Saturday, April 20, 2013

Exploding Myths to do with Evolution (2)

We now continue looking at common myths circulated concerning Darwinian evolution, picking up at No. 5:

5) Only an Intelligent Designer could have made something as complex as the eye

Richard Dawkins originally shot this specious reasoning down when he observed:

"This kind of default reasoning leaves completely open the possibility that, if the bacterial flagellum is too complex to have evolved, it might also be too complex to have been created. And indeed, a moment's thought shows that any God capable of creating a bacterial flagellum (to say nothing of a universe) would have to be a far more complex, and therefore a more statistically improbable entity than the bacterial flagellum (or universe) itself - even more in need of an explanation than the object he is alleged to have created"

At the very minimum, advocates of such a complex intelligent designer should at least have provided the necessary and sufficient conditions by which its design operates, but they haven't even done that.

Secondly, the anatomy of the eye certainly doesn't bespeak the existence of any kind of intelligent designer, but rather more the outcome from an algorithmic process. For example, it's built upside down and backwards- with photons of light having to actually travel through the cornea, lens, acqueous fluid, blood vessels, ganglion and amacrine cells, horizontal and bipolar cells, before reaching the light sensitive rods and cones that convert the light into neural impulses. (Which are then sent to the visual cortex at the rear of the brain for processing into meaningful patterns).

For optimal vision, why would an intelligent designer have built an eye upside down and backwards? Further, why on earth create it with a blind spot? What kind of "intelligent" design is that?

Far from a "designer" being in any way involved, the human eye betrays the pathways and structures that naturally would result from an evolutionary dynamic based on natural selection!

6) Too Many Gaps Exist in the Fossil Record for Evolution to be true.

This is a common myth, but it ignores that fact we have hundreds of intermediary fossils, such as for Archaeopteryx (one of the earliest known fossil birds with reptilian skeleton and feathers). We also have the records for a number of Therapsids, the intermediate species between reptiles and mammals. We also have the intermediary record for Tiktaalik – an extinct, lobe-finned fish fitting between fish and amphibians. Not to mention records to piece together a very coherent picture for the elephant (see diagram)

Further we know (based on fossil evidence) there are at least six intermediate stages in the evolution of whales and a dozen intermediate stages since the hominids branched off from the great progenitor common ancestor apes 6 million years ago.

In any case, as I also showed in many previous blogs, fossil record evidence does not make up the entire evidentiary constellation for evolution. We also have genetic evidence for common ancestry, for example of chimps and humans – as revealed in both having exactly the same cytochrome-c protein sequence – for which the odds are unfathomably remote (1 in 10 to the 93rd power) to be mere coincidence.

Of course, none of this will make a dime's worth of difference to fundamentalist creationist, because they don't adhere to scientific reasoning but only what's in their 2,000+ year old scriptures.

7) Evolution's only a theory and we know theories aren't real

This myth is based on a false idea of what constitutes a theory, actually confusing it with conjecture or speculation. In fact, a theory is the most advanced articulation of the scientific process: it represents the phase at which a hypothesis has actually been found to meet its predictive tests, and been confirmed. Thus, all branches of science are based on theories. For example, in physics we have the modern quantum theory (which explains the origin of the spectral lines in atoms, as well as their energy levels) and the theory of general relativity - which accounts for the action of gravitational fields near massive objects.

A theory is considered robust and reliable if it consistently predicts new phenomena that are subsequently observed. Facts then, are the world's data, and the theory of evolution is replete with them, including: the fact that humans and chimps display the same cytochrome-c protein sequence, and the fact that the 2p and 2q chromosomes in apes have undergone telomeric fusion to become the single '2' chromosome in humans. Thus, theories represent explanatory ideas about such facts we behold.

Speculations, meanwhile, are nontestable statements that are not strictly part of science. The "intelligent designer" is such a speculation until such time the ID backers can come up with not only an explanation for its nature (especially the necessary and sufficient conditions) but also describe specific tests by which we may confirm its existence.

Unlike the speculation of the ID, the theory of evolution meets all the criteria of good science, including:

- It's guided by specific natural laws and principles

- It is explanatory by reference to these self- same natural laws and principles

- it is testable by way of using those laws and principles - against the actual patterns, constraints of the empirical world

- It is not only testable but also falsifiable using tests

By contrast, no ID proponent has yet informed us how to falsify any of his claims, not one! Until he does so, he can't be said to possess the most remote semblance of a theory. What he is then advocating is a religious belief.

8) Evolution Can't Account for Morality:
In fact, the most recent research into primates shows that morality of a sort isn't peculiar to humans - as one find self-sacrifice and sharing behavior in monkeys, as well as in dolphins, gorillas, whales, and elephants.

As a social primate species, humans also evolved a deeep sense of right and wrong, probably emerging during the transition from the hunter-gatherer culture of the Stone Age to the Agricultural milieu. Because humans in the latter framework depended on reciprocity and cooperation to get crops harvested and that meant sharing the bounty for all. This stability for the purpose of shared work also required strict moral codes to preserve the cohesion of the group and its survival. Thus, certain behaviors such as selfish hoarding, rape, theft, or wanton aggression were unacceptable. Current evidence suggests human morality was in place on this basis long before the first religions apeared.

Thus it was that evolution created the social and moral sensibilities and emotions that inform us that lying, adultery, murder and stealing are wrong because they destroy the the trust in human relationships contingent on truth-telling. No "Ten commandments" was needed.

Nor would it be possible for a social primate species to survive without some inborn, evolved moral sense. Without that moral sense, for example, no outrage would be expressed at the rape and torture of others, and because of this incapacity, the unique cohesion and order binding human societies would soon be destroyed. Our recognition of the pain and suffering of others is a direct outgrowth of these evolved moral emotions, not an invented "god". Especially the one sought out by fundies in their scriptures who can approve wholesale genocide without batting an eyelash (if he had one!)

Ccontrary to religous fabrications, it is the evolved moral and ethical sensibility which enables us to empathize with the suffering of our fellows while also recognizing that such suffering inflicted by peer aggression is wrong. We need no god to tell us this, and what religions have done is merely to appropriate the natural moral sense and smother it with hundreds of religious platitudes, scriptural mandates and rules. Thus, on the evolutionary constitution of a moral human nature is built the stable constitution of human societies. Those which tend to forget that, or allow temporary tendencies such as greed blind them, will pay the price by not surviving.

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