Evolution: myths vs reality.

DewiMorgan
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Evolution: myths vs reality.

I'm pretty sure that mis-teaching evolutionary theory is the main reason it continues not to be argued.

http://www.talkorigins.org/origins/faqs-mustread.html is the best resource, and explains evolution far better and in considerably more depth than I ever could. Wikipedia is pretty good too.

But here is a summary of the more common misconceptions.

If any of these surprise you, then the evolution you were arguing against is a strawman, and nobody holds the belief that you were arguing against.

  1. Evolution says nothing about cosmology, the big bang, or where the universe, galaxy, solar system, or Earth came from. Evolution is only about life.
  2. Evolution says nothing about where life came from! For the debate on that, read up on "abiogenesis".
  3. Evolutionary Theory is not accidental or random. Random mutation is not required to be a part of it, and it works just as well without it, in computer simulations with large enough populations. Having two genders helps too.
  4. Evolution is not "merely" a theory. This is not just semantics, any more than the theory of gravity is a theory. It is a real, observed phenomenon (a "fact"), and also an explanation for that fact (a "theory") that makes falsifiable predictions which have been tested in the laboratory and found to be true.
  5. Random mutation of genes can play a part. There is some debate on how large a part, but in truth it doesn't matter, so long as every time two members of a population combine their genes to make a child, the combined gene of the child is close to unique. We can see this to be the case in reality. Other than ensuring this uniqueness, random mutation is peripheral to evolutionary theory.
  6. Evolution does not need to be directed. It may not be accidental or random, but it's also not directed. It's a process, like generating a fractal, which appears to create an intelligent pattern but which on inspection is very simple.
  7. Evolution is not progress towards any goal. Yes, I know that means that it's a misnomer. Sorry. Not our fault, blame Darwin, he picked the word.
  8. Evolution does not require an increase in complexity. An population can evolve to become simpler - often called "devolve", but that's a misnomer. So snakes and whales lose their legs, cave-fish become blind, etc.
  9. Evolution does not need to be slow. Yes I know people keep saying "But... MILLIONS OF YEARS! You don't get that in a jar of peanut butter!" But, no, sorry, not required to observe evolution, though a large number of generations are required for significant changes of shape to be seen, eyes to form, and so forth.
  10. Populations, not individuals, evolve; evolution does not describe how a child matures into an adult, or how a tree grows from a seed. A chimp can't be born a chimp and turn into a gorilla. You need at least one generation to observe evolution. To be provable evolution, you need quite a few generations, in order to establish that the changes remain in subsequent generations.
  11. Populations, not individuals, evolve; you need the entirety of a population to observe evolution. You need some of them to breed, and some not to, so that the selective forces can do their job.
  12. Evolution does posit "transitional forms"... but not "endpoint forms". That is, every animal, plant, fossil that exists, is an example of a transitional form. Evolution is a constant process.
  13. When people say "transitional forms" they generally mean "a common ancestor for two populations" - and we have tons of those. http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-transitional.html and http://www.geo.ucalgary.ca/~macrae/talk_origins.html
  14. Evolution has been observed, countless times, in and out of the laboratory. (http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-speciation.html and http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/speciation.html)
  15. Evolution does not violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics: to do so, the earth's surface would need to be a closed system, with no energy coming from the sun or the earth's core.
  16. Evolution has been proved: it is a "theory" in the same way as the theories of gravity, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, etc. It combines an observable fact (things fall, evolve, etc) with a well-tested explanation about why this happens. There is as much evidence (or more) as for any other of the main theories of science. This differentiates it from a mere hypothesis.
  17. Evolution does not claim that phenotypic changes (changes caused by the environment, such as larger size due to better diet, amputations, etc) can be passed from generation to generation.
  18. Humans never evolved from chimpanzees or monkeys, but rather that we share a "common ancestor" known as Sahelanthropus tchadensis that existed around seven million years ago.
  19. "fish one day decided to come onto land and did so, breathing in their first agonising breath..." is a lovely story, but if breathing was painful in any way, then they simply wouldn't do it. It would be a gradual transition, not a painful "macroevolutionary" leap.
  20. There is no commonly held belief in the form of "macroevolution" that causes something like an eye or a leg to form in one step, rather than an number of incremental phases.
  21. Humans don't have a special place at the top of the evolutionary tree. We are merely one of many branches.
  22. Evolution is not just something that has happened, resulting in the species we see today. It is a basic process of biology and is continuing.

What IS evolution, then?

"any change in the frequency of alleles within a gene pool from one generation to the next."

Or, in a way we non-anally-retentive humans might say it:

"a process that results in heritable changes in a population spread over many generations."

That is ALL it is.

Say I get a bunch of greenfly, give them plenty of food, and leave them in a tank. Fifty generations pass: will I see evolution? Almost certainly not. Aphids have grown over countless generations, far more than humans, to be pretty well-adapted to their environment.

But what if I made it so that exponentially more food was available to greenfly with longer proboscises? They would be the more likely to survive, grow big and strong, and breed. Over generations, then, you would see a change. Give it long enough and the probosces would be so long that even the shortest in the population would be far bigger than any you saw in the original population.

If you then started giving them all the same amount of food whatever the length? Would the next generation's probosces be short again? Nope, still long, and so would the next generations', and the next, even though it's redundant to grow them so big now. Given enough generations, it might fade back to the old size in the end, because making part of the body bigger has a cost. By showing that it is passed to subsequent generations even when the pressure is gone, we demonstrate that this change is genetic.

You knew that already, I'm sure. So let's go on to the fun stuff.

ID proponents call the above (as CoryT did), "Micro-evolution". They differentiate between this and what they term "Macro-evolution" in that they claim that something significant, or "macro", such as the eye, can't form over time in small microevolutionary steps, so must have been created by God. These features, they claim, are examples of "irreducible Complexity".

But this idea can be shown false if it can be shown that they could have been created such that each step was slightly better than the last, and as feasible as breeding a dog with a longer nose. That is, if you can reduce the irreducible complexity.

You needn't show the exact method used by evolution, since you probably don't have a fossil record of the specific soft-tissue changes. But you do need to show it's feasible, and a good way to do that is to be able to show that all intermediary stages exist in living animals. And that's what has been done for eyes: see the diagram in the post below, hough there are other hypotheses - and since the eye has evolved several times in different ways, it is likely that several could be true. In fact, invertebrates have a better eye than we do: no blind spot because of the non-inverted design.

It has also been done for every other "macroevolutionary" trait raised by ID proponents: beetles with explosive pulse-jet flaming farts, bacterial flagellae, blood clotting, the immune system, etc.

Another bugbear of theists is "speciation". This is where after a time, one group can no longer breed with the other group. This is where some theists draw the line: microevolution, sure, they say: but separate species? Not a chance, for God said "each according to its kind".

I could just say "see the links above, tons of speciation events".

But nah. Speciation is a FUN topic! Because, it's so not such a clear line as the theists think. Wikipedia does do the species problem rather well.

Take two animals: how do you tell if they are a separate species or not? Well, the most common answer is, "can they breed to produce viable offspring?"

  1. Can a chihuahua and a St. Bernard? Or a lion and a tiger? Not normally, in nature, but with help, yes. Under this view, they are the same species: "cat", "dog".
  2. Can a horse and a donkey? Little bit of a grey area, but not much: the offspring can't breed, so separate species
  3. What about the real grey areas? Ring species! Well... they're a single species, unless the intermediaries die off, and then they aren't.

But that's all that evolution needs. Slowly growing away from each other, until the intermediaries die off and you can no longer breed. In some cases it's faster than that: naturally occurring speciation events have been seen in introduced plants in less than a decade, through things like hybridisation. But, if you get a population that's spread over a wide enough area that though adjacent populations can genetically interbreed, the endpoints can't even if you try artificial insemination... then wipe out the middle population with say a tsunami... you have two "kinds".

But you don't need to wipe out the middle population. You can just have two valleys, or two islands, or two niches for food: so long as you have a population that splits in to two places where they're unlikely to come into contact and breed, then the populations will drift apart, and given enough time, split into two species.

T="theists who's posts are fun-to-read, truth-seeking and insightful". Your own T will be different, but Tdewi includes { Avecrien, Cory T, crocaduck, JHenson, jread, wavefreak }


Hambydammit
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Great Post! I recently

Great Post!

I recently posted something much less comprehensive, and I'm reposting the meaty part of it below. I agree we need some kind of sticky post with a FAQ addressing most of the common errors made by newcomers. Maybe this thread can be a springboard of sorts.

*********************

Atheism - the position that states that there is no evidence to support belief in a deity. That's it. Atheism does not deal with: Morality, Politics, The Big Bang, Evolution, Abortion, Environmentalism, Astronomy, Geology, or anything else. It is improper to assume ANYTHING about an atheist's beliefs in any of these fields simply because they are an atheist.

Evolution - the theory that explains the way life evolves through adaptation and mutation. Evolution deals only with what happened AFTER life existed. It does not, in any way, address the following topics: Beginning of the Universe/Big Bang; the origin of life; morality; politics, etc... (Note, morality can be discussed as an evolutionary development, but you want philosophy if you are talking about the way you think things ought to be.)

Cosmology - This is what you want to discuss if you're interested in the Big Bang, the nature of the universe, or the possibility of a multiverse, string theory, etc... You won't be discussing evolution, because it has nothing to do with it. Atheists do not have a common belief with regard to any of these questions.

Logic - Logic is simply the description of thought processes. Certain patterns of thought are valid and others are invalid. If you plug true facts into a valid argument, you will arrive at a true conclusion. If you plug in false facts, you will get an unreliable answer. An invalid argument is unreliable regardless of the truth value of the facts you plug into it, and so it is useless in the pursuit of truth. Validity is not the same as Truth. Invalid arguments are described as fallacies. If an argument contains a fallacy, the conclusion of the argument is invalid. Period.

Philosophy - A gigantic catch-all for rumination concerning everything from the meaning of life to the origins of logic, art, knowledge, consciousness, etc... Philosophy is bound by reason, and strives to leave no assumption unquestioned.

Last, here are a couple of words that get molested quite often:

Natural - Anything that exists and has a positive definition. (A positive definition is simply a definition that describes what a thing actually is.)

Supernatural - Like it or not, this word is completely meaningless. Because anything that exists is, by definition, natural, there is nothing left for supernatural to be. Any definition of "supernatural" contains only negative definitions, i.e. "something that is not natural," or "something that is beyond nature."

Science - technically, any pursuit that seeks verifiable truth through the scientific method is a science. In order to use the scientific method, we have to have verifiable facts first. In no instance does a true science begin with a conclusion and work towards the facts. It will ALWAYS begin with facts and hypothesize based on them.

Faith - Again, like it or not, since anything we believe based on evidence falls under science, the only thing left for faith to be is "belief in something despite a lack of evidence, or despite evidence to the contrary." In other words, faith is NECESSARILY opposed to science.

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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You should read Dr. Dawkins

You should read Dr. Dawkins book - Climbing Mount Improbable -- all about evolution, transitions, etc. Great resource for what you bring up

Biochemist & Law Student

"The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as His father, in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter." -Thomas Jefferson


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In the sea of Bad thinkers

In the sea of Bad thinkers that have recently come to this forum, we get a reprieve. Praise (fill in the blank)!

Thanks for coming here DewiMorgan. throw us a life raft and start refuting some of the hundred's of posts from the new post-nightline theists that are based on poor thinking skills, improper definitions of words (like 'atheist'), bad interpretations of evolution theory, brain damage from reading apologetic sites, and just plain lack of eduction and/or thinking skills.

HELP!


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It is one more thing that

It is one more thing that some (though by no means all) theists are either ignorat, dishonest, or both about.

Matt Shizzle has been banned from the Rational Response Squad website. This event shall provide an atmosphere more conducive to social growth. - Majority of the mod team


DewiMorgan
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The big problem with my

The big problem with my list is that people will not read it because it's just too dang long and boring.

 The Wikipedia pages are pretty good on evolution, but again are too long, and speak to non-sceptics, so are poor tools to convince those who have been badly taught, since they don't address the misconceptions. The talk.origins pages are good at that, but lack the constant peer review. 

Ideally we'd have a snappy one-liner that would address all the misconceptions, and would explain how it really works.  Best I can get is:

"Evolution is the change in frequency of existing traits in a population over many generations, in response to environmental pressures: identical to human-driven animal husbandry, except it is not driven by whether the trait is more desirable, but by whether it makes the posessors more likely to survive to breed."

This explanation is still too long, doesn't explain speciation, and doesn't explain how the human eye, or bacterial flagellae, could be developed from already existing features. While people might understand the above paragraph intellectually, I don't think that people would really internalise the whole evolution thing until they saw a just-so story for the evolution of the eye, and saw how every stage in that just-so story can be observed in living things today.

evolution of the eyes

Oh, and I forgot one:

* Humans never evolved from chimpanzees, but rather from a "common ancestor" known as Sahelanthropus tchadensis that existed around seven million years ago.

T="theists who's posts are fun-to-read, truth-seeking and insightful". Your own T will be different, but Tdewi includes { Avecrien, Cory T, crocaduck, JHenson, jread, wavefreak }


Hambydammit
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In a recent post, I

In a recent post, I mentioned how difficult it is to explain a non-theistic approach to morality to most theists.  Unfortunately, most undereducated people, and certainly a lot of theists, want FOX News Alert style truth.

Bush = Good

Iraqis = Bad

Atheists = Evil

Evolution = Just a theory

Creation = God did it.  I believe it.  That settles it.  Next question please.

The thing is, solid thinking requires time and effort, and it's difficult to come up with one liners to explain things that you know have 18 levels of built up cross-discipline knowledge.  In other words, to understand morality, you must first understand evolution.  To understand evolution, first you must understand basic biology.  To understand basic biology you must be willing to read long boring books.  It's kind of a catch 22.  You're not doing the theory of evolution any justice if you package it in a one-liner that ignores the most salient points.  But, if you don't convince people it's worth believing, they won't learn about it.  But, if you make a one liner they can quote at coctail parties, they won't learn any more because they don't have to.

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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DewiMorgan
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[thanks for moving, mods!

[thanks for moving, mods! Smiling]

Another popular misconception: "fish one day decided to come onto land and did so, breathing in their first agonising breath..." A lovely story, but if breathing was painful in any way, then they simply wouldn't do it. A gradual transition, not a painful macroevolutionary leap.

There is no macroevolution.

T="theists who's posts are fun-to-read, truth-seeking and insightful". Your own T will be different, but Tdewi includes { Avecrien, Cory T, crocaduck, JHenson, jread, wavefreak }


DewiMorgan
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Edited, refined, clarified,

Edited, refined, clarified, fixed typos.

I would really love some theists to give their feedback on this one. Is it addressing (as I hope it is) some of the problems you have with evolution, or am I shooting in completely the wrong direction?

After reading it, what problems do you still have with evolution?

T="theists who's posts are fun-to-read, truth-seeking and insightful". Your own T will be different, but Tdewi includes { Avecrien, Cory T, crocaduck, JHenson, jread, wavefreak }


Deliciously_Saucy
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I must say I think this is

I must say I think this is rather good, I feel the only cause for attacking evolutions plausibility is lack of an understanding on what it actually is. I feel if any person who claims evolution to be unfounded took a good hour or two reading up on it they would have a change of heart...

I think this said it best;

Quote:
If any of these surprise you, then congratulations: you have just discovered that the evolution you thought you were arguing against, is a strawman and prettymuch nobody in the world holds that belief that you were arguing against.

Again well done~


DewiMorgan
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Thank you: I have disagreed

Thank you: I have disagreed with you strongly on at least one other thread, so your approbation means a lot more than that from someone who thinks the same way Smiling That's kinda why I really wish I could get a theist's response to this.

My sister had some Jehovah's witnesses drop around. She invited them in and explained that she believed in evolution, and they agreed to chat about it. Before they left, they had come to agree with her version of evolution: basically, the above, stripped of all the misconceptions.

She has never had another JW visit her house. We think they must have blacklisted her Sad

Stripped of the silliness, there genuinely is nothing to disagree with, other than argument from disbelief: "yes, all the logical steps make sense, but... it's so amazingly simple and elegantly beautiful, I cannot possibly believe it could be true. Life is not that perfect."

T="theists who's posts are fun-to-read, truth-seeking and insightful". Your own T will be different, but Tdewi includes { Avecrien, Cory T, crocaduck, JHenson, jread, wavefreak }


Iruka Naminori
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Do the bump, baby!

Do the bump, baby!


Jacob Cordingley
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It's funny how no theists

It's funny how no theists have replied to this thread. Nice one Dewy!


Egor
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A theist

I'm a theist, and I'm going to respond with some question. However, I've only just found this thread, so please some patience while I put together my questions.Laughing