4/22/2008

TWEAKING THE POWER POINTS

As mentioned, I didn't get to hear the first half of Don Patton's first presentation. The second half had some familiar arguments, which I summarize. My comments are in italics.


Darwin was a plagiarist, including stealing from his grandfather Erasmus
.


Even if true (what's the evidence?), hardly relevant to the question of whether Darwin's theory is widely-accepted, and why.

No speciation has ever been observed.

Simply false. Speciation events have been seen in the lab and in nature. Google 'Evolution Canyon' for a zillion PNAS articles on recent work.

Species can't even be defined. Don prefers the Biblical 'baramin', or kinds.

When asked, Don couldn't define 'kind' either. The observation that species can't be tied up neatly with a single 'one-size-fits-all' definition is actually evidence for not only evolution, but processes other than natural selection.


Evolutionists are stumped and have admitted that microevolution ('variation within a kind' or 'horizontal variation') can't, on its own, produce macroevolution.


As a student said in the Q-and-A time, Patton is apparently ignoring lines of evidence for processes that either supplement or compete with standard microevolution, processes which also lead to evolution. One of those lines of evidence (Hox genes) is even in the high school texts. Also, left unchallenged was the assumption that if one naturalistic account (microevolution alone) is unsatisfactory, then the only other explanation left standing would be an account of supernatural creation. This assumption is false.

Neither Darwin's finches or the peppered moth prove anything. The finches are still finches and the moths were glued to the trees for photographs.

There was a curious failure on Patton's part to note that, in fact, both the finch and moth populations in question changed genetically, and that the shift in frequency of versions of genes (alleles) is the very definition of evolution. There is a sad history here, in that both sides are often guilty of conflating different meanings of the word 'evolution', sometimes intentionally, some times not....which leads to the charge, from each side, that the other is practicing 'bait-and-switch', and some times that is true, and some times, not.

Anyway, there was more, but I feel exhausted. Here's the most amusing bit from the first night.

As with many creationists, there was 'quote mining', in which various quotes 20-30 years ago to that effect are adduced from famous evolutionary biologists, all with the idea of showing that evolution is supposedly a 'theory in crisis.' The quoted included Jerry Coyne, Stephen Jay Gould, Theodosius Dobzhansky. . . and . . . Francisco Ayala.

When Ayala's name came up, Patton used an image, of this particular gentleman:



When this happened, I did a double-take. I'm thinking, "Whaaaaat? Who is this guy? Wow, he's really, really old, etc." After a few moments of blinking, I realized that this image couldn't possibly be that of the Ayala I knew, based on my recollection of what Ayala looks like, and the fact that Ayala is still teaching. I apprised Patton of that fact during the Q and A, and he allowed as he always appreciated correction of mistakes. (I mentally noted that if Jerry Coyne had been present to hear himself quote-mined, he would've done a lot more than 'correct' him)

Anyway, this is probably just an amusing mistake that reveals a lack of familiarity with the actual community of evolutionary biologists. For the record, this venerable specimen is not the Francisco Ayala, the well-known evolutionary biologist (and former Catholic priest) who studied under Dobzhansky and now teaches at UC Irvine. Instead, it's a well-known Granadan novelist of the same name, who just last year turned 101. An accomplished fellow, and a survivor, but no biologist. No, the guy Patton meant to feature in his Power Point is this fella:



See the resemblance? I guess I have to be grateful. At least Patton didn't take a page from Ben Stein's playbook, and illustrate a slide labeled 'Darwin' with Uncle Adolf, or Papa Joe.

3 comments:

Stan said...

Scott, I know you're busy right now, and I propose that we discuss this in more depth when you have the time. However,....

I'm sorry, I just can't accept your premise here:

Scott said,
"the shift in frequency of versions of genes (alleles) is the very definition of evolution."

Scott, remember I showed you many reliable versions of the definition of evolution, including from the national associations, which all agree that evolution is "natural selection performed on mutations".

Shifting in frequency of alleles is not explanatory because it happens with every birth, but necessarily within the existing genome, whereas shifting outside the genome requires a change - mutation - to the DNA being transferred. How that mutation occurs and is stored is a necessary question.

The easy answer doesn't explain the mechanism; the more explicit answer does. Plus it is generally accepted by the "evolution" community, if I may call it that.

I see you are not convinced; what additional information is required? This is a key point in dealing with skeptics, a position I retain for the time being, given that I still have not found sufficient evidence to resoundingly declare that "this is real evidence".

For example, the migrating reptilian jaw bones that become ear mechanisms is not accurately stated. But: topic for another day.

I agree wholeheartedly that ID / creationism is not a viable avenue of investigation in a material, empirical, disciplined process. I just don't think that fighting the peppered moths or finches will produce much, since the outcome is arguable.

What is not arguable is that empirical science is voluntarily materialistic - period. And ID / creationism require, in fact demand, that unsolved riddles be extrapolated to a metaphysical power, outside the realm of empirical materialism. This is the real basis for an argument that cannot be refuted.

Again, good luck.
Stan

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

Stan, let me be blunt. You're a big boy and can take care of yourself, so I am sure you can handle it.

You need to read my comment more carefully. Immediately after noting the allelic sense in which evolution is routinely defined, I remarked:

There is a sad history here, in that both sides are often guilty of conflating different meanings of the word 'evolution', sometimes intentionally, some times not....which leads to the charge, from each side, that the other is practicing 'bait-and-switch', and some times that is true, and some times, not.

In other words, I am entirely familiar with the fact and acknowledge the point that there are other ways the term is used---some of no utility to science. But the fact is, defined genetically, evolution is strictly speaking a change of allele frequency in a population. Here's a suggestion. Go to this site:

http://anthro.palomar.edu/synthetic/Default.htm

Go through the tutorials. Play with the flash cards. Learn to recognize when scientists are using the word 'evolution' in a populations genetics context, and you won't be so hung up on the role of mutation. Sorry if this sounds patronizing, but you keep missing the point. No one claims that the mere shifting of allele frequencies is explanatory for morphological change. Remember, there is an interaction between the genome, which can change in many ways (among them, mutation) and the ever-shifting environment. Some of the ways the genome and environment interact go beyond microevolution and involve processes that are less well understood. For example, we now know that some events in the history of life were facilitated through symbiosis: technically speaking, neither a mutation nor (at least initially) due to changes in allele frequency.

Here's the opening synopsis from the 'Evolution' article in wikipedia, with some key points highlighted:

In biology, evolution is the process of change in the inherited traits of a population of organisms from one generation to the next. The genes that are passed on to an organism's offspring produce the inherited traits that are the basis of evolution.

Mutations in genes can produce new or altered traits in individuals, resulting in the appearance of heritable differences between organisms, but new traits also come from the transfer of genes between populations, as in migration, or between species, in horizontal gene transfer.

In species that reproduce sexually, new combinations of genes are produced by genetic recombination, which can increase the variation in traits between organisms.

Evolution occurs when these heritable differences become more common or rare in a population.

R. Moore said...

Stan said...

Scott, remember I showed you many reliable versions of the definition of evolution, including from the national associations, which all agree that evolution is "natural selection performed on mutations".


No news here: evolution (the genetic material of living creatures changes over time, to restate Scott's definition in a way that sadly loses much information) and the details of how and why are two different scientific concepts, the former being a fact, the later being an area of research. Clearly stated and taught in every AP Biology class.

These concepts are often conflated (wow, do I use this word a lot know days). This is also not news. There is a lot to do in the field of evolution research -- lets correct the Internet later.

What continues to impress me is the incredible predictive power of the of current evolutionary theories -- last weeks issue of Science reported on a metabolic chain predicted and confirmed, even though it made no sense as a design (as humans would define it).