Tuesday, August 28, 2012

More Creationist Objections to Unguided Evolution

Maybe it's just my imagination, but I think I detect a change on Evolution News & View and on Uncommon Descent. For years these blogs have been attacking evolution without paying the least attention to what their opponents are saying. Lately, however, there seem to be some authors who are actually listening to their opponents and trying to address the main criticisms of the IDiot position.

Sometimes you even see articles that are close to being scientifically correct and I've even seen articles that recognize the existence of modern evolutionary theory (i.e. not Darwinism).

The good articles are still quite rare but I'm encouraged by the fact that they are listening.

The latest contribution is by Stephen A. Batzer, a contributor to Evolution News & Views since May 10, 2012. Batzer has a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering (see The Salem Conjecture). He's responding to an earlier post of mine where I attempted to explain to Casey Luskin why he was wrong about evolutionary theory [Is "Unguided" Part of Modern Evolutionary Theory?]. Recall that Luskin was saying that the "unguided" nature of evolution was a core part of the theory of Darwinian evolution.

I tried to show him that this was not correct. Evolutionary theory says nothing about whether evolution is guided or not. Scientists conclude that evolution is unguided because all the evidence of the history of life is consistent with that conclusion and there is no scientific reason to think that evolution should be guided.

I mentioned that there is lots of evidence showing that mutations are random with respect to ultimate purpose or goal. Stephen Batzer responds, ... (Note that this is NOT an example of an intelligent creationist who understand the science.)
While I appreciate Dr. Moran's not getting into the largely senseless bickering over what "random" means, he misses the point in a very fundamental way. What we see in the experiments he relies upon is within-population variation based upon genetic shuffling and drift. These experiments are conventional and do not produce phenotypic innovation. The experiments that he does not rely upon -- because they are non-existent -- are undirected experiments that lead to serendipitous phenotypic innovation and speciation. Without speciation, there is no evolution.
Actually I was thinking of a number of different experiments. One of them was the "fluctuation test" of Luria and Delbrük (1943). They were the first to show that adaptations to resistance in bacteria were due to random mutations. We also know that the pattern and rate of fixation of novel alleles in different mammalian lineages is consistent with randomness and the overall rate of mutation.

In order to have a meaningful discussion with creationists, we have to agree on a few scientific terms, otherwise we are talking past each other. As I've pointed out on numerous occasions, the minimal definition of evolution is "Evolution is a process that results in heritable changes in a population spread over many generations" [What Is Evolution?]. This is not controversial. It's in all the textbooks. Batzer is just plain wrong when he says, "Without speciation, there is no evolution."

Where is he going with this? He can't just be talking about the evolution of new phenotypes since we know lots of examples of mutations that cause phenotypic change and there's no evidence that any of the mutations were guided. (Remember that the fluctuation test was about phenotypic change.) He must think there's something special about the mutations that become fixed in diverging lineages.
This means that if you study Species A's genetic variation, drift, specialization and what-have-you over time, but at the end of the day you still have Species A, then you haven't studied the mechanism of speciation, which is the mechanism of evolution. This seems pretty obvious and should prompt some introspection by Dr. Moran and likeminded evolutionists.
Speciation is NOT the mechanism of evolution but, aside from that error, what is he thinking? Let's think of a population that becomes separated into two subpopulations that evolve in isolation. An example might be the Ainu of Japan and the pygmies of central Africa. The two populations are distinct. You would have no trouble telling them apart based on obvious phenotypic differences.

If humans were beetles or birds then these two populations might be classified as different species in the same way that Neanderthals and modern humans are considered separate species. But let's not quibble about taxonomy. The point is that many different species arose in the same way. Isolated populations became phenotypically distinct by adaptation or drift then became true species by evolving reproductive isolation.

There's nothing magic here. Mutations arose and became fixed in the populations. It's exactly the same mechanism we see within a single population. There's no evidence that any of the mutations were guided. There's no need for "introspection."
This principle that you have to study the mechanism that you're purporting to explain is recognized within manufacturing science. Quality pioneers Deming, Juran, and Shewhart all wrote of "common causes" and "special causes." In the automobile industry, each component of a vehicle is somewhat different from the last component manufactured (due to common causes), but if something is left out of the assembly process (like the brake lines), that cannot be assigned to small variations in brake line thickness; a special cause is responsible. This is true of organisms as well. It is obvious that no two calves are quite the same, yet they're still bovines. The common cause of random variation in organisms produces differences in height, weight, markings, etc. However, if Bossie the cow were to give birth to a different species such as a bison, it would be time to perk up and ask ourselves what has caused this unforeseen event. So far, whatever cause results in one species developing into another has remained unobservable and inaccessible to science.
Don't you just love the first sentence in this paragraph? Isn't it precious that an engineer could write such a silly post on evolution, a post were he is "correcting" a knowledgeable scientist, and then say, "... you have to study the mechanism that you're purporting to explain ..."?

Irony aside, I think I see the problem. Does Batzer really think that new species just pop into existence from one generation to the next? That would be bizarre, even for an IDiot. Surely he must know something about evolution and he must be aware of the fossil record that shows lineages diverging into new species over thousands of years, even if there has been no substantive change for millions of years. Surely he knows that the evolution of distinct phenotypes is associated with separated populations and speciation (cladogenesis).
"But wait!" Dr. Moran or one of his fellow evolutionists might object, "Evolution occurs slowly! It is unreasonable to insist that we study the actual mechanism via observation!" Well, they can believe this if they prefer, but the fossil record does not reflect this slow seamless continuum that Darwin proposed. This is why Eldredge and Gould argued for the concept of "punctuated equilibria." Punctuation is indistinguishable from a special cause, but you can bet your last trilobite that it isn't random.
Okay, I admit I set you up for that one. You probably knew that punctuated equilibria was about to come up. I can understand why the IDiots have trouble understanding punctuated equilibria because many scientists don't understand it either. But if you are going to use it as one of your arguments for guided evolution then don't you think that it's reasonable to read up on the subject before spouting off in public?

The pattern of punctuated equilibria refers to speciation events that are comparable to the differences between the people of south India and the people of northern China. Or between Red Pine and Scots Pine. Or between Drosophila melanogaster and Drosophila simulans. Or between the Nashville warbler and Virginia's warbler. In most cases it takes an expert to recognize the two species in the fossil record.

None of the phenotypic differences between such closely related species suggests that anything different is happening. It's all consistent with the fixation of alleles that arose by random mutation. There's no need of god(s).
The common cause, genetic drift and random recombination, is a well-established mechanism operating within species, but that's not what the evolution debate is about. Of real interest is the special cause that brings about the production of a new species. Until that is studied, the only firm conclusion that we can draw based upon real life observation is that genetic drift and random recombination do not produce innovation and new species. Anyone who isn't blinded by dogma should be able to see that.
Thank God (!?) I'm not blinded by dogma.


28 comments :

  1. Batzer is clueless about lots of things, not just biology.

    Batzer and the Discovery Institute are perfect for each other.

    ReplyDelete
  2. What's so different about domestic cattle and bison? A bit fatter here, a bit hairier there -- still big robust ungulates. Couldn't he have gone for something really different like cattle and cetaceans? He's not even half trying!

    ReplyDelete
  3. That paragraph suggesting scientists should study the mechanism of evolution is particularly rich. I feel like my mind was temporarily paralyzed by the sheer weight of the irony.

    ReplyDelete
  4. If humans were beetles or birds then these two populations might be classified as different species in the same way that Neanderthals and modern humans are considered separate species.

    Based on some recent decoding of the Neanderthal genome, it is my understanding that taxonomists now consider humans and Neanderthals to be subspecies of Homo sapiens as there is evidence of interbreeding between them.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yes Larry, Batzer and many to most other creationist believe "...that new species just pop into existence from one generation to the next...", or at least that is their understanding of evolution.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Let me get this straight, a creationist mechanical engineer is telling tenured professional evolutionary biologists to study evolution harder?

    Be right back, need to try and stop laughing my self to death.

    ReplyDelete
  7. ...if you study Species A's genetic variation, drift, specialization and what-have-you over time, but at the end of the day you still have Species A...

    This is just a semantic argument about what we call a group of entities rather than any commment about what they are and why it matters. It's akin to showing Batzer a mouse and a rat and him responding with "Yes, but I can still just call them 'rodents'". Yes, yes you can, but in doing so you gloss over why some choose to give the different groups different names.

    People like Batzer should be challenged to define "Species A" genetically. Then the flaw in their view, that they ignore the looseness and shiftability of the genetics in question, might become apparent to them. They still speak as if species were all of a kind with some sort of "species essence". There's a lot of prehistoric and prescientific presumptions lurking in his view that needs to be brought to the surface.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I'm curious about dogs. Although using the guided selection of breeders, there still seems to be some very pronounced limitations in terms of the types of modifications that are achievable. For example, the greyhound has been specifically bred to be as fast, presumably, as the breeder can achieve. And, physiologically, they are an amazing breed. Nevertheless, their top speed of about 45 miles per hour is not that much higher than the top speed of the wild wolf that dogs are the domesticated version of. Breeders have, with other purposes in mind, been able to breed dogs that are much, much slower than wolves (such as the basset hound), while not exactly soaring above the raw material (the top speed of a wolf) that they began with. And presumably, they would breed much faster dogs if they could.
    So, if we are to take Coyne's position that it is merely a matter of time that brings about all the variety we see in species, including the incredible speeds of cheetahs, swifts, swordfish, etc., then theoretically shouldn't it be conceivable, that with INTENT, humans should be able to breed dogs much, much faster than greyhounds? Would it just be a matter of time? Would they need ten thousand years, say, to do so? Or is there a built in limit to what a modified wolf can do? And if that's the case, does not that weaken somewhat the argument that all the varieties of speeds, colorings, behaviors (such as those of beavers, etc.) we see can be attributed to there just having been enough time for all these features to distinguish themselves?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. At any given moment, there is a limited amount of variation in a population. And this variation is constantly being whittled away - particularly if some kind of selection is in operation, and/or inbreeding, both of which we see with the various breeds of dog.

      The 'lost' variation is replaced by mutation, but mutation is rather slow. So once you have squeezed out most of the available variation from a population, you have nothing left to work with - there are unlikely to be any '100mph' genes lurking around somewhere just waiting to be selected. So the argument on time is rather crucial, and certainly not weakened by limitations in dogs. If there is a consistent selection pressure favouring increased speed, then any slightly faster mutation is likely to spread. But they don't come along every day, and they don't come without consequences.

      We could conceivably generate mutations specifically designed to increase speed. But nature does a much better job of co-ordinating the multiple trade-offs that follow any change than we can - we simply don't know how to compute the environment and make the necessary adjustments. But there is a 'natural algorithm' that appears to do it very effectively, if too slowly for real-time observation.

      Delete
    2. Thank you, AM. That's clear. A very good clarification/explanation.

      Delete
  9. Recall that Luskin was saying that the "unguided" nature of evolution was a core part of the theory of Darwinian evolution.

    It was a core part of Darwinism, from the start. It was one of the things that was a major bone of contention. I don't quite understand why it was so important that outside of a scientific articulation of evolution is seems to upset people. Science can't deal with the idea of "guidance" in evolution but even scientists working in evolutionary science believe in guided evolution. I'd guess most of the people who accept evolution is true believe in guided evolution. Maybe people need to realize that evolution doesn't just belong to scientists. Those of us involved in the process own it too.

    I've even seen articles that recognize the existence of modern evolutionary theory (i.e. not Darwinism

    Bless you, you anticipate my postlude. But if you assert that Darwinism is not the same thing as evolution on most science themed blogs the faithful will attack.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Science can't deal with the idea of "guidance" in evolution but even scientists working in evolutionary science believe in guided evolution.

    Who would these scientists be?

    Maybe people need to realize that evolution doesn't just belong to scientists. Those of us involved in the process own it too.

    Gravity doesn't belong to scientists either, but I am not going to consider my Aunt Mabel (a non-physicist) an authority on the theory of gravity, no matter how many apples she has seen fall.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I get the impression that Batzer is unaware that speciation has been repeatedly observed.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Science can't deal with the idea of "guidance" in evolution...

    Of course it can, and it has, the same way it deals with the idea in forensics or archaeology. Of course, the displeasing answer to those clinging to outdated notions of evolutionary guidance, can produce some considerable denial. Ditto for those putting the cart of the effects of a hypothetical being before the horse of establishing that being's existence.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Who would these scientists be?

    Well, quite famously, Theodosius Dobzhansky, teacher of Richard Lewontin, the scientific grandfather, through Lewontin, of Jerry Coyne. As I pointed out in a post about "quote mining".

    http://zthoughtcriminal.blogspot.com/2012/08/how-much-do-you-have-to-quote-before.html

    Writing in the early 70s, he said outright, as he criticized biblical fundamentalists:

    It is wrong to hold creation and evolution as mutually exclusive alternatives. I am a creationist and an evolutionist.

    You can find the link to his entire essay where he says that on my post as well as the rather amusing fact that the, clearly anti-religious, "editors" of the wiki article on "quote mining" quote mined him in the article, at least as it appeared before I posted it.

    In my generation Dobzhansky was a hero for his work debunking racial differences and so, racism.

    Just about any scientist who believes that God created the universe would have to believe in some aspect of "guided evolution".

    You want to deny that science is unable to deal with the idea of whether or not evolution is "guided"?


    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, you mean those scientists who believe in god, or are creationists of one stripe or another, not evolutionary biologists in general.


      Just about any scientist who believes that God created the universe would have to believe in some aspect of "guided evolution".

      Why? And just what is this God thing you refer to? And what does the belief in this thing have to do with correctly understanding evolution, or the evolution of things like humans, or earthworms for that matter.

      Delete
    2. Why? And just what is this God thing you refer to?

      Ah, I catch the musty scent of the much retreaded Douglas Adams in that. Through frequent experience of the phenomenon, I take recourse to Douglas Adams as a sign of poverty of the intellect. Which is why I only did it once, ironically.

      I answered that somewhere here this week. There is not some other universe that even creationists believe in, not to mention scientists who are religious believers, as Darwin declared himself to be at some points, the universe that is talked about in Genesis, is the exact same universe that science studies. That God.

      I'd think that Darwin might have been what is so despised here so often.

      http://publicdomainreview.org/2011/06/28/was-charles-darwin-an-atheist/

      Delete
    3. Ah, I catch the musty scent of the much retreaded Douglas Adams in that. Through frequent experience of the phenomenon, I take recourse to Douglas Adams as a sign of poverty of the intellect.

      But that was a serious question. As for Douglas Adams, you are answering one of the seemingly few people on this planet who has never read a single work by that author, though of course I am familiar with him as his work is much discussed and referenced.

      the universe that is talked about in Genesis, is the exact same universe that science studies. That God.

      Ah, that God. This is the description? He who is mentioned in Genesis? No better description available other than the cartoon god of jews and christians? This is why I would call myself an Ignostic. Until someone can explain in a consistent and non-ambiguous way what they mean by god, doesnt seem like there is much to discuss.

      Delete
    4. Well, you see, Shawn, the bible says this about "that God"

      Then Moses said to God, "Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you.' Now they may say to me, 'What is His name?' What shall I say to them?"
      God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM"; and He said, "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'"
      Exodus 3: 13-14

      If you don't like that "definition" of that God, well, tough. It's the one that's there.

      Define gravity. Define time. Now try doing physics without both and just about any science without the second one. Hey, define the second dimension in second dimension terms and not three dimension terms. I had that discussion with my dear atheist brother this morning.

      I like the Everett Fox translation better but I'd have to go all the way downstairs to get it and I don't think you'd like that one any better.

      Delete
    5. That god. Omniscient. Ominpotent. Creator of the universe, but seemingly with no knowledge thereof. Guider of mutations to bringeth about humans, so that he might one day wallow in the mud of tribal ignorance with his chosen ones. That god. Or any god, they are always the same. There is no there there. No wonder we can do science without them. No wonder the only contribution religion ever makes to the acquisition of knowledge is to get out of the way.

      Delete
    6. You seem to be unaware of where universities started. Which doesn't surprise me.

      Scratch a blog atheist, find a superficial thinker who thinks he's deep.

      Delete
    7. Gee, tell us again how many great scientists through history were religious as well. The kind of deep thinkers you prefer will find the awesome significance in this, I have no doubt.

      Delete
    8. Shawn, it's a fact that universities were an invention of religious orders. Look at how many universities and colleges retain religious names today. It's not my fault if you don't know that.

      Atheists might have founded universities in imitation of them but how many of those can you name? The only one that comes to mind is that "New College" racket Dawkins and Grayling are in cahoots over. Only, since that is like a parasitic leech attached to The University of London, it doesn't really count. I seem to recall that Niall Ferguson is also one of its "Bright" lights. You know, the same guy who is strongly endorsing Romeny in Newsweek, as he is set to appoint the Supreme Court that will overturn the past eighty years of progress and more. Looks like he took a page from Christopher Hitchens' book on that one.

      Such a very liberalish thing, this atheism is. Funny how often it turns out to be a denial of it.

      Delete
  14. How exactly does this guiding work and who is doing it? Is it the organisms themselves a la Shapiro, or is external? Can you name one trait that you know was guided?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When you say "know was guided" don't you mean "believe was guided"?

      The answer for anyone who believed in guided evolution would be "all of them", or, more to the point, all of the whole. Though I'd love to have been able to ask Dobzhansky how he'd answer that question.

      How do you determine where one "trait" begins and ends? A "trait" is a matter of human definition.

      Just out of curiosity, do you think that the reality of something depends on human beings ability to define it?



      Delete
  15. Of course it can, and it has, the same way it deals with the idea in forensics or archaeology. Of course, the displeasing answer to those clinging to outdated notions of evolutionary guidance, can produce some considerable denial. Ditto for those putting the cart of the effects of a hypothetical being before the horse of establishing that being's existence. Science Avenger

    Science Avenger, tell us exactly how science could determine that the physical phenomena it studies could or couldn't be the result, in every possible detail, of intentional guidance by a Creator?

    Science can only tell you what the physical universe is like, what it is made of and how that substance moves and changes form. It can't tell you if a Creator is or isn't responsible for that. There is no kind of "first mover" argument you can show to be paradoxical that doesn't have its counterpart in materialist dogma. If that standard of debunkery works for one, it works for both.

    Science isn't equipped to deal with teleological ideas.

    I haven't dealt with the underlying teleological conceptions, unadmitted and denied, in natural selection in my series on Darwin's eugenics and promotion of Haeckel.

    http://zthoughtcriminal.blogspot.com/

    Though yesterday I posted the letter Alfred Russell Wallace wrote to Darwin complaining about his choice of words in naming N.S. that exposed it to that interpretation, even as Wallace admitted that was how even he thought about it. But I might get around to that as well as related areas. Darwin continually talked as if natural selection was teleological in its action as did some of his closest disciples even up till today when evo-psy has made neo-eugenics one of today's most common superstitions among the allegedly educated class. You'd know that if you'd read him.

    There are other evolutionists who more successfully kept teleological speculations out of their science, though they tend to be molecular biologists. As I showed yesterday, even some of the greatest of those saw no problem with holding such ideas outside of science.

    ReplyDelete
  16. For what it's worth, my PhD, like Batzer's, is in mechanical engineering, and I would never dream of making arguments as ridiculous as those Batzer offers.
    Unlike Batzer, I know the limits of my expertise.
    Still and well, Batzer is analogizing evolution to manufacture, which is absurd.
    Evolution might better analogized to the way products change over many iterations/versions, over many years, when they enter a changing environment (their usage) and change the environment even further by their very existence, leading to the design of new (versions of) products. There's no overarching intent in this loop, like in evolution.
    But even so, I would be very careful not to imply that every aspect of the analogy would hold.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I wish I could find comments on how evolution went from gaseous to solid, from not living to alive, from static to mobile, predator, farmer, and from physical tool evolution to intellectual, and virtual, and what is the next step... also, if God lives in the 5th dimension, and angels in the 4th dimension, we could all be living a sophisticated version of SIM CITY.

    ReplyDelete