Friday, January 8, 2010

Another post from Amazon

>>>First, how do creationist expectations have anything to do with what does, or does not, constitute a valid test of evolution? (i.e. The fact remains that rabbits in the Precambrian WOULD disprove common ancestry, regardless of _anyone's_ beliefs or expectations. What could possibly EVER disprove omphalos-hypothesis-coupled creationist ideas?) <<<

It was a pretty simple point. A rabbit WON'T be found in the lower strata because as we all know there is a pretty consistent hierarchy of life forms in the strata, to the extent that evolutionists claim that the higher evolved from the lower and creationists interpret the pattern roughly in terms of lower = marine and higher = land animals. That's how they sort themselves in reality, no?

No idea what you mean with your reference to omphalos.

>>>Second, how does living on the land vs the sea have anything to do with how deep you'll be buried by a catastrophically violent _global flood_? (At that point, wouldn't *everything* be "sea dwelling", and rather mixed-up? If anything, I'd expect the rabbits to be UNDER the water-dwellers, simply because they'd die almost immediately (drown), whereas the aquatics would be at least semi-at-home. And, if you're going to claim the violence of the event as a culprit for the earlier death of the aquatics... then why the nice, neatly-layered deposits? That doesn't mesh.) But, there are other questions to answer, under such a paradigm, too. <<<

I'm content to observe that layering of sediments is known to be caused by water and that identifying millions of years of time by a single particular sedimentary rock is ridiculous. Not to mention that if any of it were ever exposed as surface, which I believe evolutionists think happened, then erosion such as we see in our time would have defaced the surface with such deep grooves, streams, rivers, canyons that their horizontality would have been broken up. But no, where they are visible we see a neat stack of rocks all nicely horizontal or at least parallel, with a bit of scraping discernible between some of them, not enough to disturb their horizontality, from the "Precambrian" all the way up to recent "time" at which time and ONLY at that time we suddenly get the canyons and the rivers cutting deep gorges exposing all the layers, and the buckling of whole blocks of layers all over the earth. Why didn't this ever happen before? How could the earth be billions of years old and these typical disturbances of the surface only happen after the whole stack was in place? Why don't we see deep river gorges cutting through all the earlier layers before subsequent layers were laid down over them?

As for your questions, observations such as the above and the KNOWN fact that ocean water does have layers and currents and that water DOES sort sediments into layers and the fact that they ARE arranged roughly marine-to-land give a lot of support to the Flood scenario. WE might naturally expect things to be all mixed up but there's good reason from these facts to think that in a flood of a worldwide scale they wouldn't have been.

Being able to answer ALL the questions isn't necessary when there is so much that fits the Flood and so little that fits evolution. And I seriously do believe that the argument that natural selection inevitably leads to genetic depletion makes evolution absolutely impossible, and if that is the case then we'll sort out the other questions after it is acknowledged. (Although I say "natural selection" I include all the processes that "select" or isolate a portion of a population. It doesn't matter whether the type of "speciation" is allopatric or simpatric or polyploid or any of the rest, whenever a part of a population becomes isolated so that new phenotypes are produced, genetic diversity is concomitantly reduced, and after a series of these portion-isolations, or a bottleneck, very seriously reduced indeed. That's how "speciation" becomes possible at all -- at the expense of genetic diversity, through natural selection itself, which is supposedly the engine of evolution. I've discussed this more thoroughly over on the thread of my own review of Coyne's book)

"Violence" probably wouldn't have killed the marine animals, but water full of dissolved sediments could certainly kill them by suffocation.

>>> For example, why are NONE of the organisms that are fossilized in the older (deeper) layers alive today (e.g. circa Cambrian Explosion)? And vice versa (of course)? <<<

I don't know. But aren't there MANY organisms all the way up the strata that aren't alive today? Dinosaurs for sure. Mammoths and saber-toothed tigers. Archaeopteryx. In fact aren't those that ARE related to modern types rarely all that similar anyway? Very different antediluvian world explains it pretty well. Most of all life died in the Flood, most of the genetic code died in the Flood. Then there's the fact that the primitive marine animals wouldn't have been preserved on the ark and the vast majority of them would have died in the flood, whereas the species that were preserved went on to repopulate the earth -- with many many varieties of each "kind" that hadn't existed before -- and of course versions of their types can be found in the fossil record. So maybe I've answered your question after all.

>>>And, why is there ZERO evidence of flower existence--not even pollen grains--in those same (and much more recent, i.e. shallower) layers? The empirical evidence points to flowers having existed for only about 1/4 to 1/3 of the total time that land plants, in general, have existed--originating 125My vs 425My ago, respectively. Today, flowering plants exist virtually everywhere that plants are found, regardless of elevation or climate. So, why the enormous discrepancy in the geologic strata? By way of example, flowers don't show up in the strata until the final third of the "Age of Dinosaurs" (248My-65My ago; again, 125My ago). In other words, flowers are newer developments than (ancient forms of) reptiles, insects, fish, amphibians, birds, and even mammals. Or, in terms of your idea of the strata: there isn't even TRACE evidence of flowers in a huge majority of the layers containing _land-based_ fossils. (And, this correlates perfectly with the radiometric dating of the layers: newer ones have them, older ones don't.) Given flower ubiquity today, WHY is there not even pollen to be found? It's not as if they could run from the flood waters, gathering all their pollen grains first... whereas, the animals actually COULD have run... (Yes, I've heard this ridiculous running "explanation" posited for differences amongst layers. It pays no attention whatsoever to what's actually in those layers.) <<<

Has something to do with how the water sorted things, what can I say? Sure, there are some facts about the fossil record that do seem to fit the evolutionist interpretation, of course. It sure LOOKS like flowers just didn't come along until "later" -- but really only if you assume the strata represent the geological time scale. Otherwise it would just be a case of their having been carried there according to some principle of water sorting.

But actually considering what is in those layers, as you say, I wish it were possible to find out exactly what IS in them. Do you have a source for this? Usually mere schematic lists are given that identify life forms that can be thought of as "more recent" than the "older" forms. It strikes me that the emphasis always falls on what appears to be "new" as you go up the strata, while all sorts of things that appear below just no longer appear at all. Is this the case or is it just the way evolutionists describe things? I mean, shouldn't we see lots of versions of everything that came before ALONG WITH the new creatures if evolution is true? Today we see an enormous range of living things. Why wouldn't that have been the case at each subsequent previous time period, an accumulation in each layer of ALL the types of life forms that had "gone before" PLUS the supposedly "new" ones? Just off the top of my head, I gather that ferns appear fairly "early" in the strata, but do they show up anywhere in the strata above that one? If not, how do you explain why not? We certainly have a big variety of ferns on earth today so we know they didn't encounter extinction. But each layer is usually described in terms of a select collection of fossil forms, all apparently new to the earth and not appearing any more after that. If that really describes the geological facts, it doesn't support evolution very well at all, it supports much better some kind of mechanical sorting and layering process instead, despite the suggestion of a hierarchy of life forms in that sorting.

SO I would also ask to what extent flowers are represented in the strata above where they first "appear." Is this one of those cases where something "appears" in a supposed time frame, but then is hardly represented at all above that point? Again, if evolution is right they should appear more and more profusely on up the strata from that point of "origin." Is this the case or not?

>>>>I also haven't yet seen you address the question of footprints in the intermediate strata (of the Grand Canyon, since you broached the topic). How would that be possible, given the notion that a single global flood laid-down all those layers almost simultaneously? <<<<

I don't address lots of questions that evolutionists raise because I think the observations I've made already are sufficient to show that evolution can't happen. All questions don't have to be answered if there's enough evidence already against evolution, they can be answered later, and in the middle of a discussion like this they merely detract from the main points I've been trying to keep in view.

But a speculation about the footprints is that the sediments came in on waves as the water overtook the land and there were animals still living that only finally drowned just before the flood reached its final height. The biggest waves could have come quite far apart but the dumping of the fossil-laden sediments must have occurred pretty rapidly to preserve so many living things and fossilize them so perfectly; so apparently it did the same with some fresh footprints. Best guess at the moment.

But the observations I've raised above about how absurd it is to think that billions of years would have played out in layers of particular sediments laid down exclusively over periods of millions of years each, have more weight than the question of how a footprint was preserved by the Flood. (By the way, how would it have survived on the surface of the earth as we know it now? Had to be rapidly buried in order to be preserved, right?)

>>>>>In a short response to your earlier post, I clarify: my questioning your scientific expertise was not a means of trying to "bar you from the club". It was a matter of simple practicality. Do you think it would be productive for us to try to discuss differential equations, or the pros and cons of different types of transistors (e.g. BJTs, MOSFETs, or whatever), if you are uninformed on those topics? <<<

No. I presented enough reasonable thinking against evolution that THAT should have been the topic and should still be the topic. There is no need to plumb every science in order to show that evolution is true or false. But oddly enough nobody here addresses my actual arguments. Including you. Changing the subject seems to be the M.O. Although I do thank you that you stick to the scientific questions at least, instead of attacking my character which seems to be the main concern of some others here.

>>>>Jacques Monod said that a "curious aspect of the theory of evolution is that everybody thinks he understands it". That is a MAJOR problem when it comes to attempts at discussion, because some people really DO understand it, and others do not (even though they think they do). <<<

Uh huh, well, isn't it your job to SHOW that I've failed to understand it, and challenge what I've actually said rather than keep changing the subject?

>>>>"For the typologist, the type (eidos) is real, and the variation an illusion, whilst for the populationist, the type (average) an abstraction, and only the variation is real. No two ways of looking at nature could be more different." -Ernst Mayr (1955) <<<

Uh huh, and how does this apply to anything we're discussing?

I believe I have a strong sense of the reality of the variations.

>>>> "Typology" is the naive (i.e. wrong) view of evolution, and I have yet to meet a creationist who does not "understand" it in that way. And yet, the theory of evolution by natural selection has always been populationist.

[Darwin himself expressed this in the Origin, 6th ed., chapter 2:
* "No one supposes that all the individuals of the same species are cast in the same actual mould. These individual differences are of the highest importance for us, for they are often inherited, as must be familiar to every one; and they thus afford materials for natural selection to act on and accumulate"
* "The term species thus comes to be a mere useless abstraction... I look at the term species as one arbitrarily given, for the sake of convenience, to a set of individuals closely resembling each other, and that it does not essentially differ from the term variety, which is given to less distinct and more fluctuating forms. The term variety, again, in comparison with mere individual differences, is also applied arbitrarily, for convenience sake."] <<<<

Yes, it is tricky trying to employ these terms, species, variety, etc., because there are so many levels on which any of the terms is appropriate, but we need to make distinctions to have this discussion and it can get confusing.

If these ruminations have anything to do with our discussion, it seems to me you should be addressing the actual arguments I've made with them instead of throwing out abstractions and generalizations that insinuate who knows what.

Reading through your original review again, just feel like answering that there's no use having a chapter on sexual selection as Coyne does, as it isn't evidence for evolution (but then little in his book is). It may be the cause of some very odd variations in nature, but nothing beyond "microevolution" is needed for this to occur.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A recent post at Amazon

This is just a restatement of what I've written many times before, though with a slightly different emphasis:

Mutation, heredity, gene duplication and polyploidy are sources of genetic variation; it is the selection processes that act on these to form new phenotypes that bring about the genetic reduction or depletion I'm talking about. It doesn't matter what the source of the new trait is, when it is selected, when it becomes the basis of a new population of a new phenotype, whether this occurs by natural selection, or by any of the accidental processes such as genetic drift or bottleneck or simple migration of a few members of a population to a new location, new traits will come to characterize the new population thus formed, but whenever this happens it always happens with a loss of genetic possibilities to a lesser or greater extent. In fact this genetic reduction is NECESSARY to the production of a new phenotype.

The famous formula for evolution, change in gene frequencies, seems to suggest that you are just getting a new mix of genetic possibilities, overlooking the fact that to get a new trait that comes to characterize a whole population, competing alleles for the same characteristic must be reduced, even eliminated from the population altogether.

This is clearer when the selection process is drastic -- say if huge numbers of a population die while only a few have the adaptive characteristics needed for the new situation, or if a very small number of members become completely geographically isolated from the main population -- you will have a strikingly reduced gene pool in the new population from which the new phenotype develops. This is obvious, right? Sometimes the reduction is so extreme that you have fixed loci for many genes, which worries conservationists, as in the case of the cheetah. (Of course sometimes such a condition occurs in a species that nevertheless multiplies to great numbers, such as the seal population that was nearly exterminated by hunters but has rebounded to become extremely numerous; so it isn't always a threat, but the condition is nevertheless one of reduced genetic diversity which of course limits the creature's ability to vary further). It's also obvious in the case of domestic breeding, where genetic depletion becomes a serious problem with the more extreme breeds and breeders have learned to avoid such extremes. This also ought to be obvious.

I'm claiming that there is a principle here that applies to ALL selection processes, whether domestic or natural or adaptive or accidental. It is only obvious at the extremes, so that it is easily overlooked where there is gene flow and recombination that keep the genetic picture more various, where populations may be stable for many generations and so on.

But AS SOON AS some form of selection or isolation occurs, then you can see this principle in operation again, and there is nothing that can counter it. Mutation cannot counter it because the new variant is either selected or not and in either case the population as a whole must undergo overall genetic reduction in the very process of bringing about the new phenotype, whether the mutation contributed to it or not.

When you get to what is called speciation, where the new population is unable to interbreed with former populations, what you have is a new phenotype that may be perfectly viable even with severe inbreeding, but also with severely reduced genetic diversity, which is probably the main reason such populations are unable to interbreed anyway. If any variation is still possible, it's very limited from that point, and it often simply becomes impossible. Thus evolution stops. It's a stopping brought about by natural processes, by the very processes in fact that are commonly supposed to be the mechanisms by which evolution proceeds.

The problem is that evolution is merely ASSUMED by evolutionists to be able to continue indefinitely simply because we see variation happening in nature, and somehow the fact known to conservationists and breeders that the formation of new phenotypes or breeds always leads to a point where there is little or no genetic variability left gets ignored. Apparently this fact is ASSUMED to be overcome by mutation, or it is ASSUMED to be overcome by millions of years, but if the processes of selection and isolation themselves lead inexorably to a reduction in genetic diversity, this is a false assumption.

(Funny how it's Darwin's main contribution, Natural Selection, the supposed engine that drives evolution, that is the very mechanism that makes evolution impossible.

But also, I want to note that although some are very strict about the meaning of Natural Selection as involving the survival of the adapted, as a matter of fact the Galapagos turtles didn't develop their different characteristics as a result of NS, but simple migration to a new location. Also, Darwin's finches don't need to be explained by NS either, because there are so many different types of them. Geographic isolation caused by migration is probably how those different "species" of finches developed too. This brought out the new characteristic which then found its appropriate use in the environment. )

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Jerry Coyne's "Why Evolution is True" offers evidence for evolution

Agnostic Apatheist, the same reviewer at Amazon whose review of Dawkins' book I so much appreciated, gave a very positive review of Why Evolution Is True by Jerry Coyne, which he claims does give the evidence Dawkins' book lacked. Well, I read Coyne's book and although I believe it probably is a better presentation of the evidence than Dawkins' book, I think the evidence is pretty easily answered.

For starters I'm just going to post the review and I expect to add my own comments as I go.
An Excellent Book on the Evidence for Evolution, October 11, 2009

This is one of the best books on evolution for the interested layman. It is much better (and far more persuasive) than Dawkins' Greatest Show on Earth. Unlike other books that merely target and rebut creationist criticisms, this book actually provides a fair amount of positive evidence supporting evolution. Unlike Dawkins, Coynes doesn't speculate much or present hypotheses that are untested and remain speculative. He focuses his book on the actual, confirmed evidence for evolution from the various fields of science. Moreover, Coynes writes in a readable and enjoyable style that made it very difficult for me to put down the book.

Chapter 1: What is Evolution?
Coynes begins by first defining evolution. There are many misconceptions, especially among the general public.

Chapter 2: Written in the Rocks.
Here, the author takes us through a tour of the fossil evidence. While much of the evidence he provides is not new, he includes photos and a bit more detail than some other books, explaining why a given fossil is viewed as evidence for evolution.

Chapter 3: Remnants - Vestiges, Embryos, and Bad Design
As the chapter title states, this section is about vestiges, atavisms, embryology, and poor design. Each of these are explained, and experimental, as well as modern observational evidence, is cited and discussed in support of evolution. In fact, he provides quite a few examples of each using various species (including humans) as examples. He also clearly explains the distinction between vestiges and atavisms and why these are best explained by evolution, as opposed to any alternative hypothesis or theory.
There is an alternative hypothesis that explains this as well or better than evolution does, but unfortunately it's hard to lay it out without referring to the Bible. That really shouldn't be a problem to a truly scientific mind but in any case I'll try to keep it to a minimum. The alternative hypothesis is that the earth is young, all things were created in a particular time period, in the Beginning, and no living thing was created subject to death. Death occurred to all living things when the first human parents disobeyed the Creator. It is a mistake to keep expecting to find perfection in nature, assuming that all things continued from the beginning as they were created. Some creationists make this mistake. What looks like bad design is the result of disease and deformity and death in living systems. Vestiges in this explanatory system are easily explained as formerly functioning parts or organs that eventually lost their function as the result of these disease processes.
He also briefly discusses pseudogenes (sometimes referred to as "fossil genes") as evidence for evolution. (For more discussion on pseudogenes, consider reading "Making of the Fittest")
Pseudogenes also fit into this explanatory scheme as formerly functioning options in the genetic code that were damaged or completely lost their function over many generations. The great death brought about by the Flood of Noah alone should have wiped out a great deal of the genetic code as it wiped out the majority of all living things. Probably the majority of the dead genes would have coded for beneficial or protective physical functions of various sorts, simply based on the supposition that the pre-Flood world even in spite of the Fall retained a great deal of the initial blessings, strengths and capacities from the Creation. (There is also a pretty Far Out possibility that is hinted at in Genesis 6 according to some: that is, that the DNA was being corrupted in various ways before the Flood, by fallen angels seeking to destroy the messianic line promised by God from Eden, and this might be evidenced in some pseudogenes that show there were once some pretty odd characteristics packed in those formerly functional genes -- nonhuman characteristics in human DNA for instance This sort of corruption is also hinted to have been the major reason for God's bringing the Flood).

Chapter 4: The Geography of Life
This chapter is about biogeography. It provides evidence for why scientists do not accept the view that the Earth is only 10,000 year olds old. It's not merely that radioactive dating (and other dating methods) suggest a very old Earth. But biogeographical evidence, supported by the modern theory of plate tectonics, can only account for the observations that we see today, with respect to the distribution and types of organisms found at specific locations around the globe.
The phenomenon of continental drift explained by plate tectonics is very useful for creationists as a matter of fact, and does help explain the way species are distributed around the earth. It also explains how the mountains formed and buckled the strata left by the Flood. We understand it all to have been set in motion as a result of or as part of the worldwide Flood event. Volcanism was another part of it. All this was new with the Flood. Otherwise, the main thing that is different in this scenario is the shortened time factor. We think of the continents as moving apart quite rapidly and gradually slowing down. Of course this is just a hypothesis at this point.
Chapter 5: The Engine of Evolution
This chapter is about natural selection. Coynes explains that natural selection is not a random process, as many creationists claim. He also clarifies the concept of randomness. It isn't quite the same as "chance". Rather randomness refers to the occurrence of a mutation, regardless of whether it is beneficial, harmful, or neutral. It does not refer to luck or chance; thus, he uses the term "indifference" in place of random to make this distinction.
Natural selection, along with all the other processes that isolate populations, is a mechanism for change (adaptive in the case of NS, neutral in most other cases, even bottleneck), but in bringing about the change it also brings about reduced genetic diversity, and reduced genetic diversity is the opposite of what is needed for evolution to continue. The more selection the less ability to continue to change. This defines the built-in end to evolutionary processes. Selection itself brings evolution to a halt. Evolution defeats evolution. This makes the question of randomness irrelevant but I will probably have some thoughts about that later anyway.
Chapter 6: How Sex Drives Evolution
Here, Coynes discusses sex and how the development of sexual reproduction affected evolution, as well as what animals (and plants) do to enhance the potential for sex/ mating.
Sexual selection may explain some very odd characteristics of living things, but it does nothing whatever to further the idea of evolution beyond "microevolution."
Chapter 7: The Origin of Species
After covering a wide variety of subjects related to evolution and providing great support for common ancestry and natural selection as the mechanism for adaptive change, Coynes has finally set the stage for presenting the origin of species.
Natural selection, along with all the other processes that isolate populations, is a mechanism for change (adaptive in the case of NS, neutral in most other cases, even bottleneck), but in bringing about the change it also brings about reduced genetic diversity, and reduced genetic diversity is the opposite of what is needed for evolution to continue. The more selection the less ability to continue to change. Thus evolution stops with "microevolution." This defines the built-in end to evolutionary processes. Selection itself brings evolution to a halt. Evolution defeats evolution.
Chapter 8: What About Us?
Inevitably, a book on evolution would not be complete with at least some discussion of human evolution. He covers a lot of material here, but the information is invaluable for any non-biased individual who truly wants to know whether humans are exempt from evolution (i.e. a special creation of a higher power). The answer is "No". We too are the product of evolution.

Chapter 9: Evolution Redux
Finally, we come to the last chapter. Coynes discusses evolution and its implications for understanding human behavior, human psychology, and human nature.

After reading this book, it will be clear why scientists accept evolution. It is the best (and only) scientific explanation for the diversity of life on Earth. Moreover, there truly are no compelling alternative hypotheses; no other hypothesis has the breadth of support from various scientific disciplines or the ability to make accurate predictions (which are later confirmed).

Two criticisms I had - (1) I wish more detail was provided. But given the audience that this book was likely geared toward (i.e. the non-scientific, general public), this is a minor criticism; (2) As a student of philosophy, I did not like the title. The term, "true" or "truth", has a different meaning to me than it likely does to Coynes or other applied or natural scientists. But again, this is a minor issue.