Saturday, 1 June 2013

Why Evolution is True



Answering Creation Ministries’s Questions

Creation Ministries International run a “Question Evolution” campaign, handing out a pamphlet that asks 15 supposedly “unanswerable” questions about evolution. This article by Morgan Storey, seeks to answer all their questions, with references to find more information. You will have to do some research on your own, that is what science is about: doing the leg work to find out for yourself, nothing is handed to you on a silver platter or in a pretty leather bound book.

15 questions for “Evolutionists” answered.

Firstly we are not evolutionists; there are people who accept evolution and those that reject it. It would be like saying gravityists or germists.

1. How did life originate?

A good question to be sure, but not actually an answer for the theory of evolution. As answering how the stars accreted isn’t an answer for the theory of gravity.
But to answer this, the current field that studies this is a field somewhere between chemistry and biology called abiogenesis. It studies how biological chemicals can form in different environments. Famous experiments such as the Miller-Urey experiment have shown that biological chemicals can form. More recent experiments of this nature have shown more complex biological chemicals forming such as proteins and long chain acid molecules similar to the precursor to DNA, RNA.

There is no definitive answer for how life originated on earth, it is very difficult for this kind of life to have survived till now for us to study it and primitive life would more than likely have not left fossils and even if they did due to subduction these fossils would no longer be accessible, or may have been destroyed by as the earth they were embedded in subducted back into the magma of the mantle.

2. How did the DNA code originate?

Again not the area of evolution. Evolution works via Natural selection on existing life, or even on the precursor which is not considered alive RNA. It is likely that DNA originated from RNA as DNA is simply a more stable double-helix over RNA’s single. But we don’t know, RNA/DNA is not fossilized as it decays too quickly, and it is unlikely that any primitive DNA/RNA transition will be found. There have been recent experiments that have shown XNA an even more stable triple-helix that never evolved on earth from the life we have today. The reason is very interesting. Although XNA is less prone to copying errors and mutations it would also take a lot longer to evolve in changes, so it sacrifices its ability to change for stability. Obviously the balance was struck with DNA or XNA simply never formed.

Long answer short, we don’t know. That doesn’t mean it can’t be one of our simply answers rather than adding a complexity of a designer.
See also: Xeno Nucleic Acid.

3. How could mutations-accidental copying mistakes create the huge volumes of information in the DNA of living things?

This is a little misleading, DNA isn’t a code. It is a strand of molecules; it is only given a code so that we humans can understand it. It is translated by other chemical reactions in the cells that they occupy. But the mutations caused during life and passed on as well as the copying mistakes can add information. As any computer scientists knows if you copy multiple files in the wrong way you can combine them together going from 2 files to one much larger one. This has happened in biological DNA, human’s ancestors the old world apes have one more pair of chromosomes over humans, this was not understood for a long time and then it was found. The ends of chromosomes have these things called telomeres that stop the copying process when a strand is being duplicated; they mark the end of the strand. These have been found in the middle of a pair of human chromosomes, bearing the same markers as two pair in our nearest cousins the chimps. The chromosome pair at some stage fused too form one instead of two. Giving more DNA to the single chromosome and allowing for natural selection to work on a bigger selection of traits.

Not all traits from mutations are negative. There have been people found who have a mutation that makes them immune to the HIV virus, others in a small town in Italy that metabolise cholesterol so well that they never have a heart attack from their cholesterol rich diets.

Others such as colour blindness and schizophrenia are being investigated for advantages regardless of the negatives, e.g. colour blind individuals can pick out camouflaged animals where others can’t.

See also: New Scientist “Bacteria make major evolutionary shift in the lab”

4. Why is natural selection taught as if it explains the origins and diversity of life?

It does explain the origin of our lives and the diversity of life we see around us. There is evidence in many species of its evolution; we have fossil evolutionary evidence for horses, wales, and of course humans. If you have a better hypothesis that explains all the current evidence and doesn’t add any extra complicated variables then propose it and it will be tested by other scientists, they will either find evidence for it, or none. If evidence cannot be found then it is un-falsifiable and simply bad science.

5. How did the biochemical pathways, which involve multiple enzymes working together in sequence originate?

You go from very simply worded questions to one like this, which seems like you want to throw people off your scent. But regardless, you are describing irreducible complexity inside cells. Which is something that is being actively studied, however evolution has had billions of years to build all of this up we have had only a couple hundred years. So we don’t know exactly, some of these enzymes and proteins may have evolved simultaneously from earlier simpler proteins and enzymes, in earlier and more primitive cells. This is what we see in extremophiles, but more study is required. Would you abandon your faith if it were discovered how these proteins and enzymes evolved, if not then you can’t use this argument.

References: Researchers unveil first artificial enzyme created by evolution in a test tube

6. Living things look like they were designed, how do evolutionists know they were not designed?

Ok so things I guess could look designed… by a very bad designer. The heart in a human has too few arteries to supply it with enough blood for it be as efficient as it should be for a land animal; it is fine for marine animals. Similar for the placement of spine along the back for an upright walker and the lack of extra sets of teeth for an animal such as us that lives so long, not to mention the laryngeal nerve that I am sure you have heard of, that runs from brain to voice box to allow all animals to control its muscles, except it makes a detour below the heart which is a lot longer than needed for humans, but think about the poor Giraffes where the detour is 18feet.

The universe is really not designed for us, most of it is deadly to us, too close to a star, neutron star, black hole, or galactic core and you will die, the blackness of space at a whopping 2.7Kelvin or -270.45 degrees Celsius (-454.81F) not to mention trillions of wandering asteroids and planets the size of Jupiter ready to wipe us out.

But even if all these design flaws didn’t exist then so what, it looks designed. Maybe we design things that look like nature because we are a part of it; we can’t design anything to not look like nature as we have no experience with things that aren’t part of nature.

7. How did multi-cellular life originate?

This is pretty simple. This is like saying how did humans and other animals work out that living and working together in packs, heards or tribes increased our chances for survival. We already see bacterial colonies that are colonies of lots of individual cells of bacteria working and living together, why not pool resources and specialise some bacteria to take in food and others to expel waste?

8. How did sex originate?

Interestingly we don’t know exactly, it conveyed an advantage against parasites and for survival so it was selected for, meaning passed on. Again this probably originated early on in life’s development, as some forms of bacteria don’t procreate asexually, some procreate with DNA from another party, some are not just binary male and female, but multi-sexed, having up to 7 different sexes. But larger than bacterially we are pretty much limited to the binary male and female. Though some switch such as certain fish and amphibians and for example the whip tail lizard and some lie along the gender path such as humans who can be born with both male and female genitalia, although a lot of these are non-functional there have been instances of functioning intersex humans.

The point is binary sexuality is a myth that has been perpetuated due to its prevalence not its truth. Many animals can reproduce sexually and asexually. Different genders of more than one do show better diversity and thus higher likelihood of passing on successful mutations such as the aforementioned HIV and cholesterol advantages. But obviously higher than two can be difficult to organise for the animals affected so it wasn’t as successful.

9. Why are the expected countless millions of transitional fossils missing?

This is a double whammy misconception; Every fossil ever found is a link between older and newer forms, so every fossil is a transitional fossil, your bones according to evolutionary theory are a transitional fossil of your father to your child. If you don’t have kids then you are an evolutionary dead end. It happens with surnames as it happened with our ancestors such as homo neanderthalis (to some extent, they did interbreed with us a little too).
Many transitional forms have been found that closed parts of the fossil record that were previously accused of having “gaps”.

In fact, in the century-and-a-half since then, we’ve found millions of evolutionary intermediaries in the fossil record, much more than Darwin said he could reasonably hope for. The transitional fossils that have been found (such as Tiktaalik, Ichthyostega, Australopithecus, Homo habilis, Archaeopteryx, Microraptor, etc) provide clear evidence of transitions, in this case from water to land and from land to flight. There are three different types of transitional forms and we have ample examples of each. But creationists still insist that we’ve never found a single one, because what they usually ask us to present are impossible parodies which evolution would neither produce nor permit (such as the Crocoduck).

Evolution doesn’t dictate we would find fossils at all, that is geology. Fossilization is a very rare process so the fact we have any fossils at all is amazing. The missing fossils you talk of may always be missing, it doesn’t discredit the theory, it just means we realise our limitations of finding fossils at other records such as genetic evidence.

You say all the missing links are imagined, but that is just plain wrong you can go to your local natural history museum and see replicas of the skulls and sometimes entire skeletons of our ancestors. We have found hundreds of examples of some of these ancestors and the documentation and photographic evidence is in biological textbooks, physical evidence is available at some of the luckier natural history museums and research facilities. As like other fossils they are rare and expensive.

10. How do “living Fossils” remain unchanged over supposed hundreds of millions of years if evolution has changed worms into humans in the same time frame?

In the same time frame it turned the same worms into lions and elephants and whales and fish. These ”living fossils” are called that as at least their initial outward appearance appears not to have changed, but new evidence suggests they have. Science changes it views based on what is observed, it is not afraid to admit it is wrong. The most famous “living fossil” the coelacanths is a fish that has found a very good niche so has had little selective pressure to change greatly from it hundred million year old ancestor, but it has changed according to recent research. Incidentally genetically its common ancestor with earth worms is the same as humans 782.7 million years ago roughly. So this and other “living fossils” simply have found a niche and a stable spot in the food change where any mutation that is beneficial to a changed environment will not help them so it doesn’t bread true.

References:
* http://timetree.org/index.php?taxon_a=Lumbricina&taxon_b=homo+sapien&submit=Search
* http://timetree.org/index.php?taxon_a=Lumbricina&taxon_b=lion&submit=Search
* http://timetree.org/index.php?found_taxon_a=6391|Lumbricina&found_taxon_b=9783|elephant
* http://timetree.org/index.php?taxon_a=Lumbricina&taxon_b=blue+whale&submit=Search
* http://timetree.org/index.php?found_taxon_a=6391|Lumbricina&found_taxon_b=7894|coelacanths

11. How did blind chemistry create mind/intelligence, meaning, altruism and morality?

Blind chemistry didn’t. Chemistry was probably the start of the precursor to life, but after that natural selection and evolution took over. It evolved in varying traits that where advantageous, such as communally living bacteria, then communally living animals such as schools of fish, then fish that where more cunning may have survived to pass on their DNA and been selected for, and intelligence built. This is why things like octopus can remember how to open jars as they can remember how to hide in certain types of coral and open certain types of shells to get to the tasty molluscs inside.

Morality and altruism is the realm of evolutionary psychologists, a relatively new field that has proposed various methods to answer how these features of our intelligence are advantageous in a community such as the ones humans and other animals form. The same reason piranha do not attack each other during a frenzy is the same reason we will assist our neighbour.
Life is not meaningless; it has whatever meaning you deign to it. If you give your life meaning through charity and altruism then society deems you a good person, if you give it through theft and crime society will punish you through the secular law system. The legal system has been built up by people not wanting others to treat them in such a manner, similar to the Christian golden rule but modified to allow for outliers such as those that may enjoy giving or receiving pain. The better version of the golden rule is “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them”.

So although some parts of morality and altruism are evolved others are learnt and passed down from parent to child. There are tribes that believe it is perfectly fine to kill unruly children and that anyone over 30 is not a member of the tribe. This does lead to a kind of moral relativism, but most ethicists will agree that what is moral is what causes the least amount of harm, and not caring for your young or elderly does cause harm to them, whereas caring for them causes in most circumstances almost no harm.
Morals are relative; it is not ok to kill… unless the person you are killing is threatening you or a loved one’s life. It is not ok to steal… unless if you don’t you or a loved one will die. It is not ok to lie… unless if you do so others will be harmed as I am sure a German harbouring Jews in WW2 would have realised.

References: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_psychology#Principles
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-nature-nurture-nietzsche-blog/201005/did-morality-evolve

12. Why is this evolutionary “just-so” story telling tolerated?

This is really a loaded question, these aren’t just-so stories they are different stories that describe the entirety of our species. Kind of like the 3 blind-men describing an elephant, one grabs the trunk and describes it is a powerful type of snake, another feels the leg and describes a tree, another feels the feathery tale and describes a bird, all are wrong by themselves, but together their picture is of an elephant.

The stories talked about here are just-so as there is a huge pool of humans that these DNA sequences play out. Even in recorded history there were millions of us on the planet, this diversity is what has made us strong as a species. Some of us have blue eyes and thus better vision during the night and overcast winters, others have brown eyes with better vision during the day, this diversity and communal living means we are more likely to survive as a species as a single disease can’t come through a wipe us out, and different people can have different specialties.

13. Where are the scientific breakthroughs due to evolution?

The quote used here is what is called quote mining; Dr Kirschner is actually complaining here that there is little interdisciplinary work with other biologists. Biologists need a grounding in evolution to truly understand and model every experiment they perform.

Norman Borlaug in 1970 was awarded the Nobel Prize for his use of evolutionary theory to create crops that have so far saved possibly billions of lives.

Every year the flu shot that is given out is due to the use of evolutionary theory to determine how influenza strains will change in the coming year, the same is done for new strains of existing vaccinated diseases.
References: * http://archive.truthout.org/article/missing-links
* http://journal.9med.net/qikan/article.php?id=224499

14. Science involves experimenting to figure out how things work; how they operate. Why is evolution, a theory about HISTORY, taught as if it is the same as OPERATIONAL science?

Firstly I don’t think theory means what you think it means. In science when you pluck an idea out of the air you have a hypothesis, not a theory. When your hypothesis is able to fail a test as in it is falsifiable and you have a lot of evidence backing a hypothesis and you have had your hypothesis tested by others and then you get it test a fair few more times, then and only then can you call it a theory. Looking at the numbers for example for the recently failed faster than light Tau Neutrino hypothesis they did 50,000 tests of their hypothesis before they released a paper for others to attempt to replicate or fail the experiment. They were quickly dismissed as the result couldn’t be replicated and they re-checked and re-checked their equipment and found the flaw… literally a loose wire.

Evolution via natural selection has been tested millions of times; errors have been found and corrected. The theory has changed, you may say due to this selective pressure it has evolved. References: http://www.nature.com/news/flaws-found-in-faster-than-light-neutrino-measurement-1.10099
Why is a fundamentally religious idea, a dogmatic belief system that fails to explain the evidence, taught in science classes? 
Sorry but I think I have shown how it explains the evidence, Darwin’s original hypothesis is testable and falsifiable, if no change where found in species, if a rabbit was found in strata of the pre-Cambrian it would be false and we would have to go back to the drawing board. If no way to transmit changes down from mother to child where discovered then it would be false, remembering that genes where not discovered till well after Darwin’s death, he was vindicated there.
Besides it is science, science isn’t about the comfortable or reassuring it is about what is true, even though evolution may not be comforting or reassuring to your beliefs it has shown to be true so far. If a better hypothesis comes along that explains the facts better, is tried tested and wins in the battle between scientific ideas then it will be the latest answer. But all evidence points to that not being much off what evolution via natural selection currently is.

I think teaching creation “theory” in a science class is the same as teaching the aforementioned phrenology in a neurology class, or teaching the stalk theory of birth in a sex-ed class, it is ludicrous and damaging to our children’s future. I know our kids are bright, they can take the idea of evolution and marvel and the grandeur and luck they have to just be here out of the literally billions upon billions of other DNA combinations that could have happened in their place.

Who is responsible for this pamphlet?
Sydney atheists care of www.sydneyatheists.org have used the design as a commentary on the original under fair use and thus they are responsible.

Although we are atheists, we care about what is true. We would prefer you believed the truth about our origins and believed in a god or gods than believe a falsity such as creation and also believe in God. Literal bible belief carries with it baggage no one wants, and will only lead to fundamentalism of a scale that will lead to war and violence.

We are happy to answer any of your questions via email to contact@sydneyatheist.org or via our Facebook group or page. Alternatively you can contact your local free thought group to see if they can assist you via http://atheist.meetup.com

Further reading: Rational Wiki, Proof of Evolution.com, Answering the 15 questions

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