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« Lost In Space? | Main | And Now, Idiots »

The Jury Is In

In a post last week, amidst a lot of discussion of evolution, Orrin Judd made the mistaken claim that evolution is not a falsifiable theory (in the Popperian sense), and that (even more bizarrely and egregiously) defenders of it thought that this strengthened it.

On a related note, he also added to his list of questions about evolution a twelfth one: What would it take to persuade me that evolution was not the best theory to explain life? What evidence, to me, would disprove it? I told him that it was a good question, and that I'd ponder it.

Well, I did ponder it, and here is my response.

First of all, the theory is certainly falsifiable (again, in the theoretical Popperian formulation). If I were coming to the problem fresh, with no data, and someone proposed the theory of evolution to me, I would ask things like:

Does all life seem to be related at some level?

Is there a mechanism by which small changes can occur in reproduction?

Does this mechanism allow beneficial changes?

Can these changes in turn be passed on to the offspring?

Is there sufficient time for such changes to result in the variety of phenotypes that we see today?

There are other questions that could be asked as well, but a "No" answer to any of the above would constitute a falsification of the theory. Thus the theory is indeed falsifiable, as any useful scientific theory must be.

The problem is not that the theory isn't falsifiable, but that people opposed to evolution imagine that the answer to some or all of the above questions is "No," and that the theory is indeed false.

But to answer Orrin's question, at this point, knowing the overwhelming nature of the existing evidentiary record, no, I can't imagine any new evidence that would change my mind at this point. Any anomalies are viewed as that, and an explanation for them is to be looked for within the prevailing theory.

And lest you think me close minded, consider an analogy. An ex-football player's wife is brutally murdered, with a friend. All of the evidence points to his guilt, including the DNA evidence. There is little/no evidence that points to anyone else's guilt. Had I been on the jury that decided that case, it would have at least hung. I might have even persuaded a different verdict, but that's unlikely, because I'm sure that the jury had members who were a) predisposed to acquit regardless of the evidence and/or b) incapable of critical thinking and logic, as evidenced by post-trial interviews with them.

But for me to believe that ex-football player innocent, I would have to accept the following (which was in fact the defense strategy):

"I know that some of the evidence looks bad for my client, but he was framed. And I can show that some of the evidence is faulty, therefore you should throw all of it out as suspect. I don't have an alternate theory as to who did the murders, but that's not my job--I'm just showing that there's insufficient evidence to prove that my client did it. Someone else did it--no one knows who--it doesn't matter. And that someone else, or some other someone else, also planted evidence to make it look like my client did it. It might be the most logical conclusion to believe that my client did it, but that would be wrong--the real conclusion is that it is a plot to confuse, and it just looks like he did it. Therefore you shouldn't believe the evidence."

Is this a compelling argument? It was to some of the jury members. And it apparently is to people who don't want to believe that life could evolve as a random, undirected process.

The only way that I could believe that OJ Simpson is innocent at this point would be for someone else to come forward, admit to the crime, and explain how he planted all of the abundant evidence that indicated Orenthal's guilt.

The equivalent for evolution, I guess, would be for God (or whoever) to reveal himself to me in some clear, unambiguous, and convincing fashion, and to tell me that he planted the evidence. At which point, of course, science goes right out the window.

But absent that, the evidence compels me to believe that OJ Simpson murdered his wife (as it did a later jury in the civil suit), and the evidence compels me to believe that evolution is as valid a theory as is universal gravitation.

Posted by Rand Simberg at May 28, 2002 04:21 PM
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oj killed them. But now I fear to address some of the other points (or that I'm qualified to do so) however compassion compels me.

I can't speak for anyone else's beliefs, but I understand that God intends to do exactly what you propose (make himself known unambiguiously.) Some call that judgement day. When that day comes all false teachings (including religion which has perpetrated the worst crimes against humanity) will be done away with.

However, Romans 1:20 says his invisible qualities can be clearly seen so that [disbelief] is inexcusable.

That puts people that care about others in a tough spot. Believing that the world is corrupt and full of lies, whereas truth leads to life, means that compassion (and the command of a compassionate God) require sharing the truth with people that don't want to hear it.

Evolution is a fraud that can be disproved (and is known to be disproved even by those that promote it.) For example, years ago I knew a black man, married to a wonderful christian woman. He was a doctor of biology, spoke german and was a gourmet cook (my kind a guy.) He spoke eloquently about evolution with sincerity and knowledge. Perhaps not all evolutionist agree with him, but he'd come to the conclusion that evolution was a fact, but because it couldn't possibly work, it must be divinely directed.

I'm sure he's not the only one. I wonder why people stubbornly hold to a belief that is so full of holes that no other 'science' could stand the scrutiny. After a while you realize that people will do anything to deny the existence of God (even creating multi-verses to account for the anthropomorphic principle.) But his invisible qualities remain clearly seen.

Please forgive me if this sounds like a sermon. Really, it's not meant to be. I just know that people die all the time because of ignorance or inattention. How can a feeling person not try to prevent it? Is belief in evolution that kind of issue? Yes it is, because it's only purpose is to draw people away from God.

We live in an age of scientific miracles where anything seems possible (and truth often seems ambiguous.) But in the end it isn't ambiguous at all, just our understanding of it. Yes, of course the answers will come in time, but the secret to success is often anticipating the answers.

The first step of evolution is to create a single cell. It can't be done. Insurmountable problems exist (and they won't be solved no matter how creative the researcher become no matter what faith you have in science.) Evolutionist know it. They have the facts, but they also have there incomes to consider.

Throw away the cell membrane (which is a miracle in itself) and it still can't be done.

It's a fraud. It's provably fraudulant. But no amount of prove will change a desire to believe.

Why do people with Masters degrees believe in astrology? (Yes, I know at least one example.) I don't know, but apparently intelligence isn't the motivating or crucial factor.

It may be seductive, but it's still a fraud.

Posted by ken anthony at May 28, 2002 06:11 PM

I have no income to consider. I have no trouble believing in evolution. That there are still some questions is a challenge, from a scientific standpoint, but it doesn't in itself refute the theory.

Posted by Rand Simberg at May 28, 2002 06:13 PM

I'd never heard of Popper. Thanks for the link.

It's not the questions that are the problem. It's the answers they've already got. Neither you nor I make a living at evolution so we have no axe to grind in that regard. My point was that many do make a living at it, and they know (not suspect, but know) that evolution is a fraud. Yet, they don't allow the drawbridge to fall. They protect the ramparts so that you and I, as laymen, are left to wonder.

They know because they've seen. They know because they have the required education and specific expertise. But they leave you and I hanging because it's not in there interest to expose themselves.

You know human nature (what has NASA taught you?)

But I guess this just points to the fact that I can't say that I know as an expert in the field. However, I know where I'm placing my bets (and I sincerely believe that life is the wager.)

I ain't heavy (fat yes, but heavy?) I'm just your brother...

Posted by ken anthony at May 28, 2002 06:31 PM

It's not possible to maintain such a conspiracy, reagardless of how many incomes are involved in maintaining a "fiction."

There are too many curious amateurs involved. Just look at what happened to Bellisles...

Posted by Rand Simberg at May 28, 2002 07:03 PM

Another good reference - thank you (Michael Bellisles was it?) It's not that there is a conspiracy as such (is astrology a conspiracy?) It's just that people want to believe it so the alternative which is much less palatable (because of the lies told about God by religion or the assumptions made by uninformed observers) can be avoided. In most cases fraud today is really easy to expose with the internet and all.

However, evolution is different from most fraud because it contains so many elements of truth. Call it whatever you will, natural selection is clearly a fact. It just doesn't lead to the conclusion of evolution. Looking at the similarities among animals (be it bird beaks or genetic) could lead to a conclusion other than a creator doing things in an orderly way.

Darwin by all accounts was a sincere, respectable scientist with a desire for truth. Not everyone that followed him seems to hold those qualities.

Darwin knew nothing of genetics. The intricate biological workings of a cell was unknown to him. He presented a reasonable theory. Time has proven it false. Not that I'm up to the challenge, but pick a proof and I will gladly attempt to find a counter proof that clearly illustrates the problems. I bet I'm able to do it over and over again with each issue keeping focus to the question at hand.

After a while, people begin to see the futility of believing something that is clearly a lie. I'm willing to accept the challenge (not that I have any great skill, but because the result of truth is so important.)

BTW, how did I get to this point? (I'm really a very shy, stay out of the way, keep my thoughts to myself type of guy!) I'm beginning to think that blogs are some kind of conspiracy!

Posted by ken anthony at May 28, 2002 08:05 PM

Rand, I'm sure you know more about this and can argue it better than I, but I think that Mr. Anthony does not understand how science works.

If evolution was falsifiable, and there were real problems with it, then a scientist would publish an article in a peer reviewed journal proving it. Other scientists would try to poke holes in the anti-evolutionists argument, but in peer reviewed literature, they would fail. Eventually, evolutionists would only be able to publish material in their own crank publications that they themselves control, because if they published in a mainstream publication their arguments would be proven wrong. Notice something about this scenario? It's the opposite of the way things are now. The reason is because evolution is as much a scientific fact as gravitation.

Mr. Anthony asserts that many evolutionists are atheists, and he's probably right. But not all are. There are enough religious scientists that if evolution could be disproved, they would do so. If there was even a possibility that evolutionary theory might be wrong, there would be a vigourous, outspoken, published and shouted debate between many different scientists. The reason such a debate does not happen is not because all scientists are atheists, but because the anti-evolution arguments cannot be argued scientifically.
Eventually, evolutionists would only be able to publish material in their own crank publications that they themselves control, because if they published in a mainstream publication their arguments would be proven wrong. Notice something about this scenario? It's the opposite of the way things are now. The reason is because evolution is as much a scientific fact as gravitation.

Mr. Anthony asserts that many evolutionists are atheists, and he's probably right. But not all are. There are enough religious scientists that if evolution could be disproved, they would do so. If there was even a possibility that evolutionary theory might be wrong, there would be a vigorous, outspoken, published and shouted debate between many different scientists. The reason such a debate does not happen is not because all scientists are atheists, but because the anti-evolution arguments cannot be argued scientifically.

As for religion, while I am not a believer myself, I don't see why the existence of evolution by natural selection prevents the existence of a deity. But I'm sure many religious scientists would feel otherwise, and would do their best to prove their beliefs.

Posted by mitch fagen at May 28, 2002 08:34 PM

I'm reminded of the Weird Al song "Everything You Know Is Wrong"...It seems to me that the one thing everyone agrees upon is natural selection. After that, it gets tricky. The fossil record as we know it seems to suggest punctuated equilibrium rather than classical Darwinism, and there seems to be enough evidence to show that different species are indeed genetically similar and thus had common ancestors. This has caused people who might have been creationists a hundred years ago to instead go the more subtle route of talking about "irreducible complexity". They argue that since we don't currently know how the simplest life forms could have developed, it is thus impossible and that God must have created them. This is not a good way to convince someone who knows anything about the scientific theory. They offer no evidence of support for divine intervention, only the lack of evidence for the first stages of evolution. I would remind everyone that we still know next to nothing about everything (as has always been the case), that we won't become omniscient anytime soon, and that those who use lack of evidence for one thing as evidence for another are really not proving anything. I am definitely willing to accept divine intervention - as soon as I see some solid and unambiguous evidence. Until then, I go with the theory that all our current evidence seems to support.

Posted by James at May 28, 2002 10:00 PM

Perhaps instead of "all" in the last sentence of my previous post, I will say "most" since I am sure there is plenty of current evidence that I am not aware of.

Posted by James at May 28, 2002 10:23 PM

Mitch, you may be right (or...) I'm willing to take the challenge with one brain cell tied behind my back... name the publications and I would restrict my arguments only to what is contained within them (please restrict your choice to something freely available on the internet and with enough depth for research.)

Me thinks you have much faith in science, but not all science is of the same high quality. I'm just a simple programmer and I imagine the technical jargon would be the death of me, but still I'm willing to take up the challenge. Consider the gauntlet cast.

Now to your other point, the reason the filter of falsibility has not worked it's wonders with this particular theory is the nature of the truth. Scientist love to prove each other wrong which is why peer review is such a powerful method at arriving at the truth. However, when the truth is repugnant (and in my own example I show a man unable to take that last step whereby each creature was created according to it's kind by a superlatively intelligent God) it doesn't matter if the scientist is athiest, agnostic or a holy roller (quick quiz boys and girls, which is more likely to publish in Mitch's crank publications?)

The problem is they all start with the basic assumption that evolution is a fact and proceed to attempt to define the mechanism (which is the problem since the mechanism doesn't work.) Science is about testing a hypothesis and when it doesn't work, usually suggesting a slightly modified version (because facts are facts and haven't at that point changed so much... just by that small bit of testing that was just done.) However, scientist are still human and are risk averse (nobody like to be ridiculed.)

Is evolution falsifiable? Sure it is. Will anyone accept the proof? Depends on the person.

James, now for the other side of the coin, evidence of divine intervention. Are we to restrict our arguments only to divine intervention with regard to evolution or could we provide evidence of divine intervention outside those bounds? Would a large deposit in a swiss bank account satisfy you? :-) Everybody looks for their own kind of proof. What would you consider proof? History? Archeology? Prophecy fulfilled? Reliable witnesses? How about people writing about things that only today are understood (such as the correct order of development on this third rock from the sun that wasn't known before this last century?)

You're right. Everything we know is wrong and I'm looking forward to understanding it all better. But first you have to see the things all around you.

James, it's not just that we don't know how simple life forms could have come to be. It's that we do know they couldn't have come to be under the current understanding of what existed on this earth. The primordial soup could not have existed. That's why evolutions talk about the materials being trapped in clay instead. With intelligent, scientific thought applied by perhaps the best biochemists they are only able to produce 4 amino acids and only if they immediately remove them from the spark that created them. It's like throwing spaghetti against the wall to form letters and claiming you could write a book that way. It's ridiculous!

So now, what specific proof shall we entertain?

Posted by ken anthony at May 28, 2002 10:55 PM

Just thought of another thing Mitch. Don't publications choose what they will and will not publish? Have there never been examples of an establishment keeping out the riff-raff only to later discover the riff-raff was right? Although I will acknowledge that normally that would not be the case.

I seem to recall England and Germany getting pretty testy about the calculus. These scientist are still human after all.

Posted by ken anthony at May 28, 2002 11:21 PM

The question is, how did biochemistry get started on the Earth? We'll probably have a better idea of some of the earliest stages only after we get to Mars and some of the outer planets, where the residue of organic molecules which formed in the early solar system could be preserved (untouched by the devlopment of life, which has long ago consumed the evidence here).

Biochemistry does offer some hints as to how you get the earliest functioning cells, but it shouldn't be too surprising that you can only get hints by looking at modern cells, or even modern bacteria. Once better or faster (i.e. more efficient) biochemical processes occurred, the more efficiently replicating cells would tend to consume their inefficient ancestors. Modern bacteria are only "simple" organisms by comparison to all the other life forms on Earth, but they're the closest thing we've got to "living fossils," so let's consider them.

The current atmosphere on Earth is oxidizing (has free oxygen), and chemically speaking, it's way out of whack from what a lifeless planet would have. That's why the presence of an oxidizing atmosphere has been proposed as a way to tell from a distance whether a planet has life. But it's not a foolproof means, since we know of organisms on the Earth which survive in the absence of oxygen, indeed which are poisoned by the current atmosphere.

These are the strictly (or as microbiologists say, obligate) anaerobic bacteria, and it's been shown biochemically that their form of metabolism is vastly less efficient than that of aerobic (oxygen using) bacteria. It certainly looks like they're relics from an age before there was free oxygen in Earth's atmosphere, that is, before photosynthesis.

And, whaddyaknow, there are bacteria which live anaerobically but can survive being exposed to oxygen, and also those which can grow in both aerobic and anaerobic conditions. Both look like transitional forms between strict anaerobes and aerobic bacteria.

So where did the oxygen come from, anyway? Turns out there are also photosynthetic bacteria, which produce oxygen as a product of their metabolism. They look like the culprits that "polluted" the atmosphere, and drove the strict anaerobes into hiding in the few places oxygen couldn't reach.

So just by looking at the "simplest" organisms we can find, we've established that Earth's atmosphere was once very different from what it is today. This is no small conclusion, since Earth is the only planet we know of that has an oxidizing atmosphere, and explaining how biochemistry got started is almost impossible if Earth's atmosphere has always been this way.

(If this thread continues, I'll be happy to follow up.)

Posted by Ken Barnes at May 29, 2002 04:55 AM

Ok. I'll weigh in (You know you'd miss my particular view of things otherwise ;-) Yes, how did life get here is the question?

Obviously, each planet would be mostly isolated from each other biologically with the exception of that which could survive the trauma of interplanetary flight inside of rock. Just as pieces of Mars find it's way into our glaciers (and everywhere else but for erosion) to be found by geologists; pieces of Earth have probably found their way to Mars. So there is likely some cross contamination. Whether it could survive the transit and reproduce is another question.

I would like to expand on your second paragraph. Probably you are correct that more efficient organisms would tend to reduce the population of others (common sense and examples are easy to find) and you were careful to not say they would necessarily eliminate them from the environment. However, the implication that 'earlier' forms are the simpler and less efficient may not be true. It can not be said that the complexity of the genetic code can be used to determine which came first (or that they came at the same time.) It turns out that bacteria exhibit both more and less complexity than other forms of life (and humans are not at the top of the complexity scale) so that complexity can not be used as a measure of which came first.

That being said, there is other evidence that does suggest that free oxygen came about later in the game. So are anaerobic bacteria relics of an earlier age? Why not? But then, is that somehow relevant to the origin of life? I don't know the answer to that.

OTOH, something may look like a transistional form, but to state that it is, is a big jump (but seductively looks like no jump at all.) So there are a variety of different types of bacteria some of which may be useful for producing an oxygen atmosphere where there is none (and useful perhaps for teraforming a conveniently located red planet.)

Mr. Barnes you, I am certain better than I, can understand the 'simplicity' of bacteria. I'm not so certain that your example establishes the fact that Earth's atmosphere was once very different. However, by different methods we both happen to agree.

But as for how life got here, that question has turned out to be one so difficult for biochemists that they've resorted to assuming it rained on us from space. Trying to push the question farther out while also obscuring the fact that probabilities show that even that is not sufficient to explain how random chance could have resulted in the formation of life (they talk in terms of numbers on the order of 1:10E+100.)

I find this fascinating and would most enjoy hearing your follow up.

Posted by ken anthony at May 29, 2002 06:27 AM

Rand, you slipped one by me. How could that have happened? (He says with a look of incredulity on his face. From another vantage point looking like a guy that's been on the web all night when he should have been sleeping between work periods. Yes, in other words, foolish!)

I'm about to give you a no to your list (thereby falsifying it!)

Does all life seem to be related at some level?
--Yes, like the works of a master artist.

Is there a mechanism by which small changes can occur in reproduction?
--Yes, and viva la differance!

Does this mechanism allow beneficial changes?
--NO! This is the crux of the matter and I will elaborate following the rest.

Can these changes in turn be passed on to the offspring?
--Niether yes nor no. The answer assumes a yes to the prior question.

Is there sufficient time for such changes to result in the variety of phenotypes that we see today?
--Another provisional NO! Again I will elaborate.

Well Rand, that's one and a half No's. I'm glad you allowed me to settle this question for you. I guess you'll be needing to sign up for those theology classes now? (Not!) I highly recommend against theology classes. This is the way of the Pharisee's and Saducee's (forgive my spelling.) The apostles being unlettered and ordinary (what a hoot!) were looked down upon by such men.

Regarding a mechanism for beneficial change...

Actually, I believe I screwed up on this issue earlier (I'm not counting, but I was once perfect!) Mutation can not be considered a potential mechanism for beneficial change. We need to start with certain facts to realize this.

Everybody knows about G.A.C.T (did I get those right?) that they occur in pairs of triplets (4^3 or 64 potential instructions - a five bit computer if you will. Hey! does that mean Intel on it's first attempt (4004) made a silicon chip 4/5ths as powerful as DNA? ) ...and there are about six to ten billion of those instructions in the genetic code (more or less) for humans.

Also, 97% of that code is the same for all mammals. (Note that evolutionist will often tout that apes only differ from us by 3% without mentioning that that's true for all other mammals too!)

So when people talk about a mutation, what they really mean is a hole knocked into the chain (ok, double helix) of DNA which is then mended by a replacement that isn't the same as the original from the list of (GACT.) Which also happens to not be one of a set of duplicate codes because some of these 64 instructions happen to produce the same result. I'm not really clear on how that works really and could be wrong in the details.

Ok now, I've laid the groundwork. You can mull on that while I prepare the next part... (I've got 25 minutes until my shift starts - oh my! I may need to pick up on this thread later.)

...and by some cosmic joke... splat! He gets hit by a truck crossing the street... No really, I'll be back after my shift to finish this thought.

Posted by ken anthony at May 29, 2002 07:34 AM six bit... I am tired...

Posted by ken anthony at May 29, 2002 07:40 AM

There is another question regarding traditional macroevolutionary thought which has always puzzled me. Perhaps you or one of your readers can explain it?
Where did all the information come from? The amount of information encoded into the DNA of a single-celled creature is many orders of magnitude less than that encoded in humans. Yet every mutation I've ever read about (real or imagined) seems to have *decreased* the amount of information available, not increased it. So....where did it come from? Have I missed a beneficial mutation somewhere in my reading (which has not been exhaustive, I assure you) that *has* added information to the gene?

Posted by Vicki at May 29, 2002 08:49 AM

I despair of getting into this argument again, but what the heck, here goes. Mr. Anthony, you are employing the classic "God of the Gaps" argument, along with the classic "God created it all to look just like evolution" argument. Neither of these has any place in scientific thought. It makes science utterly useless if there exists a capricious God attempting to fool us at every turn with a designed universe that looks just like it evolved. This is akin to the notion of God going around the world burying dinosaur bones for us to dig up. It wastes all of our time. The "God of the Gaps" is equally useless. If we don't know how something might have happened, we try to find out. We don't throw up our hands and invoke supernatural causes (God or anything else).
I will also speak to the bacteriological argument, and the (innumerate and false) argument by genetics posted above. The information argument first (Vicki). Richard Dawkins has exhaustively debunked this notion at, but I will synopsize; The notion of "increasing" or "decreasing" information by mutations in genes is misguided. The amount of information is in most cases the same. The gene product may become better or worse at its job as a result, but the information is not changed. In some cases, the gene is entirely destroyed (we call this a "knockout"). In humans, mammals, and most other eukaryotes (everything besides bacteria), this is not an issue, because there are two copies of each chromosome, so essential gene functions are very likely to be preserved. Some "information" is lost, or more properly altered, but it is not likely to be consequential. However, these analyses overlook a huge issue, which is gene duplication, which most biologists think is absolutely crucial to the development of biochemical cycles (containing multiple active enzymes). There is strong genetic and biochemical evidence that gene duplication is a major engine in the development of multicellular organisms with complex lifecycles and biochemistries.

Posted by Paul Orwin at May 29, 2002 09:24 AM

I want to say a bit more about Mr. Anthony's argument from genetics (I cut off the last one because some comments boxes have character limits). Your definition of mutations is completely and utterly mistaken, and as a basis for argument it leaves us exactly nowhere.
Point 1.
Mutation is an alteration of the genetic code. Mutations can be deletions (removal of nucleotides, the G,A,C,T mentioned), insertions (putting in one or several nucleotides), or replacements (similar to the ones described). In all of these cases, the mutations can be large or small in size (ranging from 1 to many thousands of nucleotides).
Point 2.
These mutations have been conclusively shown to be able to produce benefit. A generic example would be an enzyme that degrades the sugar galactose into glucose (galactose is two glucose sugars stuck together, essentially). The enzyme, beta-galactosidease, has been biochemically altered many times in many ways, to change how much it likes to break galactose (affinity), and whether it can break other things as well (specificity). This has been shown to occur naturally as well, in the context of antibiotic resistance in bacteria (the evolution of Extended Spectrum Beta-Lactamases (ESBL) is an example of mutations accumulating in an enzyme in response to human development and use of new antibiotics).

Also, 97% of that code is the same for all mammals. (Note that evolutionist will often tout that apes only differ from us by 3% without mentioning that that's true for all other mammals too!)
This is simply not true. Other mammals have different, and predominantly lower levels of similarity in DNA code. Mice, for example, are about 85% identical in DNA code to humans (this is in itself remarkable!) Fruitflies are on the order of 50%, yeast is something like 25% (since their genomes are smaller, we base it on their genome, not ours).
In any event, I really don't want to get too involved in this again, since it is such a depressing waste of time. Rand, I suggest you let these people believe what they want, since their religous zealousness is overwhelming any rational thought processes. If they get this crap into my kid's science classes, though, there will be hell to pay!!

Posted by Paul Orwin at May 29, 2002 09:46 AM

I'll probably give it a rest after this. I just didn't want the statement that evolution is not falsifiable to stand. I think that the latest flurry is a result of the death of SJG.

Posted by Rand Simberg at May 29, 2002 09:55 AM

The point of my discussion of the bacteria is not that I'm agreeing with the notion that life originated somewhere other than the Earth, but simply to consider how we get from simple organic chemistry to single celled organisms. Earth's current oxidizing atmosphere, produced and maintained as it is by photosynthesizing organisms like plants, algae, and bacteria, has to be different from the conditions of the Earth before life began.

The existence of bacteria which don't require oxygen (indeed which are poisoned by it) suggests that there were organisms in the past which could have survived those initial harsh conditions. Conditions, I might add, which are also required in order to explain how the simple organic chemicals required for life to get started could be synthesized out in the open.

I would disagree with you about our ability to draw distinctions based upon complexity, since I'm not necessarily talking about the number of genes or genetic complexity. Clearly, those bacteria which can survive in a broad range of conditions, and metabolize a wide variety of chemicals, are probably going to have some number of genes that we don't, since we lack those capabilities. But that isn't to say we're less "complex" than the bacteria.

One of the most critical distinctions in classifying life forms (taxonomy) is that between organisms which have a membrane around their chromosomes (eukaryotes) and those, like the bacteria (prokayrotes), who do not. Another is the distinction between single-celled organisms, and multicellular life.

So, it seems obvious that single-celled organisms are less complex than those made up of more than one cell. We can even see that the cells which make up multicellular organisms are structurally more complex, and their genes have much more elaborate regulatory mechanisms, than is the case for the single celled organisms.

Interestingly, though, the single-celled organisms and the multi-cell organisms share much of their basic biochemistry, and their genes are sufficiently similar that they are almost interchangeable. This fact, which Darwin had no way of knowing, is a strong argument for the common origin of all life on Earth.

Why? Because evolution is mostly a conservative process. Geneticists talk about certain genes being "highly conserved," by which they mean that life tends not to "re-invent the wheel". The basic biochemical processes which got started in the first cells, so long as they''ve worked well enough, are preserved with few changes in the genes of all life forms on the Earth, to the point where you can transplant a human gene into a yeast (or even a bacterium) and their biochemical equipment can still read it and make something out of it.

There still are some differences, however, and those can be attributed to accumulated mutations. Just as there are differences between organisms (and you noted earlier how slight the genetic differences between certain species really are), so are there differences between individuals in a population. Some organisms are better able to do what they need to do to survive and reproduce than others, so are some individuals.

Since these survival traits are in part (or entirely) due to what forms of a gene (or which mutations) an individual has, they can be inherited, for good or bad. It seems absurd to suggest, as a later post implied, that mostly maladapted or bad genes get inherited. On the contrary, natural selection acts on both the (relatively) "bad" genes and the (relatively) "good" genes. By definition, the forms of a gene which tend to make an organism more likely to survive and reproduce are the "good" genes.

You can observe natural selection in action, as I said earlier, in the development of mutli-drug resistance in bacteria, due to our overuse of antibiotics. Those bacteria which have mutated forms of the enzymes which the antibiotics target, so long as they aren't so 'bad" that they impair their function, are the ones which prosper. Those mutations, while they might be "bad" if the bacteria had to compete with their non-mutated ancestors, are "good" because they enable the mutated bacteria to survive and reproduce when their non-mutant ancestors do not.

(I'll get back to the origins of life later.)

Posted by Ken Barnes at May 29, 2002 10:44 AM

So I may take my leave, your Eminence? How dare you to take such a bullying, dismissive stance. Have I laid claim to being anything other than an interested laymen? I hold an opinion, and as long as I remain civil, I deserve just a little respect.

Your claim to the nature of my argument is false, classic or otherwise. You defame a god you do not know and declaring him capricious when the universe itself declares him to be a god of exquisite order.

Declaring an argument classic may be your way of dismissing it, but if I choose to believe in a master artist using 20 left handed amino acids rather than the arbitrary number of right and left handed amino acids that randomness would seem to require, then you have in no way invalidated my argument. Bullying and dismissive tactics are what have no place in scientific thought.

"The amount of information is in most cases the same." -- So you haven't addressed issue raised by Vicki either. You state that sometimes genes are destroyed. I missed the part where you say that sometimes they are created?

I will concede the point about 97% of mammals which is a number I heard somewhere. Again, I remind you that I am a laymen and this is not a scientific journal. My opinion, however misinformed should it be, is still something I am entitled to. Or perhaps you disagree?

However, when did fruitflies and yeast become mammals? ...and 85% for a mouse (which is a mammal last I heard) does at least show a large amount in common.

Let me ask you this, are these genetic insertions able to be passed on? Or is it just something you can do in a gene splicing lab?

My "definition of mutations is completely and utterly mistaken" you state. You agree with me in the generalities, but claim that I am utterly mistaken because I choose to emphasize the triplet (for an argument that I had not finished) instead of emphasizing the nucleotides. Do you also declare a chess match over after the first three moves?

You're the one waving your arms, declaring "God of the Gaps" (obviously a favored dismissive statement of yours) and telling others that if they were smart like you they'd dismiss me too.

How arrogant! If it is such a "such a depressing waste of time" then why do you rise to the bait?

If you want to share your knowledge, I'd be happy to listen. If you want to bully and tell others how to think. Well... you're dismissed.

Posted by ken anthony at May 29, 2002 11:22 AM

Thank you, Mr. Barnes, for your thoughtful and gracious reply. When I'm up to it I may respond with some questions if the opportunity permits.

Posted by ken anthony at May 29, 2002 11:26 AM

The amount of information is in most cases the same." -- So you haven't addressed issue raised by Vicki either. You state that sometimes genes are destroyed. I missed the part where you say that sometimes they are created?
Sigh. This is why it is a waste of time.
(quoting myself)
However, these analyses overlook a huge issue, which is gene duplication, which most biologists think is absolutely crucial to the development of biochemical cycles (containing multiple active enzymes).
(end quoting myself)
This is the part about creating new information.
The reason I get tired of this that every creationist seems to believe they have a right to a detailed explanation from me of evolution. Read a goddam book! There are no shortage of good biology textbooks (I like Life, the science of biology, by Purves, Heller and Orians) that explain all of this stuff so I don't have to.
To respond to your points;
Obviously, yeast and fruitflies are not mammals. They are interestingly related to us at a genetic level. Don't misquote and mischaracterize me.

All mutations in the germ line (i.e. in sperm or egg) can be passed on, regardless of how they arise.

I pointed out a mistake in your description, followed by a correction. You had not finished your argument, but since it was based on a false premise, there wasn't all that much hope for it.

Do you know what I mean by "God of the Gaps"? Its not a new idea, and I won't rehash it here. Don't get into the argument if you can't follow the terminology. It is not handwaving or argument from authority, just a reference to a well known Creationist argument.

I don't have any interest in denying you a right to your opinion, but your questions are posed with clear (and admitted bias), and I deny their premise, that the structure of the universe implies a creator. Mr. Barnes and I have both provided specific refutations of your arguments, but you have ignored them. My tone is evidence of my frustration with this line of argument, which I find totally unproductive.

Posted by Paul Orwin at May 29, 2002 11:53 AM

Mr. Orwin,

Your apology accepted,

Sign: irrational, ignorant zealot.

PS: I will take your suggestion to open a book and ascertain how duplication results in new information.

Posted by ken anthony at May 29, 2002 12:19 PM

I will save you the trouble for your snide remark. As Dawkins wrote, and many biochemists have since verified, many gene products (proteins, mostly) perform different functions, but have very similar "backbone" structures. In other words, they are mostly identical, but their "active sites" are different. This is the result of gene duplication.
Say you have enzyme A, which cuts a protein into two pieces.
A gene duplication means you have two enzyme A genes, each of which can cut a protein into two pieces. Now a mutation occurs, creating an enzyme B, almost identical to A, but that cuts the same protein in a different spot. Presto, we have "increased information", and made evolution happen.
This (in a much more complicated form), is how biologists now think life has diversified over the last 3.5-4 billion years

Posted by Paul Orwin at May 29, 2002 12:37 PM

I am humbled by your enlightenment.

Posted by ken anthony at May 29, 2002 01:08 PM

I'm not a scientist, but I have heard that a good journal for this type of thing is Nature.

Ken, you suggest that a mainstream publication might choose not to publish an anti-evolution argument. Your right, it would not, if the argument was unscientific or was based on old ideas that science has already explained. All of the objections that have been brought up on this posting, and that I have ever seen, have already been explained by scientists. If a scientist found a new problem with evolutionary theory, which could not be easily explained away, and argued it scientifically, using evidence, then a mainstream publication would probably publish it. Even if a publication did not accept it at first, out of sheer bias, that still would not stop this idea. There are many thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of scientists in this field. Enough of them are religious, or at least would like to make a name for themselves by changing scientific understanding, that such a new idea as I have described would not be able to be ignored. The pro-evolution scientists would soon have to confront it, and either the idea would be proven wrong, or evolution would be proven wrong. Science would adjust to the new wisdom. Or let me put it another way. Scientists, and even non-scientists, still spend time explaining to people why anti-evolution arguments put forward over a hundred years ago, and proven wrong a hundred years ago, are wrong. Surely no massive conspiracy exists that would prevent proof of evolution's falsehood from spreading. It would eventually be the number one proof of evolution's falsehood that anti-evolutionists bring up in debates like this one, because people like Paul Orwin wouldn't know how to respond to it. Scientists would have to prove the new idea right or wrong. They couldn't ignore it. That is, unless there is a massive conspiracy to suppress such an idea. But if you believe that, I've got a giant underground base in Nevada with some interesting bodies in it that I want to sell ya...

One other thing. I'm not going to respond any more to this thread, because I don't have the time. That's the thing I hate about posting on these message boards. People respond, and so you have to write back. It's a cycle. Usually it doesn't end. If you have more questions about evolution, read a book about it. I've heard that Ernst Mayr has a new good popular science book about this called What Evolution Is. You could also read a biology textbook. These would probably resolve any issues you have. If you have any issues so complex that you can't find books to solve it, then maybe you should go to college and get a degree in evolutionary biology. Hell, maybe you'll be the one to come up with that idea that proves evolution wrong.

Posted by Mitch Fagen at May 29, 2002 01:41 PM

Thank you Mitch for taking the time and no need to respond. It highly unlikely that I would come up with the defining argument (since not only isn't it my field, but to be honest it's not particularly my favorite subject.) However, I also don't like being labeled a creationist, it is offensive.

I believe in God and in science. I don't imagine the need for God to play the magician to fill the gaps, but really resent those that assume I do.

In some peoples eyes, to proclaim belief in God is to proclaim ignorance. It's the pot calling the kettle black.

Ignorance is universal. That's the point of science. Yes, there are always specialists in a field that know more about it than a layman, but that is no excuse for the lack of humility and arrogance.

Perhaps all the questions have been answered by the specialist and the general public only needs the distillation of this vast knowledge. But people should remember who they are talking to, be civil and show respect. If I displayed this behavior toward my son, I'd be rightly called an ass (in the donkey sense of the word, of course ;-)

Forgive my passion regarding this please. I did not expect to be so drawn in to this issue so (perhaps they shouldn't let me play in public?)

Posted by ken anthony at May 29, 2002 02:21 PM

Ken, it is your constant tendency to say, "Look see, God done it!" that make your arguments tedious. This is antiscience, where if it cannot be completely explained it must be attributed to the boogy man.

The most important statement a scientist can make is "I don't know." This is where curiousity beats out arrogance and fear to identify areas worthy of explanation. Almost as important is "We think we know but I'm not so sure." Although it can be carried out to extremes reinforcement of proof is a useful thing since alternate means of testing can reveal important new details.

If you find it offensive to be labeled a Creationist then stop behaving as one. "God done it' is not an explanation, it's an alibi, an excuse. There is an important difference there. It doesn't contribute anything to science.

Multiple competing theories for how a set of conditions came to be are not indications of weakness but rather of strength. It is the process at work. The proponents of a theory have the burden of finding means to test their proposal if they wish to validate them but so long as it provides a useful structure build upon even unproven theory is useful. Darwin's work is one of the finest examples of this in all human history. He hit on a very basic concept and evidence has massively built in its favor ever since.

Does that mean we have every last detail worked out? No, we don't. But neither have we found anything that breaks the theory. (Punctuated equilibrium is a refinement of the theory, not a refutement.) We have gaps to fill and will for some time to come. I'm only in my late thirties and have seen each year produce advancement in knowledge that previously would have been the work of decades or centuries or just impossible to conduct without fairly recently invented tools.
Throughout this time nothing has offered an outright contradiction of Darwinian theory. At the same time this immense has done nothing to advance support for, "There's this guy who wished it all into being, right after he wished himself into existence."

BTW, citing an argument against Anthropic Principle as being strained or silly is pointless since the silliest bit is trying to argue for or against such a beast that births itself concept. You can have multiverses out the wazoo but unless you find one that sustains in such a way as to violate its physical laws how is anything likely to be concluded.

To wrap up, Darwin's idea may have seemed pretty wild once, especially to a populace that was already heavily invested in a mythology, but has proven immensely useful as a means to analyze, predict, and test new knowledge in the investigation of life. The previous contender, which in my view is a vastly wilder and whackier assertion, simply avoids being put to any test. The Great and Powerful OZ always finds another curtain where he can retreat.

Posted by Eric Pobirs at May 30, 2002 02:20 AM

(If anyone's still interested, here's a brief followup, just so I keep my word...)

As you may know, it's theorized that the earliest cells got started when some sort of hydrocarbon molecule similar to to today's phospholipids, which have a water-soluble (hydrophilic) end and a non-water soluble end (hydrophobic), formed a structure called a liposome, which is basically a bubble formed out of two layers of the molecules, arranged so that their water-soluble ends are facing out. Liposome formation occurs spontaneously in mixtures of these sorts of double-ended (amphipathic) organic molecules and water.

This produces a membrane which could trap other molecules inside, where they would be in a droplet of water separated from the rest of the water outside the bubble. Making a primitive cell-like membrane this way is done today by drug and cosmetics companies as a kind of micropackaging for their products (do a web search on liposomes for more details).

So now we have a membrane, but to have a primitive organism, we need a genetic material, one that can make copies of itself (self-replicating). The most likely candidate for the first self-replicatiing molecule is ribonucleic acid, or RNA. The evidence for this is pretty strong, because there are certain RNA molecules that are known to have enzymatic activity (which means that, like protein enzymes, they can facilitate biochemical reactions), and because many of the most crucial functions of the cell, most notably protein sythesis, require RNA.

The fact that the protein-synthesizing component of cells, the ribosome (so-called because of their RNA content), is dependent on several types of RNA molecules, and that this is true for all life on Earth, shows that, genetically speaking, the structure of the ribosome is "highly conserved". It's probably also evidence that RNA came first, and that the first ribosomes were RNA-only complexes that evolved the ability to synthesize proteins, and the protein component of the ribosome developed later, making the protein-building RNAs much more efficient at their job.

Here's a good reference to some of the latest research into the capabilities of RNA, in support of the "RNA world" hypothesis for the origins of biochemistry in the Earth's early history:

See y'all later. Enjoyed the discussion.

Posted by Ken Barnes at May 30, 2002 02:50 AM

Eric, since you addressed your comments to me I will extend the courtesy of a response. Please don't feel obligated to respond (I will try to restrict my comments so that they don't elicit such a requirement.)

You may be surprised to learn that I agree with much of what you say. The thing is, it is not necessary for me to have a constant tendancy in order for some to mischaracterize, misrepresent or defame me personally. One reference to God is sufficient. However, they also choose to defame God (and with apologies for saying so, by calling him the boogy man for example.)

This is like calling my wife ugly or my son retarded. It's offensive. More than that, it's easily avoided.

Some people equate faith with gullibility and there brand of science with a superiority. This is complicated by the fact that much faith can be equated with gullibility and normally would not be considered a rigorous discipline.

But my faith in God is based on evidence just as surely as any pure science.

Rational people can derive different solutions to the same set of facts. You choose to characterize 'punctuated equilibrium' as a refinement rather than a refutation.

I simply look at the facts and wonder. Here we have millions of species appearing suddenly on the scene and remaining essentially unchanged for years that are again said to number into the millions until either dying out or remaining to this today.

I didn't invent the term 'missing link', evolutionists did. There is no one that can show a link between fish, amphibian, reptile, bird, insect or mammal. Your faith that eventually they will is no more secure than mine, regardless of the labels you apply or the knowing winks that you share.

Feel free to label me a creationist if you will. It's an inaccurate characterization, but you certainly have no need for clarification as to why. No doubt you would find the facts tedious. I say that sincerely.

Einstein, Newton, Darwin and others had a quality that made them great. I humbly submit there are many that wouldn't recognize that quality if it stared them in the face.

Finally, curiousity does not excuse arrogance. If biologist are offended if I occasionly slip a toe into their sandbox all I can say is too bad for them. They seem to have no restraint making an argument about things they also have no knowledge of. It's a human fallability. I admit to it myself, but again would say that courtesy would go along way toward making it more pleasant for all. Let's play nice, shall we?

Posted by ken anthony at May 30, 2002 05:57 AM

Faith cannot be based on evidence, by definition.

I have faith in the scientific method, but I can't prove it's the best way to achieve knowledge to anyone who doesn't. Unlike many who believe that the scientific method is the correct one, I admit that this belief is based on faith.

To me, the argument of evolution versus...well, other unspecified (and unscientific explanations) is not about true and false--it is just about science versus non-science. If I were to teach evolution in a school, I would state it not as "this is what happened," but rather, "this is what scientists believe happened."

In other words, I don't want to indoctrinate people what to believe--I just want to make sure that when they take a science class, that they're getting science, and not a religion dressed up as science. Whether they want to accept science is up to them.

Posted by Rand Simberg at May 30, 2002 07:21 AM

I absolutely believe that science should be taught as science, not some pc religion. Politics and religion are the enemy of scientific thought. Also, I understand what you mean about science vs. non-science, and surprize again... I agree with you.

Here's the thing (let me put this club away and find a scalpel...) When you look up a word in the dictionary you will often find alternative meanings. That's the case here with the word faith.

In my personal dictionary (the one in my head, not webster or oxford) it's something like this...

1. Gullibility
2. The assured expectation of things hoped for, by evidence though not beheld. Heb 1.

Note that 'not beheld' refers to the things hoped for (that you are in expectation of) rather than the evidence which anyone can look at if they choose to.

Interestingly, this second definition applies to science as well. For example:

As Mr. Barnes notes research is proceding with RNA. The evidence hoped for (if I may twist a phrase) is that this will lead to a better understanding of how life could have evolved. The problem is that DNA & RNA are a chicken and egg (one seemingly can't exist without the other.)

It is an assured expectation that something will be learned (although what that something is remains to be seen.)

Anyway, forgive me if my commentary has been upsetting. I would note that without dissent science would not make a lot of progress (and yes, even less if every wacko voice carried equal weight.)

Thank you again Rand for this forum.

Posted by ken anthony at May 30, 2002 09:19 AM

Ken, the reason I said that you should not bring up scientific problems with evolution is that you can constantly bring up new problems. The only way for them all to be resolved would be for you to actually go to college to study this. I doubt anyone on this forum wants to teach a college class here, or that you want to spend the time on such a thing.

A scientific problem that you brought up with evolution, and that science has easily resolved, is that there are no clear connections between fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. The thing is, scientists know of apparent transition species for all of these phyla (is that the right word? Remember I'm not a scientist). You mentioned a missing link. Maybe you meant between those types of animals, scientists have found them. Also, scientists have also found what they believe might be the human-chimpanzee missing link. They have recently found bones of an animal that appears that it could have been the last ancestor of both chimps and humans, and these bones come from the same time period that the genetic evidence says it should.

Please, do not list another scientific problem with evolution. The only way for all your scientific questions to be resolved about this is if you learn about this in college. If that doesn't resolve your issues, then maybe you have a really new idea.

I agree with what Rand says. Believing in the scientific method is a form of faith. I can't prove that what science says is true is true. Maybe everything was created only one minute ago. It just annoys me when someone who doesn't know what they are talking about (this includes me) tries to argue something empirically that science has easily disproved, and then time has to be spent explaining this, or else the scientific explanation looks bad. If you think there is something intrinsically wrong with science, if you want to argue philosophically that science or reality or whatever is meaningless, then fine. I'm not going to argue with you about that. Maybe God did make everything about 6000 years ago, and he planted evidence otherwise just to test the faith of people like me. I just don't like it when people confuse science with pseudoscience, make it seem like "creation science" is science, or that bigfootology is science. It's not.

For laughs, and a good reason why I believe in science:

Posted by mitch fagen at May 30, 2002 06:04 PM

Aw, Ken, Ken, Ken...

This is why I find such arguments simultaneously amusing and sad. How can I defame a fictional entity? Mickey Mouse eats shit and sodomizes Pluto. Should I now expect to hear from his lawyers or at best would I only encounter objections from the legal staff of the Disney Co., the entity that has a monetary stake in that character's representation. You see, things that exist only within human minds cannot be said to take offense. They have no mind by which to process such a concept. Be it God, Bugs Bunny, or Jizbo the Wonder Deity there are only humans with a financial or psychological axe to grind involved. God, Mickey and Bugs are welcome to drive out from Toon Town to complain directly to my face if they can summon themselves into existence to do so. (Based on the location shown in 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?' it's less than an hour's drive to my home.)

You say such insults are easily avoided. Well, I find being asked to accept the existence of supernatural entities on the basis of nothing hugely insulting. Don't ask me to believe in your boggy man and I won't make fun of him.

By bringing your family into the debate you only further serve to demonstrate your inability to distinguish reality from comforting fantasy. Assuming you aren't completely around the bend your wife and child are real material entities whose existence is easily proven. I have no immediate cause to doubt their being since the probability of an adult male having a mate and offspring is quite high in human experience. Travel expenses aside, it would present no problem for you to bring your family to my direct attention. You could even trot out certificates of marriage and birth along with genetic assays to substantiate your relation to these people.

I could still hold disparaging opinions about your family but the examples you offer are at least qualifiable and quantifiable, respectively. A wide sample of persons could be asked to rate the lady's aesthetic appeal. ( is the least expensive venue to accomplish this.) Likewise your son could be made to perform a wide variety of tests for cognitive capacity and his scores compared against a large sample of other humans. Whether I maintain enmity toward the wife and kid is my right but at least you have a sane, rational, real-world basis to contest those particular insults.

I defy you to do the same for this God person. I can say God is covered in scabrous oozing sores and enjoys long walks on the beach while biting the heads off seagulls attracted to the carrion odor exuding from his trail of pus. I have no worries about God coming to my door to complain about this description. If you take offense it will be because YOUR ox was gored although you cannot produce evidence of said ox. If you took this as motivation for assault an insistence you were acting at God's direction will only affect what type of facility you are sentenced to, should you survive. Prison if you can accept the reality or a psychiatric lock-down ward if you cannot. Either way, God will not be appearing as a character witness at the trial. (Not to suggest you're inclined to violence but I've met enough who were to make the example close to home.)

There is a point where gullibility leaves off and intellectual dishonesty begins. Gullibility is acceptable in a child who lacks experience or training in critical thought. It doesn't come easy. Our intellect was a tool that made us more effective creatures tens of thousands of years ago. There is evidence to suggest that humans today are born with better intellectual abilities than the earliest examples of our species. As the saying goes, we stand on the shoulders of giants who did all of the hard work to give a child of today the immense educational resources that creates the illusion of mental superiority to casual observers. Our basic design is still that naked guy running around the savannah.

Gullibility can be overcome but is all too often replaced with a comforting lie to fill in the unsettling gaps. As Heinlein had Lazarus Long say, "Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal." Which is to say it's easier to make up some bullshit than deal solely in hard facts, which is what scientists do. This means cherished belief based on prior information may need to be radically altered in the face of new evidence. It can be a scary place in which to exist. Much of humanity would rather just say "God done it" and avoiding thinking about the question again forevermore. This still leaves the question, "Who done God?"

People who don't like it when "God done it" is challenged will rationalize anything in defense of their mythology. You may have found some bozo who posits punctuated equilibrium goes against Darwin but this is putting words in the mouth of Darwin and the later theorists. There is nothing in Darwin's work that demands a rigid production line schedule to evolution. In fact, it fully supports the idea that in a static environment the species within may remain static until a factor is introduced to stimulate change. The classic example is colder winters favoring the species members with the best ability to survive that condition and those favorable traits becoming predominant in following generations born from that reduced gene pool. Darwin didn't have the framework of genetics but he was awfully damn close.

Of equal importance is they whose have championed the punctuated equilibrium concept. I've not heard a one of them describe themselves as doing anything but continuing down the trail blazed by Darwin. Propagandists may try to hijack their work for their own ends but it doesn't change the facts of the matter.

"I simply look at the facts and wonder. Here we have millions of species appearing suddenly on the scene and remaining essentially unchanged for years that are again said to number into the millions until either dying out or remaining to this today."

If you're having difficulty with this idea then you have yet to do your basic reading on molecular biology. Threshold effects are quite well understood in many applications. In terms of major leaps in the rate of speciation you can see this well illustrated in artificial life simulations. Once the simulation hits upon a package that propagates in great numbers there is that many more samples available for random mutation to produce a trait that improves viability. If your rate of germ line mutation is one in a 100 million out of a community of only 1 billion this will of course be a very slow process relative to the rate of reproduction. If that community grows to a trillion members with the same rate of germ line mutation the chances of a useful new trait appearing in a generation is greatly increased. Thus when you've crossed a certain threshold speciation goes through the roof.

The appearance of new species doesn't disqualify existing species from viability. There may not be direct contention for resources or the new species may only be viable in terms of staking out a new environment. Thus the appearance of air breathers does not cause fish to cease eating and making more fish.

Trotting out the 'missing link' misnomer will avail you naught. The earliest document reference is
discussed here: The very idea of a missing link was most popular with those who had difficulty dealing with the time scale of life's history. The fact is that all species are links, to what came before them and what may follow if they don't expires without offspring. An undeniable linkage can be easily demonstrated between all life on this planet: DNA. We've known this for some decades now. Do try to keep up with the news if you wish to be taken seriously. Molecular biology has been a huge advance in supporting Darwin. Time and again information derived from comparing genomes and how they deviate has matched amazingly well with estimates based on the fossil record.

Part of the problem is that you're operating with a good deal of bad information that refuses to die thanks largely to popular media fiction. It drives me up the wall that writers on SF shows still use the 'humans only use about 10% of their brains' as a premise for super-intelligent and even psionic-power endowed characters. Enlisting a blatantly false belief does not aid me in suspending disbelief. 'Missing link' falls into this category. You can repeat it all you want but science moved on a long, long time ago.

THe Creationist community loves and cherishes bad information if they think it supports their cause. One of ICR's articles Duane Gish's site tries to use whales as a 'missing missing link' argument. This article is dated 1983. During the 90's a substantial body of fossil findings added an immensity to the understanding of cetacean origins. The article on the ICR remains unchanged in spite of this. This is a basic problem with those who subscribe to divine revalation. They don't handle new data well.

You don't wish to be labeled a creationist but how can you be described as anything else? Claiming a guiding intelligence lies behind the entirety of existence is the very definition of Creationism. Whether you attribute the intelligence to a pre-existing God or the sum total of human will gathered at the Eschaton to retroactively create the Universe is mere details after the fact. Be they Marxist, Maoist, Trotskyite, or whatever, they're all commies.

"Einstein, Newton, Darwin and others had a quality that made them great. I humbly submit there are many that wouldn't recognize that quality if it stared them in the face."

It isn't clear what this is in support of but all I can say is don't meet your heroes. They'll always turn out to be mere humans. The quirks can be interesting though. Newton devoted most of his lifetime to alchemy and regarded the work for which he is best remembered as minor. He was cripplingly shy and his one recorded speech from his seat in Parliament was to request that a window be opened.

You have a limited right to be annoyed if a biologist loses his temper with you but consider his perspective. How many times would you care to answer the same questions from people who haven't done the basic reading on the subject. If you were a Shakespearian scholar how much patience would you have for a challenge from someone whose knowledge of the Bard's work is derived from high school plays depicted in TV sitcoms? Be they Biology or English Lit professors they are at root human with differing levels of ability to tolerate fools.

Posted by Eric Pobirs at May 31, 2002 02:51 AM

Eric, what was that book or phrase? Is it "Everything I Ever Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten"?

Have you ever heard the expression, "If you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all?" Isn't that a good enough reason not to insult his religious beliefs, Eric?

Why are you such an angry person? I mean, it's not like the idea of a creationist should be so new or terrible to you. They've always been around and existed. As long as they don't start changing school textbooks, I don't see why you or anyone else should care. It's everyone's right to have their own religious and philosophical beliefs. I too am annoyed when anti-evolutionists bring up scientific sounding arguments that are anything but scientific, but that doesn't mean that you have to insult a person's entire belief system.

You seem to know a lot about science, but not a lot about being nice. Ken might have been wrong, but at least he was civil.

Posted by mitch fagen at May 31, 2002 07:43 PM

Besides that, what do you achieve by sounding so angry? You only make believers of science look bad. If anything, you'll convince more people that maybe creationism is right. I don't know if you're trying to change Ken's mind on this, but if you are, this is not the way to do it. If you do change anyone's mind with this type of attitude, I doubt that it would be the type of change you wanted.

God, I really didn't want to get trapped in an argument.

Posted by mitch fagen at May 31, 2002 07:46 PM

Depends on your definition of civil. I regard people dragging supernatural nonsense into a discussion of science highly insulting. Willful ignorance goes beyond mere insult to being one of the most dangerous forces civilizational has ever had to oppose. Religion as a substitute for genuine knowledge and understanding is the worst and often most murderous manifestation.

They may not have seemed like fightin' words to you but I'll stand by my assertion that he started it and kept coming back for more.

"If you have nothing nice to say about anyone then come sit right here beside me."

Alice Roosevelt Longsworth.

Posted by Eric Pobirs at June 1, 2002 01:53 AM

Ken, just because I've been gone all day while Susie had her little hissy fit doesn't mean you should feel you're getting off easy. (I'm sure Ms. Cornett will note the use of a diminuative and the attribution of childish behavior to further belittle her. As you've obviously noted she's identified me as a bully so I cannot let her run home from school unscathed. What would the Bullies' Union think?)

There are bad personalities in every field but I've rarely encountered a serious scientist who wasn't eager to have many others see what he had in his Ivory tower, provided they don't track mud in. After a while cleaning up after such becomes tiresome and the policy regarding who gets through the door becomes more restrictive.

For a non-creationist you sure like to trot out their favorite tactics. What field has not seen rampant fraud? (From my perspective religion is biggest and most rampant of them all.) The difference is that science by its very methodology makes fraud a self-defeating venture. This is one of the reasons that repeatability is so critical to acceptance. If the miracle machine only works for its inventor and even then only when there are no professed skeptics present, then you'd be well advised not to lend the inventor any money.

This is one of the major reason's most people immediately suspected Pons and Fleischmann's cold fusion claim was a pile of crap, regardless of whether they believed it or were knowingly conducting a scam. Rather than invite open examination and attempts at reproduction by their peers they instead held a mainstream media press conference declaring the wonder of the age that would change everything. (Jerry Pournelle's Missing Dead Graduate Student was another good reason for suspicion.) Sensationalism and claims for effects beyond the researcher's field of expertise are not the hallmarks for major new advances.

If the guys in Utah had merely announced in the normal outlets that they had come upon a previously unobserved electrochemical effect that might just have applications in energy production someday, there would have been no scandal. It would have been business as usual.

Actually, yes, I can list many attempts at scientific fraud because fraud in general is a favorite subject of mine. So much of what defines humanity can be seen in both the malice and desparate hope that is common in the attempts. In many prominent cases respected researchers were taken in by con artists due tot he researcher's gullibiility. Their careers had been spent scrutinizing the behavior of inanimate matter and energy with no ulterior motives of its own. They were unprepared to apply the necessary rigors of human subjects who'll happily lie and cheat. This is why professionals in the art of decpetion like magician James Randi have been invaluable in exposing frauds. The great con artists can be fascinating figures so long as you don't become their victims. Randi's book on Nostradamus as a real human being is far more interesting reading than any credulous volume attempting to place a date for the parting of the Seventh Seal.

Openness is the enemy of fraud and self-deception, thus it is critical to science and the enemy of abuses of religion ala the current scandal of pediphile priests conducting their crimes unchallenged because the Church indoctrinates its followers not to challenge the words and deeds of its representatives.

Many will point to repeatability as a flaw of evolution but this is an overly simplistic analysis. Certainly one can't set the Retroactive Reality Viewer to see first hand what took place. In terms of fossils one obviously cannot produce multiple additional samples on demand unless the original find was exceedingly rich. This is why the first sample of any new species must pass considerable challenge. If it appears to be just a smaller version of a know species might this just be a child of that same line? Are those unique features or deformities? And so on. Finding additional fossils of the same species is what serves the function of repeatability. Since fossil remains rarely provide a complete skelton finding more of the same species is often critical to produce a complete image of what beast these mineral traces of bones represents.

Ken, if this trusted friend told you to jump off a bridge... Claiming that there can be no end of the road in acquiring new knowledge is presumptious in the extreme. We simply don't know enough to say either way. It is equally presumptious to preclude a final answer, especially when we're still working on finding out the questions.

You may not have used the very words, "God did it." But you've certainly said as much. Your first post stated that evolution was a fraud and trotted out the full bible-thumper buffet of bullshit. Your sole basis of evidence was this bizarrew paragraph:

"Evolution is a fraud that can be disproved (and is known to be disproved even by those that promote it.) For example, years ago I knew a black man, married to a wonderful christian woman. He was a doctor of biology, spoke german and was a gourmet cook (my kind a guy.) He spoke eloquently about evolution with sincerity and knowledge. Perhaps not all evolutionist agree with him, but he'd come to the conclusion that evolution was a fact, but because it couldn't possibly work, it must be divinely directed."

Aside from the fact that I fail to see how the color of his skin, the preferred mythology of his wife, his linguistic and culinary skills figure into the claim, what make this individual the great abiter of evolution validity? Besides saying what you want to hear, that is. I'm suree verybody know lots of swell folks who've come up short on one subject or another. What does that prove other than the doubt of a single person?

Throughout that post you made definitive statements calling evolution a willful fraud and your boogy man the source of ultimate knowledge But you aren't a creationist, oh no. And you offer no proof of anything on either claim. Instead you spout idiocies like Romans 1:20 which is truly a bullshit tautology unto the Goon's Spon Plague and Pogo's Trackless Tribe.

If you cannot figure out how a cell membrane is achieve that is your failing. Not the end of the road for research just because you've given up.

Elsewhere you've suggested that ongoing attempts by believers to push their nonsense on others is done out of compassion. Nonsense. It's the effort of those who can't tolerate a universe without a boogy man who holds all the answers. They dream of someday walking a world where they don't have to put their fingers in their ears and shout, "La La La I can't hear your unsettling ideas that stand up to testing but don't match with my beliefs. La La LA!" One of the very few things I give my ancestors in Judaism positive marks for is their disinclination to proslytize.

If the boogy man is truly so great and powerful he's welcome to put in an appearance and answer some direct questions. But so long as he remains indistinguishable from human delusion I cannot see any reason to consider him otherwise.

Posted by Eric Pobirs at June 2, 2002 02:37 AM

Hmm, first it's hard for me to understand the DNA code homologies ratios; because for example, people did a DNA coding of 3 groups of people, Austronesians, Basques, and Caucasians (the latter includes maybe Finns, Sami, Samoyed Peoples of North Siberia such as the Inet who are not Inuit maybe, Turks maybe, Hungarians maybe who are also Samoyed); anyway they got yet different numbers; they must have used a different technique, perhaps only counting genes that tended to differ in humans because they got 90% DNA homology between Basques and their French neighbors; but the 3 main groups were less than 50% homogenous so there must have been a different method, based on some other technique!
I have heard monkeys are 97% homogenous with humans; I have also heard that men and women in humans are no more alike genetically than male monkeys and male humans. Not sure of this (I do know that male & female are not even always distinct categories, due to occasional inheritance of odd combinations of chromosomes, like X, X49; or XXY or ).

So all those percentages would mostly throw me. But I have heard from some sources that mice may have more in common with primates than some other species. On the other hand, this may be the immune system of mice, which must have evolved together with humans around farming in the neolithic era, which started in 10000 B.C.

Why have I heard that these are alike? Does anyone know?

Then poor cats had to work cleaning out all those mice.

As for evolution, I'm sure we cannot have all the taxonomies straightened out yet because there is so much data we cannot get. (I thought maybe I could trace a relation to t-rex, becaue he used his hands so much, but then, of course, humans intestines are really closer to vegetarians in some ways than to carnivores which is wierd; mice are vegans; so are cows and whales just eat small things; if anyone can sort out these relationshiops for me I would be intrigued I guess)

But I would like to point out some things: 1rst radio carbon dating and other genetic techniques do give varying results; for example, Neanderthal man is believed to have appeared between 200,000 and 100,000 years ago; Cro Magnon between 100,000 or maybe more years ago and as late as 50,000 years ago. People used to think all evidence of Neanderthals were gone by 27,000 B.C. but now evidence of people who may be a mix of neanderthal and cro-magnon or all neanderthal have been found in Australia that might date to 15,000 B.C. Of course, dating is always up to 2000 years off, even radio carbon. Searching for evidence of genetic splits and also of genetic bottlenecks (points at which the range of variation in a species went way down along with, perhaps, the total number of the species) is what gets really zany.

It's also comparable to language families a little; you can find two closely related languages miles apart (English in the U.S. and England is an example from modern times; we tend to forget our ancestors also ran around the globe taking their language with them); and two rather distinct languages living as neighbors (there generally is some sharing in the latter case of course and some divergence in the former).

On another note: it is true are atmosphere has changed and I personally believe that it is like sort of an ecosystem; sometimes when you change an ecosystem, it's believed to revert back to its original state, which is generally believed to be desert, bare rock, and microbes.

Microbes are one form of life almost everywhere, as Peter Ward discusses in Rare Earth. (They can stand hotter temperatures; I guess they do not break down as much). What Ward does not note is what someone else did: the places in the Universe most likely to support life might be any planetary system found around our nearest neighbor, the triplet alpha centauri (only 2 stars are worth looking at though), or else in andromeda. (Not that I think we need to overinvest in SETI.)

I do like the way Darwin wrote. I hardly think he was not a man of faith. Me, I am not all religious and fed up with much religion actually, but I remember what my mom said to me when I was reading about origin: she said, if you want to you can be related to monkeys; I think I'll be related to cats. And I said, of course, no I would be related to cats too. It's a free country . . .

Posted by CEW at June 5, 2004 06:11 PM

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