Evolution Confusion [1]

Note: This was a detailed response to post about evolution. The post contained a lot of common misconceptions, so I wanted to take the opportunity to try dispelling them.

Evolution: A Modern Paradox

In today’s culture, evolution has permeated people’s worldview and has changed science into a new meaning.

As far as I understand, the definition of science has not changed as a result of the discovery of evolution. What is the older meaning that has been supplanted, and with what newer meaning?

Evolution is a matter of faith, certainly not scientific fact, because there is no solid proof supporting the theory. No one was there to see what really happened, and it contradicts proven scientific law.

Actually evolution is a matter of scientific fact. Your confusion comes from the extremely common misunderstanding of what science does. Science does not prove anything. Ever. The scientific method is a process where observations are made and models are proposed to explain these observations. These models are also known as hypotheses.

For any given set of observations there can be many different hypotheses that explain the data. Some hypotheses might seem more reasonable than others, but you cannot prove that any one of them are correct, though you can certainly prove some wrong. So the scientific method continues by collecting more data and trying to determine which hypotheses best fit the new data.

This is where experiments come in. Not all science is experimental, since experiments are things where conditions are manipulated by people. We simply can’t manipulate anything we want (like in evolution where we can’t go back in time, and astronomy/cosmology where we can’t manipulate giant, distant bodies). Experiments are useful because they allow us to throw out alternative hypotheses that don’t shed any light on the data.

For example, let’s say you wanted to decide if beer bread made with dark beer tastes better than that made with light beer. I hypothesize that dark is better, based on the fact that I think dark beer tastes better (taste of beer is the data). So, I need to collect beer bread taste data.

To do this I go to the store and by two loaves of beer bread, one made with dark and the other with light beer (though I’m not sure what store would sell beer bread…). I take them home and try them. Sure enough, the loaf made with dark tastes much better (my new data set). So, my hypothesis is supported. Not proven. Why not?

Well, it turns out there could be any number of explanations for the better taste of the dark loaf. Perhaps the recipes are different any other respects, such as different types of flour, sugur, and other flavorings. Or maybe one brand has higher quality food stuffs. Or perhaps I chose to bias my results by using low-quality light beer and high-quality dark beer.

As you can see, all of these variations can support alternate hypotheses to the one I proposed. I have found a correlation, but not causation.

To fix this problem of competing hypotheses, I would run an experiment. I would keep all of the variables constant (controls) except for the one I was interested in- beer darkness. So, I would whip up a giant batch of beer bread and then portion it out into multiple loaves before adding several different beer types, including multiple qualities of both dark and light beer. Now if the dark-beer loaves taste better, I can narrow down the possible reasons to darkness of the beer. But I still have not proved it (if one was sufficiently clever, s/he could come up with other plausible explanations), I have just shown it to be very highly supported through the scientific method.

So what was the point of that long tangent? My point is that you are right that there is no solid “proof” of evolution. This is simply because proof does not exist in science. There is, however, mounds of evidence supporting the theory of evolution and disproving competing hypotheses (at this point there really aren’t any). Something accepted as a theory in science is something that is overwhelmingly supported by data. This doesn’t mean it is true. It simply means that it is currently the best explanation for a specific set of data.

As far as your last statement above, evolution does not contradict any scientific laws. At all. If it did, it would not be so accepted as a theory. Are there specific issues you are thinking of?

Throughout history, no proof has been found for evolution, and even proof that has been claimed has always been refuted.

Neither of these claims is true (from here on I’ll be using the meaning for “evidence” when you say “proof”, as explained above). There has definitely been supporting evidence that has been refuted. This is true in any scientific field, and leads me to another point about science: hypotheses and theories must be falsifiable. Otherwise they are not scientific (by definition). Evolution and the cohort of hypotheses and theories that go along with it are all falsifiable. This means that they predict certain things, and so can be shown to be false if those predictions are false.

Evolutionary theory is not static, and the how part of the theory is extremely complex. Many evolutionary biologists have had many theories within the framework of evolution, and many of these have been shown to be inaccurate if not outright false. A scientific theory is never final, it is simply the best model available at the time.

A good example of this is gravity. I’m no physicist, so I don’t know all the details, but the important point I want to make is that we basically have two different versions physical laws describing motion. One set comes from Newton, and is completely usable today. However, when Einstein discovered relativity he realized that there was a component missing in the equations: the effects of huge speeds. At every-day speeds we experience on earth, this difference is so tiny as to be un-observable (at least with most instruments). But at significant portions of the speed of light, the difference becomes very large indeed.

So were Newton’s laws wrong? No, they were simply the best approximation of reality given the knowledge at the time. Einstein improved the theories, and no good scientist would be surprised to have another giant upheaval in our understanding of physics sometime in the future.

Often the 1953 experiment by Stanley Miller is hailed as the proof of “chemical evolution,” the term used for nonliving chemicals producing living organisms. In his experiment, Miller had an enclosed atmosphere consisting of several gases, and passed an electric current through the atmosphere, simulating lightning. The combination of gases he used is what evolutionists believe our atmosphere was comprised of billions of years ago.

This is a bit of a side issue, but I think an important point: “evolutionists” do not study chemistry, they study evolutionary biology (thought they certainly must know a fair bit of chemistry). So it is not evolutionists who believe this is the combination of gases. It is chemists, physicists, geologists, climatologists, and the like who proposed this possible combination of gases. The point was to show that complex organic chemicals could arise spontaneously given certain environmental conditions. And they did. Obviously no one knows if those conditions match what was around that long ago and even though these predictions were based on sound science (at the time) they are prone to huge error.

So, again, what was shown was that it would have been possible, under the right set of conditions, to spontaneously form complex organic molecules. And that’s it. So this isn’t evidence for this having happened. It just supports the possibility that it could have. If it was found that those conditions could not have created these molecules, it could have been taken as evidence against this possibility. So in the negative case we weed out one hypothesis, and in the positive case we do nothing but support one hypothesis.

The electrical current produced amino acids, which are considered the basic structure of proteins, which are the basic structure of life. One should take note that there was no oxygen in his experiment. If oxygen was present when the electric current passed through the gases, amino acids would not be able to form. If there was no oxygen present in the atmosphere, there would be no ozone layer in the atmosphere, which provides the surface with protection from ultraviolet radiation from the sun. If there was no ozone, life would not be able to survive.

This statement is false. There are forms of life that can live without ozone. Remember that the idea is that these molecules formed in liquid conditions, perhaps in the oceans, which would serve the same protecting role as ozone does for land life. Life does not need ozone at all (though our lives do). The eventual availability of ozone would have allowed land colonization by creatures, which is why it took so long for this to happen. As a side note: there are many organisms that are killed by oxygen. In fact, oxygen is so toxic that the organisms that can live in it (or even need it, like us) require a whole suite of proteins to help prevent the damage that oxygen causes.

The reasons oxygen is so widely used now are 1) it is plentiful and 2) it allows for hugely efficient energy generation (in a process called respiration). This energy bonus is necessary for large, fast-moving, multicellular creatures that otherwise couldn’t get enough energy to support that kind of life-style.

Additionally, scientists have absolutely no proof that these chemicals were there, and it cannot be assumed that they were (Ham 287-288).

This is absolutely true. But my question to you is “so?” This experiment did not provide any evidence at all for evolutionary theory. It simply showed that spontaneous creation of amino acids, as some scientists hypothesized might have been the precursor to life, is possible (as explained above). I would say that there is quite likely a fair bit of evidence for these predictions, but I do not understand the science so I won’t speak on it (something you should reflect on…).

Radiometric dating, a method of dating rocks, is often used as testimony for billions of years. Radiometric dating involves determination of the age of rocks through the loss of radioactive elements. So, by counting the amount of potassium and argon atoms in a rock, one could supposedly determine the age of the rock (Ham 114). In this example, potassium is the parent element, which is the element that decays, and the argon would be considered the daughter element, the element the parent element turns into when decaying. There are many assumptions made when using this process. Scientists do not know how much of the daughter element was there when the rock was formed. They do not know if any of the parent or daughter elements have left the rock, and one cannot assume that the radioactive elements have been decaying at a constant rate (Ham 117).

Since you chose K->Ar decay, here’s a passage from a useful website that might shed some light on your confusion:

When 40K undergoes beta decay it transmutes into 40Ca — the most abundant isotope of calcium. Since calcium is also very common in minerals, it is not possible to distinguish the 40Ca produced from the decay of 40K from the 40Ca present when the rock was formed. However, when 40K undergoes positron emission or electron capture it transmutes into 40Ar. Argon is an inert substance, which means that it basically will not combine chemically with other elements. It is also a gas over an extremely wide range of temperatures, which means that any 40Ar would escape while the rock was molten like carbon dioxide escaping from a glass of soda. After solidification, those 40Ar nuclei that appeared as a result of radioactive decay would be trapped by the crystal structure and accumulate as the mineral aged.

Note the last two sentences. So, the use of K for radiometric dating is not just random and based on random assumptions. But let me treat each of your claimed assumptions:

They clearly don’t know if some of the daughter element has left the rock, which is totally plausible since it’s a gas. However, if some had left then the result would be that the rock would appear younger than it actually is, not older. It doesn’t make sense to worry about K getting lost, since it is a solid within a solid. The fact that Ar is a gas means, as the paragraph suggests, that we can be pretty confident that there was no Ar present when the rock was formed (or very little). As far as the constant rate thing goes, there is much experimental evidence showing decay rates of different radioactive elements. These rates are based on nuclear physics, and so if they were different in the past then the laws of physics must also have been different. Which is a more ridiculous idea: that the laws of physics vary over time or that they don’t?

As stated earlier, I’m not a physicist (and neither is Ken Ham!), so I don’t know enough to address this properly. But my guess is that neither do you (nor does Ken Ham). Your problem here is your reliance on heavily biased sources that do not have expertise in the area. I would suggest surfing around the internet to find some good explanations, and then looking at what people say and think about the claims for yourself. So if it makes more sense to you that the laws of physics change then fine. But at least you’ve thought about it instead of spitting back someone else’s words.

For these reasons, radiometric dating is not proof for evolution, and cannot be used as such. Despite all research and money used on this theory, evolution has yet to find a single fossil that shows changes between animals.

This is quite blatantly false, which is due to either the age of your sources or by deliberate ignorance of the facts. There is no reason for me to start listing examples, but I encourage you to check out this site for a decent list (note that it hasn’t been updated for 11 years, so will be missing many newer examples).

Even evolutionists will admit that this is true,

No they won’t, because it is not true. If you find a quote by and evolutionist saying that this is true, chances are it’s been taken quite out of context.

with one exception. “Lucy,” a fossilized skeleton found in South Africa, is the evolutionist claim to fame that man has its ancestry in apes. Yet, even the evolutionist Richard Leakly admits that Lucy’s skeleton is made mostly of “plaster,” as in its original condition it was cracked and broken everywhere. Why should one believe a fossil that is made of “plaster and imagination” as proof for evolutionary ancestry? Dr. Charles Oxnard, the University of Western Australia’s Professor of Anatomy and Human Biology, said, “The various australopithecines [“missing links” between man and ape] are, indeed, more different from both African apes and humans in most features than these latter are from each other.” From this, one can see that even evolutionists admit that their “missing links” don’t make sense (“Lucy”). The evolutionist has no proof that evolution is undeniable fact.

Again, you’re right, but are confusing the issue. Yes, there are many fossils of ape-like creatures that have been proposed as missing links. None of them, as far as I know (not my specialty) have been conclusively shown to be. I ask you again, “so?” To find conclusive evidence we would need DNA, but the likelihood of finding intact DNA from one of those specimens is spectacularly low.

In any event, I fail to see how lack of evidence of a definitive human-ape ancestor is evidence against evolutionary theory (and there actually is evidence– check more up-to-date literature). There are enough intermediates in fossil records of other species for us to be able to predict, through the theory of evolution, that there must also have been one for us. Not finding one does not disprove the theory, it simply doesn’t support it. And again, there are many candidates for our ancestors, just no definitive ones.

Not one human being was there to see the creation of the universe, be it six-thousand years ago or 4.6 billion years ago. Atheism is just like any religion, and evolution is a branch of atheism. Evolution has been the spearhead of every attack on Christianity in known history, and it has never prevailed.

Certainly your first sentence is true, but I don’t follow where atheism comes in…

Evolution most emphatically is not a branch of atheism, any more than is atomic or gravitational theory. It is a branch of science. I imagine you’d laugh at someone for saying “gravity is a branch of atheism” because that statement is completely nonsensical. So how do you say the same of evolution with a straight face?

I’ll ignore the “atheism is just like any religion” comment, since you made that assertion without any supporting explanation and so, I assume, have not actually thought through the absurdity of that statement. I will ask that, before you make that kind of claim, you define the things you are claiming to be the same (i.e. define religion and atheism). However, I must point out the gigantic, glaring error in your version of known history. The Origin of Species was published in 1859 (not even 150 years ago!). Christianity has been an established religion since the first 100-200 years CE (you should read The Rise of Christianity). There have definitely been many, many attacks on Christianity in its history, especially at the beginning when it was still a small cult, but I can’t think of a single one “spear-headed” by evolution. There are, of course, many cases of Christian attacks on evolution (your paper being one of them).

So, of course evolution has never prevailed in these attacks; they are imaginary.

Even such evolutionists with great stature as Richard Dawkins, the renowned evolutionist from the United Kingdom, almost always lose in debates with creation scientists. They simply cannot find proof for evolution that refutes the evidence found in the creationist argument.

Another statement that is simply false. I have not seen a Dawkins debate (that was not taken out of context!) where he “lost” a debate against a creationist. This seems like as good a time as any for me to make this important statement: Creationism (or ID) is not science. So “creation scientist” is an oxymoron. This all boils down to what I said earlier, that all scientific ideas must be falsifiable.

I have also never actually heard evidence for creationism. I’ve only heard creationists argue against evolution. These are not the same thing. As I explained above in the beer bread example, showing that a competing hypothesis is false does not show that the other is true. It just limits the number of possible explanations. Creationism makes the mistake of picking the data that seems to match its conclusion (the opposite of the scientific method) instead of picking the conclusion that matches the data. On top of that, most of this data can be interpreted in multiple fashions, so that it can serve as evidence for multiple hypotheses (they are correlative, not causative relations).

Richard Lewontin, a professor at Harvard, admits blatant betrayal of the trust of his students. He says, “And I use that [his students’] trust to effectively brainwash them… our teaching methods are primarily those of propaganda.” He basically admitted that evolution has no proof and cannot be proven!

This is a prime example of quote-mining (something you need to be wary of with your chosen sources), and is the real reason that evolutionary biologists generally refuse to debate creationists. The opinion article that Lewontin wrote to a Physics journal had nothing to do with evolution. At all. He was simply making the point that education is done by brainwashing and that he wishes students would question things more frequently. Indeed, he even refers to creationists as “those other propagandists.”

So how does Lewontin saying that “teaching methods use propaganda” an admission of absence of proof for evolution? These things are not related in any way, shape, or form.

Evolution is obviously just an attack on Christianity.

I don’t see the obvious part of this. Evolution has nothing to do with Christianity. It would be more correct to say that “Creationism (ID) is obviously just an attack on evolution.” Christianity is not the center of the universe, and the fact that you believe an entire scientific discipline has been developed by tens of thousands of reasearchers just to discredit Christianity shows a bit of vanity on your part.

Evolution and atheism are just desires to rule oneself, rather than submit to the authority of God (Morris).

You may be correct for atheism (maybe— but that’s a pretty narrow way to look at it), but certainly not for evolution. Evolution is a scientific theory. Your statement makes just as much sense as saying “gravity is a refusal to submit to the authority of God” or “atomic theory is just a desire to rule one’s self.” If anything, the scientific theories that have been found to describe the universe are the authority of God, so that both gravity and evolution are actually a submission to God’s rule.

Indeed, that would mean that humanity’s current situation of being out of the grasp of natural selection (due to modern medicine, agriculture, technology, etc) is a display of one’s desire to rule one’s self. So really, anyone who takes medicine or buys food from a store is going against God’s will. Not people who understand evolution.

Continued in next post…

5 thoughts on “Evolution Confusion [1]

  1. You write well.

    Regarding Lucy, you are correct but missing an opportunity to correct a creationist error. The term “missing link” is misleading because it implies that evolution is a linear process converting one species into a second species, and not branching. Of course this is incorrect, and speciations almost always occur at branches. Because of this when we speak of a transitional species, we don’t mean a species that was a direct ancestor of another species (we usually cannot determine this) but a species that possesses traits intermediate between the ancestral state and the derived state. Tiktaalik is a transitional species not because tetrapods descended from Tiktaalik (that may or may not be the case, we’ll never know) but because Tiktaalik possesses traits that are fish-like and traits that are tetrapod-like. So Lucy is not a “missing link” in the meaning of being our many times great-grandmother, but Australopithecus is a transitional species, recording a transition from quadrupedal to bipedal locomotion. Transitional species record evolutionary trends, not exact lines of descent.

  2. Sometimes I wish I could make broad, sweeping generalizations about topics that I have absolutely no knowledge while keeping a straight face so that I could be a creation “scientist”!

  3. Your first few paragraphs state:

    “Actually evolution is a matter of scientific fact”
    “Science does not prove anything”

    You seem confused

    Try this:
    Keeping it simple:
    DNA can’t exist (in a living state) without protein.
    Protein cant exist (in a living state) without DNA.
    Odds have been calculated that to evolve ONE single protein of only 200 enzymes (in the correct order)
    the odds are greater than all the atoms in the universe.
    Then (after it surmounts those odds)it has to fold itself into a complex exact 3D shape.
    After managing this if it doesnt have hundreds more proteins with it and some working DNA it’ll die.

    Consider the following explanation from evolutionist biologist Frank B. Salisbury from American Biology Teacher, Sept. 1971, pg. 338:
    “Surely our ideas about the origin of life will have to change radically with the passage of time. Not only is the gene itself a problem: think of the system that would have to come into being to produce a living cell! It’s nice to talk about replicating DNA molecules arising in a soupy sea, but in modern cells this replication requires the presence of suitable enzymes. Furthermore, DNA by itself accomplishes nothing. Its only reason for existence is the information that it carries and that is used in the production of a protein enzyme. At the moment, the link between DNA and the enzyme is a highly complex one, involving RNA and an enzyme for its synthesis on a DNA template; ribosomes; enayzmes to activate the amino acids; and transfer-RNA molecules. Yet selection only acts upon phenotypes and not upon the genes. At this level, the phenotype is the enzyme itself. How, in the absence of the final enzyme, could selection act upon DNA and all the mechanisms for replicating it? It’s as though everything must happen at once: the entire system must come into being as one unit, or it is worthless. There may well be ways out of this dilemma, but I don’t see them at the moment.”

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