Monday, April 21, 2008

But how many Steves are on your list, Dr. Patton?

That was one of the questions I was going to ask Dr. Don Patton at the much ballyhooed lecture today on "what is creation science" which turned out to be something of a damp squib. And I'm not just saying that because I didn't get to ask it or any of my other questions - there were so many students' hands up that I didn't get my turn, which was great to see! I was promised at the end by one of the mike-wranglers that I would get the first question at tomorrow's lecture - but, meh, I didn't see much today to draw me back for more. I hope some of you students who did ask those great questions chime in here so we can talk about it, because you sure didn't get much of an answer from Patton, did you? I'll try to address some things more specifically in detail soon - am too tired to deal with it right now and I have a field trip early tomorrow morning, so let me just give a quick summary of the lecture for now. Those of you who attended the lecture, and can't wait to get some real answers, go play here and see if you can find all the main arguments on display today. And read why John Wilkins thinks such talks can, on the whole, be good for evolution education... I hope he is right!

Despite all the promise of a dialog on science made to us (in public and private) by the promoters of this event, what we saw was a typical presentation (from what I've read of such talks) with the following not-unexpected ingredients:

  • repeated mischaracterizations of science and of evolution

  • plenty of arguments-by-analogy

  • a great big pile of selectively mined quotes from eminent evolutionary biologists

  • arguments from popularity including results from public opinion polls to show how creationism is "winning" despite the efforts of us evilutionists

  • lists of "hundreds of scientists" who support creationism (which raised the question I never got the chance to ask, about how many Steves)

  • a defense of Patton's academic credentials (which is an irrelevant issue if you ask me, but more on this later; and Scott Hatfield has more on that and on his talk radio appearance during the first half of this lecture)

  • when questioned by students, a fine display of slipperiness to smoothly evade probing questions, including rapid re-definition of terms just used, "not-blaming" the poor student because "this is what you've been told", complete refusal to address any alternative creationist hypotheses, yet declaring the unspecified creationism as the winner because Gould at some point somewhere said some argument about evolution was dead, etc., etc...!!

  • And, of course, absolutely no actual data on anything other than the polls despite repeated proclamations that we were gathered to examine evidence!!

Like I said - meh! - I have better things to do tomorrow evening, including a choice of two other presentations that should be much more educational: on Earth Day by Dr. Chris Pluhar of our EES Dept., and on the ethics of stem cells and genetics by Dr. Andy Fiala, Director of the Ethics Center here @ CSUF. I don't have the links handy, so I will add them tomorrow sometime - or look out for flyers in the Science building.

And speaking of flyers, there was a miraculous appearance of the Great FSM in the lecture hall, and even a "ramen" was heard from a questioner! Unfortunately, I got there just seconds before the talk started, and the FSM disapparated sometime during the second segment of the lecture (leaving me in agony wondering why I had been left behind!) so I couldn't take a picture. I hope someone else did, and if so I will try obtain a copy for posting here!


Anonymous April 22, 2008 at 1:18 AM  

Thanks for your overview Dr. Katti!

Mark Garcia April 22, 2008 at 7:43 AM  

I believe you summed up everything that "Dr." Patton said or in many other peoples view, like every scientist there, what "Dr." Patton didn't say. I was seriously offended by many of his comments. How he used multiple, "chopped up" quotes from Richard Dawkins who we all know to be a "devout" atheist and an evolutionist. His research on evolution was extremely old. Most of what he quoted was older than myself. He also proved something to me that I had just recently learned this semester. A psychoanalyst by the name of Richard Rorty wrote an article saying the "Religion is a conversation stopper"... from some of the answer Patton gave us... Rorty was right! I was nearly irate when I left the lecture hall. I just wish we had more time to ask questions and to possibly make some replies to the bogus answers he gave us.

Alejandro Calderón-Urrea April 22, 2008 at 1:22 PM  

Hi Madhu,

Nice comments. Here are some more thoughts.

There were a few issues that were very interesting to me.

1) The argument Dr. Patton makes about suggesting that scientist want to prevent “creation science” or any other type of such philosophy from being taught in public schools. He indicates that there is an overwhelming media bias to prevent “creation science”, and my understanding is that this is evidence that suggest scientist are trying to prevent “creation science” from being discuss in public school classrooms. Personally (and I consider myself a scientist; more importantly, others also consider me a scientist) have no problem with kids in public schools being exposed to this ideas. Furthermore, I don’t think any scientist is opposed to this. What I am opposed to, and I am sure most scientists are opposed to as well, is the teaching of creationism, or even now “creation science”, in a science classroom. It may be better to present these ideas in a sort of philosophy, or “evolution of human thought”, class.

2) The “bottom line” of his message: show me a new “kind” that has been generated in the natural world as the ultimate evidence that evolution is a proven fact. Well, I don’t even know where to start with this; let me start by describing what I understood from Dr. Patton’s “creative” distinction between “especial” and “general” evolution. If I understood correctly, he doesn’t have a problem accepting the especial evolution, in fact, he calls it “horizontal variation”. In other words, he implicitly accepts that there is a large genetic variation in any given population (for example current day dogs, his own example). In fact he also implicitly accepts that any one of this variants may be selected in favor of (for example antibiotic resistance, his own example too). He fails to understand that this are liked events: 1) presence of diversity-natural selection (selected variant). He demands that these two consecutive events generate a new “kind” within a human’s lifetime (or at least within the time we have records available), for him to be able to accept “general” evolution. I think he is actually a very cleaver individual, who understand that most people (in the modern age more than before) are looking for instant gratification and therefore would dismiss anything that takes time to occur; in fact anything that would take more time that the time required for you actually seeing it happening in front of your own eyes. He fails (or purposefully leaves out) to convey a description of the time-scale required for this events to actually generate a new “kind”. This is kind of ironic because being “studious” geologist he should be able to recognize the magnitude of time scales in play during geological events, and I would certainly expect a similar understanding of the time-scale for biological events. In any event, if he wants “instant gratification”, perhaps we can look at really fast developing organisms, and I mean fast (viruses, not bacteria). I can think of the origins of HIV from monkey virus strains (SIV from chimps; there is still controversy as to how the transfer from monkey to human happened, although no controversy as to the origin of HIV from SIV), and more recently the detection of Avian Flue virus in humans (scientist still think this is a rare event, but if it becomes wide-spread could have devastating consequences.

3) The fact that, even though he wanted to make a scientific argument for the lack of evidence supporting evolution, there was no evidence. Actually I thought he was quite funny and entertaining, although he was unable to convince me that his “evidence” actually disproves evolution (either the especial or the general “kind”).

I also found these web sites, which you may have seen already but they are interesting.


Ulrike April 22, 2008 at 1:50 PM  

Could somebody please help me with the definition of evolution? Where does Patton get the idea from that evolution is an 'increase in information' or some form of progress (I forgot his exact phrase)?
It was sad to see yet another classic case of a non-communication due to different definitions of what constitutes evolution. Patton's short-circuit about changing allel frequencies not possibly being evolution was the high point of this miscommunication.

Madhu April 22, 2008 at 2:08 PM  

Thanks, Alejandro. I appreciate your comments.

I didn't have the energy last night to address some of the issues in detail as you have done, and I agree with your view.

I too was amazed by the long belaboring of the distinction between "special" and "general" evolution. I've heard ID proponents invoke an imaginary boundary between "microevolution" and "macroevolution" which is the same point Patton was making. But this terminology (parallel to "special" and "general" relativity, I suppose) is new to me.

On the point of timescales, though, I think Patton will disagree with you anyway. He just hinted at it at one point, but I think his talk today is about geology where he will try to discredit evidence for the actual age of the earth. From what I have read/seen of his past presentations, I think his overall time horizon may be around 10,000 years or so (a number I think we even heard yesterday), so by definition there cannot be enough time for any of the "horizontal variation" to add up to "vertical variation"! Nice little circle of logic there to filter out all contrary evidence. Anyway, that's what I expect today, but I won't be there to see it!

Madhu April 22, 2008 at 2:27 PM  

Hey Mark - I was getting a little worried about you at the end of the talk there, watching the righteous red glow spread across your face. I was impressed at how you actually kept your cool in asking the questions you did get to ask.

This is exactly what Patton and his ilk do - come and spew so much nonsense that it can leave you flabbergasted and furious - if you know anything about the complex subject they are mangling. If you don't, on the other hand, there is enough clever material there to leave you either confused or believing his version of things. And if you do get furious with him, and try to set him straight, he is slippery enough to evade you in the public setting while his followers get the impression that he has reduced you to incoherent blubbering! And then he can claim "humble" credit for giving even someone like Niles Eldredge a comeuppance (remember how he did that?). So its better not to rise to the bait, and I'm glad you didn't lose your cool.

As for his relying on material older than you - hell, I'm material older than you! So be careful not to dismiss the work of old farts out of hand, young man!! Or you'll surely overlook some really good work, and may end up reinventing the wheel in your own research.

And would you mind sharing a link to that Rorty article?

Madhu April 22, 2008 at 2:36 PM  

As for his quote mining, check out the website where he lists them all (with misattribution and misspelt names intact!), as well as the ooblick site Alejandro linked to where the quotes have been recontextualized! Fun stuff!!

Steven Miller April 22, 2008 at 4:25 PM  

I am in the progress of writing a summary from my experienced last evening. It should hopefully be completed/up soon.

Madhu April 22, 2008 at 5:34 PM  


Do you want to put post your summary here in this thread, or as a separate blog post?

Also, have you joined Project Steve yet? :-)

Kaberi April 22, 2008 at 5:53 PM  

oh my!

It is good that MAdhu attended this bafoon's talk instead of me. I am glad that some of my students from Bio Sci IB have gone and listen to the unscietific logics/arguments that Patton had in favor of creationism... I hope now the so called annonymous blogger who has been making cacophony and in some ways abusing science educators in schools and colleges of Fresno would come out of his annonymous mask and see some light!!

Steven Miller April 22, 2008 at 11:58 PM  

I would like post my response, which I am working on now, as a separate thread. My summary, is quite long. I'll email it to you soon. See you at the ethics lecture tomorrow.

yoyo April 30, 2008 at 2:30 PM  

I attended the talk Donald Patten had. I chose not to include the Dr. part because i honestly do not believe that he deserves to be called DR. I did some research on him and found that he doesn't have the credentials to make the statements that he is making let alone give himself the title of Dr. One thing that he said that shocked me was, " Darwin's work was all plagiarized, it was copied from his father." He also had some sources that were from wikipedia which everyone knows, is not a reliable source. I met with him after the talk and spoke to him about what he had discussed. It appears that just by wearing a suit, slicking your hair back, and having a briefcase, you can call yourself a doctor because this guy could not give me any reasonable answers. By reasonable, i don't mean answers that i want to hear, i mean answers that could back his beliefs. All he told me was that he would talk about the subject in the next talk. So i went and asked him in the next talk and he said, " No more questions." So, this so-called Dr. Patten guy is just a title created by a creationist. He created his title, Dr. Don Patten, and created a lot of B.S, with the help of some rhetoric skills, in which people are manipulated to believe. This guy is a fake and nothing he says should be considered to be true, unless he says that he made up the whole idea of him being a Dr., because that we already know is true!

James Youna

Gao Yang May 2, 2008 at 10:59 PM  

Patton sure has the gutts!…… I was stunned by the attention and crowd that he had drawn into the satellite student union on Monday evening. All his so call “proofs” to disprove evolution were examples by similarity and quotes by scientists who had already died years ago. What about the scientist who are still alive now? In fact, he didn’t provide any raw data. There are new discoveries and findings revealing every day. I recall him talking about how the scientific method disproves evolution and such. As a science (Chemistry) major, I am aware that the scientific method is used to investigate a problem by experiments. The problem to solve is first identified, a hypothesis is formulated, then followed by repeated tests, the information is analyzed and gathered and then combined to obtain a conclusion. Patton said the idea of evolution and such does not correctly follow the scientific method. If Patton is using the scientific method to disprove the idea of evolution and such, then how come he did not show any viable reference data. Patton doesn’t have the relevant proofs and evidence at all and I honestly think that Patton is in a world of his own and crazy!
-Gao Yang-


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