — all of them, no individual choices.  We talked about science and the issue of life and death, since we were both raised as Roman Catholics. His simple point of view was, as he frowned thoughtfully, he didn’t think much of it. Larry lives in a state that is attempting to take advanced science out of the public education curriculum altogether. He grew up in California but never studied science at all.

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Having been raised to respect and admire scientists, I was speechless. Naturally, sitting around at a wake, one cannot engage in a deep enough discussion to address his beliefs, or my data, but I recognized something else: we were not really living on the same plane, in the same world, communicating on the same channel. There would be no discussion, because the foundational underpinnings that would be required for both of us to engage factually, were just not established.

16486365677_8ce27bc390_k MAMMOTH HALL

As individuals we develop our world view based on a number of factors, principal among them the ideology our parents held and imparted to us long before we could evaluate them and independently arrive at judgments as to their reliability and validity. Our education, our social group, and the media are highly influential. When I saw the silly controversy over the white vs blue dress picture last weekend (something so easily manipulated in software — and a rather sub-par photograph to begin with), the division between people who saw one or another color scheme once again drove home the idea of how difficult it is to reach consensus in a world where people hold opposite viewpoints and are immune to contradictory input.

This is all my way of saying, if you base your understanding of the world on ideology vs empirical evidence, you are not necessarily going to hear what I am about to say here.  It is not that I am not interested in your personal point of view — my curiosity extends just enough to find all sorts of good people intriguing. It is simply that I am operating in a different world than many people who negate established physical laws and so am unwilling to argue about it too extensively, because we are simply speaking different languages and basing our lives on very different maps.

16455958348_99968ed8c0_k HARBOR SEALS DIORAMA

Continents move.
Climates change.
Mammals evolve.


Once something becomes an axiom or law in science, it is considered immutable until a revolutionary concept comes along to mount a formidable and worthy challenge. A well-known example would be quantum physics and its challenge to relativity.  There is a wonderful book on this entitled The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Kuhn. Within the community of trained scientists, those who have proven themselves to have developed the most accurate and explanatory ‘maps’ of the world are those who, over the centuries, have laid down the basic axioms or laws of the physical universe on which we have built our world.

Application of these laws has enabled human society to be increasingly successful in grappling with its needs, from building structures that don’t fall down, to providing sufficient food supplies, to traveling to other parts of our galaxy and beyond, to solving interpersonal problems that we face as social (group) creatures.  It started in our written records with that eminent empiricist Aristotle and continues to the present day, following accepted and productive steps that every recognized and properly trained scientist employs. If you want a wonderful book that traces the development of the scientific method and approach to the physical (and social) world, you might want to find a copy of Robert Bierstedt’s The Making of Society. He begins with Plato.

16436154870_481ef8dcb6_k LONGHORN

An axiom of physical science is the principle of evolution.  Notice I did not say theory here. The word theory in the scientific community has a completely different meaning than in common parlance.  I am not going to argue about this, it is simply true that the word theory often refers to such established laws as gravity and the like as well as to lesser hypotheses or assumptions in the process of being tested.  So, if you want to believe that evolution is held to be questionable by credible scientists, please take that discussion to the Koch and Drudge and Faux network and their participants.  We cannot talk about it here for the same reason I explained at the beginning of this post.

By the way, Deanna and Al (my side of the family) are both science researchers. Deanna and I were chatting over the weekend as she just returned from giving a talk on her work. She told me that there is a PhD student at a well-known research school who is being funded by a group that believes in alien invasions of the earth. Apparently, a colleague there told her, there is a deliberate movement afoot to plant believers in these conspiracy theories at established research institutions so they can get credentials that certain groups can use to feign validity for their beliefs. This simply shows that there are some people who are willing to say whatever you want, for a price. But they are a tiny minority, thankfully.

16546501319_8019beb52c_k DINOSAUR HALL

So, why am I discussing evolution here? From time to time when I mention something even hinting of science, a handful of acquaintances have challenged me on various topics.  This is one of the favorites. So this is my response to that tiny minority in the world who are doubters.

Here is where a cursory knowledge of complex subjects leads to error. I am not a religious scholar, but I do know a great deal about science.  The Creationist philosophy and discussion belongs in parochial and other religious organizations, not in public school, not on a blog like mine. If I were to visit and take part in a religious/spiritual discussion, evolution would be no more relevant than would the spherical nature of the universe and its circling bodies.  I don’t want any one religious interpretation of life being taught in public schools and I am not qualified to debate its finer points in any scholarly way.  Speaking of Creationism and Science as factual equivalents is a futile endeavor. They are on different channels. Creationism and religion are more akin to philosophy than they are to anything scientific, although I do not see a necessary contradiction between Christianity and science, either.

16048969214_d1e6d61841_k CHEETAH

Evolution is a given, a law of the earth’s development over billions of years.  The planet has changed as it has cooled internally. Continents have formed, merged, split and undergone metamorphoses. The climate has evolved and species have arisen and extinguished, sometimes in mass extinctions, other times gradually. To the question of whether there are species still developing and evolving, the answer is yes.  The easiest timely example is Ebola – we can see through sequencing their DNA that they are evolving rapidly. Evolution and development are not uniform. They proceed in kicks and starts. There is mutation, there are external cataclysmic forces that interfere with what may have started out as steady progress.

Hence, the dinosaur disappearance and the rise of the surviving species, among them ground rodents that climbed up into trees and were the beginning of the development of many modern species, including primates.  Species either adapt to change and survive, or fail and disappear. These are known, accepted, established facts arrived at through centuries of careful, methodical rigorous research.  The details and specifics of this development are continually being amplified and refined, but the paradigm itself and its outline are established, acknowledged and accepted as true by the great majority of the scientific community.  These facts enable modern medicine.  There was a time when microscopy had not yet been developed when all people knew was they came down with an illness, survived it or died.  At some point, the instruments that enabled scientists of the time to see microorganisms led to a revolution in their understanding of health and disease. Science is creative,  imaginative and practical.

16011454304_01ddbda66d_k MODEL A ROADSTAR

Are human beings still evolving physically (and socially, etc.)? Of course! Why don’t we see a new human species then? (There is only one right now).  It takes a long, long time — not in an individual lifetime, or even many lifetimes would we see a major change in a hominid species.  I will tell you however that you have these changes in your body already, like a vestigial coccyx and appendix –leftovers from an earlier version of Homo sapiens, literally millions of years ago when we first ranged out from the forests of Africa.

And, something else, our physical environment is vastly different from the one that we emerged in 5 million years ago.  If we were to expect a human-like species to develop today, it may or may not have occurred and would likely look quite different from what came out of the savannas of Africa when the earliest hominid species emerged. Even if we sped up the changes, we wouldn’t necessarily have developed human beings in the more modern day Sahara that replaced those savannas. The latest exciting evidence suggests that Homo sapiens and Neanderthals had equal intelligence but environmental factors led to the ultimate success of one species of human being and the eventual disappearance of the other. But here is another easy to understand consideration of continuing evolution. There are thousands of resources and we can’t cover them all here (you may be yawning by now). By the way, this is not a gotcha question as some might think.  It is pretty easy if one is informed about this field.

Some species evolve and change quickly, like fruit flies and bacteria or viruses.  Some do so over millennia, like mammals and other complex creatures, including us.  You won’t see much change in our lifetimes even if an asteroid hits the earth and causes mass extinctions and drastic climate change, as was simply and entertainingly depicted in movies such as Deep Impact and The Day After Tomorrow.

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You cannot go to a philosopher to get this information.   I would suggest that you not look for this kind of proof in churches and temples. Furthermore and even more importantly, don’t look to the fossil fuel industry or to politicians on their payroll for this kind of data.  Read the professional articles and books written by evolutionary and developmental scientists.  Once you have done your homework, you will be in a better position to understand the laws that underlie the discipline and its subsidiary fields and how they help us live our lives more successfully.

Just like anything else you study, you need to start at the beginning and make your way to the end systematically and diligently.  You cannot jump into the end zone from the starting line.  I once  got into a discussion with a scholar from Hebrew University about Kabbalah, in which I was quite interested at that time.  He told me that I had a lot of previous study to do about exoteric Judaism before I could hope to understand its esoteric core.  He was right.

16516330370_b7aebbb758_k RAPTOR

So, rather than spend our time here regurgitating the clearly stated position of science on evolution, you might find this link informative.  Whether you agree or not with what is said, it states the majority position of the world’s scientific community on the topic of evolution. This position is not based on ideology, philosophy, political party, belief systems, mythology, conspiracies or any other non-relevant approaches to the world we live in.  It is empiricism little different form that employed and espoused by the Aristotelian school of thousands of years ago.  It is based on undisputed, proven fact, and dovetails with my many discussions on science already found elsewhere on this blog. BTW, this will be the last time I blog about science here. I have said everything I care to in this venue.

I also like the balanced, clear-headed and calm statement of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles on this topic.

16721781161_fa3bdceb9a_k COUPLE WITH DIORAMA

This is my brief 😀 response  and likely the last time I will address the law of evolution on this blog. Sorry to be so long-winded about it, it is a huge subject and this is merely a personal blog. I am not here to be an apologist for scientific proofs or for evolution, for that matter. Still, there are few black and white topics in this world today and this is one of them. If you want to get your information from non-scientific sources, that is your prerogative, but you will be endarkened by following an inaccurate map. If we are on the same channel, you and I will have little to argue about.  If we are not, there is no common ground on which to discuss this topic, you and I.  Let’s talk about whether you saw a white or blue dress instead.  We will likely have a lot more fun doing so.

Images: Beth Byrnes archives/ Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

23 Comments on “The Minority Retort

  1. “Are human beings still evolving physically (and socially, etc.)? Of course! Why don’t we see a new human species then?”

    I can’t believe people actually ask this question with a straight face. And yet…they do. Regularly.

    I appreciate the approach of scientists who simply refuse to debate these things, because there is nothing to debate. Why lend their arguments even the slightest bit of credibility by acknowledging these ridiculous objections?

    I’m not saying this against your post, just in general. People with these sorts of counter-“arguments” are determined to believe what they want, facts be damned. They remind me VERY much of the fundamentalist Christians in the South who spend hours practicing their responses to anyone’s argument against becoming a “saved” soul. They have pre-planned responses to what they have come to observe are the “sinners’ ” main objections against religion, and they learn to just spit them out. I knew many people who did this, and it was absolutely practiced conversation. So really, you are never even having a genuine conversation with them. They are listening to what you say for some trigger or clue word and then they spew out their pre-planned response.


    • Amen. Exactly.

      I don’t know what it is about me, but I get these questions all the time. Not from posts like this, either, but for the mere mention of these key words, that act like whistles apparently. I am just so baffled as to how this came about. I must have been so insulated back East that this and related subjects just was never an issue. I only personally know six people who believe the OT is literal and so I never discuss this with them.

      But what happens now on FB and even other less personal social media sites where I belong, is this subject comes up again and again and not addressing it seems to me to be agreeing that I am a squish on the subject. The mere mention of natural history seems to bring these thing out.

      And maybe my fault here is in trying to at least say, there is no argument on certain things. If I let go of a pen, it is not going to fall upward!

      I have to stop trying to lay out a clear, simple, intelligent position and on this topic, these are my last words so I don’t drive the rest of you crazy, and myself, craziER!

      Thanks for putting up with it. Maybe I will talk about knitting next week. LOL!!!


      • I think you probably were a little insulated, LOL. Not that it’s a bad thing, just a geographical one, perhaps? Sadly I am so accustomed to this behavior growing up where I did, even though I never engaged in it myself or directly experienced it. I just knew it existed. I hear what you are saying about feeling the need to respond when you see this attitude expressed online, but at the same time I guess you have to KNOW that it’s hopeless.


        • Oh yeah, you are right. I am absolutely done with this one. I have only a couple of issues left that I will address this way — none about science, totally futile. A moral cause or two and then what more could I add? It is hard to avoid this stuff when it crops up, but that is what disciplining myself is all about. I have to live in a world where 10th century values are coexisting with the 21st, as infuriating and baffling as that is. Seriously, thank you for reading this — last one on it, I promise!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes. SO much yes. Some things just aren’t debatable. It amazes me when people won’t see that.

    I AM a scholar of religions (though not, as you are aware, religious) and the irony of ironies is that too many of those who maintain nonsensical things like the non-existence of natural/scientific evolution, also refuse to recognize the ideological evolution of the system(s) that foster and further their beliefs.

    We are not static- biologically, socially or ideologically. But, as you note, I need to work a little harder at not being upset by those who refuse to take that sort of thing on board as a matter of FACT- rather than ‘opinion’ or ‘theory’. Might help to alleviate some of my deep-seated frustration with the human race.

    Great post! xo


    • Man, Cole, you must be sick of reading this here and elsewhere. Exactly right! The very ideologies themselves — even when they are honestly brokered (which is hard to find nowadays) have changed.

      It reminds me of the people here who scream “Constitution! Constitution”! Which one? The one that endorsed slavery and women’s ineligibility to vote? That one? Which one — before or after all the amendments, legally added.

      So, which interpretation of which ideology are people advocating, and do they even know, as you say, that these things evolve too.

      My problem is and has always been, staying on friendly terms with people who have such a different world view from mine. It has been my lifelong struggle and I am not sure my higher self is winning, either.

      Thanks for your patience as well as Marey’s!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, criminee. Young earth advocates vs. old earth advocates; science vs. creation; science proves creation – any way you slice it, refusing to acknowledge science is sheer stupidity. Are we turning back the clock to once again vilify Galileo and Newton? This kind of thinking drives me crazy.

    I am a Christian believer, as are many scientists. Science and belief can always be reconciled; however, neither of those can be reconciled with ignorance.


    • Now there is a brilliant, concise retort! ‘…neither can be reconciled with ignorance.’ Of course! Hallelujah, Susan — from a truly learned Christian thinker and writer — I so appreciate this and have to remember that line.

      What I don’t understand is what people think is wrong with accepting evolution. Surely there can be no one left thinking along Scopes monkey-trial lines in this modern world? Or are they?


      • I think what’s wrong with it, in their eyes, is seeing evolution as a slippery slope. If we allow evolution in, we’re threatening our creation myth, so where does it stop? The entire house of cards might fall down eventually, so better not to go down that path. Never mind if the collapse of that might be beneficial to religion as a whole, and create a foundation for something better. Oh and also, they need an enemy, so knowledge/education/science is put into that role.

        Liked by 1 person

        • That slippery-slope belief is likely one major component of this — since fear is being used to effectively control people. Those who are wily about manipulating emotions know that fear of the unknown and of there being nothing to hold us accountable is an effective way of keeping the minions in line, so they can be exploited. Unfortunately, they are using gods (in various forms) to do their dirty work, when the message of Christianity, as an example, is one of love and trust, not fear and subjugation. I guess I just have to stop caring about the few people who carry water for these manipulators. I only wish they had some self-doubt, but they seem very confident and assured that they are right, even while that keeps them under someone’s foot.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t get it !!! (0f course Bob ), I agree 100% with your evolution facts, They can’t be
    denied. But how what has been evolving, created ? That;s the question . Forget any
    religion based bias. And as for your opening statement, my Mother was a die hard
    Socialist… I haven’t blindly followed her beliefs (which were certainly imparted to me).
    “Critical thinking”, allows one to arrive at his/hers beliefs, wherever they may fall
    within “consensus” thinking.. I’m certain you agree. Excellent post .


    • Bob, I am glad we can agree on the science here. (FYI, someone on another social media site prompted this post).

      As for being like our parents, I believe I suggested they are one influential factor — if only to rebel against them if their views are extreme or ill-founded in our view. My Dad is far more conservative than I am and I disagree with him strongly on certain topics. I don’t think anyone consciously follows beliefs blindly when we are children, we are simply enculturated/socialized without our knowing it until much later. That is, if we are self-reflective and examine our lives which I assume you do. Anyway, the topic here as elsewhere is about well established fact over beliefs and ideologies.

      As for the origins of life — that is the key question, still debated in scientific circles other than to agree there was what is popularly referred to as a ‘Big Bang’ and a primordial ‘soup’ acted upon by solar radiation, billions of years later and 4.3 billion years ago on this planet, that sparked the development of the earliest single cell organisms. Some people even suggest that the building blocks of DNA arrived here from outside our solar system, traveling on intra-galactic/intra-universal dust. Now there is a place we can all argue and debate intelligently based on reasoned theory and proven/evidentiary fact to date.

      For other people (and maybe including ourselves) there is the separate matter of articles of faith and inspiration from which we derive an explanation of those origins. That is perfectly legitimate because there is no proven science as to those beginnings to date, as far as I am aware.

      Thanks Bob, as always for your truly welcome input.


  5. Agreed. Wonderful clearly (educated) statement. The “question’s” still to be determined. Maybe in our life time. Lots of very sophisticated intelligent effort
    directed toward an answer. Tks.


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