The “trouble” with evolution…

January 16, 2007

The trouble with Evolution is that everyone *thinks* they understand it.

– Richard Dawkins

This has come up recently, I was informed about a speaker in my area who could “scientifically prove” that evolution is false. Of course anybody with comprehension of science and the scientific process (less than 30% of you if you’re American) knows how ridiculous this is, for reasons I’ll get into later.

I have seen and heard these speakers before, and they prey on the misconceptions and ignorance of their audience. They exploit the perceptions of those who are faithful and have very limited knowledge of the principles of evolution. They only reinforce what the faithful want to believe, they assuage cognitive dissonance with fallacies – and the faithful blindly accept the distortions because it makes them feel comfortable and secure in their beliefs. It’s very probable that the speakers themselves fully believe what they’re saying, but the issue is that they don’t understand evolution at all. It’s easy to persuade somebody with no knowledge that something is wrong.

I am not trying to attack or disparage the faithful or these speakers, I am instead pointing out that many of them don’t really “get it.” Indeed the general level of education in America is pathetic with surveys showing almost 48% of the population believing humans co-existed with dinosaurs (Chapter 7 – “Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Public Understanding”, Report: Science & Engineering Indicators – 2003, National Science Board, National Science Foundation, April 2002)…

I’m glad I come from a family of scientists and have taken many unversity courses in anthropology and other such research so I know more than the vast majority of Americans.

Almost every other developed country accepts evolution more than we do, and consequently they are better educated on evolution than we are (we are on the bottom of both charts). Is that a coincidence? Certainly not. We live in a religious society that mistakenly sees evolution as a threat to faith, and it is easier to defeat something you don’t understand. A great many of the scientists who study evolution are religious and they don’t perceive it as a threat to their beliefs, and they actually understand it.

Now I won’t actually get into the evolution vs. creation debate because there is little hope of changing people’s minds. What I will do is illustrate many of the fallacies committed by these speakers and evangelical advocates against evolution.

The most important thing about science is that it’s not a belief system. You often see the faithful mistakenly align science as a belief, and you sometimes hear about some speaker who “proves evolution wrong scientifically”. Evolution has never been proven wrong scientifically, and if it was it would be from a scientist, not some evangelical speaker.

The truth is that science is its own harshest critic, scientists are more skeptical of science than the faithful are, that’s the nature of the beast. The very structure of science is to make a hypothesis and do every thing imaginable to prove it wrong. If it can’t be proven wrong (based on strictly empirical evidence and study) it becomes a theory. If it is absolutely unbeatable and incontrovertible then it becomes a law. If there was anything that legitimately disproved evolution than it would cease to be or undergo severe revisions to be consistent with new data. Darwin was wrong on a number of things, scientists were the ones to find his mistakes and change the theories (NOT the evangelicals). Indeed evangelicals like to use the outdated Darwin models and argue against them, ignoring or not knowing that they’ve been out of date for the last 100 years.

So let’s get in to some of the common myths you see…

Myth: Evolution is just a theory.

Essentially true, but dismissing it as “just a theory” a grave distortion of what a scientific theory is. A scientific theory is not the same as a hypothesis, it is not a guess by any possible stretch. A theory is an organized set of information that has been confirmed repeatedly and not yet proven untrue. A theory is demonstrated to be true, it’s observable, repeatable, and far more supported and confirmed than any guess. Of course evangelicals like to distort the word “Theory” to make it sound weak when it isn’t. Here are some more examples of scientific “theories:”

Quantum Theory: This deals with subatomic particles and some crazy stuff, it is the reason we have cell phones and computers.

Stress Theory: This is the theory that allows engineers to construct buildings, bridges, roads, planes, cars, etc. It works.

As you are probably in a building and on a computer, your very situation in life at this moment is hinged upon scientific theory. Should you pretend your computer doesn’t exist and never cross another bridge because it’s “only theory”?

Oh and it’s only the mechanisms through which evolution is accomplished that are theory. Explanations such as genetic drift, natural selection, mate selection, those are the theories of the mechanics of how evolution works. Evolution in itself is a biological fact.

Myth: Evolution doesn’t explain how life started.

True. But then it was never meant or intended to. No scientist worth his degree has ever claimed that evolution indubitably explains how life sprang into existence. Evolution is the study of the way life changes, adapts and evolves over time and from adversity. Being analogous it explains how the leaves fell from the tree, not how they came to be in the first place. The idea that “evolution doesn’t explain where life came from so it’s wrong” is as stupid as saying “We don’t know how human civilization started so recorded history is all wrong.”

The notion that life arose from inanimate matter, the “primordial ooze” or “primeval soup” the abiogenesis hypothesis. Note that it’s a hypothesis and NOT a theory. It’s an educated guess. Now you see why creationists like to use the origin of life argument? It’s easier to defeat an untested or unproven hypothesis/guess than it is to even begin an attack on a scientific theory. This is an example of twisting words and misguiding people.

Some people also like to clump evolution together with the big bang theory which is completely absurd. They are completely different scientific entities.

Myth: We evolved from monkeys.

False. This is a misconception perpetuated largely by that drawing of apes becoming man… which if I recall was originally drawn to mock Darwin, it was part of an early smear campaign to discredit him by distorting his theory. It is with great irony (but not surprising in a religious country like the USA) that it has become a symbol of evolution.

According to evolution we did NOT evolve from apes, we simply share a common ancestor many millions of years ago. We both evolved from Pierolapithecus catalaunicus. You can actually say that Apes evolved from humans and be equally incorrect.

Hell, there are very distinguishable differences in the ethnicities of humans, both in appearance in genetics, and that came about over a couple hundred thousand years of separation… Imagine if we had continued without mingling or seeing each other for several million years – the differences between whites/Asians/blacks/etc. would have been astounding, we’d eventually have become different species. Imagine if technology was lost and the planet surface was divided by impossible crevasses and the west coast, the north and the south were all separated for millions of years – we would be completely different with the Southerners probably becoming something like Morlocks.

Myth: Evolution is random.

False. Random chance is very contrary to the principle of Natural Selection, which is one of the fundamental concepts of evolution. Members of a species that are less suited to survive die out while those more capable thrive and expand. There is nothing random about it, life under evolution progresses in a natural and logical manner.

We all have genetic differences and mutations that are chance, (you might be taller or shorter than the rest of your family, may have more hair, a better brain for math, a unique allergy, may be double jointed, and so on) and these differences make us stronger or weaker in certain areas. Natural selection actively selects which strengths are suited for survival in an environments and which aren’t. There is a very small element of chance, but selection is the opposite of random.

No, we did not develop eyes at random, we developed eyes over an exceptionally long, gradual process of trial and error. Eyes were not spontaneously or miraculously generated, and there was never “half an eye.” Eyes began as a simple cluster of cells that were sensitive to light and they slowly increased in complexity and capability until they were able to see directions and eventually colors and complex shapes.

To be taken step by step through how this could have occurred, watch this segment from an instructional lecture (it’s like a British kid friendly show from 1991) by Richard Dawkins called “Climbing Mount Improbable.” He demonstrates exactly how something as complex as the eye evolved through natural selection (and then goes on to explain wings and camouflage).

To flip the fallacious “watch maker argument” around, watches were also not created at random. The creation of the watch was a slow and gradual process of trial and error, of experimentation and exploration. Like the lightbulb it took many attempts and a lot of revision before it was finally done right. No watch maker magically popped into existence and started crafting watches on his first go. The watch itself had to evolve.

Myth: Complex things don’t come naturally:

False. For reasons above.

Myth: Evolution isn’t testable or repeatable.

False. Evolution has been observed in a number of species and it is testable and repeatable with bacteria and other simple, short lived lifeforms. Even kids can do it. When I was in high school my biology class genetically augmented and evolved some ecoli strains.

For a solid example refer to: (Weinberg, J.R., V.R. Starczak, and D. Jorg, 1992, “Evidence for rapid speciation following a founder event in the laboratory.” Evolution 46: 1214-1220) For more observed instances of speciation, refer to this FAQ.

It should be noted that nobody has been able to spontaneously generate an entire new species out of thin air or inanimate matter.

Perhaps one of the strangest things was the advocates for “intelligent design” were the ones to frequently (and mistakenly) accuse evolution of being untestable or unrepeatable when their own idea was utterly impossible to test, observe, repeat, or prove. Fortunately the intelligent design craze seems to have died down a little since most religious leaders (including the Pope and the Vatican) have openly said that it’s absurd and not a science by any possible stretch.

And those are just a few of gross misconceptions and egregious misunderstandings of evolution. I may get into more at a later date.

Now on another note…

Here’s an interesting thing… If you think about it, Evolution has to exist for the bible to be true. IF there were an Adam and Eve (there wasn’t) and they began as the only two humans on the planet (they weren’t) that doesn’t account for the wide genetic differences and variations across the human spectrum. Let’s say they were Arabic: dark brown hair, brown eyes, and bronze skin… if there is no evolution then where did the Asians come from? Where did the blacks come from? And the whites? The Filipinos? The Eskimos? Etc. Even if they had been originally very different (Adam was black and Eve was pale white with blonde hair and blue eyes) there is still no possible way for their descendants to have developed very different eye colors (brown, green, blue, grey, black, etc.), hair colors (different shades of brown, black, blonde, and red), skin (we all know the differences here), facial features (the features between whites, blacks, Mexicans, arabs, Asians and so forth are visibly obvious), sizes (heights and weights) and so on without evolution. It’s not possible… unless of course evolution is true.

Hell, if the story of Noah was true we’d all be descended from him and his family, which would guarantee even less genetic variance (particularly as it – according to theists – occurred not that long ago) as they were certainly all similar in race, and appearance. So where could all these vastly different humans come from?

And another(even less related) thing. If the great flood apparently wiped out all life on the planet except for those on the ark, then how come christians point to “many cultures have stories of a great flood” as evidence that it happened. That other cultures still existed disproves the great flood in the first place!

Food for thought.

-Mike

Free classified ad search engine

 

Advertisements

5 Responses to “The “trouble” with evolution…”

  1. Tim Says:

    Mike,

    Just a quick grammar nazi observation of the first paragraph (of an otherwise good post on the subject). Making the suggestion that 30% (or less) of Americans understand science would carry more weight if the same sentence uses “it’s” correctly. (Technically, “it’s” is the contraction of “it is” and “its” is the possessive form.) As a Christian who has no problem with evolution, your post makes some interesting points. – Tim

  2. mikesterx Says:

    Doh! You’re right, that’s an embarrassing mistake.

  3. Taylor Says:

    I pretty much agree with what you said but offer the argument that most common evolutionists (that is to say evolutionists who have put as much thought into the subject as the common creationists that you talk about) make many of the same mistakes that the common creationists make. Evolutionists bash creationism and intelligent design (which are different) as theories for the beginings of life as being less likely than evolution when evolution does not, in fact, cover that aspect at all.

    Evolutionists often do not bother to differentiate between micro-evolution and macro-evolution and claim that they are on and the same when they are not (necessarily). While it makes sense to think of the one leading to the other, it requires adding a bunch of “what if”s. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that it’s a big leap, but it is large enough to understand that someone could believe in one and not the other.

    I do agree with pretty much everything that you said. You described theories well. Theories are pragmatic and we use what works regardless of the truth of it, because for the most part, we can’t prove them to be true, and so the theory of evolution should not lose face due to the fact that it is a theory (though atoms where once thought of to be single balls and that was a theory that worked wonderfully for a long time so the argument still remains that evolution is simply a part of the ultimate truth).

  4. jes Says:

    I have a problem with aspects of evolution that I haven’t heard addressed anywhere.

    My problem is this: I’m a s/w engineer and I regularly design embedded software to work under a myriad of conditions. For the most part a broad expanse of code/instructions handle what would be expected the majority of the time. But I have to also be careful to account for those situations/circumstances that are far less likely, and some might argue, very remote. eg Be prepared for the situation in which the user is entering data from the external interface, another attempting access from a serial or IP interface, while numerous interrupts are occurring and attempting to access a certain piece of information shared by multiple processes, while multiple sensors must be serviced, etc. A complex path of events only one of which may cause a problem and result in turmoil or complete shutdown. So the design has to prepare for this.

    I think you’ll grant that the human body has many mechanisms which work under similar circumstances. Address a broad typical range but be prepared for the extraordinary and the remote probability. But how does evolution account for handling such a remote case? If a random mutation had occurred that allowed the body to address that remote situation or circumstance and this was passed along to the progeny of the initial possessor of that positive mutation then that mutation could only be rendered as useful if it were to indeed occur, ie tested, in subsequent progeny. If the probability of that circumstance occurring is remote then how does it pose an advantage over those that don’t have that mutuation since it occurs so infrequently? It thus has little possibility of persisting over subsequent generations, naturally selected, because it hasn’t been adequately put to the test. If the variation is rather miniscule, but nonetheless, of great use in that single very remote circumstance, as is the case in my s/w design, does it really offer a greater chance at survival when confronted with the innumerable other perils that a species face for survival?

    I think with the improbability of such a single circumstance being beneficial that one would have to argue that the remote circumstance was reached in gradual steps. But are there really interim steps in all such circumstances? This leads me to conclude that evolution doesn’t have the problem nor the solution right. I’d rather choose to keep looking elsewhere for answers to these arguments than to accept the broad strokes with which most proponents of evolution speak.

  5. Stephen Says:

    Excellent article!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s