Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Evolution for Creationists Part Four

This is the fourth part in my "Evolution for Creationists" series, and I will now answer some common and important questions about evolution.

1. Isn't Evolution Just a Theory?

According to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a scientific theory is "a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses." No amount of validation changes a theory into a law, which is a descriptive generalization about nature. So when scientists talk about the theory of evolution--or the atomic theory or the theory of relativity, for that matter--they are not expressing reservations about its truth. In addition to the theory of evolution, meaning the idea of descent with modification, one may also speak of the fact of evolution. The NAS defines a fact as "an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as 'true.'"

This answer is from 15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense

2. Can Evolution Increase the Information in the Genome?

Let's back up and define 'information' first. Merriam-Webster defines 'information' as
"a signal or character (as in a communication system or computer) representing data". So to get an increase in information, we would have to add in a signal (DNA) that was useful (data).

Manyuan Long authored a peer reviewed paper entitled,
"THE ORIGIN OF NEW GENES: GLIMPSES FROM THE YOUNG AND OLD". In it, he discusses De Novo (meaning "anew") Gene Origination:

"Although the true de novo origination of new genes from previously non-coding sequences
is rare, there are genes with a portion of coding-region sequence that has originated de novo. For example, in the Drosophila sperm-specific dynein intermediate chain gene Sdic, a previously intronic sequence has been converted into a coding exon22."

Insertion Mutations- This is when one or more nucleotides gets added to the genome of an organism. When an insertion mutation creates a useful new function, it can be considered an increase in information. Here are some examples:

* E. Coli bacteria require 2 mutations in order to utilize salicin. In a lab, these two mutations were observed to occur and produce a strain of E. Coli that utilized Salicin.

* A bacteria gained the ability to digest nylon via an insertion mutation. Answers in Genesis has challenged this, and NMSR has responded.

* Bacteria evolved novel molecular machinery in order to utilize thioredoxin.

* Gene Duplications. While creationists will complain that a duplication is not "new information", they are ignoring the fact that duplicated genes can be used for brand new functions. Examples include the

Evolution of an antifreeze protein in antarctic fish,

A pancreatic enzyme gene was duplicated in the Colobine monkey and helped it cope with a leaf-only diet,

Yeast adapting to glucose via gene duplications,

The Genetic Evidence that this process produced much of our genome,

and vision originating via gene duplication, according to recent research.

3. Has Evolution Ever Been Observed?

Yes. Besides the examples given above, evolution has been observed to the point of new species emerging. Butterflies have evolved resistance to a parasite. New species of cichlid fish have evolved(another article on the cichlids is here). A scientist bred E. Coli in a lab for 40,000 generations. The bacteria are now twice as big and reproduce 70% faster. Cane Toads were brought to Australia, and have since evolved smaller body size. The native fauna has evolved in response: the mouths of some snake species are getting smaller, for instance, because so many of the snakes with big mouths were eating the poisonous cane toads and dying off.

Speciation in Sea Birds:

"Using DNA samples retrieved from birds breeding in the Azores, Madeira, Cape Verde and the Galapagos, the researchers determined that petrels breeding in different seasons but from the same burrows did indeed differ genetically. They also learned that the seasonal species had not bred with each other for periods ranging from around 1,000 to 180,000 years, providing a series of “time shots” of divergence, Dr. Friesen explains."

For More, see the Talk Origins' Observed Instances of Speciation. Also, see University of Texas' page on Speciation, as well as the PBS page on Allopatric Speciation and the Berkeley page on speciation.

Other Examples:

Arizona Fruit Fly Speciation
London Mosquito Speciation
Salamanders and Songbirds

4. Do Evolutionists assume stagnant conditions in order to calculate ages (Uniformitarianism)?

No. Geologists are aware that catastrophes happen, and they look for evidence of them. A recent study found that Britain became an island because of a megaflood 200,000 years ago. You would not find something like that if you assumed only slow, steady processes for shaping geological and geographical features. There is another paper that discusses the evidence of megafloods during the Holocene Epoch. (Click here for the definition and information on the Holocene Epoch).

"Geologists have been quite comfortable with the explanations that some events have been the accumulation of small changes, and others as the result of, at least, local catastrophes."
-Stephen Jay Gould, the Arkansas Creation Trial

Also see Talk.Origins' explanation

5. How did life begin?

No one knows for sure. It is thought that life begin with something that could replicate itself (Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, chapter 2) which then, over many generations, evolved into life. Non-living things that can reproduce include molecules, peptides, clay crystals, and even dust particles!

This video explains one idea about the origin of life very simply and elegantly.

A new hypothesis about the origin of life was recently put forth.

6. Is the Scientific Community Biased Against Creationism?

I am not a scientist, and I do not have the first hand experience to say for sure. However, a creationist by the name of John Baumgardner has published in peer reviewed journals before, although as far as I know his mainstream papers do not discuss creationism, and his ideas about plate tectonics have not gained wide acceptance. Remember, most scientists even through Darwin's time were creationists. Darwin wrote letters, perfected his ideas, and a lot of people worked to get them accepted. I think creationism should go the same route if it is to be accepted science.

7. What falsifiable predictions does evolution make?

* Paleontologists successfully predicted that they would find a "missing link" between fish and tetrapods in upper Devonian Strata (They named it Tiktaalik Roseae) (See this clip from "Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial")

* Evolutionary Theory predicted that Humans would have a fused set of chromosomes, which was later confirmed.

* Evolutionary Theory Predicted that Jawless Fish would be the only vertebrates to lack the alpha/beta divide in hemoglobin.
See Richard Dawkins, "The Information Challenge"

* Evolutionary Theory is frequently used in fighting contagious disease. See Berkeley Evolution

* Biologist P.Z. Meyers discussed numerous verified predictions of evolutionary theory concerning vertebrate eyes.

* Predictions of Evolutionary Theory are discussed in "The Seven Daughters of Eve" and "Evolution for Everyone" though the predictions are too complex to sum up here.

8. How did Irreducibly Complex Structures Evolve?

The notion of "irreducible complexity" is based on two false assumptions:
1) That organisms cannot grow more dependent on parts after they evolve.
2) That parts cannot evolve new functions.

For instance, the bacterial flagellum's motor is highly similar to the type three secretory system. It is theorized that the TTSS evolved into the flagellum.

Michael Behe claimed that the human blood clotting system was irreducibly complex, yet simpler systems have been shown to exist, the lobster's clotting system, as well as the dolphin's, the pufferfish's, and the zebrafish's. This is what we would expect if, like I said, organisms can grow more dependent on these structures once they are in place.

9. What about all the Flood Stories/Dragon Myths?

Flood Stories:
I have a different opinion than most people on this subject, as I believe that flood stories do share a common origin, but the origin of them is not the Bible. (See the end of this post). If you're going to believe that the whole world was covered in water at some point, then you do so on the basis of zero testable evidence, and in spite of a large list of absurdities.

Dragon Tales:
Many people write these stories off as coincidence, but I do not. I think it is possible that a small group of dinosaurs survived the meteor impact, and this may be where we get our dragon stories*. It could also be that ancient people discovered fossils and invented stories about them. This did happen, by the way. Then again, the whole thing could be a coincidence. Out of all the mythological creatures invented by people, maybe it is statistically inevitable that some resemble dinosaurs. There's an an Egyptian carving that looks like a helicopter, but most of us would think that it was a coincidence.

Also see: The First Fossil Hunters

* It would not contradict Evolution for humans and dinosaurs to live side by side, but it would contradict Evolution if a Human skeleton was found that dated to over 40 million years old (around the time the dinosaurs were prominent).

10. Has Macro-Evolution ever been observed?

If we define Macro-Evolution as evolution at or above the species level, then yes, it has been observed. If you define it as something else, like say, "the evolution of a new 'kind' of animal" then No. Here is my philosophy: Any part of the genome can change by mutation. What is to stop it from changing over and over again until it becomes something totally new? (The reason we cannot observe this, by the way, is it would take WAY too long to change the genetic code of an organism into a new 'kind'). Creationists have no evidence that there is any kind of barrier to stop change after a certain point, but Evolutionists do have evidence that 'kinds' change into other 'kinds' via fossils and genetics.

However, over the course of history some dramatic changes have been witnessed from the Artificial Selection of Plants. Artificial Selection is when human beings choose only the best of their crop to reproduce. After generations and generations, this can produce something very different from the wild product. Just take a look at how much our modern day corn differs from its wild ancestor.

This blog article is excellent for reviewing the evolution of corn.

11. I have another question/objection.

I suggest you go here and search for some key words related to question. If you cannot find anything, feel free to leave a comment anywhere on this blog and I will try and get back to you.


Anonymous said...

I believe you have an error in your discussion of "dragons". Aside from your debatable suggestion that some dinosaurs survived long enough to appear with human ancestors in the fossil record, you have the time scale wrong.

The Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary is 65my ago, not 40my as you state.

Anonymous said...

Nice post -- this should have been the first part, IMHO, as it addresses the most basic of complaints ("Just a theory" for example).

The "kinds" issue and baraminology are always going to be something die-hard creationists cling to. I totally agree with your assessment of new "kinds" evolving through radical compounded speciation, but know (from experience) that it's not enough to satisfy a YEC.

In any case, nice post(s), it's good to have a very quick-reference resource for the most common YEC claims.

Oh -- did you know that the myth of the Cyclops (greek myth) is likely derived from someone who found an elephant skull? I remember reading that in Zoobooks magazine back when I was a kid. The reason is due to the size of their nasal cavity. Check into it, it's pretty neat.

AIGBusted said...

Hi Donnie!

I'm aware that the Cretaceous was 65 mya, but I just decided to be liberal and put the estimation at 40 mya, since anything at or before that time period would completely contradict everything we know about human evolution.

Berlzebub said...

Some good stuff, AiGB. I'll be looking more thoroughly through your links during my spare time (like I have much).

Regarding the part about "dragons", I did a post about it early on. An interesting note is that "dragon" appears 13 times in revelations alone.

Anonymous said...

The very least we can ask of any system, scientific or religious, is that it not be blatantly self-contradictory. Creationists like to nitpick the theory of evolution in an attempt to put scientists on the defensive. However, when it comes to examining the underpinnings of biblical creation, they have been getting a free pass - which is too bad, since biblical creation does not even live up to this minimal standard.

I have confronted creationists a few times with the following. I doubt if anything would de-program them, but at least this seems to take them aback, since they rarely know their own bible:

Creation proponents believe in "the inerrancy and full authority of Scripture and in the literal historicity of Genesis, with its record of six-day Creation"[1] . If we examine Genesis, we find that chapter 1 and chapter 2 tell different stories*. In chapter 1, plants and animals were created before any human, yet in chapter 2, man was created first, then the plants, the animals, and lastly, woman. Moreover, in Chapter 1 of Genesis the Creator is the "Elohim". Elohim is a Hebrew word that arises from combining Eloah, which denotes a singular female deity, with "-im", a male plural. So Elohim is literally "male-female Deities". Contrast this with chapter 2, were the creator is "YHWH Elohim" which gets translated into English as "Lord God" but more literally is "Lord of Gods". So the agent of creation is different from one chapter to the next as well.

We conclude that scripture contains two different and entirely incompatible creation stories. The creationists should called to account - which scriptural creation story is the correct one? Which one is incorrect? How does one know? How can inerrant Scripture contain something incorrect?

*It is very important here to be careful of which translation one is using. The New International Version inserts a past tense in Genesis 2 that reads as if God had already created the plants and animals before man, yet such past tense does not occur in the original Hebrew. The King James version is true to the original in this regard. See to compare.


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Lith said...

Thanks for this "Evolution for Creationists" section, it's a pretty good, easily understandable resource. Your blog on the whole is pretty interesting. Keep rebutting those creationsit lies :).

Anonymous said...

In response to the attack on the Genesis account...

Genisis 2 simply gives us more imformation. It expands on chapter one. It doesn't in the slightest bit contradict it!!

Your reading skills are like that of an ape. You must have inherited them from your dad.

AIGBusted said...

I may have to turn off the "Anonymous Comments" Option if I keep getting retarded comments from creationists. I have the suspicion that these are all from the same person. Question Mark.