It’s alive (or, yet another creationism post)

Posted: August 6, 2007 in Blitherings, Celebrating Diversity, Christianity, Creationism, Evolution, Random Thoughts, Science

Dropped off the net for a while, literally, as my internet access went kerflooie, until I figured out I had a bad modem.  Swapped that out and Tada!  Back on the web.

Well, I kind of lost some steam with the creationism bit, but I wanted to drop in one more post, in response to Brian Switek’s response to me, entitled “Why fight creationism?

 Again, the crux of his argument seems to be something along the lines of because it’s unscientific, and therefore clinging to Biblically-based creationism is rather akin to suffering under religious authoritarianism such as experienced by Da’vinci and other “heretics” of the past.  Well, more concisely, his view seems to be that combatting creationism is a waste of valuable time better spent on researching actual science, especially since creation-science types are pretty much writing themselves out of the mix anyway.

If I haven’t made it clear before, let me reiterate:  I don’t in any way mean to suggest that creationist views and religious ideology should supplant the scientific method.  I enjoy science.  I love learning about the way our world works and the amazing complexity and interdependence of the life and natural processes of this world.

I just don’t happen to think it within the realms of possibility that it could all just “happen” through a series of random accidents and fortuitous spontaneous breakthroughs.

In his well-written and erudite response, Brian however commits himself to the same flaws in logic of which I wrote here, specifically, a vague anthropomorphization to explain the internal mechanism whereby a species adapts to an external change in environment.  Here are some specific examples:

provided the selective pressure for the lobe-finned fish to develop limbs and crawl to other pools as to avoid death.

would have given creatures like the ancestors of tetrapods good reason to develop their lungs and start exploiting food along the shore than to try swimming through the thick vegetation of the water habitats.

they were marvelously pre-adapted by evolution to exploit a new niche

An external change gave the tetrapods a “good reason to develop their lungs.” Okay, so they’ve got the reason. Now what?  Do they think to themselves, “Hmm, guess it’s probably a good time to develop lungs.  Ready…..GO!

Clearly a silly example; or is it? Examples such as these seem so suggest that species respond in an almost cognitive fashion, and that this somehow results in a kind of genetic memory that is imprinted on their DNA.  What’s the real answer?  “Evolution,” (as in the proper noun) was kind enough to “pre-adapt” species (and by that I take to mean “build in?”) the capability to exploit a new niche?  So Evolution pre-engineered in capabilities? Tetrapods were given a reason to developed their lungs?  Lobe-finned fish responded to selective pressure, pushed up on their arms, and “decided” to leave the water in order to avoid death?  The water murks up, the plants move in, and you have a choice: adapt or die.  So you adapt. Huh?

H-O-W!?!?!

If I understand correctly, the tetrapod already had the capability to breath air, it just didn’t know it, as it was too busy breathing water.  But, when the water option ran out, in a last ditch, dying effort it said, “Screw it.  Here goes nothin’,” and launches himself up on the shore.  Gasp, gasp, gasp….hey.  Wait a minute.  I’m not dead!  Woo-hoo!  I can breath air!  Nice!  Good thing Nature built-in a previously unneeded capability to process air as well as water.  Now I just gotta find me a chick tetrapod with the same deal!  “Anyone?  Uh….anyone?”

“Dangit.”

This is exactly the kind of intellectual sleight of hand that causes me the most trouble with much of the current evolutionist theories.  To vaguely suggest that “Nature” did it or “Evolution” did it is NO DIFFERENT than saying that “God” did it!  Do you see what I’m trying to get at here?

What I want evolutionary theory to provide me, to provide us, to provide science the world over, is reproducible evidence of the the internal, bio-chemical mechanism whereby RNA and DNA, all those little peptides and amino acids are re-arranged or reprogrammed, how from one generation to the next they are imparted with new replication data that results in a different species, one now better suited to live on land, rather than water.  How does “Nature” pre-adapt a species to a range of potential changes?  And on a wide enough scale to ensure viability?

I’ll readily admit that much of my data on evolution might be a bit dated, as I’ve kind of been out of the “fight” for a few years.  However, from what I’ve been able to gather, evolutionary theory is still long on what happened, and a little short on the how it happened.  And to me, if you continue to insist on the what, without being able to provide the how, well then my friends, you are operating in faith as surely as that Bible-thumping creationist.

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Comments
  1. “I just don’t happen to think it within the realms of possibility that it could all just ”happen” through a series of random accidents and fortuitous spontaneous breakthroughs.”

    So what do you purpose in its place? Would not an intelligent designer have to be explained? Seems to me such a designer would have to be much more improbable than the Universe, including all of the living things within it. Who or what mechanism would cause such a designer to exist in the first place? Why such a wasteful design? 99.9% of all species that ever existed on the planet Earth are now extinct. Even if it could be shown that Darwinian evolution does not work (an the evidence is so overwhelming for the case of evolution), it does not follow that ID is a good alternative.

    Further, Darwinian evolution does not propose that change is completely random. Although the basic mechanism generally is random mutation, the means is natural selection. Natural selection is not random. All mutations that result in the failure of the replication of the genes inside a given species are automatically selected out. Only mutations that survive to the next generation survive. Since resources are scarce and there is much competition, the mutations that are best at getting themselves copied tend to dominate.

    Please go see “The Evolution of the Flagellum” as an example of the process.

    Please read: “Climbing Mt. Improbable”, by Richard Dawkins for a better understanding of how natural selection works.

    More information is here (just Google it)

    The Flagellum Unspun
    The Collapse of “Irreducible Complexity”
    Kenneth R. Miller
    Brown University

    Thank you.

  2. Neil says:

    um, I’m reprinting the comment I left a laelaps here, as here is where it really belongs,

    1) I do think that there is one critical “leap of faith” at the heart of Evolution, one that is so inherent to science that many people don’t even realize that they are making it. Science requires an acceptance of Naturalism, that the physical universe can be understood in terms of observable/measurable phenomena.

    Even at it’s fuzzy margins like quantum mechanics, science provides us with relatively concrete ways to interpret the behavior of the observed universe. IDers, who often claim to be scientific, dwell on abstractions of ‘irreducible complexity’ and ’statistical improbability’ and offer no engaging interlinked interpretations of genes, fossils, diseases, symbioses, behaviors, physical traits, population trends etc. etc. etc.

    I am a decided agnostic, but not a hardcore atheist, but think any meaningful glimpse of a true greater order will be found through only by a concerted examination of physical reality and not through prayer, revelation or divine fiat. Even after all the hallucinogens, I’m really quite happy to put my faith in the hands of my hands, and eyes, and ears and such.

    2) Evolution isn’t a theory it’s a phenomenon.

    Like gravity, reflection, oxidation, meiosis, weathering etc. Any close look at the fossil record or the biological world shows organisms to share a great deal of their physical character both within and across specific (i.e. breeding) boundaries. We don’t wonder at the similarity within species because they have a shared ancestry. The similarities between species are arranged in a beautiful nested hierarchy, suggesting one of two explanations:

    a) species share a common ancestry
    b) all life was designed to create an astonishingly elaborate and sophisticated illusion of shared ancestry

    Reject natural selection if you’d like, hey, you can even invoke divine intervention at every single codon slip if you’d like, but honest observation of the universe clearly shows all organisms on the planet to be physically connected. And, fossils reveal those connections to extend in curious and amazing ways, deep into the rock record.

    3) I respect your request that evolutionary theory provide a full explanation from peptide to primate. In fact, that’s what we’d all like, but we have a lot of work to do and a long way to go. But, try asking a physicist to give you a full explanation of Earth’s orbit starting from quarks…. There is bound to be some inevitable arm-waving simple because these things happen on temporal and spatial scales that make Ur indistinguishable from Studio 54 (sorry if that’s a weirdly esoteric analogy).

    4) “Pre-adaptation” is an awful word, and I wish it was never coined. But here’s the idea: take a look at your keyboard. That QWERTY layout is a holdover from old typewriters, an intentional separation of commonly typed letters designed to slow down your typing. People got used to it and now it’s the standard keyboard layout for computers even though we don’t have to worry about mechanical keys getting stuck anymore.

    History provides a sort of physical inertia to the operation of the physical universe and often this generates the strange sort of obsolescence as we see in the QWERTY keyboard, wisdom teeth, male nipples etc. But occasionally, instead of shutting a door, sometimes history opens a window…an accumulation of waste products turns out to be a useful shield against a predator or, a thickly boned fin proves to be a useful tool for navigating a marginal environment.

    Creationists see the majesty of the forest and swear that it can’t be made of trees. I can understand that, to a point. But I will always be with the folks digging in the dirt going “Woah! Check out the mycorrhiza! Wait, was that a nematode?” Who’s out of touch?

  3. I just wanted to say thanks for writing a balanced blog on these really volatile issues. I really appreciate that you make civil observations rather than condescending declarations of “unquestionable” fact.

    It’s refreshing to see something on the study of origins that doesn’t label all creationists as unthinking, superstitious whackos. 🙂

  4. Steve B says:

    Creationists see the majesty of the forest and swear that it can’t be made of trees.

    Not even close.

    Creationists see the majesty of the forest and swear that the amazing and incongruously interdependent interplay of species, the incredibly detailed engineering in the makeup of a dragonfly’s wing or a butterly’s proboscis is highly unlikely to have formed by a process of selective mutation and adaptation.

    Tamayto, tamahto.

  5. Neil says:

    Insect architecture is astonishing I know. But say, do a rigorous investigation of insect mouth-parts (like Packard did in the 1860s) don’t just look at butterflies but check out syrphids, craneflies, mosquitos, bees…these things clearly are variations on the same themes, wildly different machines clearly rigged up from the same parts.

    I’m not demanding blind selection here, but once one sees that shared descent and diversification is a undeniable feature of the biological world…then at least we can be having a meaningful debate that rises above hazy notions of things being just too complex to have a natural explanation.

  6. Steve B says:

    Fundamentally, I have no problem with selective adaptation. Variation within a species and optimization of the genus through survival of the fittest.

    I don’t see how these need to be at odds with creationism.

    To me, creationism deals more with how the “parts” developed initially. There are clearly a lot of similarities between species.

    You can have dogs, foxes, wolves etc. Heck, even anteaters. All differnt, but clearly variations within a theme.

    It’s the part where we get from dinosaurs to birds (or the other way around?) that gets sticky.

    Again, my issue is not so much with the science invovled, but with the philosophical intellectually gatekeeping which arbitrarily excludes creationism from the marketplace of ideas because it’s a religious thing.

  7. >>>where we get from dinosaurs to birds

    Deinonychosaurs (troodontids and dromaeosaurs). These are the closest known dinosaurs to birds.

    Protarchaeopteryx, alvarezsaurids, Yixianosaurus and Avimimus. These are birdlike dinosaurs of uncertain placement, each potentially closer to birds than deinonychosaurs are. Protarchaeopteryx has tail feathers, uncompressed teeth, and an elongated manus (hand/wing)

    the list is huge…
    http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CC/CC214.html

  8. do a little checking.

    >It’s the part where we get from dinosaurs to >birds (or the other way around?) that gets >sticky.

    Google: “dinosaurs to birds transition”
    Took me about 1 minute… to find
    Click on the “www.talkorigins.org” link, for example

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