Thursday, September 05, 2013

Darwin's Doubt: A Synopsis

David Klinghoffer wonders why I'm not criticizing Stephen Myer's new book Darwin's Doubt [see On Darwin's Doubt, Still Waiting to Hear from Big Shots in the Darwin Brigade].
Where is Jerry Coyne in this debate? Where is Dawkins? Even PZ Myers? Or Lawrence Moran, who promised "I'm planning to read [Darwin's Doubt] as soon as I can get a hold of a copy -- probably sometime in August in Canada." (I'm still puzzled by that one. The book was published in June in Canada as well.) It would seem noble for the generals to go into battle alongside the ordinary foot soldiers, putting themselves at risk as well, instead of hanging back at a safe distance.
I preordered the book three months ago and received my copy from Amazon.ca on August 1st. I've been busy with other things for most of the month so I've only turned my attention to the book in the past few days.

David Klinghoffer probably thinks that reviewing another creationist book is my highest priority. That's not the case. In fact, I never promised to review it and after reading it, I never will. There are plenty of others who know more about the subject and some of them are taking the book apart, chapter by chapter [Slaying Meyer’s Hopeless Monster]. If you want details, you can do no better than Darwin’s Doubt – A Review on Skeptic Ink.

For those of you who want a brief summary, I can do no better that point you to the tree of eukaryotes on the left (Keeling et al., 2005). It summarizes tons of molecular data showing the relationships of various eukaryotes. The tree is based on solid molecular evidence that Darwin never knew existed and that evidence is direct conformation of evolution, properly defined. It represents the fixation of nearly neutral alleles by random genetic drift. Of course, you have to read very carefully to find any mention of modern evolutionary theory in Meyer's book—he prefers to focus his attack on mutation + natural selection.

I've drawn a little red circle around the part of this tree that Stephen Meyer discusses in Darwin's Doubt. It's the evolution of animals and, in particular the early fossil evidence of multicellular animals. Most of these appear rather suddenly in the fossil record during the Cambrian (about 530 million years ago). Scientists have long been puzzled about this rapid evolution of complex animals and there are many hypotheses that attempt to account for it. In fact, there's a recent book by Douglas Erwin and James Valentine that summarizes the science behind The Cambrian Explosion. It all seems quite reasonable to me.1 I don't know exactly why complex animals evolved so rapidly but I don't see any reason to doubt the facts of evolution and I don't see any reason to propose that God must have been responsible for this little bit of the tree of life.

Myer does and that's what his book is all about.


1. I don't agree with everything in that book.

Keeling, P.J., Burger, G., Durnford, D.G., Lang, B.F., Lee, R.W., Pearlman, R.E., Roger, A.J. & Gray, M.W. (2005) The tree of eukaryotes. Trends in ecology & evolution 20:670-676. [doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2005.09.005]

19 comments :

  1. I'm just a blue-collar guy with a high school diploma, but even I know that inserting 'god' into something stops scientific inquiry. Once you can call upon magic, you can explain absolutely anything. Which explains absolutely nothing.

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  2. neither do Darwin's deities,"time" and "chance", explain anything. fact is we do not know how life originated. we cannot explain how a single atom came into existence.
    if neo-Darwinism is in fact a sufficient explanation for origins lets see Laurence Moran or Richard Dawkins replicate one of life's simpler processes such as turning grass into milk or maybe just shit.
    these academics live in a world of abstractions and their arguments are as airy as an aristotelian "a thing is so because it is so".
    nature is profound but not the academic mind.

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    1. "Fact is we do not YET know how life originated. We cannot YET explain how a single atom came into existence."

      There, fixed it for you.

      You're welcome.

      Dave Bailey

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    2. Paul Clark:
      we cannot explain how a single atom came into existence.

      If by "we" you mean you and a few other laymen you know, that is true. If by "we" you mean physicists, this is not true. Go look up Big Bang nucleosynthesis and stellar nucleosynthesis.

      these academics live in a world of abstractions and their arguments are as airy as an aristotelian "a thing is so because it is so".

      Which specific arguments did you have in mind, and what background do bring to bear in evaluating them?

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    3. Paul, atoms came into existence like this. Of course nucleosynthesis has been carried out experimentally. In fact, technetium, promethium and all the transuranic elements were first synthesised artificially (though some of them have since been found "in the wild").

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    4. Piotr, thank you for the link.
      the language used in this article is an example of what i mean by abstract thought: "quarks", "kelvins" etc. do not get us one whit closer to understanding the origin of the atom. these are ciphers moved around like chess pieces on a two dimensional plain.
      and can you make milk out of grass?
      "we have not yet"??? we are incapable with a brain the size of a cabbage of understanding more than what is admitted through five senses. the cosmos is essentially unknowable.
      scientists trawl for knowledge with a net of mental constructs in an ocean of infinite breadth. a few shrimp is the sum of what we own.
      if the centre of the galaxy were a mind i would be listening and taking note.

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    5. Piotr, where did you dig up this? I only read as far as the first paragraph. Most atoms forming within 614.8 s is a pretty controversial statement. The general agreement now is about 377,000 years before ionized hydrogen and helium formed...You're not turning YEC, are you?

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    6. Paul Clark: let us leave aside for the moment your total ignorance of nucleosynthesis, fusion, quarks and, um, KELVINS. (Although calling kelvins and quarks "ciphers" is like calling the concept of "gallons" a mind-boggling abstraction, and calling "rocks" an airy-fairy academic pretension.)

      Let us pass over the bloated, pretentious, ostentatious pride you take in your abysmal, nay cosmical, ignorance of the most fundamental, well-established aspects of the laws of physics: you BOAST, nay you TRUMPET, to the zenith of the heavens that your pig-ignorance of ALL science is proof of the intellectual supremacy which lofts you far, far above the balding pates of mere Nobel Prize winners, indeed, above all the scientists of the world; those lesser, inferior mortals who gape at you open-mouthed from far below, as you, like a modern Prometheus, a Mercury, nay, like Zeus himself, majestically pronounce, for their edumacation, as if you were reading from a golden scroll written in letters of burning fire, "ALL THIS YAPPIN' ABOUT VOLTS AND HERTZ AND NANOMETERS IS FOR FAGGOTS."

      We shall let all that pass-- because your triumph, your masterpiece, is this: "if neo-Darwinism is in fact a sufficient explanation for origins lets see Laurence Moran or Richard Dawkins replicate one of life's simpler processes such as turning grass into milk or maybe just shit."

      So your logic is: human intelligence has never created anything like life; therefore, life must have been created by something like human intelligence.

      That, sir, is a masterpiece of stupidity. I suspect scientists will defy you, and continue measuring temperature in kelvins. They might even measure force in newtons. What a bunch of faggots, amirite?

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    7. Wilberforce: ionized hydrogen (protons) in a millionth of a second, ionized helium and deuterium in a few minutes, non ionized atoms at 379,000 years. Piotr's source sounds about right.

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    8. To be sure, there is one unfortunate typo in the first paragraph:

      To do that you need stars, which means waiting around for at least 200 billion years. -- they mean 200 million, of course.

      Otherwise I can't see anything incorrect there. For the sake of educating Andy, "nucleosynthesis" refers to atomic nuclei. You know, Andy, once you have nuclei, it's enough for the Universe to cool a little and they will combine with free electrons. The page I linked nowhere says it happened in the first few minutes.

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    9. Diogenes wrote:

      So your logic is: human intelligence has never created anything like life; therefore, life must have been created by something like human intelligence.

      That, sir, is a masterpiece of stupidity.


      This deserves to be repeated. It is a fundamental fallacy behind most creationists' arguments, and they are blissfully aware that they are using it.

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    10. @Paul Clark
      we are incapable with a brain the size of a cabbage of understanding more than what is admitted through five senses.

      Cabbage: A familiar kitchen-garden vegetable about as large and wise as a man's head.

      Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

      You should consider citing your sources and quoting them accurately.

      I suspect that Bierce had folk like you in mind when he came up with that aphorism.

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  3. Of course, the IDiots try to have it both ways. When their writings are ignored, they claim this is only further evidence of the vast Darwinist conspiracy suppressing scientific truth. Whereas if they receive a review they tout this as evidence that ID creationism is being taken seriously as a scientific idea, even if the review is a negative one:

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2013/07/from_the_new_yo074041.html

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  4. Larry wrote,

    "In fact, there's a recent book by Douglas Erwin and James Valentine that summarizes the science behind The Cambrian Explosion. It all seems quite reasonable to me.1 I don't know exactly why complex animals evolved so rapidly but I don't see any reason to doubt the facts of evolution and I don't see any reason to propose that God must have been responsible for this little bit of the tree of life."

    I thought you no longer believe that the tree of life can be a part of modern evolutionary theory?

    Could you please clarify?

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    1. You have a promising career as a quote-miner. Larry doesn't consider early stages of evolution to be treelike, but rather a network of single-celled organisms exchanging genes in a shockingly promiscuous fashion. This has nothing to do either with the evolution of animals or with rejection of common descent. Thanks for playing.

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    2. Quest asks,

      I thought you no longer believe that the tree of life can be a part of modern evolutionary theory?

      Could you please clarify?


      Please read my earlier posts. Concentrate on reading for understanding as opposed to confirmation bias. For example, here's what I said in: Darwin Was Wrong?.

      This net, or web, of life is characteristic of the earliest stages of evolution when all organisms were single cells and the distinction between eukaryotes and prokaryotes was barely discernible. Once the main groups rose out of the web, they evolved pretty much as you light expect by binary speciation events. This gives rise to a traditional tree-like pattern.

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    3. @Larry and John H

      I'm confused and not for the first time on this blog. I'm not going to make a comment yet, but I would like you both to review Larry's statements on this blog-theme and comments. Someone removed the video but I found another one; the same.

      http://sandwalk.blogspot.ca/2013/02/craig-ventor-discusses-tree-of-life.html

      Ventor's video same as before:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXrYhINutuI

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    4. We can all agree that you're confused. I'm afraid, though, that nobody understands why you should be confused. Larry's post that you link to says just what he said in his comment. In my opinion, it's difficult to be that confused unless you're trying really hard not to understand.

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