May 8, 2007

Evolution Is Not God

I’m no evolutionary scientist, but I understand a few things about the phenomenon of evolution. And one of the things that I understand is that it is not god.

An understanding of the theory of natural selection provided humankind with the first good explanation of how complex life has formed in the universe without any sort of creative force, or any sort of plan. It appears to simply be a fact of nature, a fact of this universe that favorable traits become more common in a population and unfavorable traits become less common. “Favorable” is defined by the particular environment of the population.

When some folks look around at all the amazing and complexity of the universe, they postulate a god, or some sort of creator, just based on how amazed they are that such complexity can exist. Before Darwin, you might have been hard pressed to argue, except perhaps on the basis of “which god?” But today we know (we’ve seen it happen) that complexity arises out of the universe naturally, not according to some plan, but according to some simple rules and the particular environment.

God as an explanation for complexity is no longer needed, but people will come to their own personal conclusions about whether they need god for some other reason. However, what we should all agree on is that the process of evolution itself is not god.

By this I mean that evolution has no plan, is not personified, is not to be worshipped, and should not have its own mythology.

I recently saw a post on Kuro5hin that made me realize that people get part of the theory of evolution into their heads, get excited, and then wander off into gibberish.

The article I linked above starts off on the wrong foot and goes downhill from there.

Artificially prolonging the lifespan of genetically inferior instances of the species runs counter to the purpose of evolution. It makes us all weaker.

The phrase “genetically inferior” has a ton of misunderstanding wrapped up in it. Evolution is a process that takes place without creativity or intelligence.1 “Inferior” is a judgment. There is no creative moment when a judgment is made that one organism is inferior to another. The only decisive event is whether an organism survives to pass its traits on, or it does not.2 So, if an organism has survived to reproduce, it’s succeeded. There is need to layer some judgment over that.

The reason for rejecting the idea of “inferior” is not political correctness, as the writer implies. Rather, it’s plain bad science.

We are not acting outside of evolution. Our actions help to form the environment in which we, and other organisms, continue to evolve. It’s true that the more power we have to change our environment, the more effect we have on how things evolve, intentional or unintentional though it may be.

The writer’s argument might be that we are unnaturally selecting physically weak or diseased people and the result will be that we will unintentionally engineer a physically weak human race. He has inexplicably focused on the purely physical aspects of the human phenotype. In truth, we are more than just our predisposition to certain diseases.

When we help certain of our population to survive, we’re changing their environment, but we’re also following morals that we evolved. Perhaps what we’re doing is perpetuating the behavior of placing a high value on life. We can only guess.

What we’re not doing is harming evolution, any more than we are harming gravity when we throw a ball up in the air. Gravity is not a god who pulls balls back down to Earth. Evolution is not a god who is trying to make humankind physically stronger.

We can joke about “Darwin awards” and such, but those are only jokes. Evolution through natural selection is a fact of our universe; it describes how we got here. It doesn’t have wants, needs, intentions or opinions. It is a phenomenon we study to understand how the universe works, not a law to be followed.


1 Which is why Intelligent Design is unnecessary.

2 Please forgive the over simplification.

Posted by James at May 8, 2007 8:16 AM
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An article that I recently read was surveying political groups (evolution -- it's not just for liberals anymore!) who are using evolution as justification for their political agendas.

It seems that many people have this need to find external rules to follow. If it isn't god, then it's evolution. I think your title, "Evolution is not god," is important. Although it may seem obvious (that evolution is not god), people are substituting evolution in places that they used to put god -- as the creator of rules to follow.

It's important to recognize that people are and will increasingly be doing this. I think we should find more metaphors, like the gravity metaphor, to argue that evolution is a physical process and is not -- I don't know -- some ideal that we need to uphold? A train we need to keep on track? The political groups seemed to be taking different traits that have evolved in us and using them as justification for policy. Can't we try to be better? Can't we create our own set of humanistic rules and use those as our standard? I think the political right, in particular, wants to take evolution and use it to show that white males were meant to be in power. It's a bit frightening and we need to be ready to argue against it. That interpretation of evolution fits right in with the "strong father" model that political conservatives use to reason about policy. One possible argument against it is to take traits that have evolved that are counter to their model and use those. Another is to chuck the whole ridiculous idea that we should be following some evolutionary path, simply because it served our distant ancestors. Another might be to point out that we are still evolving and we have changed our environment so radically that previously evolved traits don't apply.

Posted by: Maggie at May 8, 2007 10:07 AM

Artificially prolonging the lifespan of genetically inferior instances of the species runs counter to the purpose of evolution. It makes us all weaker.

This sounds like a retooling of the arguments from the Eugenics movement, and that makes me shiver.

There was just an article in the Economist (wish I could find the link) that discussed America's embrace of Eugenics. It referred to the famous opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holms in Buck v. Bell. From the case, in which Mr. Justice Holmes delivered the opinion of the Court:

"Carrie Buck is a feeble-minded white woman who was committed to the State Colony above mentioned in due form. She is the daughter of a feeble- minded mother in the same institution, and the mother of an illegitimate feeble-minded child."

[...]

"It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetents. It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 , 25 S. Ct. 358, 3 Ann. Cas. 765. Three generations of imbeciles are enough."

This decision legitimized the forced sterilization of thousands. Sadly, some states still had these laws on their books as late as the 1970s.

Posted by: Patti M. at May 8, 2007 11:19 AM

I swear JP includes the term 'Intelligent Design' just to get me going off on a rant.
:D

The blogger quoted above really shoots down his own argument, and for exactly the reason you pointed out when you said:

"When we help certain of our population to survive, we’re changing their environment, but we’re also following morals that we evolved. "

Carrying that author's ideas to the obvious conclusion shows that a violent criminal would be genetically superior to a disabled person if he were physically in good health and strong and vigorous. However, when criminal harms someone we invite him to attend a very long house party courtesy of the state which could prevent him from reproducing. And that proves that we value morals and ethics as much if not more than physical survival.

Now, for my usual off-topic rant: do you all realize how many of your children's science textbooks contain refernces to "intelligent design"? I do- I have a terrible time finding appropriate materials for my homeschooled children. All homeschoolers are not religious hwackjobs, but you might not realize it from shopping for textbooks. Grumble grumble - but really, that is scary, too.

Posted by: Cindy at May 8, 2007 12:58 PM

We have morals, we might as well use them, right?

Posted by: James at May 8, 2007 2:08 PM

Geez, I hope Former Governor Haircut (aka "King of the Waffle[house]") doesn't read this blog or he'll use that in his campaign speeches! And somehow, it will be used to talk about how we have to use our morals to guard against those awful gays (or possibly those godless people who favor stem cell research)

Posted by: Patti M. at May 8, 2007 2:22 PM

I don't mind references to intelligent design, as long as the reference is something like, "intelligent design is utter nonsense and has nothing to do with science, despite what you may hear."

Posted by: Maggie at May 8, 2007 2:43 PM

I use my morals all the time.

Posted by: James at May 8, 2007 3:07 PM

When you do, do you ever get a natural 20?

Posted by: Patti M. at May 8, 2007 3:32 PM

"What he wanted to do was to wrest the secret from life and that could only be done through language because, as he said, the history of people is the history of language." -Edna O'Brien on James Joyce.


Is the world's scientific community reluctantly confirming God's existence?

http://www.GodsDNA.net

Posted by: God's DNA at May 8, 2007 3:59 PM

Hey James, nice article. I'd comment more but I'm not really in a condition to do it. Let me then just say "Bravo!"

Posted by: Chuck S. at May 8, 2007 7:05 PM

I looked through some logical fallacy pages trying to decide which one GodsDNA is abusing but I couldn't settle on one. Can someone who is better at such things help me out?

Posted by: Mike at May 8, 2007 8:56 PM

His premise "DNA is a language" is basically begging the question. It depends on you already believing that it was created with the intent to communicate. By calling it a language and meaning it in the human sense (and not just as analogy) you've already accepted the conclusion.

His premise #2 "all languages are created by a conscious mind" is at odds with natural selection. Language, a complex behavior of organisms, can be explained as arising from natural selection.

The exciting thing about evolution by natural selection is that it explains amazing complexity which arises from simple rules of the universe.

If you want to claim all complexity must be created by an intelligence, you have to dispute natural selection first. And if you're looking to prove intelligent design, then this is also begging the question, because your refutation of evolution by natural selection is in your premise.

Even if you were to assume his premises, neither of them lead to the conclusion that god created DNA. Why assume it was god? Why not assume it was aliens? There is just as much support in the premises for the hypothesis that intelligent aliens created DNA as there is that god created our DNA.

Here is a similar proof.

1. Fred was shot to death.
2. People who are shot to death are only shot by people who know how to shoot guns.
3. Therefore, Dick Cheney shot Fred.

However, I do not accept the premises, so I don't need to make that argument. The premises are lousy.

The tide washes seaweed up to the high water mark. That could be interpreted as an information storage mechanism. Should we conclude that god exists just because we can tell how far the tide came in?

We don't need an additional hypothesis (god) to explain DNA. Complexity is a result of random variation caused by imperfect replication, accumulated in a very non-random way by natural selection.

Further, it is the imperfect copying of DNA which is instrumental in the process of evolution by natural selection.

To make a nit-picky argument out of it, if DNA was designed by a perfect being to be a language, it was designed wrong because it is imperfect.

However, that worked out pretty well for us, because it evolved us (hooray!) out of the imperfections. "God works in mysterious ways" you say. "God designed DNA to evolve us, so it all makes sense, and it worked."

But the purpose of a language is not to imperfectly communicate. Something designed to imperfectly communicate is not a language -- it's something else entirely. So the "DNA is a language" is incompatible with the idea that it was designed.

No, seeing DNA as a language is a very human anthropomorphic interpretation of an aspect of how it works. Like mapping G,A,T and C to dance steps and calling DNA a divine choreography. Or, like the face on Mars, it's looking at something natural (albeit complex) and overlaying a human prejudice on top of it.

And to go back to #2, that premise is little different in this aspect than the "an eye couldn't have evolved" argument. I have to give it points for not being as patently and obviously ridiculous as the "look how well a banana fits into the human hand -- therefore we were both designed" argument a la Kirk Cameron.

Posted by: James at May 8, 2007 11:47 PM

"Complexity is a result of random variation caused by imperfect replication, accumulated in a very non-random way by natural selection."

You're giving a lot of credit to a process that has no mechanism to do what you're asking from it. Natural selection merely decides what organism dies. Period. Nothing else. The only thing accunulated is death, not life. There is no mechanism to provide new information beyond what already exists in the organism.

You can imagine anything you want, but give us something in the way of evidence, please.

Posted by: nobody at May 9, 2007 7:19 AM

You can imagine anything you want, but give us something in the way of evidence, please.

Funny, I nearly said something like this at town meeting last night.

Posted by: Patti M. at May 9, 2007 8:12 AM

Dear "nobody",

I was not trying to prove evolution by natural selection. The forces that drive speciation have already been proven and observed, and such proof is readily available. Ask pretty much any biologist to point you toward the relevant research. I am not a biologist, but the success of modern biology (with its foundation of evolutionary theory) is compelling.

That's why I accept (and assume) evolution by natural selection in my rebuttal of GodDNA or whatever that silly website was.

If you have a better theory for speciation, then you need to be writing papers and submitting them to scientific journals, because the science I'm talking about isn't controversial at all.

Right now, all the evidence points to the Boston Red Sox as being in first place in the American League East. This is widely accepted by people who care. I haven't seen all the games, but there are people who follow the games and post the stats on the MLB website. If you were going to argue on my blog that they were actually in third place, despite the MLB and RedSox websites, you'd be wasting your time. Your time would be better spent presenting MLB with your evidence that they've made a mistake, so that they can correct their understanding of the stats.

Considering the Yankees are 6 games behind and Baltimore is 7 games behind, you'd have to have some pretty damn compelling evidence.

Currently, evolution by natural selection is in first place in their league. If there were a second place, it would be something like 1000 games behind. However, I'm not even sure there is another theory that is in the same division, or even league.

But apart from you being in the wrong place looking for a biologist, you criticized my reference to natural selection, so I have to respond to that.

Natural selection is the term we use to describe the part of the process where certain organisms survive to pass on their traits (or die and do not pass on their traits). You are wrong when you say "the only thing accumulated is death [...]" That's bizarre -- ignoring the organisms that lived.

The reason we focus on the accumulation of the traits of the live organisms is that, er, dead organisms don't evolve. Live organisms exhibit the phenomena we're talking about -- the tendency toward certain favorable traits, accumulation of changes, and speciation.

BTW - I am not attributing everything to natural selection. Genetic variation is necessary for evolution to happen through natural selection. Random variation (as I made explicit earlier in that very same sentence) is one of the ways that differences in the traits of organisms come about.

If you have a better explanation for evolution, you need to be telling biologists. But we won't mind if you also let us in on theories that better explain what biologists observe. Just don't expect me to take any theories seriously if biologists do not.

Posted by: James at May 9, 2007 9:17 AM

Natural selection merely decides what organism dies. Period. Nothing else.

Natural selection is a process by which the most beneficial mutations are most likely to be carried forward. It doesn't make any "decisions" at all.

Natural selection is falsifiable, testable, and has been observed in populations with extremely short generations (reproduction takes a long time, evolution in bacteria is easier to directly observe than say, evolution in redwood trees.)

If you haven't found "something in the way of evidence" you aren't looking very hard. Or at all.

There is no mechanism to provide new information beyond what already exists in the organism.

This is the latest fashionable lie from Creationist propaganda houses. There are indeed mutative processes that lengthen the genome (i.e. ADD INFORMATION). I'm not a scientist and I can think of at least two:

(1) errors during gamete creation which cause a gamete to get more copies of a chromosome than it is supposed to -- Downs Syndrome Humans for example, have 47 chromosomes instead of the normal 46. Another example of the same is superfemales, creatures (of many species) which accidentally get an additional X chromosome (rendering them XXX or XXY creatures).

(2) errors in DNA replication during gamete creation that result in end-swapping of chromosomes. To give a little detail: a cell is transcribing DNA for gamete creation, the DNA strand from chromosomes A and B accidentally come into contact during this process and at the crossover point, the end of A is copied on to B, and the original end of B is copied onto A. Thus the copied chromosomes now have different lengths, in this case let's say the new B is longer than a normal B, and the new A is shorter than a normal A.

Assuming the mutation is viable, and this gamete reproduces, the resulting individual would have the following pairs of chromosomes: A / short-A, B / long-B. When this individual reproduces his or her offspring will break down as follows:

(1) 25% A/A, B/B
(2) 25% A/short-A, B/B
(3) 25% A/short-A, B/long-B
(4) 25% A/A, B/long-B

Note that the *last* group of offspring has a net-longer genome, with two normal A chromosomes and a longer than normal B chromosome (information has been ADDED to the organism). If the long-B mutation is beneficial, this profile will increase in the gene pool and it is only a matter of time until two members of group (4) breed and produce an A/A, long-B/long-B individual.

You can imagine anything you want,

Creationism is living proof of that.

but give us something in the way of evidence, please.

Just did. Downs Syndrome and superfemales are well documented phenomena, so is end-swapping during chromosome replication. If you actually were interested in getting at truth instead of reinforcing dogma, I would expect you to know about these things because I learned about them in highschool biology 25 years ago. This is not NEW information.

But creationists are interested in reinforcing dogma, not truth, and this is why you see them touting the ridiculous "11 second pause" of Richard Dawkins when asked about mutations or evolutionary processes adding information to the genome by a pair of creationists who lied about their intentions in order to gain admittance to his home for an interview.

As long as we are on the subject of adding information to the genome, let's talk about viruses. Viruses do not reproduce themselves, they reproduce by invading a cell and inserting DNA into the cell's DNA (ADDING INFORMATION) to cause the cell to produce viruses instead. Virus DNA mutates too, and it is altogether possible for a virus to insert defective virus DNA into a cell that does not cause that cell to produce viruses, but instead mutates the cell in some other way. If the mutated cell is viable and happens to be a gamete, well, there you go.

I'm not certain but I think I read somewhere that some native DNA segments found in various genomes of higher organisms resemble primitive virus DNA. Not sure about that one. If you were actually interested in learning about it, I'm sure you could google up some information to get started.

Here's another easy one. Look up "duplication" of DNA segments. DNA has a limited instruction set that sometimes involves repeated segments, so you can read a strand and see something like this:

[segment X][segment Y][segment Y][segment Z]

Segment duplication is another sort of documented mutation, wherein the above strand gets copied like this:

[segment X][segment Y][segment Y][segment Y][segment Z]

Yet another mechanism by which information is added to a genome.

Posted by: Chuck S. at May 9, 2007 9:32 AM
There is no mechanism to provide new information beyond what already exists in the organism.

I'm impressed that you guys could make sense out of this line.

Natural selection really doesn't have anything to do with the organism. It's the smallest piece of genetic material that survives from generation to generation that is the unit of natural selection. The organism is an expression of these pieces of genetic material, and it's the collection that determines whether the organism lives long enough to reproduce. If the organism reproduces, then some of the pieces of genetic material will get passed on to the offspring. (In sexual reproduction.)

The new information comes into the gene pool via new combinations of the genetic material and mutations, but it's a process that happens over a long period of time.

Posted by: Maggie at May 9, 2007 10:17 AM

I hate the "no new information" nonsense. It's been cropping up all over the place and is perpetuated by people who don't understand how DNA is replicated, and how it is read. These are folks who don't understand that the process of reading DNA is similar to the way a Turing machine works.

It doesn't occur to them that if you duplicate a section of DNA that you've added new information.

DNA instructions are coded in units of 3 bases. There are 4 different possible bases that can be arranged in a unit of three, guanine, cytosine, adenine, and thymine (G,C,A,T). Triplets of these bases code for amino acids which are joined together to form proteins. So assume you have a strand like this:

GTGGACTGTCTTAAA...

A duplication error might cause some of these bases to be repeated like:

GTGGACTGGACTGTCTTAAA...

GACTG has been erroneously copied twice. A creationist might argue that we're only adding information to the organism that already exists there, we're simply duplicating a portion. This ignores how the strands are read. Here's the original:

GTG - amino 1
GAC - amino 2
TGT - amino 3
CTT - amino 4
AAA - amino 5

Now here's the new strand:

GTG - amino 1
GAC - amino 2
TGG - amino 6
ACT - amino 7
GTC - amino 8
TTA - amino 9
AA. - amino 10

Because the instructions are read as triplets, duplicating a number of bases which is not a multiple of 3 recodes the entire strand unless the strand has a segment marker in it, in which case it is recoded up to the segment marker.

Posted by: Chuck S. at May 9, 2007 10:59 AM

But in sexual reproduction, pieces of DNA get mixed up in a variety of ways -- it isn't like there are "two genes" for eye color, and the new cell gets either one or the other of those genes from the parent. The chromosome can be cut up in multiple ways, in multiple places, the strands of DNA can reverse direction when they get copied to the new chromosome, get stuck in a new place on the chromosome, and so whole new combinations of genetic material can exist on the chromosome. That's why there isn't really a clear definition of "gene" -- Dawkins uses the word to mean the smallest piece of genetic material that can exist through multiple generations, i.e. that won't get split apart or reversed during the copy. But the way all of it works together is what makes a new individual.

Have the people making this argument not noticed that we're all "new"? I guess I don't really understand the argument that's being made.

At the very least, one single mutation causes something new.

Or are they saying that because everything is made from the same basic proteins, it's all the same?

I was thinking the other day that computer programmers are well suited to understand the process of evolution, and to believe that it could happen, because we have seen first hand how very complex behavior is built up from an even simpler representation than DNA's -- presence or absence of a phenomenon, a binary representation.

Posted by: Maggie at May 9, 2007 11:23 AM

Actually as I understand the argument, it's far less sophisticated. It makes the claim that mutation only gives you minor effect. Let horses breed in the wild for 1000 generations and the offspring might be different colors and have longer legs or something, but they're still horses.

Posted by: Chuck S. at May 9, 2007 11:38 AM

This is a really out there argument if it's going all the way back to denying that speciation occurs.

Speciation has been observed.

BTW - thanks, Chuck, for explaining that this "nothing new" thing is the latest Creationist figment. I don't always keep up on all the latest humbug.

Posted by: James at May 9, 2007 1:31 PM

This is a really out there argument if it's going all the way back to denying that speciation occurs.

They have to deny speciation. You can't have biblical inerrancy and speciation. (God made all the animals and brought them to the man to name.) It's not enough to say "okay maybe evolution is real but God guided it". The bible has to be inerrant for these whackos.

Posted by: Chuck S. at May 9, 2007 5:03 PM

"Just did. Downs Syndrome and superfemales are well documented phenomena"

So Down's syndrome and superfemales are the best examples of 'evolution' you can come up with? gee those are great examples of improvement in the species... let's all hope our kids have Down's syndrome...

from one web site discussing superfemales: "Affected specimens were characterised by the formation of additional female organs, an enlargement of the accessory pallial sex glands, gross malformations of the pallial oviduct section resulting in an increased female mortality"

wow... increased female mortality... that's great! what an improvement!

you guys are dreamers!

Posted by: nobody at May 9, 2007 5:39 PM

"It doesn't occur to them that if you duplicate a section of DNA that you've added new information."

really? If i photocopy an essay can i pass it off as new?

Get a brain!

Posted by: nobody at May 9, 2007 5:42 PM

"I was thinking the other day that computer programmers are well suited to understand the process of evolution, and to believe that it could happen, because we have seen first hand how very complex behavior is built up from an even simpler representation than DNA's -- presence or absence of a phenomenon, a binary representation."

sure... all by itself, in a program that 'just appeared', on a system that built itself from nothing.

Posted by: nobody at May 9, 2007 5:46 PM

Pretty much, yes -- the universe bootstrapped. If you're saying there's a god, then you're just arguing for a bigger question that you also can't answer.

nobody, making non-arguments like "get a brain" isn't going to increase your comprehension of the subject matter and it certainly isn't going to convince people who require evidence to be convinced. Get some evidence.

Posted by: Maggie at May 9, 2007 6:29 PM

"making non-arguments like "get a brain" isn't going to increase your comprehension of the subject matter and it certainly isn't going to convince people who require evidence to be convinced. Get some evidence."

Maggie... you don't seem to be following... i'm not the one who claimed natural selection can do all this wonderful stuff... People who make the claim should provide the evidence.

Posted by: nobody at May 9, 2007 6:40 PM

nobody,
I find myself not caring if you understand how the world works or not. So much of the technology that you already use (medicine, food) takes advantage of the theories of evolution, and yet you sit, the ignorant recipient of the brilliance of others, and claim it ain't so. You strike me as the typical spouter of "the lord provideth" while other people work. I can't say I respect your ideas or would want to have to rely on you for anything concrete.

Posted by: Maggie at May 9, 2007 7:10 PM

Nobody,

Thanks for posting on my blog.

The ball is in your court. That's the way it works in 2007. In 1859 it might have made sense to demand proof of the extraordinary claim of the origin of species through natural selection. That was nearly 150 years ago.

Biologists have long since done exactly what you asked: made the claim, provided the evidence, observed it in the world, and moved on.

So, man up.

Your contributions to the conversation thus far are on the level of "get a brain" when other posters have put reasonable time and thought into their informative posts.

You chose not to respond to substantive points. You're clearly only here to lob insults.
The only way to prove that's not why you're here is to provide some alternate theory to the accepted science.

Convince us. At the very least give us something to think about. Or slither off.

Posted by: James at May 9, 2007 7:19 PM

Nobody, thank you for continuing to cowardly offer insults about subject matter you know nothing about.

Think back very carefully about your statement:

There is no mechanism to provide new information beyond what already exists in the organism.

So I provided you with concrete examples of additional information being added by mutation. But look, suddenly the goal posts have been moved:

So Down's syndrome and superfemales are the best examples of 'evolution' you can come up with? gee those are great examples of improvement in the species...

Rather than conceding that you were completely incorrect about no mechanisms by which information is added to the genome, you instead point out that my examples are bad mutations. Since you continue to hide behing anonymity while tossing out your ridiculous insults, I hardly expect you to belly up to the bar and admit your error. I am also unsurprised by the fact that you suddenly changed the nature of the question.

Now I need to provide an example whereby adding genetic information was GOOD for an organism? No, I have already disproven the statement you made earlier. This isn't a "Mr. Nobody sets the topic and everybody jumps" club. The fact that genetic information can be added is good enough, natural selection takes care of the rest.

While I might be convinced that you had no idea that Downs Syndrome and Superfemales were the result of information being added to the genome, I certainly don't think you are stupid enough to not know that when it comes to mutations, MOST have either no effect or are harmful, only the tiniest fraction of them are beneficial. Downs Syndrome demonstrates one way in which genetic material is added to the genome. Therefore some mutations increase the length of the genome. Some fraction of mutations benefit the organism in question. I don't care if the logic of it isn't satisfying to you--it's not my problem if you are going to ignore the mountains of evidence for mutation, natural selection, and evolution.

"It doesn't occur to them that if you duplicate a section of DNA that you've added new information."

really? If i photocopy an essay can i pass it off as new?

Get a brain!

LOL. The fact that you don't know what you are talking about doesn't make me stupid, "nobody". You'll note I earlier demonstrated that the interpretation of a DNA strand depends wholly on where you start reading. Even though DNA codons are read in triplets, the subsequence GAT means something different in the strand TTGGAT than it does in the strand TTGATT, because the first strand is read TTG GAT, but the second is read TTG ATT. If a replication or transcription error results in bases being copied multiple times within single strand, each copy may potentially code for completely different amino acid seqences.

DNA isn't "English" and it isn't built up out of "words" as you understand them, so therefore, your silly analogy to photocopying an essay is just that. If one were to completely "photocopy" a genome, one would be making a clone, not adding to the genome. That's not what we're talking about.

DNA is *simpler* than english. Its alphabet is composed of only 4 letters. Different combinations of those letters in groups 3 letters long code for specific amino acids. Thus a segment of DNA 15 bases (letters) long codes for 5 amino acids which combine together to make one protein. English doesn't work that way. If it did, then:

this would have meaning, and
hisw ouldh avem eaning,a nd

The latter phrase has no meaning because English is a language not a code. DNA is a simple code, 64 possible codons (triplets of letters) which map to an even smaller number of amino acids (multiple codons map to the same acide). I don't remember what the exact number of aminos there are... something on the order of 19 to 22.

Humans unintentionally mimicked this behavior by developing computers, which also encode instuctions using an even simpler code that involves 1's and 0's and yet from which extremely complex behavior can arise. And yes, just like in DNA, if you shift the "read head" one bit to the right or left, the same string of 1's and 0's has a completely different interpretation. 11011011 might mean "JUMP to instruction 27" while 1011011 might mean "ADD 6 to register 3". Maggie was indeed correct to point out that software engineers are well suited to understand evolution, there is a strong analog between the genetic code and computer code--apart from the former occuring naturally and the latter being artificial.

sure... all by itself, in a program that 'just appeared', on a system that built itself from nothing.

Again you present a most assured conviction of speech while simultaneously revealing a shockingly poor grasp of the subject matter. Tell me, do you just walk into nuclear facilities and argue with senior technicians about how the reactor should be run? Would you walk into an operating room and just take over during open heart surgery despite your vocation as a shoe salesman? I only ask because that's fairly analogous to your behavior here.

The first duplicating molecules were likely not DNA as we would recognize it. They would have been much cruder, perhaps based on only a pair of bases and in simpler structures. Perhaps the first duplicating molecules weren't DNA at all, perhaps they were RNA, or a primitive form of RNA involving less bases. Once you have duplication, and millions upon millions of years time, natural selection can get you from molecular proto-life to human beings. It is precisely because extremely complicated behavior can emerge from dramatically simple building blocks. It does not require a designer to make it happen.

Your closing argument boils down to an 'argument from personal incredulity', which is completely fallacious. Allow me to translate:

"I, Mr. Nobody, can't possibly conceive of any way in which life could evolve over millions of years from simple organic compounds to complex higher life forms. Therefore it couldn't have happened."

Poppycock. Reality doesn't care a whit about what you personally are or are not capable of conceiving. The argument from incredulity is not an argument.

There is far, far, FAR more evidence that just such a process did happen, than the ZERO evidence for some magical sky-fairy creating all life 6,000 years ago at the intersection of the Tigris and Euphrates. I submit to you that it is not I who am dreaming, Mr. Nobody. It is you.

Evolution is a true scientific theory, not dogma, which means it is testable and falsifiable. Produce a fossil rabbit that carbon-dates to the pre-Cambrian and you will have disproved evolution. No falsifying evidence has ever been found for evolution that has stood up to scrutiny. As a scientific theory, evolution makes testable predictions. The moment falsifying evidence is found or an evolutionary prediction fails, Evolution as it is currently understood will no longer be the accepted theory for the origin of species.

Creationism on the other hand, is a religious belief. It has nothing to do with observation, evidence, and testability.

It's perfectly fine with me if you want to believe in hocus pocus. But understand that science doesn't work that way. I don't "believe" in evolution the way you "believe" in creation. I believe evolution to be a fact because of the overwhelming confirming evidence for it. Your belief in creation isn't based in evidence because there is no evidence for creation (and no, a storybook written by nomadic desert dwellers thousands of years ago is not 'evidence'.)

Scientists are not "priests", and atheists (at least those who understand the scientific method), don't believe in things without evidence. I don't seek to "protect" my belief in evolution. I seek only the truth based on the evidence. If you could legitimately disprove evolution I would be delighted. What an exciting scientific discovery that would be!

Unfortunately, most Creationists fail to grasp the simple concept that you don't prove your theory by disproving another. Even if you succeeded in disproving evolution, you still haven't proved creation.

Anyway, you clearly need to read a few books on evolution before you would be able to discuss the matter with any authority. So if you are going to continue to be dogmatist, there's very little point in continuing this discussion. Dogma will gain you no traction here.

Posted by: Chuck S. at May 9, 2007 8:24 PM

I enjoy visiting the zoo when they feed the trolls. The signs on the cages are good refresher courses.

Posted by: Mike at May 9, 2007 9:22 PM

Dear "Nobody"

So Down's syndrome and superfemales are the best examples of 'evolution' you can come up with? gee those are great examples of improvement in the species... let's all hope our kids have Down's syndrome...

Africa has proved you wrong:
A Great Example of Recent Evolution

hahathereasonablepeoplewin,
-Derek

Posted by: Derek at May 9, 2007 10:40 PM

What keeps me up at night is that the theory of gravity might turn out to be false, and come morning, I'll fly right off the planet.

Posted by: Sleepless at May 9, 2007 10:50 PM

What was that old joke they used to tell in earth science back in college?

There's no such thing as gravity. The Earth sucks.

Posted by: Chuck S. at May 10, 2007 8:11 AM

The evolution of everything begins with the birth of Space itself.

http://www.imaginespace.org

:)


Posted by: Bob the Accountant at May 10, 2007 10:12 AM

Hi Bob the Accountant, space is not irreducibly complex. Thanks. The very concept of irreducible complexity is nonscientific. There is no such thing as "irreducibly complex", there are only questions that haven't been answered yet. Irreducibly complex = 'here be dragons'. Irreducibly complex = 'stop thinking, give up, don't try to figure this out'

Having a made-up mythological answer is not superior to having no answer at all. Personally I prefer "I don't know" to "magical hocus pocus".

I am not a cosmologist, but it is my understanding that there are cosmological models that account for the creation of space itself.

Posted by: Chuck S. at May 10, 2007 10:34 AM

The clock is still ticking for "nobody" or any of his like-thinking folks to post an argument here (not a link) for an alternate scientific explanation for origin of species to challenge the accepted, observed and proven current evolutionary theory.

But I'm not holding my breath.

Posted by: James at May 10, 2007 12:09 PM

First to the proprietor and supporters of this blog, please forgive me for my expressions of

frustration the other day at the (apparent) arrogance that I was perceiving in the comments I was

reading... Chuck, please accept my apology for the 'get a brain' comment it was un-called for...

After reading countless blogs educating me as to what an IDiot I am for not toeing the

evolutionary line, I lumped you folks into the same pot of -- well, let's not start that again...

It's interesting to note that because i questioned the standard (evolutionism), I'm looked at as a

Creationist, or Intelligent Design Advocate or at the least someone who 'needs to increase (my)

comprehension of the subject matter'... and of course Chuck tells me I 'know nothing' about the

subject matter at hand. It's no wonder that some scientists, students and other folks remain

anonymous while attempting to add their viewpoint to the discussion. Chuck may be right, and I

confess that I haven't given you much to change that opinion. I wonder, actually, whether it is

worth my time to do so, but... what the heck...

First... let me go back to where I started...

"Complexity is a result of random variation caused by imperfect replication, accumulated in a very

non-random way by natural selection" (James at May 8, 2007 11:47 PM)

Let's examine this Natural Selection (capitalized because it gets a lot of credit for doing

Amazing things...) This is the Wikipedia definition... "Natural selection is the evolutionary

process by which favorable traits that are heritable become more common in successive generations

of a population of reproducing organisms, and unfavorable traits that are heritable become less

common. Natural selection acts on the phenotype, or the observable characteristics of an organism,

such that individuals with favorable phenotypes are more likely to survive and reproduce than

those with less favorable phenotypes. If these phenotypes have a genetic basis, then the genotype

associated with the favorable phenotype will increase in frequency in the next generation. Over

time, this process can result in adaptations that specialize organisms for particular ecological

niches and may eventually result in the emergence of new species."

Well that's all really nice isn't it?

According to this definition "individuals with favorable phenotypes are more likely to survive and

reproduce than those with less favorable phenotypes." This is an overly complex way of saying

that faster animals outrun predators better than slower ones. Sure, you'll eventually have a

'herd' of animals that all run pretty fast, but there's always a limit within the species and the

predator will always find a sick animal it can dine on. Natural Selection also implies that

healthy animals that are alive tend to reproduce better than unhealthy animals that are dead. Any

surprises there? It doesn't provide any mechanism for adding additional complexity to the genome

of a species which is what is required for a change from one type to another. A lizard doesn't

become a bird without some amazing and substantive increases in complexity of some (if not all) of

its' biological systems. Natural Selection doesn't provide for this... Just because a gazelle

DIDN'T get caught by that leopard doesn't mean that it can deveolop into some other type of

animal. Fast rabbits are still rabbits.

(I've always wondered why lemmings didn't evolve wings...)

This is the reason why beneficial mutations are brought into the picture. There has to be a

mechanism by which these changes can occur. The question now becomes, can mutations actually do

the job? I have to assume that James means random mutation when he claims, "Complexity is a

result of random variation caused by imperfect replication..."

James then says, "The forces that drive speciation have already been proven and observed, and such

proof is readily available. Ask pretty much any biologist to point you toward the relevant

research. I am not a biologist, but the success of modern biology (with its foundation of

evolutionary theory) is compelling. ...That's why I accept (and assume) evolution by natural

selection..." (James at May 9, 2007 9:17 AM)

I'm sorry, James... speciation is not what we were talking about. According to almost everything

I've read in the conventional literature, speciation is exactly what we should NOT be observing.

If, as Darwin said, "Natural selection can act only by the preservation and accumulation of

infinitesimally small inherited modifications, each profitable to the preserved being" (Origin,

Chap 4), we should have countless numbers of animals with small variations that differentiate them

from all other animals. There should be a continuous line of descent in animals living today as

well as those found in the fossil record. Instead of this, we have animals that appear in the

fossil record suddenly and fully formed (they are locked in a 'species' and can only reproduce

within it.), remain in the record for millions of years, and then disappear having retained the

same characteristic phenotype as when it first arrived... This of course provides an enormous

amount of difficulty with the theory.

James then says, "Natural selection is the term we use to describe the part of the process where

certain organisms survive to pass on their traits (or die and do not pass on their traits). You

are wrong when you say "the only thing accumulated is death [...]" That's bizarre -- ignoring the

organisms that lived.

The reason we focus on the accumulation of the traits of the live organisms is that, er, dead

organisms don't evolve. Live organisms exhibit the phenomena we're talking about -- the tendency

toward certain favorable traits, accumulation of changes, and speciation.

BTW - I am not attributing everything to natural selection. Genetic variation is necessary for

evolution to happen through natural selection. Random variation (as I made explicit earlier in

that very same sentence) is one of the ways that differences in the traits of organisms come

about." (James at May 9, 2007 9:17 AM)

James, you have implied that organisms accumulate traits that CHANGE the organism's phenotype,

but have not offered any corroborating evidence. I for one, would like to see what this mechanism

actually is, and what it can actually do. This is what I asked for previously and still haven't

received an answer... instead I was asked to provide a counter theory.... well I'm sorry, that is

not an answer or an explanation. Just because I haven't provided an alternate explanation,

doesn't mean your unsubstantiated statement is valid.

Chuck then went on to yap about Creationists, for some reason and then to make the statement that

Down's Syndrome is caused by a mutation that adds to the genome.
"There are indeed mutative processes that lengthen the genome (i.e. ADD INFORMATION). I'm not a

scientist and I can think of at least two:

(1) errors during gamete creation which cause a gamete to get more copies of a chromosome than it

is supposed to -- Downs Syndrome Humans for example, have 47 chromosomes instead of the normal 46.

Another example of the same is superfemales, creatures (of many species) which accidentally get an

additional X chromosome (rendering them XXX or XXY creatures)." (Chuck S. at May 9, 2007 9:32 AM)

Technically information has been added, yes, but is it new? Chuck also said, "It doesn't occur to

them that if you duplicate a section of DNA that you've added new information."

These prompted the reaction from me that you've already read.

I question the use of the word new as if that explains the substantive changes required to change

one organism into an entirely new one, which is what evolutionism ultimately declares.

AIG has this to say: "Most people have 22 pairs of ordinary chromosomes plus the pair of sex

chromosomes (XX or XY). Down’s Syndrome people have instead of a pair at 21, a triple, hence the

term trisomy 21. But there is no new information, any more than two copies of an encyclopedia

contain twice as much information.

Here this results in an imbalance. Note that many reactions in the body require a precise sequence

of enzymes — Down’s Syndrome people have an extra copy of the superoxide dismutase gene which

breaks down the very reactive superoxide ion (O2–). Its product is peroxide (O22–), which is

normally broken down by the next enzyme. But in this case, with the extra production, there is too

much to cope with." (http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs2003/0311answerslive.asp)

Whatever way you want to look at this, I thought it was apparent that what I was looking for was

an adequate explanation for new (meaning NOVEL) as well as beneficial information in the genotype

that can add to the complexity of the genome in such a way as to produce a new and distinct type

of animal better prepared to survive it's environment.

Obviously, the question is not whether mutations occur or how... there about 15 different kinds of

mutation (maybe more), and yes according to Chuck's definition, information is added in a couple

of these examples (I still disagree that 'copies' are 'new'), but can these mutations account for

the variability in phenotypes we see in nature? Maybe, maybe not... I don't find a lot of proof

to say that it does, mostly because mutations are invariably negative in nature. At best they are

neutral. Some claim a mutation is beneficial if the organism doesn't die. I've searched for

examples of positive mutations and can't find any that don't cause some other disease. In fact

there about 4700 diseases caused by mutations

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_genetic_disorders).

Chuck's copying mutations are not necessarily the answer to the dilemna. They are an example of

mutation, but as has been previously noted mutations are mostly harmful to the organism. Check

out the subject of the Haldane Limit sometime. It further complicates the issue.

Maggie... I'd like an example please, of your statement: "So much of the technology that you

already use (medicine, food) takes advantage of the theories of evolution". (Maggie at May 9,

2007 7:10 PM )
That's quite the blanket statement, and I'm curious as to what you'll come up with!

Please forgive the long post.

nobody

Posted by: nobody at May 10, 2007 10:39 PM

Maggie, I am clapping at your "...ignorant recipient..." post above. Wow. And also, remind me never to make you angry.
:D

Posted by: Cindy at May 10, 2007 11:25 PM

actually, the clock is ticking for James to put the post i sent yesterday up on the blog...

Posted by: nobody at May 11, 2007 9:42 PM

Nobody:

That's OK about the long post.

It's interesting to note that because i questioned the standard (evolutionism), I'm looked at as a Creationist

Well, are you? Don't be shy.

Posted by: James at May 12, 2007 12:18 AM

Chuck, please accept my apology for the 'get a brain' comment it was un-called for...

Yes it was, and your apology is accepted. I am short of patience these days myself, having had 19 teeth removed on Tuesday, so I apologize for snapping.

Your summary of Natural Selection as lifted from wiki sounds essentially accurate.

This is an overly complex way of saying that faster animals outrun predators better than slower ones. Sure, you'll eventually have a 'herd' of animals that all run pretty fast, but there's always a limit within the species and the predator will always find a sick animal it can dine on. Natural Selection also implies that healthy animals that are alive tend to reproduce better than unhealthy animals that are dead.

I sense you maneuvering close to the guardrail here through oversimplification. I'm going to assume this is unintentional since Natural Selection, as brilliant as it is, is a pretty simple theory. Let me frame it in this manner: for nearly any organism (exceptions noted, thanks) the drive is to reproduce and pass on its genetic material. There can be any number of environmental pressures that work against that organism's "mission" to reproduce. The organism that is best adapted to overcome these pressures is more likely to survive to reproduce. Therefore it is more likely to pass on its genetic material, creating a new generation of organisms carrying those traits that favored their progenitor.

Needing to "run fast to avoid a predator" is only one such pressure. There are many MANY other pressures an organism might need to respond to.

Any surprises there? It doesn't provide any mechanism for adding additional complexity to the genome of a species which is what is required for a change from one type to another. A lizard doesn't become a bird without some amazing and substantive increases in complexity of some (if not all) of its' biological systems. Natural Selection doesn't provide for this... Just because a gazelle DIDN'T get caught by that leopard doesn't mean that it can deveolop into some other type of animal. Fast rabbits are still rabbits.

Yes, this is exactly what I mentioned earlier as one of the latest arguments from the creationist crowd. (100 generations of horses and you still have horses.) You'll have to forgive me for assuming you are a creationist, prior to this you've said nothing to suggest otherwise.

I fail to see why you would conclude that evolution would prevent speciation, that seems to imply a rather simple concept of reproductive pressures. If the earth was a big white box with one type of habitat, and one type of climate, and one type of energy source, and one type of predator, and a constant population size that never ever changed, then I would fully expect a boring sort of evolutionary process where the changes were very limited. But that just ain't the case. There are countless different types of habitats and climates and energy sources and predators and pressures change dramatically and rapidly.

Speciation is a very natural occurrance when you have many generations of organisms trying to survive in an environment which changes fairly regularly. Heck, there is a certain amount of feedback in the process, when one species becomes very well adapted to a given pressure, that creates new sorts of pressures for other species.

Evolution has demonstrated that if there is a niche, that niche will be filled through speciation. Look at the passerine (songbird) population of Australia for example. Australian songbirds have a very strange pedigree if you study their genes. They all descend from corvids (crows). From the tiny little wrens, to the thrushlike robins, to the fabulously interesting bowerbirds. An Australian variety of wren is recognizable as a wren by outward appearance, and yet, an Australian wren is more closely related to a crow than a wren. Clearly at some point in the history of that particular landmass, it was either settled by crows, or some sort of event wiped out most of the passerines leaving only crows. And yet, through thousands of years of evolution, all the same niches that existed before have been filled again--starting from standard corvid DNA.

What you can't see if you go to Australia is a tickertape of bird species showing every teensy little transition from a wiley old crow to a fabulous bird of paradise, and it would be unrealistic to expect to see that. Why would the crow who is 1% suited to fill the bird-of-paradise niche still be around, when it has to compete with a bird 10% suited to fill it? Unless a species can find a niche it is perfectly suited for, there will be pressures on it that will result in change to that species.

There should be a continuous line of descent in animals living today as well as those found in the fossil record. Instead of this, we have animals that appear in the fossil record suddenly and fully formed (they are locked in a 'species' and can only reproduce within it.), remain in the record for millions of years, and then disappear having retained the same characteristic phenotype as when it first arrived... This of course provides an enormous amount of difficulty with the theory.

Only if you expect the fossil record to be complete--it's a fossil record... not a videotape. It is an extremely rare thing for a body to fossilize. To expect to be able to find fossils for every progenitor of each branch on the evolutionary tree is ridiculous. There are going to be transitionary species which we will never find. There is no "big controversy" that I am aware of with regard to evolution and speciation. There are gaps that have not been filled, and may never be filled, but that is no reason to assume that the theory must be bunk, when it has stood up so well in so many other regards.

James, you have implied that organisms accumulate traits that CHANGE the organism's phenotype, but have not offered any corroborating evidence. I for one, would like to see what this mechanism actually is, and what it can actually do. This is what I asked for previously and still haven't received an answer... instead I was asked to provide a counter theory.... well I'm sorry, that is not an answer or an explanation. Just because I haven't provided an alternate explanation, doesn't mean your unsubstantiated statement is valid.

The expression from genotype to phenotype is not a 1:1 thing. Changing a single gene might have no recognizable effect on phenotype. It's a little silly to ask for corroborating evidence that genetic changes can change phenotype, when ultimately it is the genetic code that determines what each organism is, and it has been demonstrated that it can spontaneously change during transcription. One tiny genetic change = new genotype. Phenotype is simply an assessment of outward appearance and behavior of an organism. How many miniscule changes have to happen before one is willing to say "hmm, this is a different phenotype" is pretty much up to committee. You've already accepted that mutation can add information or change information, you've accepted that small modifications which benefit a creature are more likely to get passed on, why is it so hard to accept that if you multiply that process by 100 million generations, you get some completely different critters out at the other end?

Chuck then went on to yap about Creationists, for some reason and then to make the statement that Down's Syndrome is caused by a mutation that adds to the genome.

*sigh* Yes for some reason I went to the trouble of demonstrating that information can be added to the genome. I wonder if that could be that you showed up and flat out said there is no mechanism to add information to the genome? The words you are hunting for are "thank you."

I question the use of the word new as if that explains the substantive changes required to change one organism into an entirely new one, which is what evolutionism ultimately declares.

Dude, you said there was no way to add information to the genome. I showed you a way. You did *not* ask me to demonstrate a mutation that changes one organism into a new one. I don't think organisms change into new ones overnight. You also did *not* ask for an example of a beneficial mutation.

Whatever way you want to look at this, I thought it was apparent that what I was looking for was an adequate explanation for new (meaning NOVEL) as well as beneficial information in the genotype that can add to the complexity of the genome in such a way as to produce a new and distinct type of animal better prepared to survive it's environment.

You are arguing in circles and it is becoming boring. Genetic code mutates, multiply by millions of reproductions and statistically, some number of reproductions result in a small mutation that offers a small advantage, natural selection favors the advantaged (i.e. changed) genotype, which necessarily means that genotypes over time accumulate beneficial mutations.

I am neither equipped nor willing to walk you through the exact genetic history that made primates evolve from shrews, or birds from lizards, and I think it patently ridiculous that you expect me to do so before you will lend credence to evolution.

Obviously, the question is not whether mutations occur or how... there about 15 different kinds of
mutation (maybe more), and yes according to Chuck's definition, information is added in a couple
of these examples (I still disagree that 'copies' are 'new'), but can these mutations account for
the variability in phenotypes we see in nature?

Of course. What compelling mechanism can you ascribe the variability in phenotypes to, if not through an already demonstrated functioning mechanism which changes the genome, multiplied by millions of generations?

Regarding 'new' vs. 'copies'... I'm not going to argue semantics with you. If your recipe says 1 cup flour, 2 eggs, and 1 cup water, and I add "and 1 cup flour" to the end, it's a new recipe. There is new information added. The fact that this information was "copied from existing information" doesn't somehow make it less likely to impact the recipe in any significant way. And I respectfully call your attention AGAIN to what I said earlier about how DNA strands are read. An identical copy of a section of DNA could be interpretted in an entirely different manner.

Maybe, maybe not... I don't find a lot of proof to say that it does, mostly because mutations are invariably negative in nature. At best they are neutral.

Irrelevant. Natural selection will promote those rare mutations which are beneficial, or at least unharmful. You are talking extremely large numbers of organisms stretching over extremely large numbers of generations. The fact that beneficial mutations are rare is fairly irrelevant.

I've searched for examples of positive mutations and can't find any that don't cause some other disease. In fact there about 4700 diseases caused by mutations

My thumbs are double jointed. A lot of people don't have double jointed thumbs. That's a mutation. Is it beneficial? Beats me. Point is, nobody makes a directory of "useful mutations". What purpose would such a directory serve? A directory of harmful mutations on the other hand is very useful information. Any useful mutation would over time become the norm for a species through natural selection anwyay. What did you expect to find?

Check out the subject of the Haldane Limit sometime. It further complicates the issue.

"Haldane's Dilemma" is a mathematical model into which JBS Haldane built certain assumptions. If he was correct in his assumptions, in order to get higher vertebrates, there must be some additional processes going on that evolution (as it was understood in 1957) had not accounted for. There has been no complete refutation or explanation of Haldane's model, but evolutionary biologists are not particularly worried about it because there is plenty of evidence to suggest that current evolutionary models are mostly correct. Predictably, as with any other perceived 'gap' in the theory, this particular model has been latched onto by creationists who as always conclude that any perceived shortcoming in evolutionary theory = the whole theory is bunk and therefore creationism wins.

If you would like to read an assessment of Haldane's Dilemma that hasn't been prepackaged by a creationist propaganda source, here's a rather complicated analysis of it: http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2006/04/haldanes-dilemma-should-we-worry.php

Maggie... I'd like an example please, of your statement: "So much of the technology that you already use (medicine, food) takes advantage of the theories of evolution".

Ermm? Are you kidding? You can't think of ANY medicine (vaccines) or food (genetically modified crops) that have benefitted from evolutionary biology?

Nobody, this took hours, and I am very tired. Given that I underwent major oral surgey a couple days ago, I can't continue to devote hours to trying to convince you of the validity of evolutionary theory, and honestly, it's not my job to do so. I hope you will appreciate the time and effort I put into this, regardless of whatever conclusions you choose to draw. I'm pretty much done with this conversation.

Posted by: Chuck S. at May 12, 2007 1:24 AM

Chuck, your comments are fun and informative to read. I appreciate the time it takes to actually back up a good argument and craft such an informative post.

I just want to know if "nobody" is a creationist, or perhaps just someone interested in science who has doubts about evolution.

Posted by: James at May 12, 2007 8:42 AM

Chuck,
I was going to say basically what James said -- your comments may be falling on uncomprehending ears when it comes to nobody's head, but I appreciate your remarks. Nobody did completely ignore Derek's contribution -- the ability to digest cow's milk in adulthood. I had once read that this was the most recent change in the human genome, because it came about after we became an agrarian society. Interesting!

Posted by: Maggie at May 12, 2007 8:51 AM

On the reason why lemmings never grew wings:

If there were a god, he could just snap his fingers and give lemmings wings according to his design. Unfortunately, since there is no god, we're just stuck with evolution, which has no design, takes a long time and is imperfect to boot.

Therefore, lemmings are shit out of luck.

Q. E. Frikkin. D.

;-)

Posted by: James at May 12, 2007 8:59 AM

Nobody,
I think it's possible that your oversimplification of evolution, added to what appears to be a little naivete about statistics and large quantities, is what's contributing to your lack of understanding. I recommend Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos, followed by practice, followed by The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, or perhaps The Selfish Gene. You're right to ask questions, but your questions reflect a lack of understanding about randomness, time, and the incredible variation in differences that can contribute to selection. Oh -- I'll also recommend any book of essays by Stephen Jay Gould, because those are fabulous examples and discussions of the nuances of evolution. Your remark about the Cheetah (I think it was) makes me think you're thinking purposefully, as in "evolution has a purpose," and I think if you can eradicate that idea from your head, and start just looking at the world as fascinating examples of random changes over time that got selected into a genome, then it'll be more clear. We're conditioned by this Christian society to think God/purpose, but you need to undo that conditioning and see it the way it really is. (It's really hard to swallow that an omnipotent God would make such a mess!!)

Posted by: Maggie at May 12, 2007 9:09 AM

Well, plus, lemmings didn't have much time to evolve wings, between when Disney pushed them off the ledge and when they drowned.

Once again, sorry to take it seriously, but Nobody is thinking purpose. As long as the lemming managed to reproduce before it was pushed, no wing-bud variation is going to get selected into the population because it didn't present an advantage before the drowning. A really dapper lemming, however, able to attract mates and copulate frequently, is going to be spreading more of his genetic material around.

Posted by: Maggie at May 12, 2007 9:12 AM

James... whether or not I am a creationist is totally irrelevant to the argument at hand. Is it important to know whether an evolutionist is an atheist or not? It would have nothing to do with the analysis of the evidence providing one stuck to the scientific method. This leads to the question of whether there could possibly be a legitimate arena to bring up opposing evidence to Darwin's theory, and so far in the scientific community there is none... simply because opponents are labelled and automatically disqualified due to preconceived biases, and the evidence gets disqualified through association. This does not mean that there are no legitimate arguments to evolutionism, merely that the arguments are censored by the majority who have their proverbial heads buried up their... sorry, ...in the sand.

The scientific method has been butchered beyond recognition in order to keep evolutionism alive and the sooner the community sees that the better.

Maggie i'll respond to your condescension and arrogance when i feel a bit more like that myself... don't hold your breath.

Chuck... I have read your post and made some notes in answer, but I won't bother responding if you're not interested. You are not the only one who invests time into this type of conversation. I hope you're feeling better.

nobody

Posted by: nobody at May 13, 2007 12:43 PM

James... whether or not I am a creationist is totally irrelevant to the argument at hand.

Well actually, that's completely incorrect. It's extremely relevant, because it let's everyone know up front if you're planning to play by the rules. Creationism isn't science, even if you dress it up as science and call it "intelligent design". It's a religious belief based in dogma as opposed to evidence.

If you are a proponent of a belief system which is based in dogma, and I am a proponent of a scientific theory based in evidence, exactly what is to be gained by answering your dogma's challenges to my theory? I'd be answering those challenges for the rest of my life and you would simply keep going away and coming back with new ones. It is neither feasible nor sensible to argue the evidence with someone who isn't motivated by evidence.

It's a bit like asking me to play a game of tennis and then having it turn out that you plan on playing outside the lines and by your own special set of rules.

So yes, it is very important. Because if you have a legitimate scientific beef with evolution, and are motivated to ask questions about it that might bring new discoveries to light about the origin of species, that would be great. If on the other hand, you simply *must* tear down evolutionary theory because of your belief in the flying spaghetti monster and will grab at any old piece of hokum to do so, you can save us all a lot of trouble and go away now. Darwin is not your monkey.

The scientific method has been butchered beyond recognition in order to keep evolutionism alive and the sooner the community sees that the better.

Wow that's serious bullshit. It's all a big conspiracy! The evil science people are trying to trick us all into believing in evolution!

That vast conspiracy? It's called "peer review", AND IT'S WORKING.

Yeah I'm definitely done talking to you--your propaganda fails to obtain.

Posted by: Chuck S. at May 13, 2007 2:29 PM

Nobody:

I see Chuck has already responded to your post. But in the interest of not letting his response color mine, I'm going to respond first, then read his post.


James... whether or not I am a creationist is totally irrelevant to the argument at hand.

I thought this might be a sore spot. You may feel it is not relevant to the way you want to argue, but it is actually relevant and you elevated it to the status of not only relevant but interesting when you said that our assumptions about your beliefs were interesting.

Part of why they are interesting, as you yourself said, was because they were accurate. And how could people who don't even know you know something like that about you without you telling them? That is interesting, isn't it? So, you're correct.

Outside of your observation, it is also relevant because if you believe in some supernatural explanation for speciation, it's not possible for any scientific approach to satisfy you. Which means your interest is in hectoring rather than enlightening. Being a Creationists does not invalidate your criticisms of scientific theory. (The criticisms are crappy all on their own.) However, the Creationist is not a lemming who is sitting around with the other lemmings trying to learn enough about aerodynamics that he can build wings. He's not even one of the ones who is criticising the wings. He's already jumped off the bleeding cliff. Yelling criticisms up to the other lemmings is a waste of time, as is yelling back.


Is it important to know whether an evolutionist is an atheist or not?

Now that's an interesting and revealing analogy!

As a Creationist, you like to believe that your Creationism logically (or whatever) flows from your Christian beliefs. It's interesting you didn't ask "Is it important to know whether an evolutionist is a Christian or not?" Or Muslim. Or Jew. Or some other stripe of religious belief, because there are plenty of them who say they believe in a god but also respect the knowledge that research into biology has brought us, including the knowledge that follows from an understanding of natural selection.

I guess those Christians who believe in evolution are just deluded wimps, unwilling to follow the Bible to its, in your view, logical conclusions?


It would have nothing to do with the analysis of the evidence providing one stuck to the scientific method. This leads to the question of whether there could possibly be a legitimate arena to bring up opposing evidence to Darwin's theory, and so far in the scientific community there is none... simply because opponents are labelled and automatically disqualified due to preconceived biases, and the evidence gets disqualified through association. This does not mean that there are no legitimate arguments to evolutionism, merely that the arguments are censored by the majority who have their proverbial heads buried up their... sorry, ...in the sand.

The scientific method has been butchered beyond recognition in order to keep evolutionism alive and the sooner the community sees that the better.

What nutfudgery. I already covered the idea of what the proper arenas are.

Science doesn't throw out theories that work just because it offends someone's extreme fundamentalist dogma. Scientists don't ignore evidence based on a website that says "you can't take God out of the argument!" Research institutions aren't going to stop funding promising lines of inquiry just because you can get your congregation together and all sing about how much you think evolutionists hate Jesus.

To make a real difference you have to actually have a better theory. Darwin's paper caused a monumental shift not because he wanted to ruin your day; not because the scientists who believed him wanted to ruin your day, and not because they were all excited that they now had a good reason for a conspiracy. Darwin's paper was a success because it had an ultimately simple yet amazing explanation for incredible complexity. The idea survived because it led to more knowledge. It expanded our understanding of the way the universe works.

Creationists, down to every last argument I've read, want to obscure knowledge, not expand it. They want to replace evidence with dogma.


Save your conspiracy theories. Science is full of examples of people who bucked the system and made a name for themselves. Actual, evidence based contributions make the science stronger. The reasons nobody with any sense pays attention to creationists isn't because they have bad breath -- it's because their ideas are useless and superfluous.

If it doesn't matter whether someone is a Creationist or not, and the theory was so bad, then nobody would believe in evolution.


Maggie i'll respond to your condescension and arrogance when i feel a bit more like that myself... don't hold your breath.

Maggie told me that we should give you the benefit of the doubt, that you were at least trying to ask questions. Looks like Maggie's sin was not arrogance, but naivete in dealing with Creationists.

Speaking of arrogance, perhaps one day you will be able to see past the pride you have in your religion to realize that there is no conspiracy of scientists who have devoted themselves to peeing in your cornflakes (giving up their lifelong dreams of accumulating new knowledge to do so). But I won't hold my breath. Meanwhile you and your progeny will live enjoying the benefits of hard-working biologists even as you scoff at their ignorance.

Arrogance, my ass.

Posted by: James at May 13, 2007 4:14 PM

Well, perhaps "Nobody" will indulge my general naivete and explain why god didn't give lemmings wings. ;-)

Posted by: Maggie at May 13, 2007 5:07 PM

James... you have made my point. When scientists stand at the door of academia like little Nazis demanding to see your party identification before letting you inside, it's censorship pure and simple.

You've made my point completely. The scientific method used to be, make an observation, gather data, hypothesize an explanation, test it, re-evaluate.

You would have it be: Make observations, gather data, hypothesize a theory, test it to make damn sure it doesn't offend any evolutionist, re-evaluate.

Your prejudice and pre-conceived bias automatically rules out any challenge to the theory. That's science?

You still call me a creationist for the simple fact that I disagree with you. For no other reason. That's prejudice designed to protect your ideology and an enemy to free thought and you are so wrapped up in your homage to Darwin that you can't even recognize it as the censorship that it is.

Can't your theory stand up to criticism? Do you really have to protect it in such underhanded ways?

Posted by: at May 14, 2007 1:58 AM

Wah wah wah... I can't make a "big boy" argument so I'll pretend nobody's letting me talk.

Stop whining that people won't listen to you and say something worth hearing. So far you haven't challenged evolution. (Holding your hands over your ears and repeating "I can't hear you" isn't a challenge.) You haven't addressed what Derek posted -- a direct answer to your revised challenge that there's no evidence of evolution changing the genome in a positive way. You suddenly became too apathetic to answer Chuck's lengthy and learned posts.

Give me a break!

Posted by: Maggie at May 14, 2007 7:05 AM

Nobody:

This isn't a scientific forum. This is a discussion between a dogmatic individual (you) and some people who are trying to explain a theory to you. At every turn, rather than trying to understand or provide counter evidence, you have thrown sand in the eyes of people who have given you the respect of their time and effort (mostly Chuck's).

You demanded an explanation of how new information is added to the genome, Chuck provided an excellent explanation. You slickly changed the subject, but not before deriding him for humoring you.

Underhanded ways? Coming from a "gentleman" who can't even admit he's a creationist, I'll take that with the appropriate amount of irony. If you put the same care into understanding science that you have here in avoiding admitting your supernatural beliefs, people wouldn't have to waste their time telling you things like "Haldane himself supports the theory of evolution."

"My theory" would fall apart under good criticism that comes with the proper evidence. However "My theory" doesn't even blink at tactics that wouldn't make it out of a high school debate practice session. "My theory" doesn't give a crap that you assert one thing, Chuck shows how you're wrong, then without conceding a damn thing, you move the goal posts. Forget science, that's not even polite or reasonable.

From where I sit, it's impossible to tell whether you're playing games or whether you really don't understand Chuck's explanation. Where does the principle of charity come down on the choice between malice and ignorance?

There is a lot of gibberish coming from you, but when you sift through this discussion, one thing is clear: you sat your argument against speciation on your lack of understanding of how new information could enter the genome. When some patient soul carefully delivers it directly to your doorstep, you step over it awkwardly to slap him in the face.

So, excuse me if I'm not very upset that you now claim I've made your point. It's completely laughable that you offer a summary of how science works:

The scientific method used to be, make an observation, gather data, hypothesize an explanation, test it, re-evaluate.

Oh, for the halcyon days of science!

Here's how it works today: Make a theory, support and refine it for 150 years, confirm it with observation and experimentation, log on to a blog hiding behind an alias and demand that some computer scientists defend 150 years of established biology off the top of their heads. Ignore their explanations. Lament the sad state of science.

I asked you for your alternate theory. I guess it's hiding under the bed with your creationism and your admission that Chuck pwned your criticism of speciation.

Who should give any time to any of your criticisms when you ignore careful explanations? Who should give you any consideration when you hide behind an alias and won't admit you're a creationist?

Nobody.

Posted by: James at May 14, 2007 8:01 AM

When scientists stand at the door of academia like little Nazis demanding to see your party identification before letting you inside, it's censorship pure and simple.

That is the single most ridiculous thing I've ever heard.

You haven't said whether you are a Creationist or not, but you repeatedly drop "latest Creationist favorite" arguments that have already been scrutinized, you offer NO alternatives, you don't acknowledge each time you are demonstrated incorrect and just move on to another criticism, and seem only to be interested in knocking down a theory that has more evidence for it than countless other theories that are taken as given fact and upon which we base our lives and technology. And now you compare the scientific community to Nazis. You've demonstrated that your interest in and criticisms for the theory of evolution have nothing to do with science. The scientific community wouldn't be terribly interested in what Paris Hilton had to say about the theory of conservation of energy either, and with good reason.

I'm not an evolutionary biologist, it's not my job to defend evolutionary theory to a dogmatist.

You would have it be: Make observations, gather data, hypothesize a theory, test it to make damn sure it doesn't offend any evolutionist, re-evaluate.

You sir, are a liar. I happen to know James personally. He has a deep respect for science, and like any of us he would be fascinated and excited by a legitimate challenge to any established scientific theory, particularly one as well established as evolution.

It isn't a religion, we're not evolutionary dogmatists... we're not like you.

Creationists, instead of proving their own hypothesis, instead fill their time erroneously trying to knock down evolution, which is fine as long as they choose to bring legitmate arguments. But they don't. Science has better things to do than waste its time answering challenges that aren't founded in science and based on the evidence.

You still call me a creationist for the simple fact that I disagree with you. For no other reason.

No. (Wrong again!) I suspect you are a creationist because:

- the arguments you've offered are tried-and-true creationist favorites

- you have an apparent lack of understanding of how science works (you behave as if science is just another kind of dogma, when it is nondogmatic by definition)

- you make blanket statements with conviction which are demonstrably wrong

- you don't acknowledge correction and simply move on to a new criticism

- you offer no alternative theory whatsoever, but seem curiously driven to challenge evolution with your unfounded arguments

- you accuse scientists of conspiring to keep a tragically flawed theory alive--which is nonsense

- you refuse to say either way whether you are a creationist or not, which suggests you are trying to hide the very thing that all the other points above imply

I don't think you are a creationist because you disagree with me, I don't think you are a creationist because you disagree with the theory of evolution.

As much as you like to harbor this paranoid fantasy where the scientists are all high priests protecting their religion, I would be DELIGHTED if scientific evidence turned up that would refute evolution. What an exciting time that would be! I would be fascinated to see what the new model for the origin of species would be.

I will guarantee you one thing and one thing only: if that scientific discovery ever comes, it won't come from the Creationists--they aren't doing science. If they were doing science they would be trying to prove creationism as opposed to disproving evolution. Disproving evolution does not equal proving creation, any more than proving my car is NOT RED means that it must be GREEN.

That's prejudice designed to protect your ideology and an enemy to free thought and you are so wrapped up in your homage to Darwin that you can't even recognize it as the censorship that it is.

Your pathetic attempt to color me as a Darwin acolyte is bizarre, misplaced, and fools nobody.

Can't your theory stand up to criticism? Do you really have to protect it in such underhanded ways?

Can't you provide scientificially sound criticism? Is Evolution so perfect that you really have to try and defeat it in such underhanded ways?

I have no interest in protecting evolution. I have even less interest in propaganda. If you were a scientist, and actually had a legitimate challenge, you wouldn't be trying to present it here on some guy's personal blog.

So go away, the latest dipshit propaganda from the Discovery Institute does not interest me.

Posted by: Chuck S. at May 14, 2007 10:05 AM

If people don't understand science, and you try to point them in the direction of understanding and they won't go, then you've done your best and you don't owe them anything more.

They can criticize what they don't understand until they're blue in the face, but that doesn't make it not so. It just makes them blue.

Until somebody who has some alternate theory comes up with some working technology based on the theory, I'm not interested. You're of no use to society if all you do is try to knock down scientific theories without proposing alternate theories that fit the existing evidence, are testable, and ultimately enhance our understanding of the physical world.

Show me a creationist burger, a creationist vaccine, a creationist flying lemming, and we'll talk, creationist.

Posted by: Maggie at May 14, 2007 10:28 AM

Nobody:

So I've been sitting back and watching the hilariousness and if you're still around I'm going to pose a few questions to you:

As a precursor, I've grown up Catholic and no longer consider myself Catholic. However, as a Catholic I believed in evolution (which takes thousands to millions of years, from my understanding).

Also, Wikipedia is by far, the worst place to reference any knowledge in defense. Minus 10 points.

Based on the site you provided (answersingenesis.com): "facts can/should be independent of God".
1) What evidence besides the bible do you have or know of that tells me that evolution (as I understand it) does not exist (as you understand it).
2) Based on answersingenesis.com and your arguments, effectively what is not established in the Bible and what is not in our current present or our individual pasts - we cannot confirm anything else. So, as someone who has only been around since the 1980s I cannot confirm that anything happened in the 1970s. How can you prove to me that there was no missing time between Biblical times and right now?

Based on www.godsdna.net:
1) DNA has 4 letters, God created/speaks DNA. English has 26 letters and 10 numbers. Arabic has 28 letters and 10 numbers. Spanish has 29 letters and 10 numbers. I speak English and can (minimally) communicate in Arabic, Spanish and a bit of French. As a computer scientist I am familiar with at least 10 different computer languages. Obviously I have more powerful languages than God. Does this mean I have evolved beyond God?


As Maggie pointed out - I have provided you with a significant example of positive evolution in recent times, countering your explanations. Your response?

You're claiming not to be a creationist, but using noticable variations of quotes from answersingenesis - a creationist site.

And go...

Posted by: Derek at May 15, 2007 12:27 AM

These comments were a great read. Chuck said most of what I was thinking as I was reading it. If you haven't read it, I highly suggest The Selfish Gene, in which Richard Dawkins makes the case for evolution actually taking place on the genetic level, not the species level.

Posted by: Art at May 16, 2007 10:09 AM

Let us not forget this important story:

Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New 'Intelligent Falling' Theory

"Things fall not because they are acted upon by some gravitational force, but because a higher intelligence, 'God' if you will, is pushing them down," said Gabriel Burdett, who holds degrees in education, applied Scripture, and physics from Oral Roberts University.

http://www.theonion.com/content/node/39512

Posted by: Patti M. at May 17, 2007 4:05 PM

Oh, Patti, that's hilarious. I love the idea of an "evangelical physicist."

Posted by: Maggie at May 17, 2007 4:55 PM

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