Sunday, September 30, 2007

Hit it with "The Origin of Species"

(In response to cyberkitten.)

How do evolutionists react to scientific evidence when it conflicts with their metaphysical committments? Here is one representative example excerpted from Darwin's God by Cornelius G. Hunter (Brazos Press, 2001) 69-71.

***
One problem with the fossil evidence is its abrupt character. If we are to believe that evolution occurred, then according to the fossil record large evolutionary change probably happened in relatively short periods, with little or no change in between....Paleontologists estimate that over the last 600 million years the major groups in the fossil record made abrupt appearances....As one recent paleontology text put it, "The observed fossil pattern is invariably not compatible with a gradualistic evolutionary process." There is a problem either with the fossil record or the idea that evolution is gradual. To make the data compatible with the theory, "undiscovered fossil forms can be proposed" or "unknown mechanisms of evolution can be proposed." But neither of these ad hoc hypotheses is known to be true or untrue. (1)

Such ad hoc hypotheses are often used by evolutionists to try to explain the "Cambrian Explosion"...[which is] estimated to have taken place almost 600 million years ago over a period of no greater than five million years, it initiated virtually all the major designs of multicellular life with barely a trace of evolutionary history. In a geological moment, the fossil species went from small worm-like creatures and the like to a tremendous diversity of complex life forms, including virtually all of today's modern designs.

Evolution did not predict, nor can it provide a detailed explanation for, abruptness in the fossil record. But evolutionists are not alarmed, for the Cambrian Explosion does not refute evolution. They point out that observed rates of small-scale change are sufficient to account for the abrupt changes observed in the fossil record.

And how do evolutionists measure these rates of change? They measure rates of small-scale changes within species. For example, traits in guppies, such as growth patterns, were found to change when the guppies were placed in a new environment. The guppies, of course, were still guppies, but evolutionists argue that the rate of change observed is theoretically sufficient to account for any of the abrupt changes seen in the fossil record. We could argue, against the evolutionists, that there is no justification for assuming that such small-scale changes fall into the same category as large-scale changes. But it is important here to understand the thrust of the evolutionists' argument. They are not showing that evolution is compelling or even likely; they are merely saying that evolution is not proved false by abruptness in the fossil record.

It certainly is true that one cannot use biology's big bangs [vis. Cambrian Explosion] to absolutely disprove evolution, but this simply points out how adaptable evolution is to whatever evidence comes along. One might think that evolution requires evidence of slow, gradual change, but in fact evolution can also accommodate abruptness in the fossil record. Why should we accept a theory that does not provide compelling explanations or bold predictions but rather molds itself to whatever evidence comes along?

Rather than being falsified by abruptness, evolution simply adopts it. We are told that big bangs like the Cambrian Explosion do not call evolution into question; they define it. They help answer the question how evolution occurred, not whether it occurred. For [Geneticist Steve] Jones...the Cambrian Explosion is a failure not of Darwin's theory but of the fossil record. Yes, for some reason shells appeared all of a sudden, but they must have evolved from soft shell creatures that leave no mark on the geological record.(2)

The fact that the Cambrian Explosion does not refute evolution does not mean that the abruptness problem is resolved. There are all sorts of unlikely theories that otherwise cannot be falsified. What science needs are likely explanations for its observations. And the array of vague explanations about how evolution could have produced big bangs such as the Cambrian Explosion does little to help. Their speculative nature reveals what little hard evidence there is that evolution is the right explanation and, in spite of what evolutionists maintain, how big a problem the Cambrian Explosion is for evolution.

(1) T.S. Kemp, Fossils and Evolution, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 16.
(2) Steve Jones, Darwin's Ghost (New York: Random House, 2000) 207.

12 comments:

CyberKitten said...

I suggest that you read Dawkins or Gould on the subject.

Juggling Mother said...

I'm no expert on evolution, but as I understand it the first organisms with hard parts pre-date the Cambrian, and there was also a complex stalked structure around before the accepted boundery too.

The Cambrian is particularly interesting for people because it is the first period where we have lots of very good fossils. Prior to that the fossil record is all a bit more guesswork from a comaprtively few fossilised signs.

Therefore I can think of quite a few good theories for the Cambrian explosion, without even bothering to look up what the current "official" ones are: Most explosions happen after extinctions, so perhaps only/mostly hard bodied animals survived and therefore had a whole new world to evolve into - putting guppies in fresh water and sea-water may mean they are both still guppies, but that is in just a few years - put them in fresh water, sea water, standing water, the north pole, the tropics....., give it a few million years, and then see if they are` still guppies! The evolution may have been very fast in evolutionary terms, but 50 million (540-490 million years ago roughly) is still quite a long time in generational terms!

Alternatively it could be that we just haven't found the right fossils to explain what happened. Only a few animals get to be fossilised at all, and we have only found a few of those. The fossil record is not exactly an encyclopeadia of flora and fauna circa 600 million years ago!

Of course, this is where yopu argue that evolutionists are proposing that we should believe in unseen fossils that we have no real evidence even exist.

Your alternative argument is that we should believe in an unseen God that we have no real evidence enev exists.

I suggest the same scepticism should be applied to both theories. However, I personally feel it is more likely that a new fossil will be discovered than God will prove his existance in any scientific way.

theologix said...

juggling mother, I find it very interesting that you (along with everyone else) are merely explaining the lack of fossil evidence. This is intriguing for a theory that is beyond theory and supposedly into fact.

LB, good post. Good to see you active again. :)

wunelle said...

"It certainly is true that one cannot use biology's big bangs to absolutely disprove evolution, but this simply points out how adaptable evolution is to whatever evidence comes along... Why should we accept a theory that does not provide compelling explanations or bold predictions but rather molds itself to whatever evidence comes along?"

Far from being a problem, this willingness--insistence, actually--that errors and difficulties with a theory be laid flat on the table for all to see is one of the key strengths of the scientific method. It is an integral part of science's self-correction mechanism: only by admitting the problems we see, and thus prompting our best thinkers to postulate theories which accommodate the data, does our knowledge of our world move forward.

What is brought into question in this article is not evolution per se, but a specific detail in a specific moment of our history. We must expect our grasp of something that occurred so long ago to be a bit fuzzy.

I think the key issue here is our expectations of certainty and our understanding of what claims science is actually making. There is little place in science for the kind of unilateral statements which all religions promote to their followers. No tangible difference waits in the wings for us from the discovery that evolution has proceeded gradually versus via punctuated equilibrium. I place no life-changing stock in either option; I need not commit, and I'm content knowing the issue is unsettled--and will be probably for my lifetime and beyond. After all, it's a simple statement of fact: we really don't know exactly how evolution's mechanisms have worked (which is, of course, different from saying that evolution as an agent of change is unproven--that is clearly not the case).

The fact that we can't quite see our way thru the thicket just now is no reason to throw the methodology out--indeed, your author says as much when he says that these difficulties certainly do not invalidate evolution.

Lastly, the criticism of a theory as absolutely fair game in science. But the other half of the equation is to postulate a better theory, one which stands up to the same critical eye better.

Laughing Boy said...

Thanks all for your comments. I haven't read all your comments except cyberkitten's brief one (BTW CK, I know what Dawkins and Gould have to say on the subject. It's uncompelling in that it's based squarely on their metaphysical presuppositions which I am not required to accept in the name of reason. In fact, it is more reasonable to reject them. I hope to post on The Blind Watchmaker in the future).

I think I'll be too busy for the next few days to give considered responses. Please check back.I look forward to making it clear that the naturalist's view of science is as unscientifically motivated as anyone elses.

Thanks, for your patience.

Laughing Boy said...

I'll squeeze in some comments now.

JM said...but that is in just a few years - put them in fresh water, sea water, standing water, the north pole, the tropics.....,give it a few million years, and then see if they are` still guppies!

Maybe, but why should I believe that? The "give it millions of years" defense is purely speculation, and a weak one at that since it goes against what we do know, which is when a species is pushed to it's boundries it becomes less fit not more fit.

Your alternative argument is that we should believe in an unseen God that we have no real evidence even exists.

I disagree that there is not 'real evidence', but that's not relevant since I'm not proposing an alternative, and if I were I wouldn't say that the alternative would necessarily be Creationism. I'm not a scientist, it's not incumbent on me to have an alternative explanation. I'm merely saying the evidence of the fossil record does not, on it's face, compel belief in evolution. I'm within my epistemological rights to reject it and wait for something more sensible to be proposed.

However, I personally feel it is more likely that a new fossil will be discovered than God will prove his existance in any scientific way.

You may be right about that (Matthew 12:38-42). But what if that new fossil is yet another find that is not in line with predictions of the theory of evolution? When a scientific theory's predictions fail (even a small fraction of the times Evolution's have) the theory is usually discarded.


Wunelle said...There is little place in science for the kind of unilateral statements which all religions promote to their followers.

I read unilateral religious statements from naturalist (atheist/agnostic) writers all the time. That's why I reject them as factual/truthful claims.

After all, it's a simple statement of fact: we really don't know exactly how evolution's mechanisms have worked (which is, of course, different from saying that evolution as an agent of change is unproven--that is clearly not the case).

I have no problem with saying that evolution is an agent of change. That is plain to see. But such evidence is unjustifiably expanded to explain the existence and origin of every living thing in the universe. That is what Plantinga calls the Grand Evolutionary Myth (GEM), which is contrary to both my religious beliefs and my scientific understanding. I have never argued against GEM based on what I think the Bible says. It's always on the credibility of the evidence as I see it.

The fact that we can't quite see our way thru the thicket just now is no reason to throw the methodology out--

This is a cop out as far as I'm conserned. I read this as saying, "Sure, the evidence for Evolution is sketchy, contradictory, and is some case plain bogus, but I'm sure everything will eventually fall in line for it." I'm not holding my breath. And if a person is pointing to GEM as a reason to reject God—which, in my personal opinion is the fundamental reason to hold to GEM—this rational may be a costly delusion.

indeed, your author says as much when he says that these difficulties certainly do not invalidate evolution.

Right, but evidence that does not invalidate a theory hardly counts as evidence for it.

Good thoughts, all. Thanks very much. Back to the stuff I really should be doing.

CyberKitten said...

laughing boy said: BTW CK, I know what Dawkins and Gould have to say on the subject. It's uncompelling in that it's based squarely on their metaphysical presuppositions which I am not required to accept in the name of reason. In fact, it is more reasonable to reject them.

Strangely I found Dawkins *very* compelling. I haven't read Gould so I can't comment on him - though I understand that he's very compelling too....

Personally I found it very reasonable *not* to reject Dawkins.

wunelle said...

Thanks for the thoughts. I'm glad to chew on these things with you.

I understand, and can support, a refusal to accept an atheist's unilateral statements. Though I, like everyone else, can be quite passionate about what I believe--and may occasionally overstep the bounds of scientific propriety--I agree that there are atheists who bite off more than they can support. But this is a very different argument from saying that the fossil record does not support evolution.

As for my claim that the (presently) inexplicable parts of the fossil record do not invalidate evolution as a theory: I don't believe this is a cop-out--mostly because I'm not claiming that this fossil evidence PROVES anything; only that it supports the theory that the evolution which we see and acknowledge on a small scale is in fact responsible for our being here.

It's not proof, it's a rational suggestion which awaits further evidence.

Again, what's the alternative theory at the moment stands up better to the same scrutiny?

Juggling Mother said...

This is intriguing for a theory that is beyond theory and supposedly into fact.

Umm, the name THEORY means that it is a theory not a fact. The fact is that the evidence that led to the theory being developed is still accepted and the new evidence that has been found since the theory was developed have strengthened it in many ways. Some of the theory has been changed, and some completely dropped in the past few hundred years. That is the nature of scientific theories.

The "give it millions of years" defense is purely speculation, and a weak one at that since it goes against what we do know, which is when a species is pushed to it's boundries it becomes less fit not more fit.

Really? The give it a few million years is exactly what the whole theory is about, so can't really be called a weak argument on that basis. And please provide evidence of your "knowledge" that all species put in different circumstances will become weaker rather than change and become stringer. I will look up the opposite ones that I know of and link them for you when I get home (I'm at my mother-in-Laws now)

Juggling Mother said...

One example of evolution in recent history is that of the apple maggot in North America. Apple maggots, as their name suggests, eat apples, but this has not always been true. They used to feed on a plant called hawthorn (and were called hawthorn maggots), but in the 1700s when apples were introduced to North America some hawthorn maggots started to feed on apples

Nearly identical as adult flies, the apple maggot evolved from hawthorn maggots when apple trees were introduced to North America.
This shift in diet separated the maggots into two groups, hawthorn maggots and apple maggots. Both groups are still biologically very similar, but because of their food preferences they will no longer breed with one another.

Or, over a slightly longer period of time, look up "pupfish".

For really quick evolution, there are some very interesting bacterialogical experiments still going. I'm sure you can use google well enough to look them up if you are insterested.

I will come back with some more when I can, if you like.

Of course, one has to ask why we, and so many animals have vestigal organs if you do not believe in evolution. Why put in stuff that has no useful purpose, yet can still cause illness/injury?

Laughing Boy said...

Juggling Mother said...please provide evidence of your "knowledge" that all species put in different circumstances will become weaker rather than change and become stronger.

That's not what I said. I said we know that "when a species is pushed to it's boundries it becomes less fit not more fit." I was thinking of what we know from breeding animals. Darwin bred pigeons and he knew that there were limits to biological variation, which is called the Law of Compensation. In Origin Darwin speculated that Nature must be a better breeder than man when he wrote, "it can hardly be maintained that the law [of compensation] is of universal application" even though many others whom he called "good observers" thought it was. Darwin then employed circular reasoning to make his case with two examples of barnacles.


Is your example of of the apple maggot supposed to be evidence for an evolving species or an evolving diet? Are they different species not? You said they no longer interbreed because of their diet, not because they, as a different species, cannot. I know some vegetarian humans that refuse to breed with meat-eating humans, but I think they are all still homo sapiens.

I will look up "pupfish" when I get the time.

Of course, one has to ask why we, and so many animals have vestigal organs if you do not believe in evolution

What vestigal organs do we have? Wisdom teeth, coccyx, appendix? Do these really serve no purpose?

"When structures indergo a reduction in size together with a loss of their typical function, that is, when they become vestigal, they are commonly considered to be degenerate and functionless....this need not be true at all: the loss of the original function may be accompanied by a specialization for a new function."

(Edward and Peter Dodson, Evolution, Process and Product)

They go on to give examples of penguins, rheas and other running birds who use their small 'vestigal' wings as balancers. They think this is probably true for all running birds.

So what makes them vestigal if they serve an important function? Even if it serves only a limited function, why is a structure considered vestigal? Because, it seems to me, someone has speculated a lineage in which supposed ancestors had larger wings. In other words they are considered vestigal because the GEM has been presupposed in the study and then the results are used as evidence of the GEM.

(I say GEM not to be confrontational, but to differentiate GEM—which promotes ideas like vestigal structures—from garden variety evolution, which I don't have a problem with.)

Why put in stuff that has no useful purpose, yet can still cause illness/injury?

Do you mean why would God do this?

Juggling Mother said...

"the loss of the original function may be accompanied by a specialization for a new function."


The key word there is MAY. As far as anyone can tell, our appendix serves no useful function. It's certainly tru that if you whip it out it does not affect your life/lifestyle/quality iof\life/health/abilities in any way whatsoever.


"Do you mean why would God do this?"

well ye. i though that was what this discussion was about. Evolution v design by some God.