just asking questions, evolution edition

March 28, 2011 — 4 Comments

Oh concern trolls, those wonderful commenters who try their hardest to put up disclaimer after disclaimer that they’re not at all disagreeing with you but they just have some questions which oddly enough happen to sound an awful lot like the kind of talking points mounted to attack a solid scientific idea, where would science blogs today be without them? They provide not only material for blog posts but a showcase of why it’s still necessary to keep explaining the basics in post after post and how no matter how many times you explain something, a contingent of passionate zealots will always be there to J.A.Q. around before they lose their threads halfway to show their original intent, or just plain state it at their conclusion. Here’s a great example of pseudo-profound questions in a comment to an old post of mine in which I show why evolution is a repeatable science. Note all the pleas that you’re not reading the questions of a creationist at the beginning, followed by… questions I’d expect to find at one of Bill Dembski’s pontifications, questions such as…

Even if there are random repeatable mutations, which I don’t deny; how many of them are usable and beneficial to the organism? If species have been evolving over the past 100 million years, shouldn’t there be overwhelming samples of transitional fossils, instead of a random breaking edge one here and there? We should be finding these things all over, in every continent, even in our own back yards.

So he won’t deny that repeatable mutations do exist but yet must preface the question with a conditional? That seems a little odd. Why would you place a conditional statement on something you don’t deny? Anyway, we’re well aware that beneficial mutations happen rarely, representing maybe a few percent of all mutations at best while the vast majority are negligible or benign, and another small percentage are actively harmful. But since over millions of years they happen trillions of times, they’re going to occur and be selected towards on a pretty regular basis. Evolution is all about numbers. It needs just that half a percent success rate to keep going and the overwhelming amount of genetic dead ends is the cost of evolving. As for the transitional fossils, we really do find them all over the place, and we can even predict where they’ll be found based on what we discover about the overall evolutionary timeline of our planet. Though in the purest sense, since organisms change on a constant basis, every fossil is a transition to something else or a dead end so this question is irrelevant and moot. Of course our commenter with questions about evolution doesn’t seem to understand speciation, which would explain the now ancient canard about transitional fossils.

Genetic drift and the inability to mate, doesn’t necessarily change a species into a new species, because there are physical restrains involved like size and appeal. Polar and Grizzly [bears] aren’t different species but two vastly different breeds within the same species.

Um, no. They’re related species, having branched off from the same ancestor, but until very recently, they lived in different environments and did not interact with each other. They still don’t by in large, and declaring them to be the same species seems a lot like creationists insisting that simply because two species look alike, they must be one and the same. Now, granted, the process of defining species is not perfect, but that’s because a perfect and clean separation between two species only exists on paper. Nature is much messier than that so we have to go by basic guidelines, like whether the populations mate with each other on a regular basis. And since we’re on the subject of speciation, what pray tell are breeds? They’re even more arbitrary, based on very cursory examinations of an animal’s morphology. Plus, here’s a funny thing. Since we’ve been separating our closest animal companions, dogs, into many separate and wildly different breeds, are they now a different or distinct species from wolves? By creationist logic, we’d have to say that dogs are actually just wolves, but yet, their populations are separate and some breeds of dogs could never mate with others because of the major differences in sizes and new pressures in sexual selection. Again, nature is rather messy.

Science cannot “prove” the past, because time is a specific, relative variable. The past can only be believed, not proven. If a person won’t believe solid evidence like yesterday’s newspaper[s], then that’s up to them.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it. That’s just an inane statement. If scientists can show that a particular creature in a fossil existed a certain amount of time ago with carbon or radiometric dating, they proved something about a world that existed in the past. End of story. If by a forensic examination I can trace the timeline of an event that happened a hundred years ago, I would’ve proven a number of facts. Even more plainly, if I go to a junkyard of the far future and dig up an old Zune player to show befuddled youths of the mid 21st century that yes, a rather long time ago there was an attempt to make an MP3 player which was not an iPod, I would’ve proven a factual statement about the past. Not believing solid evidence on a personal whim doesn’t seem like some scientific deficiency to me, more of a personality trait. And this statement seems like a post-modernist epistemological quip in which “everything’s like, only your opinion man.” Of course it’s a setup for the appeal you were probably expecting since the very beginning of this thinly disguised treatise…

I wonder how us, humans here on our little planet, in our little solar system, in our little galaxy can conclude from our tiny perspective that we know how the universe was formed, that a higher being, God doesn’t exist and couldn’t have been involved in creating this universe.

Define what you mean by God, identify the signs of involvement and how we know they’re real signs of his and only his involvement in the creation of the universe, explain how the universe was created, present your proof for it in terms of tangible data, and when you actually have a question that can be discussed with real science and real evidence rather than appeals to ignorance, we can discuss this. Until then, this is little more than yet another, perhaps quadrillionth, edition of the “I don’t know, ergo God” argument.

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  • Dar Norris

    Creationist think that science is belief system. It’s not. It’s a tool to test beliefs. Children are natural scientist but they indoctrinated into the tower of woo early and it’s reinforced continually. Real science is just an hour long class at school and now the creationist wants that too.

  • Paul

    When you show fine-grained “transitional fossils”, the creationists dismiss it as “Micro-evolution” (which they pretend to believe in) and demand proof of “Macro-evolution”. When you show “Macro-evolution”, they demand to see the “missing links” and “transitional forms”.

    The point of their game is mud, not clarity.

  • http://www.risingstarmovie.com DamianD

    Plus, we haven’t concluded that we know how the universe was created or that God doesn’t exist (or does, for that matter). There are two pretty big problems with the second part of that statement, actually. First, you can’t prove a negative so proving God doesn’t exist just isn’t possible. Second, science doesn’t try to explain the supernatural. It focuses on natural phenomena occurring in the natural universe.

    So the commenter managed to set up a strawman to beat down and followed it up immediately by challenging his opponents to prove a negative and then wraps it up with another strawman, all in the span of five commas and one run-on sentence.

  • http://jesusfreak7.wordpress.com Lawrence Mwangi

    I love your blog and occasionally visit it.

    Science and religion is part of humanity and way to understand us and universe. Science proceeds by testing hypotheses and thus is restricted to natural, testable explanations. By definition, science is unable to confirm or deny the existence or work of a Creator; such questions are beyond the realm of science. As a scientific concept, evolution therefore can make no reference to a Creator. Many people of faith, including scientists, find no conflict between evolution and their religion; in fact, many religious denominations have issued statements supporting evolution. Science and religion need not conflict.