Saturday, February 16, 2008

Rabbi, Rabbi

Atheist Christopher Hitchens and Rabbi Schmuley Boteach (You may know him from Shalom in the Home) recently had a debate on (what else?) the existence of God. To be perfectly clear, I like the Rabbi. The work he does in bringing families together and counselng those in need is very admirable. However, during the debate, Rabbi Boteach made some outrageous claims about the theory of evolution. He says he believes in evolution, only with guidance by God, but firmly rejects the notion that our existence can be explained naturally. One of the most outrageous claims made is that Stephen Jay Gould did not believe in Evolution (but rather, "punctuated equilibrium"). That is demonstratably FALSE. See Gould's essay, "Evolution as a Fact and Theory". This essay gives a brief summary of Punc. Equ.; as well as several examples of transitional forms which Rabbi Boteach demanded. I might also mention the two new transitional forms discovered recently, one of a bat and another of an alligator. Something else well worth mentioning is the brute fact that Puncutated Equilibrium is not needed to explain the gaps of the fossil record, as we have directly observed change above the fastest known fossil transitions (See Kenneth Miller's book Finding Darwin's God).

Yet another error the Rabbi made was in quoting Julian Huxley as stating that the evolution of a horse is so astronomically improbable that it would never happen. Richard Carrier has dealt with this claim before, and as it turns out, Julian calculated the odds of a horse evolving without Natural Selection. As it happens, this is an excellent way we could falsify evolution. If current rates of genetic change could not be used to account for the theoretical genetic change of the past, evolution would be in big trouble. As it turns out, the rates of change we observe today fit nicely with the rates of change needed in the past (in order for evolution to occur).

Finally, I'm going to conclude with an explanation of Punctuated Equilibrium:

Punctuated Equilibrium basically means that species originate in small, isolated populations. They may be disconnected from the main population by a river, mountain range, or anything else. Over the course of several hundred to several thousand generations, this isolated population evolves into a new species. They are guaranteed to be a distinct species because of genetic drift. When the barrier that separates the new species from the old is no more, the two species will meet again. When they meet, they will no longer interbreed, but compete. Sometimes the new species will drive the old one into extinction.Now, if you were to examine the fossils from the large population, it would look as though a new species had originated suddenly. The new species may not have left behind any fossils in its small area, and it would come in and replace the old species without leaving any intermediates. This explains the pattern seen in the fossil record. Keep in mind that this would not explain major transitions, like that of reptiles to birds, just small ones, like between two species of conodont (see page 124 of Gould's paper). Now, all this may seem theoretical, but everything that has just been described has been observed before (save the part about fossilization). See Gould's papers on Punctuated Equilibria, or Richard Dawkins' chapter about it in his book The Blind Watchmaker.

Punctuated Equilibrium does NOT call on anything unobserved. In fact, Many people argue it is merely a form of gradualism, since nothing truly sudden occurs.


Anonymous said...

Thanks again.

Rabbi, Rabbi (Answers in Genesis Busted)

Aaron said...

Another way to think about PuncEq is to consider the notion of "selective pressure". Selective Pressure is a condition, usually caused by the environment, but sometimes by circumstantial issues (population size, topography, predation, etc.) that causes a distinct rift in the threshold of survivability.

i.e. The peppered moths -- camouflage becoming ineffective due to soot is a very distinct selective pressure; Since their defense is rendered useless, they will almost *immediately* be predated to the exclusion of the black-version. The black-version, faced with reduced predation, will likely prosper much more rapidly. The species, as a whole, will seem to undergo an inexplicably rapid change from white to black camouflage; Yet it's merely an indirect consequence of selective pressures from the environment.

This same sort of thing could account for larger changes as well. Ambulocetus / Pakicetus is a perfect example. They didn't just decide "hey, let's become aquatic mammals" -- there was undoubtedly some factor that pressured them into taking to the seas. Perhaps predation, or maybe a decrease in land-based vegetation, or maybe overpopulation. I think the biggest roadblock in understanding evolution is that people *want* to think of it in a deterministic sense, and it's really not like that at all.

Romeo Morningwood said...

This is such a great site.

I watched Ape Genius on Nova the other night. There was some talk about how the other Apes have some serious impulse management issues and speculation that our hominid ancestors learned to control their emotions and subsequently advanced...
speaking of appears to me that we are definitely competing with humans who have retained enormous, unbridled impulse issues?

Excellent post.

Anonymous said...

oh noes, don't tell me another theist told lies to support their beliefs! Heh. It seems that they just can't get away from that be they Christian, Jewish or any other theist inclination. Be it outdated information presented as if it were what scientists believe "right now", false quotes, and outright falsehoods, it seems that if creationists didn't have these, they would be mute.