Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Transitional Life Forms

Man, Kirk Cameron is a nut job. I was watching Nightline and they had a "debate" between the Christian religionists and a couple of atheists debating the existence of God. The best proof of the atheists was the stretched analogy between a painting and the universe; a painting is proof of a painter so the universe is proof of a creator. They had no good answer to the question of if everything has a creator then who created the creator (i.e. infinite regress). They claim, incorrectly, that most people disbelieve in God because of evolution. Their chief complaint seemed to be the lack of transitional life forms. Cameron put up artistic rendering such as a croco-duck, a bull dog, etc. Humorous, but I think he was being mocking.

The trouble is that these arguments seem to hold sway with creationists which just shows how ignorant they are about evolution and science in general.

Just last week I stumbled into an evolution discussion with a co-worker. I quickly found myself scurrying to extricate myself as the claims became more extraordinary and the lack of touch reality mounted. All this with an intelligent, well-educated, engineer. I was amused when he admitted that the whole point of intelligent design was not to put forward an alternate scientific theory but to use real or perceived holes in scientific knowledge as evidence that there must be a God. He also admitted that it was essentially appealing to magic to explain what we don't understand.

As Dawkins would point out, just because we don't know something or that a scientific theory is disproved doesn't mean that the default belief should be God or some other supernatural explanation. God is such an improbable being that it should require extraordinary proof before being seriously considered at all.

Looking back over the past 1000 years, compare the contributions of science and technology as opposed to religion. Religion, scripture, and revelation have never given us light and knowledge about the universe and its workings. Quite the opposite. Religion has had to be dragged kicking and screaming, resisting all the way, and often denouncing truth as heresy.

Anyway, here are my examples of transitional life forms that will probably never be found in the fossil record. Seriously, look at what has happened to the poor old wolf. All the following animals are very, very close genetically to the wolf at the top and in the case of the Doberman are very recent inventions by breeding. Gene sequencing shows remarkable sharing of genes between completely different species. All of these things are to be expected based on evolution. But, let's say that we never are able to explain how one species evolved from another. Does this automatically mean that they were created or engineered by a creator? Perhaps that does become more likely. But then, how did he do it? Was God really a master recombinant DNA engineer and breeder that engineered the earth with natural means? Or was it magic? Is he truly supremely powerful?

I'll favor non-magic explanations because I see no evidence in the world I know to suggest that magic is real. In fact, nature is continually yielding up her secrets to the questioning of science.

Besides, if God does exist, then he has a lot of explaining to do because his creation is a real mess.




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24 comments:

C. L. Hanson said...

Re: "I was amused when he admitted that the whole point of intelligent design was not to put forward an alternate scientific theory but to use real or perceived holes in scientific knowledge as evidence that there must be a God. He also admitted that it was essentially appealing to magic to explain what we don't understand."

You got him to admit to that? I'm impressed -- that's basically the whole battle...

Re: "As Dawkins would point out, just because we don't know something or that a scientific theory is disproved doesn't mean that the default belief should be God or some other supernatural explanation. God is such an improbable being that it should require extraordinary proof before being seriously considered at all."

Exactly. I don't get why this point is so difficult for people to grasp.

Bull said...

Yes, I first asked if he would be offended if I referred to religious thinking as magical thinking and he didn't have any problem with that either.

You would hope that that would be the whole battle, but it isn't because the bottom line is that they DO believe in magic. Most of them just don't want to call it that. How else do you explain people who believe that a blessed snot rag from their prophet heals the sick? Or that people dead long enough to stink from decay can rise up alive and whole? Or that God can stop the earth on its axis for hours so his people have time to finish a genocidal, ethnic cleansing slaughter?

The real battle is getting people to give up magical thinking and oterh dogmatic belief.

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

Ummm... you know I think that science can also be called a religion, just because of the dogmatic types I have met there.

No offense because I love biology and neurology. Also, I don't consider magical thinking as a bad thing. Look at Carl Yung and psychology in general.

;-)

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

Just wanted to mention that NPR had a interesting evolution (scientific study) about dogs. They believed that wolves turned into dogs about the same time humans started civilizations and had trash heaps.

Wolves who could tolerate humanity changed into the first dogs. (A test in one of the East Bloc countries showed that foxes who were breed for friendliness started to have the coloring and disposition of dogs. Before they were breed for friendliness, they were vicious and could not be handled. In about 10 years, after the breeding program was started, the foxes changed dramatically. They could even keep them as pets.)

So these scientists believe that dogs lost their wildness and their coloring in about ten years.

Also... the dogs that are being breed today are fanciful breeds of the victorian age. There are really on five dog breeds. The reason the dogs are getting vicious today is that they are extremely inbreed.

So evolution happened for dogs in about 10 years. We messed them up in about 200 years. ;-)

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

Sorry not NPR, but Public television.

Bull said...

I would agree that people can be dogmatic about anything, including their beliefs about science, and not just religion. But I see a fundamental difference between the methods of science and religion the main one being that science in inherently amenable to reason, free enquiry, and change. But I wouldn't agree that science could be called a religion just because some people misuse or misunderstand it.

I guess I haven't observed that dogs are becoming more vicious. I have observed that fewer and fewer dog owners know how to properly socialize and train their dogs. I think this explains the popularity of Cesar Millan and The Dog Whisperer.

For me, the appeal of pure bred dogs is the stability of the personality within the breed. My golden retriever behaves very much like all the other goldens I know and my GSD (German Shepherd Dog) behaves very differently but in line with other GSDs. Makes me believe that there is much more nature than nurture involved in behavior.

I could believe that domestication of canids happened very quickly. Which is part of the problem with the ID camp's insistence on transitional forms in the fossil record. If dogs very quickly evolved from wolves then the likelihood of the intermediate forms being captured in a fossil record that could be detected 10s or 100s of thousands of years later is extremely unlikely.

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

The information in that program was believable. When I am not ill, I am extremely interested in biology and evolutional biology.

There are two problems with dogs as pets.

1-as you have noted, humans are not very good with socializing their pets

2-dogs need jobs. The happiest dogs I know have jobs such as golden retrievers as service dogs, border collies as shepherds, and german shepherds as police working dogs.

3- dogs are pack animals. They need to be around their pack. Many folks just leave their dogs at home alone. In my opinion, it is very very cruel. No wonder that the dog chews the furniture etc. Also they think of their dog as human instead of realizing that their dog thinks of them as a big dog.

Etc., etc., etc.

I have been around several types of dogs. I love them all. ;-)

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

and you are right that there would NOT be a transitional form from wolf to dog...

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

oh and oops again.. two has turned to three problems. I edit afterwards... Sorry

Bull said...

No problem. Thanks for the comments.

I always get my dogs in pairs so that they are never alone. From the day they come home they become part of our pack and part of that is establishing who the pack leader is and where they fit into the pecking order of the pack. People are amused to see a 50 pound 2nd grader bossing around an 85 pound GSD, but they each know their role and stick to it.

My dogs' job is to run with me. If they don't get their running then they get neurotic, especially the GSD. They have to have an outlet for their energy. I also like to regularly take them for walks in the woods where they can get off leash and be in a more natural setting. I'd like to have more time to do more training, but so far it is enough to keep them happy.

One funny thing. My retriever likes to pick things up. He'll meet me at the door, realize his mouth is empty and runn off to find a sock or shoe to bring to me. When he wants my attention he brings me something. So I'm trying to teach him to pick up shoes and put them in the closet. It's kind of funny to watch.

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

Bull, I love animals. I think we can learn a lot about our own species by watching them. ;-)

We--humans--are pack animals. Dogs are pack animals. A great fit.

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

something I forgot to mention is that in a pack (wolf .. sometimes dogs) All the members raise the pups. It is when the pups are almost adults that the problems start and the pack throws out some of its members to finish their training and/or join other packs.

This small fact could be why some dogs are not good with children.
Cyn

PS. I went to see a friend who has an Australian sheep dog. Wonderful dog and a lot of fun. Unfortuately, when he was a pup til the age of 8 mos, he lived with a group of vicious women (8 in all) who terrorized the poor dog. When he was rescued, he had this fear of girls and women.

When I met the dog, about two years ago, I was extremely ill and on cytoxan. The dog realized that I was not a threat. I am now the first woman that he has ever trusted. I am also the only woman he lets get near him. I see him about two to three times a year and he even remembers my smell.

Dave said...

"Looking back over the past 1000 years, compare the contributions of science and technology as opposed to religion. Religion, scripture, and revelation have never given us light and knowledge about the universe and its workings. Quite the opposite. Religion has had to be dragged kicking and screaming, resisting all the way, and often denouncing truth as heresy."

I felt the same as you until I read Rodney Stark's "For The Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery." Stark makes a pretty convincing argument that science, as we know it, was based on Christian theology and philosophy. I felt it was a fairly even-handed look at Christian monotheism.

Bull said...

I can only presume the book was written by a Christian apologist if it reached that conclusion since Christianity actively fought science, was responsible for the witch hunts, justified slavery, and dominated power during the dark ages. I'm perplexed how monotheism, which existed for over a thousand years, suddenly gets credit for the advances of the last couple of hundred.

Science rose on a tide of enlightenment and reason that rejected religious orthodoxy and dogma and it wasn't until the age of reason that we started seeing the explosive advance of human knowledge.

Sounds like the same kind of "reasoning" that supports creationism and other dogmatic beliefs.

But I'm game. Give me an example. It would be nice if it included some of the major scientific advances such as Newtonian physics, plate tectonics, evolution, Maxwells Laws, General Relativity, and Quantum Mechanics. As far as I know none of those are based in any way on Christian theology or philosophy. In fact they don't depend one wit on religion.

Anonymous said...

What is science?

I recall doing some consulting at an online trading firm and they wanted to know why their systems were failing. They had just made an expensive migration from Unix-based systems to Windows-based systems and we were not allowed to come to the conclusion that it was due to the migration. Instead they wanted us to look at the network devices, the application, and everything except the migration. In the end, we ended up offering a half-assed explanation because we weren't allowed to include all the criteria.

Unfortunately, this is what science has become. It is philosophic naturalism; everything must be explained by natural means. So right off the bat, modern science rejects anything that is not natural.

What we are left with is equating similarity to ancestry, rejecting irreducible complexity because of what "could have" happened (the venus fly trap "could have" evolved this way), and recursive reasoning. For example, what came first: the chicken or the egg? The best explanation I've seen is that the chicken evolved from its pre-chicken ancestor, but you have to first assume evolution to be true. The question becomes: so where is the proof of this ancestor? Where are the fossils?

How about this: why does a mimic octopus mimic sea snakes, lionfish, and flatfish? "To catch prey, to evade enemies" etc. will come up as explanations. What we have done is to attribute higher reasoning to this creature. First of all, the mimic octopus had to observe other creatures and RATIONALIZE that if it behaved the same way, it could obtain the same results. Then it somehow figured out how to impersonate them without practicing in front of a mirror. Problem: if the "original" mimic octopus didn't already have this innate ability, it would not have survived. Think about it: how did the porcupine force quills to protrude from its body? Some porcupine saw his daddy getting eaten one day and decided, "you know, if I could make swords come out of my body, this wouldn't happen to me," and proceeded to change his dna to make it happen. Are you beginning to see how gullible you must be to accept evolution? I'm wrong? Prove it. Show me fossils of the porcupine's predecessor.

While micro evolution is true (mutations within species), macro evolution cannot be proven. A mutated fruit fly is still a fruit fly, not a kangaroo. We have never nor will never observe one species become another through mutation; it always remains the same species.

Similarity does not prove ancestry. Do you know how similar humans are to mice? There is an 97.5% similarity (just one percent less than chimps and humans). I guess that means we descended from mice.

BTW, Dawkins also suggested that since the idea that life emerged spontaneously on this planet is mind-numbingly improbable, that perhaps aliens brought life into it ... which just pushes the argument somewhere else but does not answer it.

Anonymous said...

Bull:

It would be nice if it included some of the major scientific advances such as Newtonian physics, plate tectonics, evolution, Maxwells Laws, General Relativity, and Quantum Mechanics. As far as I know none of those are based in any way on Christian theology or philosophy. In fact they don't depend one wit on religion.


So science invented Newtonian physics, plate tectonics, Maxwell's Laws, general relativity, and quantum mechanics? Science is RESPONSIBLE for this?

Scientists discovered these via observations and repeatable experiments. BTW, you can't consider something science if it is not repeatable, which discounts the big bang as science. Have there been any religious scientists? You already mentioned Newtonian physics, so perhaps you know Newton was religious. Wasn't it Einstein who said "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind"? I can list quite a few names.

Science doesn't DEFINE things; it OBSERVES things. You make it sound as if science has produced great wonders; PEOPLE have done it using scientific principles. How, then, can any of the aforementioned discoveries be as a result of religion? That's just stupid.

Water doesn't freeze a 0 celcius because science told it to; science has observed this, has repeated it, and documented it. Even medicine in science is based on observation. Somebody may have "invented" a vaccine, but the reality is that it was done through first observing the effects of chemical X on tissue Y and changing parameters, testing again, observing, etc. until a vaccine was obtained.

So if science really is supposed to be observing things, repeating them, and documenting them, how did we decided that creation is not science? No longer is science observing at that point; it is DEFINING, which science is not supposed to do. Science doesn't define two hydrogen and one oxygen atom as a water molecule; it observed it, but society has decided that science should now define things.

Anonymous said...

Dave:

Looking back over the past 1000 years, compare the contributions of science and technology as opposed to religion. Religion, scripture, and revelation have never given us light and knowledge about the universe and its workings. Quite the opposite. Religion has had to be dragged kicking and screaming, resisting all the way, and often denouncing truth as heresy.


Isaiah 40:22 - "He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth". Now let's see; when was the book of Isaiah written? I think we'd agree that it was QUITE some time ago, yet here we are already told that the earth is round.

You speak of religion as if it is a person. Let there be no mistake about this: the Bible has quite a bit of facts in it that were discovered by scientists centuries later. Just because PEOPLE are stubborn and ignorant doesn't mean that RELIGION is wrong. This is simple English 110: cause and effect. You blame religion when you should blame people. Just as the egg in Gulliver's Travels was not responsible for the stupidity of the inhabitants of Blefuscu and Lilliput, neither is religion responsible for ignorance and wars; people will be stupid because they want to be.

Bull said...

Anon, not sure what your point is. You are correct that science is based on philosophical naturalism. And the alternative is? Magic? The supernatural? The inexplainable, the ineffable mystery that is God? Isn't that really just a way of saying I don't know?

If you want to argue against evolution, then explain the alternative. So far as I can tell, your answer is magic, aka God. I've read answers to your objections that satisfy me. Beyond that I'm willing to say I don't know.

BTW, I don't get your line of reasoning about science. Of course science isn't responsible for the world being the way it is. You describe the scientific method and then seem to be arguing what? That science isn't something it's not? You completely lost me. Science observes, forms testable, falsifiable hypotheses, and then does the tests. All I've said is that this has led to a much greater understanding of the world around us than praying and reading the scriptures. You seem to take issue with this although your long post doesn't seem to explain why.

Anonymous said...

Bull,

It's quite simple. According to evolution, the world exists because of, as you put it, magic. Let's take it a bit before the evolution part.

First we have science giving us the law of conservation of matter and energy, which is clearly observable. So, science observes that you can't get something from nothing. Then we are told that there was a "big bang". Ok, so where did all that matter and energy come from? Weren't we just told that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed? But now we have this mysterious big bang ... which came from? Then we'll get theories like "oh, it came from this singularity". Ok, where did IT come from? All they've done is push it back, but NEVER answer the question of origin. No matter how far back they take it, the question remains: where did THAT come from? And how come only one singularity conveniently exploded? What about the singularity in my can of soda? Should I be wearing protective clothing when I drink it? Every action is as the result of a cause. So what CAUSED the big bang? That's the real magic.

Truth is like colors. If you ever saw an 8-bit picture, it looks ok but not quite accurate. Bump it up to 16 bits. Better now. 32 bits? Even better. The point is that modern science is a bastardization of science; not all explanations are allowed. In the end, you are left with an inaccurate representation of the truth.

Back to evolution. Evolution is completely unscientific. It begins with a premise and then sets out to prove it. When Anthony Flew, the world's most famous atheist, decided to actually follow the evidence to see where it leads, he realized what rational people have known all along: evolution is impossible. Hence, he now believes in intelligent design because evolution is simply impossible. Animals creating appendages and defense mechanisms out of sheer will? Magic. How anyone can believe that creatures can rationalize what they need in order to survive and somehow imprint that knowledge into their dna is the ultimate gullibility. "Let's throw millions of years into the equation." Nope; still doesn't fly; just ask Anthony. Even the simplest of lifeforms have too much genetic information in them to be an accident. As long as evolution is considered a viable explanation, then magic does need to be included as a possibility.

But of course, breaching the laws of conservation of matter and energy coupled with the mathematical impossibility of evolution are quite reasonable, and we should consider any other explanation "magic". Sure; there's no magic at all in the unprovable scientific explanation ... that is, according to our modern definition of science.

Bull said...

You obviously can't be bothered to understand evolution and what it does and doesn't claim because you completely misrepresent it.

I also note that you've completely dodged the question of what you think the answer is although you imply it's intelligent design, which suffers from the same infinite recurse that you note for the big bang without offering any kind of predictive or explanatory power. Talk about starting with the answer and cooking up an answer to fit it.

Hey, I don't claim to know the answer and unlike people like you I have the humility to admit it.

Your attitude toward modern science is reflective of the type of mentality required to reject science that collides with your precious religious beliefs.

It must be tough being in such a small, persecuted minority in the scientific world.

Anonymous said...

Dodged the question? Here's the answer.

I don't have a problem with science; I have a problem with our redefinition of science. Modern science eliminates certain explanations right off the bat and then wants everything explained scientifically. What if something does not have a scientific explanation? What universal principal dictates that everything MUST have a scientific explanation? Who decided this? That is not only incredibly arrogant but it is also irresponsible as it deprives people of truth.

Norman Douglas said "education is a state-controlled manufactory of echoes." We sheepishly accept what is taught to us, despite its veracity or lack thereof. Case in point: you surely remember molarity in chemistry. Remember how advanced chem then said that it was bogus, that molality was correct? Remember how then graduate chem refuted both and said they were both nonsense? Surely you remember that. I'm the narrow-minded religious one and you are the intelligent, scientific one. Actually, my background is in chemistry and physics, so this "religious" tag is the usual ploy I receive when people have been proven wrong, and they just can't come up with any valid arguments. By the way, what about Anthony Flew, who was the world's most prominent atheist? Did he have "precious religious beliefs"? What made him accept that the only possible explanation for our existence is intelligent design?

Why don't more scientists agree with Anthony Flew? Watch Ben Stein's "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" to understand what happens to scientists who hint at the possibility of a creator.

How does an intelligent designer create infinite recursion? An eternal being does not have a creator; that's the beginning; no recursion. Just because our minds have a hard time wrapping themselves around that idea doesn't make it false. It is generally people's unwillingness to accept that they ultimately may have to answer to a creator.

This wonderful "there is no god" claim; how do you prove it? You would have to transcend time and space, be omnipresent to search every place to be able to prove that. You would essentially have to be a god to be able to make that statement. The bottom line is that the existence of a creator cannot be disproved.

I personally love the "perhaps there is some other explanation we haven't discovered" cop-out. Then why are schools teaching the big bang and evolution as fact? The reality is that they want an "anything but creation" explanation; how spineless.

Bull said...

I'm sorry that you expect science to investigate unscientific theories and that it confines itself to its own domain. I'm not sure why that's a problem for you, but I feel for you; it must be frustrating. Who knows, you may be right.

I'd recommend Carl Sagan's "Demon Haunted World" where I believe he addresses your points in a very accessible way. However, you seem to have already reached your conclusions about science.

MonkeyMom;) said...

I don't have enough faith for evolution.

If evolution were true, we would be seeing the emergence of totally new Kingdoms. However, there is no evidence within evolution to support these mutuations occuring or existing. Plants are all plants, mammals are all mammals, and so it is with all the different Kingdoms.

About the closest that evolutionists seem to come up with is variation within specific species - however that does not support the evolutionary philosophy that life is becoming increasingly adapted to an increasingly "evolved" creatures. Even with the canine species - nearly all of the variation has been the direct result of intelligent interference - people specifically breeding for specific traits. Of course, even within nature, there is a huge variety in the animal world, but no crossing or hybrids between the various Kingdoms. There isn't hybrid or crossing between Species, Genus, Family, let alone across Orders.

Furthermore, there has not been any evidence to support that such transitions have ever occured. Look at Lucy. She has been pieced together with bones from several different areas and from several different layers.

It takes far more faith to believe in evolution then it does to believe that there is an ultimate being that just snapped fingers to create everything.

I have a higher probability to hold my hand out and have the winning lottery ticket "appear" then the probability for a single protein to have been randomly created on its own.

Bull said...

Aw, but MonkeyMom, the evidence is plentiful. Over the 4.5 billion years of its existence the fossil record clearly records the emergence, extinction, and continuation of all of the kingdoms. It just happens over extremely long periods of time. So if you expect to see it over the period of your lifetime or even during the period of recorded human history then you'll probably miss it. People easily misjudge probabilities because they can't easily fathom the magnitudes of the involved numbers. But to state that there is no evidence is simply wrong. It's there.

What's completely lacking is any evidence that supports a single creation event where all of the world's species were created with no new ones emerging since that creation.

The beautiful thing about science is that it's not afraid to say when it doesn't know something. Regardless, what we do know is that the earth is significantly older than 6000 years and that life has existed on it for a very, very long time, and that the types of life have changed radically over those long periods and that they have changed from simple life forms to increasingly complex life forms.

If you know what fossils are, you probably know how rare they are and that they are only formed under very special circumstances. The result is that the fossil record is incredibly incomplete. This makes it very unlikely that we'll ever see a complete fossil record showing transitions. However, it does show the appearance of increasingly complex organisms over very large time periods.

Evolution is a theory that tries to explain the known facts. So far, it is the most plausible although like all theories it will be modified and perhaps discarded as new evidence is found that either supports it or undermines it.

That's the beauty of science.

I was, of course, joking about dogs being evidence of transitional life forms. I'm not sure that I buy the theory of evolution either. I'm willing to say I don't know. I think that it's quite likely that there are processes that we don't or can't understand because they happen over millions, billions, or trillions of years. Also, by the very nature of the question, I'm not sure we'll ever be able to know the answer.

What I am 100% certain of, is that the Biblical creation account is not how it happened. The evidence on the ground completely contradicts the account unless you read it as a purely metaphorical story whose details are essentially meaningless.

Since you've studied this so much, I'm sure you're also aware of the problems with postulating an all powerful creator. On the other hand, if you had you'd probably understand why that is an even more improbable theory than evolution.

I'm sure it is comforting to believe in a simple answer: God did it. But if I concede that, then you still have to what God is and how he did it. Which kind of brings us back to square one. In the end, "God did it" is just a comforting way of saying, "I don't know." And I'm okay with that answer.

In the end our existence is miraculous, amazing, and astounding. Whether or not we believe in God doesn't change that one bit.