Tag: Evolution

Creationist questions, scientist answers

February 6, 2014 | By | Reply More

First, there was the debate:

After Bill Nye’s debate with evidence-free Ken Ham, the Creationists lined up with their questions.

At Slate, Phil Plait provides the answers.

Plait offers links to two excellent resources for those who really care to learn more about evolution:

1. Understanding Evolution. This is a collaborative project of the University of California Museum of Paleontology and the National Center for Science Education.

2. FAQ’s for Creationists by TalkOrigins.
Talk.origins is a Usenet newsgroup devoted to the discussion and debate of biological and physical origins. Most discussions in the newsgroup center on the creation/evolution controversy, but other topics of discussion include the origin of life, geology, biology, catastrophism, cosmology and theology.

Plait ends his article with a link to another of his excellent articles, “Is Science Faith-Based.” Here’s why science is not faith-based:

The scientific method makes one assumption, and one assumption only: the Universe obeys a set of rules. That’s it. There is one corollary, and that is that if the Universe follows these rules, then those rules can be deduced by observing the way Universe behaves. This follows naturally; if it obeys the rules, then the rules must be revealed by that behavior . . . Science is not simply a database of knowledge. It’s a method, a way of finding this knowledge. Observe, hypothesize, predict, observe, revise. Science is provisional; it’s always open to improvement. Science is even subject to itself. If the method itself didn’t work, we’d see it. Our computers wouldn’t work (OK, bad example), our space probes wouldn’t get off the ground, our electronics wouldn’t work, our medicine wouldn’t work. Yet, all these things do in fact function, spectacularly well. Science is a check on itself, which is why it is such an astonishingly powerful way of understanding reality.

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Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss discuss Something from Nothing

April 22, 2012 | By | Reply More
Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss discuss Something from Nothing

Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss recently sat on the stage at the Australian National University to discuss “something from nothing.” What follows are my notes from that conversation.

(9) Dawkins offers two methods for illustrating the long periods of time that are critical to understanding natural selection.

(13:30) The key idea is that we might be getting something from nothing. Life comes from non-life. Matter appears to come from the lack of matter.

(14:47) We are dealing with the new version of “nothing.”

(16:00) It is plausible that everything started with no matter,and maybe no loss. It might not violate any laws for matter to come from the lack of matter. Especially in physics, scientists have learned to ignore the common sense. The total energy of the universe might be “zero.” It might nonetheless be a bubbling brew of virtual particles, and this offends some people.

(20) Krauss: The universe doesn’t care what we like or what we understand. We need to deal with this.

(21) Dawkins: Natural selection has equipped us to be bad physicists and we have to work to overcome this.

(22) Space is curved, but we cannot visualize this. Our picture of natural/normal reality is myopic.

[More . . . ]

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Explaining the punctuation of equilibrium

August 16, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More
Explaining the punctuation of equilibrium

The April, 2010 edition of Discover Magazine profiles biologist Lynne Margulis, famous for her well accepted suggestion that eukaryotic bacteria did not evolve in linear fashion, solely as as a result of natural selection. Rather,

mitochondria and plastids–vital structures within animal and plant cells–evolved from bacteria hundreds of millions of years ago, after bacterial cells started to collect and interactive communities and live symbiotically with one another. The resulting mergers yielded the compound cells known as eukaryotes, which in turn gave rise to all the rest-the protoctists, fungi, plants and animals, including humans.

There was a shocking idea at the time (1967), but, as described in this article by Dick Teresi, the more recent ideas of Margulis are even more controversial. The Discover Magazine article documents her arguments that symbiosis is “the central force behind the evolution of new species.” This position runs counter to the holding of modern conventional scientific wisdom, that new species arise through “gradual accumulation of random mutations, which are either favored or weeded out by natural selection.” Margulis holds that random mutation and natural selection play a minor role and that the big leaps in the evolutionary record “result from mergers between different kinds of organisms, what she calls symbiogenesis.”

The Discover article takes the form of an interview, in which the dominant theme is that “natural selection eliminates and maybe maintains, but it doesn’t create.” Margulis argues that the laws of genetics “show stasis, not change.” She was prompted by the fact that there is no record of major fossil change until 542 million years ago, yet all of a sudden we see the Cambrian explosion. Stephen Jay Gould coined this phrase, “punctuated equilibrium,” “to describe a discontinuity in the appearance of new species.” According to Margulis, her explanation of symbiogenesis explains these discontinuities and should thus be considered the primary mechanism for evolution.

Margulis carefully distinguishes her approach from arguments based on “intelligent design.” She holds that those who advocate for “intelligent design” have nothing meaningful to offer to the scientific conversation.

[More . . . ]

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Human imperfections as proof that we evolved

November 29, 2010 | By | 11 Replies More
Human imperfections as proof that we evolved

Rob Dunn of the Smithsonian highlights ten human perfections as evidence that we evolved. “From hiccups to wisdom teeth, the evolution of homo sapiens has left behind some glaring, yet innately human, imperfections.” What human features made the list?
1. The fact that mitochondria became the prey for our cells.
2. Hiccups. The original function? Our ancestors who were fish and early amphibians “pushed water past their gills while simultaneously pushing the glottis down.”
3. Backaches. Learning how to stand up gave us the ability to see farther, and it gave us freedom to make better use of our hands. But the resulting “S” shaped back is not a good design for supporting our considerable weight.
4. Unsupported intestines. Standing up made them hang down “instead of being cradled by our stomach muscles.” this often leads to hernias.
5. Choking. In most animals, the esophagus is below the trachea. This allows us to speak, but allow falling food and water “about a 50-50 chance of falling in the wrong tube.”

6. We’re cold in the winter. We lost our fur, and this proves that evolution is blind as to where we will end up.
7. Goosebumps. They are good for making our fur stand up when we look bigger to scare away a potential predator. But See #6: we lost our fur.
8. Our brains squeeze our teeth. Bigger brains left less room for big jaws. I’m not convinced that the big brain came first, however. I’ve read accounts that suggest that fire lead to less need for big jaws to chew uncooked food, which lead to more room for the brain.

9. Obesity. Those strong cravings for sugar, salt and fat were great when we lived on the savanna, where these things are scarce. In our current food-rich environment, these ancient cravings are toxic for most of us.
10. Rob Dunn makes this the miscellaneous category. He includes male nipples, blind spots in our eyes, and our coccyx (a bone that used to be our tail).

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How to refuse to look at evidence and how to evade simple questions

September 4, 2010 | By | 128 Replies More
How to refuse to look at evidence and how to evade simple questions

The arrows of my title are not being directed toward Richard Dawkins, one of the two people engaged in this extraordinary conversation. My title is directed toward creationist Wendy Wright. Her obstructionist tactics suggest that it is simply not fruitful to discuss evolution by natural selection with someone who doesn’t understand it and doesn’t want to understand it.

I’ve pasted Part 2 of 7 of this exchange above. The other parts are available at Youtube. Richard Dawkins is a model of patience here. Ms. Wright repeatedly invokes a handful of tactics to stretch out this ostensible conversation endlessly. One tactic is to change the topic whenever Dawkins tries to focus upon real world facts. Another is to send out broad accusations, such as accusing Darwin of racism when, in reality, the Victorian world was filled with people who held views that would now be considered racist and, in fact, Darwin and his writings were notably not racist. In fact, Darwin expressed abolitionist views.

In a recent comment I wrote the following:

I’m tempted to begin a new “policy” from today forward. Those disparaging the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection must, in order to deserve a reply (other than a copy and paste of this comment) must, in their own words, describe the basic elements of the theory and at least a few of the many types of evidence supporting the theory. They must also make it clear that they know how a scientific theory differs from pure speculation.

It is my repeated impression that those attempting to criticize the facts and theory of evolution by natural selection are actually attacking some something else, something that biologists, geo-biologists, geneticists, botanists and other scientists do not support. In short, they are attacking straw men. The only reasonable reply to such attacks is to direct the commenter to set aside a few hours and to read a good book on natural selection.

There’s a lot more discussion about this video a website with a most extraordinary name: WhyWontGodHealAmputee.com. Soricidae’s Blog offers a play by play for one section of the Wright-Dawkins exchange.

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Animal cultures and overimitating

August 23, 2010 | By | Reply More
Animal cultures and overimitating

In the July 16, 2010 edition of Science (available online only to subscribers), Michael Balter opens his article, “Probing Cultures Secrets,” with words that would have been considered blasphemous by scientists only a few decades ago:

Scientists once designated “culture” as the exclusive province of humans. But that elitist attitude is long gone, as evidenced by the recent meeting here on how culture, usually defined as the passing on of traditions by learning from others, arises and changes. The 700 attendees [of “culture evolves,” held in London], a mixture of researchers and members of the public, heard talks on cultural transmission in fish, meerkats, birds, and monkeys, as well as in extinct and living humans.

Balter’s question is “why do certain cultural trends, such as fashions, begin and catch on?

To illustrate his answer, Balter refers to the work of anthropologist Susan Perry who described some unusual behavior of white faced capuchin monkeys in Costa Rica. Balter writes that some of these monkeys have adopted various traditions with “no clear survival purpose, such as sniffing each other’s fingers and inserting them into a companions nose, or biting off a big chunk of another monkeys for and holding it in the mouth while he or she playfully tries to get it back.”

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Richard Dawkins discusses the Greatest Show on Earth

August 8, 2010 | By | 5 Replies More
Richard Dawkins discusses the Greatest Show on Earth

In this Fora.TV video of a talk he gave at U.C. Berkeley, Richard Dawkins discusses his most recent book, The Greatest Show on Earth. In the early minutes of the talk, he explains why fossils are “icing on the cake” and he illustrates the “problem” with gaps by use of a humorous story.

At minute 43:00, Dawkins explore the anthropic principle. At minute 49:00, Dawkins comments on the use of the word “why,” as part of his comment on the question “Why are we here?” He explains: It’s no more deserving of an answer than the question: “Why are unicorns hollow?” Dawkins also comments on the mechanism the creates conscious pain at minute 52:00, before declaring his own attempt to explain it to be incoherent. On the likelihood of a random mutation improving an organism, Dawkins points out that it is highly unlikely: “There are many more ways of being dead than alive.”

This video offers lots more engaging back and forth in the comments portion, following the main presentation.

[More . . . ]

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Varieties of life under the sea

July 21, 2010 | By | Reply More
Varieties of life under the sea

I am continually amazed at the wide variety of shapes of plant and animal life. Today, I ran across this series of photos of sea life, some of it from the deep sea. If I had been asked to design a new underwater life form, my imagination would not possibly have been able to concoct functioning animals like these. It’s incredible that each of these life forms continues to live today, the successor to a long series of earlier and simpler life forms.

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Climategate scientists vindicated

July 7, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More
Climategate scientists vindicated

Another inquiry has determined that the “Climategate” scientists’ “rigor and honesty as scientists are not in doubt.” Not that this will slow down attacks on inconvenient science.

Perhaps the biggest lesson illustrated is that when you show know-nothings that they are wrong, it has no effect on their opinions. For an equally good example, read about the “Lenski Affair,” where the scientists had conducted 20 years of rigorous experiments that clearly demonstrated evolution of E. coli in the lab. Evidence just isn’t good enough for zealots.

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