Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Evolution and Creation

I've noticed lately more confrontation between creationists and evolutionists. Richard Dawkins has been rather rash in his declaiming of God and religion. And the folks at Answers in Genesis have been celebrating their new museum. There has been lots of heat in the blogosphere, and I found a whole blog dedicated to the debate (or discussion for you emerging guys :)

I learned evolution in my Catholic high school biology class. But since coming to know Christ, I have found my "faith" in evolution damaged. The primary reason being that the "debate" so far has been primarily rhetoric and argument from assumptions on both sides.

For example (for evolutionists): What is the most convincing evidence you have seen for evolution?

I haven't seen any evidence. I was told that evolution is true. And it was on a test. I memorized it for the test, and promptly started to assert it. This forms the core of the debate for most people. The remainder is mostly to march out a group of skulls and put them in a line, and say evolution! That's not evolution, that's quicksort().

In the interests of joining the discussion, I have read an article that is supposed to boost my "faith" in evolution. It address some common points:

Science is Falsifiability

Yeah, falsifiability is nice. But I'm an electrical engineer, I prefer predict and measure. Kirchhoff's Current Law and Kirchhoff's Voltage Law. Draw a circuit on paper, run the numbers, build it in the lab, measure it on the scope. That's science to me.

With just falsifiability, it's too easy to propose stuff that is always mutating and dodging the falsification. For example: based on current observations, hemoglobin (the red cells in blood) was assumed to break down after many thousand years (maybe as much as 100,000). Until a T-Rex was discovered with intact hemoglobin. Well, everyone knows T-Rex is 65 to 130 million years old, so now we assume hemoglobin can naturally survive that long. If you've got 65 millions years to wait around, we can verify this prediction...

Macro-Evolution is Lots of Micro-Evolution

This utilizes a concept known as induction. Induction says given a base case, show the progression from a set of size N to one of size N+1. Then you have then shown the idea for all N. For example, "All People Are Bald". The base case is this guy, Billy. He is bald. So given that any set of N people are all bald, show that N+1 people are all bald. Well, consider the case where N=10. The first 9 people are all bald. And the last 9 people are all bald. And the two sets overlap, so all 10 people are bald. Therefore, all people are bald!

Is induction an invalid way of proving things? No. But it does show you have to be careful in your reasoning. And you should be able to show some proof.
"Major evolutionary change requires too much time for direct observation on the scale of recorded human history."
That makes evolution not repeatable, and therefore not "hard" science. I want to see a fruit fly produce beetles or wasps or something not a fruit fly. Or even just have a single celled organism produce a multi-celled organism - or even a colonial organism (like a sponge). Or turn an amoeba (asexual reproducer) into a paramecium (single cell sexual reproducer). I'm also trying to find publications which references the results of Ernst Mayr's fruit fly mutation experiments.

Common Structures
"Why should a rat run, a bat fly, a porpoise swim, and I type this essay with structures built of the same bones unless we all inherited them from a common ancestor?"
An interesting question, but not evidence. This just shows that the Designer (if any) enjoys code reuse. You can argue for or against a Designer who reuses code, but then you are arguing the properties of a Designer you do not know and cannot understand.

Analogies Between Memetic Evolution and Biological Evolution
"When we recognize the etymology of September, October, November, and December (seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth), we know that the year once started in March, or that two additional months must have been added to an original calendar of ten months."
The calendar (and any other abstract human concept - like government or culture) is a bad example for evolutionists. - because these things were designed (by people).

Well, that wasn't very satisfying. I will have to tackle another article later...


GCT said...

There's a whole lot of evidence cataloged here:

You should read it before continuing because many of the things you are talking about are pretty wrong to be blunt.

nedbrek said...

I've read it, and the creationist counter by Ashby Camp.

I'm not saying evolution is definitely wrong. In fact, part of the problem I have is I doubt any evidence will ever convince evolutionists they are wrong.

Evolution and creation are stories. Both are self-consistent. But repeating the story is not proof or science.

I will likely do another post on this subject.

GCT said...

The difference, of course, between the two "stories" is that one is backed by repeatable, verifiable, scientific evidence while the other is backed by the Bible. One is open to alteration as facts are uncovered and seeks to gain more information continually, while the other already has the answers and seeks to shoehorn all new information to fit its pre-conceived conclusions. Another difference is that they are NOT both self consistent unless you take them in a vaccuum and ignore all the evidence of the real world. Sure, creationism is self-consistent if you only focus on the Bible and nothing else. I don't see this as a good thing, however.

nedbrek said...

Ok, what is your favorite repeatable lab experiment demonstrating macro-evolution?

GCT said...

I would say that the fossil record that shows the lineage of whales, the demonstrated merging of chromosomes from ape-like creatures to humans, tiktalik, etc. The list is very long.

Of course, that's not what you are asking, is it? Evolution is a descriptive science, much like forensics where we investigate what happened. Still, there are certain things that stand the test of the lab. For instance, nylonase and avida fit the lab test, just off the top of my head.

Evolution is well tested and well attested to. Numerous papers are published that expand and strengthen evolution basically on a daily basis. Creationism has...the Bible. Don't try to put them both on the same level when they most demonstrably are not.

nedbrek said...

R.e. Whales: The fossil record cannot tell you what animals gave birth to others. Again, the story fits, but it is just repeating the story. I don't see the relevance of tiktaalik, is it part of the whale story?

Another question would be, "Is evolution fast or slow?" When there are gaps in the fossil record, I hear "evolution happens fast, and fossils are rare". Then when I ask someone to show me macro-evolution, they say, "it takes millions of years".

IIRC, the human/ape DNA examination ignores "junk DNA" which is a large part of the total DNA code-base. That's like comparing "Hello world" to the Oracle DB binary and finding the segment for libc.

Nylonase is micro-evolution. Bacteria that eat certain organic compounds became bacteria that eat other organic compounds. It's just like diseases adapting to drugs or cockroaches adapting around poisons.

I've published papers and reviewed them as part of peer review (in computer architecture). There is nothing magical about the process that makes them truth. Academic papers are a business like any other. People need to publish, and conferences need to publish. The top tier conferences are looking for the best quality, but politics plays a huge part.

Avida is a computer program. You'll have a hard time convincing me genetic algorithm is a good form of random search, I am a simulated annealing man :)
That said, I haven't seen the software. Does it simulate the entire chemistry of organisms and the physics of the environment? Can it simulate millions of years? Seems like a big compute task.
Have the algorithms used to mutate genomes been validated, or do they take short-cuts?

GCT said...

We have a very good understanding of whale evolution and tons of transitional forms.

Tiktaalik it a great example of an accurate evolutionary prediction. I suggest you look it up.

Is evolution fast or slow? Both. Millions of years is fast on a geologic timescale, but obviously much longer than you or I can wait to observe things.

I have no idea what you are talking about in regards to ape/human connections and junk DNA. In this case, I don't think you are "IIRC"ing.

Nylonase is a new, novel function. This is supposedly unattainable by "microevolution" alone.

I too have published and reviewed papers. No, publishing a paper doesn't make it true, but it is a good indicator of a paper's quality for it to survive peer review. I don't know about you, but I accepted a small percentage of the papers I reviewed. That creationism and ID can not pass peer review says more about the quality of the papers than about the "politics" as you so put it.

Avide is a computer program, but it is not a random search. It is a simulation of random mutation and natural selection. The results show quite clearly the power that evolution has to diversify organisms. For the answers to your questions, I suggest looking here:
IIRC they do model the physics, they are able to simulate millions of generations and no, they don't take shortcuts.