Thursday, July 9, 2009

Truth Project: Issues with Evolution

One of our brothers at Gracepoint Berkeley, a Ph.D. structural biologist in UCSF, has given us a brief explanation of evolution below that might be helpful in understanding the issues with evolution that have been mentioned in our Truth Project.

I. What is Evolution?

Darwinian evolution is defined as the change in the gene pool of a population from generation to generation, leading to new adaptations and the emergence of new traits that ultimately lead to the genesis of new species. Although these changes in any single generation are small, the belief is that the changes that give a competitive edge to an individual or population accumulate over the course of multiple generations. Therefore these traits add up over time as those individuals with these ‘good’ changes out-competed those without. This mechanism is called natural selection or commonly known as “survival of the fittest.” Proponents of evolutionary theory point to the similarities between organisms and suggest that all species have descended from a common ancestor.

Figure 1 – Two classic icons of evolution. A) The picture of evolution that depicts the evolution of man from ape. B) The different colors of the peppered moths that give selective advantage of a certain colored moth in different environments.

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2. The problem with Natural Selection.

Natural selection is one of the cornerstones of the naturalistic worldview, in which all creation and living things are believed to be the result of random chemical and physical events that have led to the addition of complexity over time into the diverse kingdoms of life we see today. One can say that it is one of the pillars of the church of science & naturalism and places its trust and faith on the blind and unguided chemical/physical processes to bring forth life and the millions of different species we see today.

3. Technical problem with evolution – Irreducible complexity:

Since evolution is a gradual process in which slight modifications produce advantages for survival, it cannot produce complex structures in a short amount of time. Darwin recognized this shortcoming to his theory and stated this disclaimer to his theory:

"If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down." --Charles Darwin, Origin of Species

The fact is, mutations may gradually build up and modify complex structures, but it cannot produce them in their functional form without meaningless and non-functional intermediate steps. Mutations may change function, but in most cases, it is detrimental to life and leads to the loss of function. Furthermore, mutations cannot bring about the formation of multi-component complexes that are involved in almost every molecular process in our cells and organs required for life. A great illustration of the complexity of even a single response in the cells can be visualized in a great computer animation called “the inner life of the cell” (http://multimedia.mcb.harvard.edu/anim_innerlife_hi.html). It is not far-fetched to compare a single cell to a large bustling metropolis, with thousands of different functions and signal networks interacting at the same time. With the incredible complexity of a single cell, it takes a huge amount of faith to conclude that this complex system have derived from unguided and blind mutational changes.

The concept called irreducible complexity was developed by biochemist Michale Behe to describe this problem of the genesis of complex biological systems. Simply put, everything is there and it works, or something is missing and it doesn’t work.

Figure 2 – The mousetrapclip_image001

The concept illustration for an irreducible complex system is the mousetrap (Figure 2). This device contains 5 interdependent components to work: the wooden platform, the spring, the hammer, the holding bar, and a catch. Each of these components is absolutely essential for the function of the mousetrap. Remove any of the parts, and it can no longer catch mice. This example implies that an irreducibly complex system cannot come about in a gradual manner. A step-by-step approach to constructing such a system will result in a useless system until all the components have been added. The system requires all the components to be added at the same time, in the right configuration, before it works at all.

Some of the biological examples used by Behe are the bacterial flagella, the blood clotting mechanism in humans, and the eye. In each of these cases, either you have everything and it works, or you take away something and it doesn’t. One can take any known molecular machine or signal system in the cell and it runs into the problem of irreducible complexity.

Figure 3 – Illustrations of the irreducible complex systems

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Blind evolution, as described by Darwinian theory, cannot produce complex structures in a single generation, as would be required for the formation of irreducibly complex systems. Even the production of one or a few of these proteins at a time is not only improbable, and it would provide no advantage to the survival of the individual because those few proteins would have no function. Darwin recognized this as a weakness to his theory when the cell was understood as a sac of goo, and the advances we are making in biological sciences today only add to the incredible complexity of life that makse belief in Darwinian evolution a feat of great faith indeed.

24 comments:

Vicky said...

The following question is regarding human evolution, in light of the Truth Project from 7/12:

Some scholars point to various homo species' fossils as supporting evidence for human evolution. What is the truth behind such evidence? How are these evidence discredited?

johnkorea said...

One way of looking at 'bone' evidence for evolution is to always remember that it is very speculative data. Physical anthropologists who make a living analyzing bones and coming to conclusions based on it are on very shaky ground. I personally think it is one of biggest areas of science where colleagues have given a lot of grace in the analysis and interpretation of the data. Safe to say, scientists in physics, mathematics, biophysics, biochemistry, etc. are held to a much higher standard of reproducibility and robustness of data before anything is published. My take on it this phenomenon is that it is so important to the Naturalistic worldview and it fits their expected and desired view of nature. Also, many of these discoveries are just part of a jaw bone mixed with a part of a leg bone and many other parts are reconstructed, adding to the speculations. There have been many grand announcements of having discovered the 'missing link' in the evolution of homonids into humans, starting with Lucy, but I think one can always look at the work of bone scientists with a large grain of salt.

jhong said...

This is a puzzle which is related to the issue of evolution, I think, and the previous comment: how should we understand the genealogical accounts in the Bible? I ask because Genesis specifies a lot of numbers, and when you do the math, you get something like 2000 years from Adam to Abram. Assuming 2000 years from Abram to Jesus and another 2000 to us, that's only 6000 years back to the first man. Even if you assume that Adam may have lived for 100s of thousands of years in the Garden, and that his age accounting only began after the fall, you have the issue that even if Adam/Eve had had lots of children during that time, there was supposed to be no death, and so we should find no 100,000 year old homo sapien fossils, especially ones bearing culturally motivated marks. To what extent are the pre-Abram genealogical accounts subject to interpretation? I ask because things there seem to stated in relatively plain terms, like "when so-and-so was 30 years old, he had two sons," etc. which suggests that generations are not being skipped.

Mark B said...

I haven't yet seen a clear-cut explanation from any biblical scholars regarding how long human beings have really been on the earth. Daniel may be better at elucidating this issue, but I'll give it a shot.

If we follow the Bible's genealogy, it really is only about 6,000 years, which leads young earth creationists to argue that the earth must only be about 6,000 years old. The scientific evidence seems to suggest the earth is much older than that. Moreover, it seems that human beings have been on the earth for at least 150,000 years, at least from the fossil evidence. It's hard to match this with the bible, and that's kind of disconcerting if we truly are made in God's image.

I think one thing that can be said is that the fossil evidence, as John already pointed out, is highly speculative. The dating methods are actually pretty imprecise. Something that I find very interesting, actually, is that if we look back in history, the earliest cities started popping up about 6-7,000 years ago, and in Genesis it records Cain as building a city in the land of Nod.

As a scientist and as a Christian, I'm willing to say that we don't have all the answers on either side. Given the evidence of cities popping up right around the time of biblical creation, I'd say that we can't just discount the biblical account outright.

joongwlee said...

@jhong: daniel might be able to give a more thorough explanation, but i wanted to chime in with a quick response: the genealogies in the bible are not necessarily exhaustive. in fact, the original hebrew word can be more accurately translated as "fathered an ancestor of".

for a very detailed paper, see:
http://www.reasons.org/resources/non-staff-papers/the-genesis-genealogies

P.Jonathan
http://joongwlee.wordpress.com

Charles Chu said...

I think it is important to mention also that belief in natural selection does not commit one to a naturalistic/physicalist position. There is nothing logically incoherent with the notion of a supernatural entity employing natural selection/ evolution as a means to producing species. However, the main problem to think about is if it is in fact logically coherent with the Christian God/ biblical accounts.
Furthermore, there are some Christian philosophers who argue that natural selection undermines the naturalistic position (Alvin Plantiga being one of them), and that natural selection/evolution is more (logically) compatible with a theistic position.

Then we have other Christian philosophers/theologians rejecting evolution altogether (William Dembski, Behe). As it stands, evolutionary theory doesn't hold as much strength as let's say our theory of gravity. Due to the historical contingencies (because of evolution) that biology rests on, many have argued that there are no scientific laws in biology. Because of this, it leaves a lot of room for debate on the theory of evolution. Philosophers of Biology/biologists are still nitpicking on the "circular" concept of fitness, the definition of species, the definition of populations. Thus, when a atheist/agnostic claims that evolutionary theory is a theory just like the theory of gravity is a theory (in an attempt to show that evolution holds as much strength as a theory we do not doubt: gravity) he/she presupposes that the theories are equal in strength.

I believe that theist still has many options available in this point of time in the field of biology. Any empirical evidence found through biology in the end can simply be referenced back to a creator who leaves no direct empirical evidence of Himself.

I have still yet to hear how scientists/philosophers aim to reconcile the deterministic theory of evolution (genetic drift aside) with the stochastic theory of quantum mechanics. String theory?

Anonymous said...

There is ample evidence accepted by the scientific community that shows that the flagellum, blood clotting, and the eye are not irreducibly complex. Their ancestral forms have been discovered and the mechanism of their evolution have been explained. I'll leave it up to you to read up on that.

Daniel Kim said...

Anoymous,

That's really interesting. Can you provide some articles explaining how these discovered ancestral forms solve the issue of irreducible complexity?

Finding a primitive eye, for example, does not solve the problem of irreducible complexity of biochemical systems that comprises the complex systems.

For a more exhaustive treatment of this topic, you can look at the article: http://www.detectingdesign.com/flagellum.html

Hans Susilo said...

I have a question regarding the teleological argument. I know it is not discussed in this post, but I figured that this is somewhat relevant. George H. Smith argued that it is impossible to conclude that life is designed. Christians say that life is designed and not a product of random chance. Yet we also acknowledge that all of nature is designed by God. This poses a problem in differentiating between what is designed and what is not. How can we conclude that life is far too complex, and therefore designed, when we lose nature as a reference point for chaos since nature itself is designed?

Just in case I did not make my question clear, here is a excerpt of George Smith's book, Atheism: The Case Against God.

"Consider the idea that nature itself is the product of design. How could this be demonstrated? Nature, as we have seen, provides the basis of comparison by which we distinguish between designed objects and natural objects. We are able to infer the presence of design only to the extent that the characteristics of an object differ from natural characteristics. Therefore, to claim that nature as a whole was designed is to destroy the basis by which we differentiate between artifacts and natural objects. Evidences of design are those characteristics not found in nature, so it is impossible to produce evidence of design within the context of nature itself. Only if we first step beyond nature, and establish the existence of a supernatural designer, can we conclude that nature is the result of conscious planning."

How do we respond to this?

Daniel Kim said...

Good question.

I would say that it is possible to detect design of an object within the context of a designed background. The objection quoted above seems to be ignoring the obvious fact that there can be different levels of design.. Let's say I place a computer in a house. And I put someone in there who has never been outside of the house.. Does that mean this person would not be able to recognize that the computer seems to be designed, since she lives inside another designed thing (i.e., the house)? Of course this person would be able to tell that a computer seems designed, it is on a different level of design than the background house. Hope that's clear -- as far as your question is concerned..

Now, Smith's objection is saying something more fundamental. Smith is saying that there is no way (in the above example) for someone to claim that the house is designed, if the person has lived inside the house his entire life, since we can only tell design in the context of an undesigned background. This sounds almost convincing, but I think he's making a flawed argument. The person, for exmaple, could still experience randomness within the house, and understand what true randomness looks like. If the person drops the vase in the house and it breaks into pieces, for example, he would see what randomness looks like. In other words, just because a person has lived inside a designed object all his life, that does not mean that he has NO idea what randomness looks like. And after this imaginary person gets a pretty good idea what randomness looks like, he can start to suspect that the house he lives in is not a product of randomness.

Likewise, to say that nature is designed does not mean that there is no such thing as randomness within nature... which seems to be how Smith is arguing for his case. He is assuming that if nature is designed, then there cannot be any randomness or less designed objects within that nature... Thus we have lost the point of reference. But obviously, that would be over-simplifying the concept of "design" by flattening all designs to be equal complexity.

Hope that makes sense.

Daniel Kim said...

Let's clarify a little further.. To be my own devil's advocate, I could imagine George Smith responding to my previous comment by saying that if NATURE itself is designed, then there can't be any true randomness... Therefore since nothing is random or chaotic, we have destroyed our own reference point for detecting design.

In response, I could argue against his premise that if nature is designed, there cannot be randomness. I think it's faulty to assume that design cannot contain laws of randomness.

However, let's actually grant Smith his point. Let's assume, for a moment, that if nature is designed, then there can't be any true randomness.. But even upon granting Smith's point, I would say you can still maintain a reference point. All you need is different levels of complexity or design. A computer is highly designed. A computer that has been dropped and broken into 100 pieces is still designed, but now it's "less" designed. A little plastic doorknob is lower on the design scale than a working computer. And let's say all these items are found inside a cave that you don't konw if it's designed or not. Yet, you can still recognize the computer to be designed, even though you're not comparing it to anything that is truly chaotic or undesigned. All you need is different levels of design, which obviously exists in nature. And Smith seems to be ignoring that fact.

Anonymous said...

@johnkorea - please look up the topic of hominid evolution for details of bones found. Your claim that many discoveries are of a jaw bone mixed with part of a leg bone, and to refer to Lucy the way you have betrays your ignorance of the subject. Your ad hominem attack on physical anthropologists in an attempt to discredit them is unfortunate, but not an unusual tactic. If you look at the hominid record in the creationist literature, you will see that they do not agree amongst eachother on which is human and which is an ape. Can you explain that? Common descent can. Please also try to explain human chromosome #2 in light of creation. I doubt that you will educate yourself on this topic because it will require more mental gymnastics to explain it away. It is easy to post comments on this site where you are fairly well insulated from critiques and people will accept your opinions as authoritative.

Anonymous said...

Please do read up on the blood clotting cascade, flagellum, and development of the eye. Dr. Kenneth Miller, a Catholic molecular biologist, discusses this in great detail. Also look up Dover Trial in which Dr. Behe demonstrates that his opinions are not entirely based on knowledge of the scientific literature.

Daniel Kim said...

@Anonymous, seems like ad hominem attacks go both ways. It's odd that you accuse johnkorea of ad hominem attacks, and then you attack him personally, suggesting that he is an uneducated person whom you doubt that "will educate yourself on this topic because it will require more mental gymnastics.." I think a fair observer would consider that to be a more direct example of ad hominem.

By the way, from my own knowledge of him, johnkorea is actually has a Ph.D. in biology and doubt that he is unaware of the issues involved. So when he made those observations about the forgiving nature of evolutionary science, he is merely making an observation about his "colleagues", as he says.

To be fair, I think we can agree that we would have a hard time finding another science that is more forgiving than evolutionary science, where giving a just-so account (an account of how blood clotting COULD have come about -- as Dr. Miller demonstrates) is accepted readily as a possible solution. There is no other science like it, and of course, that's understandable, because evolution, almost by definition of its nature, cannot be reproduced. So I'm not demanding that evolutionary theory be testable and falsifiable. But it's still helpful to acknowledge that evolutionary theories are the most forgiving of all sciences. I think that's all that is being said by johnkorea in the previous post -- that evolutionary science "is givn a lot of grace in the analysis and interpretation of the data."

For example, let's say we observe the rise of suicides in the world. Evolutionary theory could explain that -- it is a way in which a species can control its population and therefore benefit the species, much like the altruism gene. But let's say we observe the decrease of suicides. Evolution explains that as well -- you would expect that to happen, since the suicide gene is self-selecting itself out. We have read such scenarios put forth as evolutionary explanations for all sorts of phenomena. But notice what is happening here -- evolution can explain both scenarios that are opposites. That's a problem -- because if a theory can explain anything and everything, even opposite phenomena, then it shows that the theory is so flexible that it really seems to fall into the category of "just-so" accounts. In other words, a theory loses its explanatory power if it seems to be able to explain anything and everything, and therefore cannot be disproven. (I think you would have to admit that it would be hard for you to come up with a physical phenomena that would possibly falsify evolution.)

Besides, johnkorea has not made any claims about creationism, although your rebuttals seem to cast him into that position, asking him to defend certain creationist literature. Maybe I'm not astute enough to read in between the lines as you have -- but I think it's helpful to appropriate our responses to the content that he has actually said, not what we could imagine him saying. And when we look at that, all that he's saying is that the grand claims of evolutionists should be taken with a grain of salt because evolutionary science is very forgiving of data interpretation.. And that seems to be sound and moderate advice that all scientists should agree with.

Anonymous said...

@DKim. Can you honestly say that the claims johnkorea makes about 'bone evidence' is consistent with the scientific evidence? Spurious assertions like that retard the advancement of knowledge, whether you are a creationist or not. Assuming that he has Ph. D has no bearing on his claims. I am surprised you made such a point. He is clearly not up to speed with the evidence of the topic he attempts to criticize. Some of this evidence is over 20 years old now. This is part of the reason why discussions of this sort are so frustrating. If someone makes an erroneous claim, and tries to educated others with it, they should be called on it. Call it what you will. I think a 'fair observer' can identify when someone does not know what he is talking about.
On what basis can he make the assertion that conclusions made by physical anthropologists are on shaky ground? Claims about "Lucy" , missing links, and grand claims again demonstrates he does not understand the state of evidence in this field. It is quite plain and you may defend this if you wish. I don't think all he stating is that evolutionary science is given a lot of grace.
You do seem quite astute at reading between the lines as you have made some interesting interpretations of his post. He commented on a branch of science but you have generalized it to all evolutionary sciences, whatever that may include. You generalized his 'grain of salt' claim to all evolutionary science, not 'bone science' as he puts it.
I agree with you completely that a theory that claims to explain everything is not a good theory at all. But as with all theories in science, they must be tested, revised, and tested again. Let us run an experiment in which a subpopulation has an advantage in mating but its advantage makes it more prone to predation. What happens to that population? We can hypothesize that outcome and test how these conflicting variables would interact in nature (which has been done). That result would add to our understanding of this process that will change the genes frequencies within that population, and thus our understanding of evolution. If not, what theory would that information fall under?
Evolution is entirely falsifiable but the evidence is so overwhelming that it is unlikely. An example would be chromosome #2. Of course this could be explained with a creator, one with a sense of humour at that. But a physical phenomena that would start to break down the theory would be the classic "fossil bunnies in the precambrian".
Thank you DKim for taking the time to reply to my response and for posting my comments. I certainly appreciated your thoughts!

Anonymous said...

@DanielKim. I forgot to address the ad hominem issue. That was not unintentional as it was borne out of frustration with those types of assertions that are clearly not based on facts. However, I am not trying to refute his claims by personal attacks as his claims speak for themselves. I did not try to denigrate an entire scientific discipline.
I sense this attempt to single out evolution, similar to the warning labels trying to be inserted on science textbooks in the USA. There certainly are differences, as you have rightly pointed out. I agree that, in a very important way, evolutionary theory is special but in a very positive way. It has the support from so many other disciplines of science (geology, biology, biochemistry, genetics, anthropology, comparative anatomy, paleantology, etc). Pope John Paul II has a wonderful quote regarding this. This cannot be claimed with other theories which go relatively unchallenged.
Finally, I just wanted to ask whether you could refute atomic theory, theory of gravity, germ theory, etc based on the knowledge we have of these. If something fell up, it wouldn't refute gravity. We do not understand the location of electrons, and no one has ever seen an atom, proton, or neutron. Yet, we accept atomic theory. How does that compare with evolution?
Lastly, "I think it's helpful to appropriate our responses to the content that he has actually said, not what we could imagine him saying. And when we look at that, all that he's saying is..." Perhaps we will both leave johnkorea's thoughts to be expressed by johnkorea.

Once again, I thank you.

Daniel Kim said...

Sorry for the late reply:
You said: "Evolution is entirely falsifiable but the evidence is so overwhelming that it is unlikely. An example would be chromosome #2. Of course this could be explained with a creator, one with a sense of humour at that. But a physical phenomena that would start to break down the theory would be the classic "fossil bunnies in the precambrian"."

I see. Precambrian rabbit a good one. I can see how that kind of evidence would start to break down the theory, although I think you’re kind of misunderstanding my request here. I was asking for some phenomena (I don’t think fossil records count as a “phenomenon”). A phenomena -- such as increase of suicides vs. decrease of suicides, phenomena of wisdom teeth getting more common vs. more rare; pandas getting fatter or thinner; Asian males getting faster or slower in response times… obviously, I’m totally making up these phenomena scenarios :) – but that’s the point.. given any possible/theoretical phenomena, I can come up with an evolutionary explanation to explain any and all phenomena, even if they are opposites. And you won’t be able to falsify my just-so explanations. It seems that for MOST cases, all that evolutionists have to do is to give an account of how “it might have been” evolved, and that just-so account gets readily accepted.

That’s why it’s almost impossible to come up with even a theoretical phenomena that cannot be explained by evolution. (demonstrating the fact that evolutionary explanations are extremely flexible and do not require too much evidence to support it, only internal coherency.)

By the way, just to defang the argument here, I don’t think evolution is necessarily incompatible with Christianity or theism. I think Christians can hold to evolution as an accurate description of the method that God used (and some do). The only thing about evolutionary science that would be opposed to Christianity is its assumption of Naturalism (that the entire thing is not teleological – it is a mindless, unguided process with no intelligence involved.) So my beef is not to somehow knock evolutionary science in order to prove the existence of God or anything like that. Not sure if that defangs anything, but thought I should get that out there.

Well, moving on, I would like to sort of depart from the specifics of biological systems and talk about evolutionary science as a whole (which is what I tried to do in the last post). Sorry for departing from the specifics and talking generally here, but I’m not a biologist (and didn’t even like it so much when I took it in college, because of its imprecise nature), so I can’t really speak on it in a very detailed way.. and perhaps my biased dislike of its imprecision is showing up in my writings… But the way that I’m addressing evolutionary science is from the perspective of philosophy of science, since that’s an area that I feel a little bit more comfortable in, and I think it’s worth taking a step back and seeing evolutionary science through a different lens which asks questions like, “is it falsifiable?”, “what passes for evidence?”, “does the evidence merit the wide acceptance?”, etc. Hope that’s okay.

Daniel Kim said...

(cont. from previous comment) You asked for a phenomena that would seriously threaten other theories (like gravity and atomic theory). Actually, since you brought that up... this IS an area that I’m a bit more confident to say something about… Right off the top of my head, I can come up with several phenomena. Let’s say we observed that at particular temperatures, gravity is reduced or increased. That would throw a gigantic wrench into our current understanding of gravity (our current understanding is that gravity is mass bending space, which has nothing to do with temperatures or the vibration of the masses) Another one: let’s say we observed the phenomena that near the center of the galaxy, planets interact with each other in a way that shows that G (universal gravitational constant) is lower or higher. That would show that G is NOT a universal constant, and that would seriously mess up gravitational theory. Notice that the theory of gravity has a formula – which means that we can test it and falsify it. Of course, that does not mean that we think things float upwards or that gravity doesn’t exist. But almost everything meaningful that we think regarding HOW gravity works would be threatened by just a handful of phenomena like this. I can come up with dozens more very easily. You say that other theories – like atomic theory and theory of gravity go relatively unchallenged. I don’t know if you’ve been keeping up with physics, but that is not true. Because these theories are more precise and falsifiable, they ARE being challenged. I’m sure you probably heard of string theory. String theory, if true, would effectively destroy atomic theory and theory of gravity. According to string theory (or the more recent M-theory), atoms and gravity are phenomenological illusions in our three-dimensional world which are created by vibrations of higher dimensional strings. Well, if string theory turns out to be true, then we will still believe in the existence of atoms and gravity, but only as an “illusion” – we would have to admit that matter is actually not what we think it is. They just appear to us as matter, but it’s actually fundamentally not matter, but mere vibrations.

I guess that brings us back to the main point – that evolutionary science does not really open itself up to be critical of itself, because it is very forgiving of its own explanations. Atomic theorists, in contrast, do not give themselves such a wide leeway. They are much more demanding of their own claims, and therefore more moderate about their own confidence and their ability to understand, and as a result, they do give a hearing to competing ideas, even when it is in its beginning stages without much evidence (such as string theory). For example, physicist readily admit that their whole theory falls apart inside black holes. They will not give a "how it might be" story and then say "we solved that." And they are actually quite open to the idea that their current understanding of nature of atoms/gravity might be completely wrong in a radical way. That’s what all the excitement in recent theoretical physics is all about. In contrast, is it even possible to criticize and point out difficulties with evolution? It seems to be very difficult to do so, because an evolutionary biologist just has to respond to objections by providing a “what might have been” description, and that is accepted as an explanation. So to answer your question: “how does [atomic theory] compare with evolution?” I would say: “It’s a whole lot more open to competing ideas and more open to be falsified than evolutionary theory.” I understand that it’s false for me to criticize a theory for its high level of confidence. After all, that theory might enjoy a higher level of confidence than any other theory because it has much more evidence than other theories. However, it is still insightful, I think, to relatively compare evolutionists’ level of confidence to other theories and ask whether that confidence is merited.

Daniel Kim said...

On the other hand, I do hear you, @Anonymous, that creationists’ attempt to insert labels into science text books in the US is just ugly. And I have seen a lot of really bad argumentation from creationists. They overstate things, and they ignore the fact that evolution has some pretty darn convincing evidence in support of evolution. (johnkorea, by the way, is the one who educated me about the chromosome #2 evidence a few years back, so we both know about that. And we think that’s a good piece of evidence in support for evolution.) But it would be a Guilt by Association fallacy to lump all questioning of evolutionary theory into one dumb camp along with the “banana designed for human hand” camp. And I do admit that creationists have also engaged in a lion’s share of faulty argumentation and just-so stories to knock evolution. So while I empathize with your negative emotional reaction against really bad creationist arguments, I think it’d be tragic if evolutionary scientists were blind to their own faulty logic or became hypocritical to accept their own just-so stories. So if reasonable creation science (if such a thing exists in your mind) serves any purpose, at least allow it to be an annoying younger brother that raises objections to “keep evolution honest” as William Dembski (a mathematician who tries to use probability theory to detect design) has said.

Given that evolutionary scientists seem to be more passionate about their conclusions and assumptions than most other science fields, and given that it is so difficult to even attempt to raise objections against evolution, I guess my point is that it is worthwhile to take a small step back occasionally and ask some questions. And when I do, I personally find it strange that evolutionary biology seems to foster a confidence that is far greater than almost any other science, and at the same time it is less open to opposition than almost any other science, although other sciences seem to have so much more repeatable evidence. Perhaps this is because of the highly politicized nature of the topic, and evolutionary biologists got impassioned to dig in their heels and fight back because of the encroachment of bad creation science. Whatever the reason, the resultant overconfidence just seems a bit overboard compared to the evidence. And I do acknowledge that the accusation of overconfidence can be fairly lodged against creationists as well.

Well, that’s just my two cents, looking through the lens of philosophy of science perspective. Hope that this foray into looking at evolution through that lens was interesting enough.

I appreciate your thoughts.

Jon Heal said...

@joongwee (From 07/23/2009)
I don't buy it. Yes, I see that "yalad" (begat) can mean a lot of things related to lineage, but the specific verses in early Genesis detailing the lineage from Adam go to the trouble of including lifespans, which "implies" an unbroken blood line. And as an observer, if I were to take these verses as simply detailing a sampling of descendants through the ages, I would have expected at least a note as to why one particular ancestor was singled out for mention as opposed to the other 100 or 1000 that were not. Why is this individual remembered?

That said, personally don't believe the world is 6,000 years old, so this is a problem for me.

Daniel Kim said...

Try looking through this article.

It seems to directly address the objections that you pose. It's a long article, but the Genesis years are addressed near the bottom.

By the way, though, I would rather not discuss old vs. young earth issues here, since that issue is really an issue among Christians that sometimes leads to in-fighting... and it does very little to advance the kingdom. It's the same policy that William Lane Craig takes in his reasonablefaith.org site, and I think that's a good policy...

Daniel Kim said...

By the way, @John Heal, I am an old-earther myself, and I do agree with you that it's a problem. So these attempts to understand the biblical genealogies differently are some earnest efforts to reconcile the two. The article (link above) does seem to do a pretty good job, although I'm sure it can't convince everyone.

Anonymous said...

A very interesting one sided article on evolution.An attempt I surmise was an effort to show that evolution could not happen as the complexity of nature is to great. After rereading the article a number of times I could find no evidence expounded as to how God makes the necessary changes to [what? nature?] in order to facilitate the complexities. Does this being reach down and alter the genetic makeup of a species? Does this being force species to change their physical makeup? If so I would like to know how this is done. By what process does this being (God) make the necessary changes in complexity?

Daniel Kim said...

Anonymous, I think your criticism that the article provides no mechanism of how God interacts with nature is true -- it does not provide that mechanism. However, I think to dismiss the problem because there is no alternative "mechanism" would be short-sighted. In all areas of science, especially when it comes to design detection, we can't demand that we get a complete mechanistic explanation.

For example, let's say that we found a 5000-year-old tractor-like machine on Mars. Now, that would be a crazy discovery indeed, which would lead to the proposition that there are other more advanced civilizations. However, what if the opponents of the extra-terrestrial intelligence theory demanded that the discoverers also provide the mechanism by which the aliens got to Mars, how they built this without leaving any other trace, etc.? And if the discoverers just shrug their shoulder and say I have no idea, would it be fair for the opponents to dismiss the "alien intelligence" theory and say that we should just prefer the other theories like the Martian wind putting together the machine, because at least we have a mechanistic explanation?

Let's take a more realistic example. I believe, as do most people, that we have a mind that can choose to do certain things. I believe that our thoughts are not deterministic, and that we are somewhat free to change our minds, if we choose to. But how does that happen? In the worldview of scientific naturalism, even our brains are just a conglomeration of molecules and atoms, all following the laws of physics. What is the "mechanism" by which our minds can somehow "choose" anything? (like choosing to lift your arm, for example). We currently do not have any naturalistic explanation for that. So some people have opted to say that therefore we have no free will, that we cannot choose anything. Is that a reasonable conclusion, even though it seems to go directly against what we can intuitively know to be true (that we are thinking right now and that we are free to change our minds)?

Wouldn't it be more reasonable to say that although we don't have a mechanistic explanation on how the mind interacts with the physical world, we cannot deny the fact that we do have a mind? I think it would be silly to deny the existence of our free agency (our minds) just because we can't provide a mechanistic, naturalistic explanation of it.

Here's a final thought -- perhaps things like existence of the mind and apparent design (which is a product of the mind again) CANNOT be explained naturalistically / mechanistically. And while you take that as a reason to dismiss the theory, perhaps it might be more reasonable to question the assumption that this whole universe can be explained mechanistically.