Sunday, December 05, 2004

Still Evolving, aren't we

Dearest all, if you’ve been reading me you’ll know I don’t sleep well, occasionally not at all. Things have been pretty fuzzy lately because of it, plus I had a friend over so I couldn’t pay much attention to my blog. Most heartfelt thanks to Dale and M for commenting because Evolution is a major topic, one that people don’t understand well, and it’s important that they do and I'm not being all that helpful. On we go with the discussion.

Danny sent me this email and suggested I post it. Again, I could use your help bcs I’m really still very tired and not thinking very clearly, there are so many wrong things here I KNOW I’ll leave something important out (his text is in smaller font):

Uhmmm, I thought you used the percentage as proof that humans and chimps are related, particularly in the Darwinistic sense of the word. I say I don't know, and that it still remains to be proven.

I did, we are related. I don’t see your point really. We are related because at some point we were all the same and then several organisms evolved in different directions. I really don’t see your point, sorry. Maybe someone else can jump in?

As far as looking similar at various stages of development (and indeed during any phase in life), I think it's because there's only so many ways of doing things.

Von Baer’s Law states that species-distinguishing features arise later in embryonic development. During our ontogeny (embryonic development) we re-enact phylogeny, i.e., our evolutional history. Haeckel said it better, “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny”. Because we once had a fish for a common ancestor, we have gills at a certain stage. (This is by no mean universal, e.g. paedomorphosis and terminal addition (development induces slower development and faster development, respectivelly), but to us vertebrate/mammals it is). Developmental constraints mean that traits will arise depending on embryonic development. Just so we get the lingo right. THAT’s why it happens. Because at some point, we were fish, and had gills, and were effective as fish and therefore survived and kept evolving. And now our gill arches are turned into mandibles and the bones in the middle ear. Point is, whereas it is true that Haeckel’s law doesn’t always apply, von Baer’s often does and, more importantly, evolution rarely happens with total innovation, it being more likely that some structure will be modified into something new.

Look at human engineers and inventors creating things entirely independant of each other. Often so similar that "industrial espionage" seems the only conclusion. Darwinism does not take into account genetic mutation thru outside influences. Clearly, natural selection is a given, but it does not explain the appearance of NEW species. Birds are able to grow different beaks, as humans are able to grow taller or shorter, according to their environment. But we will NEVER grow gills, not in a million years, not if the survival of our species depended on it. We may over time be able to grow noses on our backs, so we could breathe a little easier WHEN WE COME UP FOR AIR. If we lived near Chernobyl, most of us will die, but one in 100.000.000 may start growing feathers. If you want to call this evolution, so be it, but I don't think with odds like these human race would have come about.

Alright, wrong on so many levels.

Organisms with different evolutionary origins (phylogenetically unrelated) respond to environmental contingencies by developing similar structures - this is called convergence (see resemblance of dogs, placental, and the Tasmanian wolf, a marsupial, for instance). Organisms which are phylogenetically related and evolve into different phenotypes are said to be divergent. Convergence is more common than hardcore Evolutionists would like to believe, divergence is also pretty common. It’s evolution, basically. But there being convergence doesn’t annul the importance of divergence.

"
The only way a lifeform will change (truly change, not just grow a bit taller) is thru DNA. And this means either random chance, or an intelligent intervening. I don't believe in the latter, and the former has odds too large by an order of magnitude, even if the earth is 5 billion years old."

Y
ou wrote this in the comments to the other post. You don’t quite understand how it works, it seems (and I’m not provoking you, just stating a fact). One tiny change in DNA - say, one amino acid - can lead to disastrous results. Incompatible-with-life results. That’s all it takes. In billions of years, a temporal notion we can’t quite comprehend, all it takes is one tiny mutation here and there and of those there were many. And whereas some mutations lead to cul-de-sacs and extinction in the long run if left to their own devices, others create amazing things and there are structural leaps. And when we say evolution is blind, that’s what it means. Birds DON’T grow ANYTHING. There is nothing purposeful in it. There happens to be a bird with a larger bill because of a mutation, a happy one in this case, and this bird will have better chances of surviving. He’ll be bigger, better fed, MORE FIT. And because of it, he’ll mate more, and better. Some of his offspring will inherit the trait (the gene/genes) and will themselves be fitter, etc. Eventually, the trait will set in and become a permanent fixture because these birds survived BETTER - are better adapted = evolved - than all others and they, therefore, win the race. This is HOW evolution happens, purely by chance. People always get this wrong, it’s one of my pet peeves. It's not a deliberate choice EVER.

And we HAVE grown gills before. In fact, we STILL grow them during develpment, it's coded into our DNA. We simply “outgrew” them and we “outgrow” them during normal embryonic develpment (during an abnormal one you may end up with things such as a baby whose tail needs to be surgically removed bcs genetic coding went a bit awry). It is not fully inconceivable that we will revert to having gills again some day. This is the wonder of evolution, one never knows. It’s pretty arrogant to say WE WILL NEVER this and that; evolution doesn’t know if we will or not yet, how can you? Do you have special connections, dahling? Natural selection ABSOLUTELY explains how these changes come about and the emergence of new species, absofuckinglutely! It doesn’tr happen overnight you know, it happens along thousand, hundreds of millions of years! We have a common ancestor with all primates (actually, it goes far farther than that but let’s stick to recent cladistic changes to make it simpler) and slowly we all branched off. How do evolution and natural selection NOT explain this??? I honestly don’t understand how you can even say it. Now, when evolution came into being, it was pretty unthinkable that we would one day have the means to alter our DNA through exposure to radiation and the likes. Blame them for not being able to predict the future. If some of us develop feathers bcs of it, and those feathers are somehow an asset IN EVOLUTIONARY TERMS so that they increase individual and maybe group fitness, and become a permanent trait, well, there you have your very effective adaptation.

Please read this and explain to me like I'm a 4-year old what part Johnson (the author) doesn't understand.
http://www.origins.org/pjohnson/whatis.html

I haven’t read it yet, it will have to come later. When I’m awake. Let’s stick to your email for now.

PS: He had a nice pun: "The paradigm rule explains why Gould's acknowledgment that neo-Darwinism is "effectively dead" had no significant effect on the Darwinist faithful, or even on Gould himself." Gould is a Darwinist himself.

Was, Stephen J. Gould died of cancer a few years ago. All his books are very interesting and absolutely riddled with humour. I liked him very much. The bickering that goes on is mostly about details, such as was it a long line or did it happen in bursts (sorry, am too knackered to remember the proper terminology in English).

It's kinda funny that me being an atheist for all intents and purposes, I'm thoroughly disagreeing with Darwinism as the overriding explanation of life, whereas you believing in some form of God at least declare yourself an atheist by adhering to Darwin.

See last paragraph. This is just plain silly really.

One more thing I forgot to come back to is why I call it a religion: People (and you seem to be among them) can't tolerate even the idea that it is merely a theory. And as such subject to debate, and rejection. The best that can be said about it is that it is the closest we have come up with as an explanation for how we got where we are. But there so many holes in it, I can't believe anyone would accept it as the truth, if you look only at the arguments it presents (big IF). If it must be true, in the absence of anything better, well fine by me. In such cases I prefer to say I just don't know, and people clearly can't stomach not knowing, or admitting we don't know. Or admitting we don't have the means of finding out, and theories like the Big Bang and Darwinism are just our silly, arrogant attempts to get some kind of grip on things that at present are simply beyond us. We used to say it must have been God, BECAUSE it was beyond us, but at least we recognized it was greater than us. Now it seems we feel we MUST at least be able to explain it, in order to afford ourselves at least some semblance of control. Already many scientists feel nature (or who- or whatever) did a shabby job, and they can and will do much better. Like I said: Arrogant.

Read M’s comment again re the difference btwn theory for the layman and for the scientist, that is VERY important. Sure it has holes, sure it’s open for debate (what isn’t today?) but I believe, firmly, that whatever new finds, whatever new data, we will see the theory of evolution play a major role in it. Because all you have to do is look, really LOOK, at the natural world to see it at work. You can SEE it. Nature does an amazing job, not a shabby one, but evolution implies mutations and they aren’t always good. It is wonderful that scientists can correct so many mistakes (from our perspective) and give people longer, better, healthier lives with less pain and more quality. If we as a species decided it’s also a great thing to decide the baby’s eye colour before its birth, it’s the other side of the coin, don’t blame evolution, blame Homo sapiens. Evolution has nothing to do with that. We are facing ethical dilemmas like never before and surely if we came back in a 100 years we’d be unable to recognise our society. It will all be regulated at some point and we are becoming dangerously adept at tinkering with nature. Not all of that will be good but - see last paragraph - we can’t have only the good, that will never happen. And there’s nothing arrogant abt trying to understand our world.

Again. _I_ am the atheist here, not you. I DON'T believe in God, and so I don't know who created the universe, the Earth, or Man. So far, I haven't met anyone who could satisfactorily explain it to me.

Danny, show me the person capable of expaling something to you SATISFACTORILY to you, and I’ll give him a prize. You know you love to pick fights. The only reason I’m biting is because this is pretty important.

But that doesn't mean I will accept a theory, any theory, because it offers an alternative I'm more comfortable with than with some God who can't be accepted by science (or at least as something/one that created it all, and is still involved in changing and directing).

So what’s your theory then? What do you believe in? I do believe in God. My God, however, is pretty much like the Emperess in the Neverending story, the force behind it all, there being no difference ultimately between good and evil because ethere needs to be a balance, there always needs to be a cosmic balance. My God is a force, an all-encompassing being who is beyond native squabbles, Big bang and Evolution theories. My God and these minor things are not incompatible. I find it daft when people say “If there were a God bad things wouldn’t happen”. They’re assuming God has a personal interest in every little thing that goes on. I don’t believe that. I think we are pretty much on our own, and that we will receive from life what we put in it. My God does not put one people ahead of another - that would be a pretty biased thing to do and in a cosmically-balanced universe, the way I see it, God is not biased. God just IS. Again, we must fend for ourselves, our lives will speak for ourselves. God may have appeared to different people (read groups, I have a bit of a beef with personal Jesus visions) at a time when people were more attuned to themselves and nature, for all I know. But my God will not say “The Jews are better than everyone else”. My God will not say “This is DEFINITELY the way things should be done and this and that are wrong”. Again, that is up to us as humans. Because to say that about one group means that all others are wrong and how could that be? And that is my biggest beef with Creationism, Evolution doesn’t discriminate against anything, Creationism does and affects us PERSONALLY, it’s a set of values, of private beliefs that are forced down everyone’s throats regardless of what their faith seems to be. It’s disrespectful and dangerous. It’s very fundamentalistic-Muslim in a way. But faith isn’t science and evolution is the best answer so far. I don’t believe in coincidences and I have a big mystical side along with the scientific one and I could tell you stories about dreams coming true and generally freaky things that I have a hard time believing even though they happened to me. But mysticism, spirituality AND science and accurate thinking can coexist very pacifically and constructively and that’s what people don’t understand. You don’t have to be an atheist to appreciate the elegance of Evolution, and believing in God doesn’t instantly put you at odds with scientific data. That’s just silly and quite frankly, you’re very smart, so I don’t understand it at all.

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19 Comments:

At 6/12/04 11:28, Blogger squarepeg said...

hello, dahling. I'm finding all this fascinating (especially how we recapitulate in utero --if I got that right), tho I'm only getting on avg about 50% of it. And, narcissistically speaking, I loved 'hearing' you expound on your world view (we are of one mind -- but we already knew that, nachon?). But you should leave darwin and move onto einstein because i'd like to understand the time-warp theory that allows you to do so much (blog, study, edit, freak out over insomnia) with the 24-hour paradigm????

 
At 6/12/04 17:18, Blogger Ron said...

One thing I like to ask the creationists when they give me the "just a theory" bit is remind them that heliocentrism is just a theory too. Then I ask if they think the sun goes around the earth because the bible says it does.

"And the sun stood still and the moon stayed until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the Book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hastened not to go down for about a whole day."
Joshua 10:12-14

 
At 6/12/04 18:38, Blogger The Lioness said...

S., that's precisely it, editing is finished (I TOLD you!), studying, yes, it's starting now, and I don't freak as much if I blog when I don't sleep bcs I'm occupied, THAT's why I was blogging so much when I was editing those chapters, because I was hardly sleeping and it's something to occupy yourself with. Oh but this day is almost over, B"H!!!

 
At 6/12/04 23:26, Blogger The Lioness said...

Ron, i didn't know that, does it work? Do they gasp and writhe? SAY YES!

 
At 7/12/04 00:13, Blogger Dale said...

oops, I posted on the old thread, this morning. I missed this whole thing.

 
At 7/12/04 01:20, Blogger M said...

Daniel does make a good point, which I may have glossed over a bit last time, about people who view evolution as a religion. Most scientists take it for granted and won't entertain any ideas that suggest something other than evolution is at work in how life came to be on Earth. However, we need to keep in mind that the debate over evolution (among the scientific community) basically ended about 100 years ago, and there aren't really any other ideas out there. I'm skeptical of the theory of evolution, but only as skeptical as I am of atomic theory. And let's face it, I'm pretty sure there is such a thing as an atom. (There could be strings instead, I suppose, but the jury is still out on that.) It doesn't sound like Daniel is advocating the teaching of creationism, and as a fellow atheist, I take heart in that. I just think the only thing you need to realize is that the skepticism you are advocating -- your suggestion that we view evolutionary theory with a grain of salt -- might have made sense back when Mr. Darwin first published "Origin of the Species," but is no longer relevant because the concerns you raise have largely been put to bed. **I'm going to guess that evolution was not taught to you very well in school. That's not an insult; it was not taught to me very well, either. I've had to re-learn (or learn for the first time) a lot about how it works, and I'm no scientist or even a pseudo-intellectual. If only. But if you are interested in criticizing evolutionary theory, there is one thing that I think still holds water, and that is it's questionable whether we could have evolved from amoebas and other such tiny sludge-type animals into the walking, talking monsters we now are, in the time allowed. If you calculate how long it takes for natural selection to work on something simple, like going from a small-beaked finch to a large-beaked finch, and then extrapolate, it would take millions of years to evolve from a fish into a person -- millions more years, in fact, than life has existed on Earth. So this is a possible flaw in the theory. That is, that's what a high school science teacher told me, so who knows if it's true. But I thought I'd share it as a show of good faith/skepticism.

 
At 7/12/04 17:08, Blogger Ron said...

Lioness, unfortunately no. Mostly they are OK with that being a metaphor. I've talked with people who believe in intelligent design - a kind of directed evolution or creationism lite. Personally that doesn't make sense to me because if God consciously designed us you'd think he'd do a better job. I for one could do without my flat feet, curved spine, and near-sighted eyes. I really don't have any contact with the hard core creationism factions.

 
At 8/12/04 00:23, Blogger Ed said...

BC - I think you will find that the so-called 'god gene' was proposed by Dr Dean Hamer, the director of the Gene Structure and Regulation Unit at the National Cancer Institute in America.

I don't know enough about genetics to form an opinion as to whether there is anything in it, but I do like the idea of the 'god gene'. It would explain why otherwise logical, scientifically minded people believe in such a crazy notion as the existence of God. (Just kidding - well sort of.)

Dr Hamer was reported as saying, 'Religious believers can point to the existence of god genes as one more sign of the creator's ingenuity - a clever way to help humans acknowledge and embrace a divine presence.'

And for what it's worth, although I disagree with most of what Daniel says, I think we do have to be careful that Darwinism isn't given psuedo-religious status.

Lioness - are you saying that you believe in God, but not in the Bible? And that you don't believe in creation either?

 
At 8/12/04 00:30, Blogger The Lioness said...

Yes, I believe in a God. I cannot believe in Creation, no. Nor in everything that is in the Bible.

 
At 8/12/04 12:38, Blogger D said...

M. said: "But if you are interested in criticizing evolutionary theory, there is one thing that I think still holds water, and that is it's questionable whether we could have evolved from amoebas and other such tiny sludge-type animals into the walking, talking monsters we now are, in the time allowed."

WELL THIS IS ELEMENTARY.

Even some evolutionists themselves admit that random mutations by natural influences are totally inadequate to explain the divergence of life as it is now, let alone all the life forms we'll never know about because they went extinct before we were ever around.

It's all well to say "my concerns have been put to bed" when this one hasn't. The question is at the root: Is 5 billion years enough to account for life as it is? (leaving the 5 billion years alone for now... Or the question of where the first lifeform came from!) If you say: Yes, it IS enough, the discussion ends there.
If not, evolution doesn't explain it. For me at least.

 
At 8/12/04 20:33, Blogger Ed said...

Lioness - Is that some of the Bible, or most of it? Yours would seem to be a pretty unconventional belief. Almost an atheist (apart from the belief in God bit!). Nothing wrong with being unconventional, of course.

Daniel - Which evolutionists have said that? And if evolution doesn't explain it, what does? Do you have a better theory than Darwin's?

 
At 9/12/04 02:28, Blogger M said...

no disrespect, but if you'd written the above post first, we all would have been saved a lot of furious typing. anyway, there are still possible explanations (note I did not say "theories") of how that particular flaw can be explained, such as sudden bursts of mutations caused by cataclysmic events, which is then refined, for lack of a better word, by natural selection. this is getting specific and outside of my knowledge base, so perhaps someone else would like to jump in here. It does seem that this is a flaw in the theory that has not been fully put to rest, but as far as I'm concerned, given the weight of the evidence that is still on the side of the theory, natural selection is the best explanation we've got. if something better comes along, I'll listen.

 
At 9/12/04 02:40, Blogger The Lioness said...

M., but it was great having you type furiously, thank you!

E., I don't believe in creation itself, I don't have a problem with the idea that a lot of what is written actually happened even if not quite in the way described. I was an atheist once. No resemblance to where I am now, at all.

 
At 9/12/04 15:53, Blogger Ed said...

M - sorry to make you type furiously. I wasn't referring to your comments, though, when I asked what the alternative is - your point about a possible flaw in the timescale of evolution was well made. I was referring to Daniel who, unless I've missed something, doesn't seem to be suggesting any alternative.

It seems to me that we have Darwin's original theory as a starting point, but obviously it will need modification over time with new geological discoveries and advances in other sciences. The theory has already had to be modified, for example, after the discovery of the K-T boundary so that instead of Darwin's original gradual and even progression, it may instead proceed in fits and starts.

I suppose it is a bit like this: we know that evolution happens but we probably still don't know yet the exact mechanism of how it happens and our ideas will have to be revised over time. As with, say, gravity. We know gravity exists, but Newton's theory was eventually replaced by Einstein's. Maybe in the future someone will come up with something better than Einstein. But gravity will still exist.

Lioness: That's interesting - thanks for clarifying. I'm sorry if I was flippant about your beliefs, by the way.

 
At 9/12/04 17:38, Blogger Ed said...

Daniel - sorry, I just realised that by 'previous post' you probably meant 'As God Is My Witness'. However (again, unless I missed something) Daniel still doesn't seem to have said what he proposes instead of evolution.

 
At 10/12/04 02:26, Blogger M said...

PS ... I don't think Daniel necessarily has to propose an alternative to evolutionary theory in order to support his statement that it hasn't been proven to his satisfaction. If someone said to me, "This computer can perform complex mathematics because it has a magical potato inside," I think everyone would support my decision not to believe them, even though I don't have a better explanation. How the hell do I know how a computer works?

 
At 10/12/04 14:31, Blogger The Lioness said...

M, fair enough.

 
At 13/12/04 02:10, Blogger Ed said...

Lioness, you have probably already seen this, but I was reading today about Anthony Flew, the atheist philosopher who has suddenly decided that there is a god after all.

Anyway, just in case you haven't already come across it I thought you might find it interesting.

 
At 4/2/05 08:23, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From what I have seen of God and gods, and from what I can infer from these experiences, evolution with all its random barbarity and senseless blindness is perfectly in lines with the divine plan. If you are divine your biggest problem is boredom. Setting up a world where random stuff happens but in a progressive way is inherently more interesting than setting up something which all the outcomes are previously known.

The problem with facing this rather straight-forward truth is that people would like to believe that they are specially favored by the divine and moreover are so because they follow some distinctive habitual behavior. This is superstition. Anyone who has ever met God can tell you that God doesn't give a #$%^! about whether or not you wear a tie to Sunday church or go on Saturday or even go to church at all or as a matter of fact are a good person or a bad person.

What God really wants from mankind is for them to be interesting and more than the sum product of their biology and environment.

That is what is really interesting in mankind, whether they can achieve something transcendent.

These other people, the ones who argue all day about what God wants this or that well God get's bored by all that silly stuff and will not hesitate to flush all of these people down the drain just to see if there is one individual in the middle of them who is interesting or different from the rest.

If you don't believe me, try actually reading the Bible. In the OT God kills lots of people all the time because of one man's mistakes or suggestions. In Job, he has all of Job's children and servants put to death, just to see whether Job is really a good man or is just faking it because his life is nice.

And other stories from other religions are the same. Elijah had wild bears tear up little kids for harassing him. Jesus killed a tree for not giving him fruit.

Of course it's easy to rationalize these stories, but if you had met a god you would know. That it was all true and your life, your ideas, basically mean nothing to it. And then you would understand that evolution, the blind random chance of environment and biology struggling with individuals who stand out to take it all ... is a perfect representation of the divine will.

I am sorry, since most people cannot bring themselves to believe this, but it is true.

If you had met God, you would have no problem at all believing in evolution.

The Dragon King

 

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