Pharyngula

Casey Luskin embarrasses himself again

Once again, the Discovery Institute stumbles all over itself to crow victory over evolution, led by the inspiring figure of that squeaking incompetent, Casey Luskin. This time, what has them declaring the bankruptcy of evolution is the discovery of tetrapod trackways in Poland dating back 395 million years. I know, it’s peculiar; every time a scientist finds something new and exciting about our evolutionary history, the bozos at the DI rush in to announce that it means the demise of Darwinism. Luskin has become the Baghdad Bob of creationism.

The grounds for this announcement is the bizarre idea that somehow, older footprints invalidate the status of Tiktaalik as a transitional form, making all the excitement about that fossil erroneous. As we’ve come to expect, though, all it really tells us is that Casey Luskin didn’t comprehend the original announcement about Tiktaalik, and still doesn’t understand what was discovered in Poland.

The fossil tetrapod footprints indicate Tiktaalik came over 10 million years after the existence of the first known true tetrapod. Tiktaalik, of course, is not a tetrapod but a fish, and these footprints make it very difficult to presently argue that Tiktaalik is a transitional link between fish and tetrapods. It’s not a “snapshot of fish evolving into land animals,” because if this transition ever took place it seems to have occurred millions of years before Tiktaalik.

Errm, no. Shubin and Daeschler are smart guys who understand what fossils tell us, and they never, ever argued that Tiktaalik‘s status as a transitional form depended on slotting it in precisely in a specific chronological time period as a ‘link’ between two stages in the evolution of a lineage. A fossil is representative of a range of individuals that existed over a window of time; a window that might be quite wide. They would never express the kind of simplistic, naive view of the relationship of a fossil that the DI clowns seem to have. For instance, here’s a picture of the relationship between various fossils, as published in Nature when Tiktaalik was announced.

i-317070f4db90df3b55f8534f268e8dad-tiktaalik_phylo.jpg
The lineage leading to modern tetrapods includes several fossil animals that form a morphological bridge between fishes and tetrapods. Five of the most completely known are the osteolepiform Eusthenopteron; the transitional forms Panderichthys and Tiktaalik; and the primitive tetrapods Acanthostega and Ichthyostega. The vertebral column of Panderichthys is poorly known and not shown. The skull roofs (left) show the loss of the gill cover (blue), reduction in size of the postparietal bones (green) and gradual reshaping of the skull. The transitional zone (red) bounded by Panderichthys and Tiktaalik can now be characterized in detail. These drawings are not to scale, but all animals are between 75 cm and 1.5 m in length. They are all Middle?Late Devonian in age, ranging from 385 million years (Panderichthys) to 365 million years (Acanthostega, Ichthyostega). The Devonian?Carboniferous boundary is dated to 359 million years ago.

Notice what you don’t see? They didn’t publish this as a direct, linear relationship that could be disrupted by a minor anachronism. It does not look like this:

Ichthyostega

Acanthostega

Tiktaalik

Panderichthys

Eusthenopteron

These are all cousins branching off the main stem that led to modern tetrapods. Tiktaalik was almost certainly not our direct ancestor, but a distant cousin that was representative of a transitional state in the branching cloud of species that emerged out of the Devonian. And the authors of these papers knew that all along, weren’t shy about stating it, and if they made an error about anything, it would be in assuming that a gang of self-styled scholars who claim to be presenting a serious rebuttal to evolutionary ideas would actually already understand a basic concept in paleontology.

You would think Luskin would have also read the Niedzwiedzki paper that describes this new trackway, which rather clearly describes the implications of the discovery. It does not declare Tiktaalik to be uninteresting, irrelevant to understanding the transition between fish and tetrapods, or that Tiktaalik is no longer a transitional form. It clearly is.

No, here’s the new picture of tetrapod evolution that Niedzwiedzki and others have drawn. At the top is a diagram of the relationships as understood before the discovery, at the bottom is the new order.

i-1077993faea342c8477ca4d12095d8c4-clad1.jpegi-91c210e6965144049a9a049f28db61fb-clad2.jpeg
Phylogenetic implications of tracks. a, Phylogeny of selected elpistostegids and stem tetrapods fitted to Devonian stratigraphy. The grey bar indicates replacement of elpistostegids by tetrapods in body fossil record. b, Effect of adding the ZacheÅ‚mie tracks to the phylogeny: the ghost ranges of tetrapods and elpistostegids are greatly extended and the ‘changeover’ is revealed to be an artefact. Pan, Panderichthys; Tik, Tiktaalik; Elp, Elpistostege; Liv, Livoniana; Elg, Elginerpeton; Ven, Ventastega; Met, Metaxygnathus; Aca, Acanthostega; Ich, Ichthyostega; Tul, Tulerpeton. ANSP 21350 is an unnamed humerus described in ref 17. The bars are approximate measures of the uncertainty of dating. These are not statistical error bars but an attempt to reflect ongoing debate.

Look closely.

Hey, the branches are the same! The relationships are unchanged! What has changed is that the branches of the tree go back deeper in time, and rather than a sharp changeover, there was a more prolonged period of history in which, clearly, fish, fishapods, and tetrapods coexisted, which isn’t surprising at all. Tetrapod evolution was spread out over a longer period of time than was previously thought, but this is simply a quantitative shift, not a qualitative change in our understanding of the relationships of these animals. It also says that there is the potential for many more fossils out there over a bigger spread of time than was expected, which is something we can look forward to in future research. Not research from the Discovery Institute, of course. Research from real scientists.

Now also, please look at the b phylogeny above, and tell me where the evidence for Intelligent Design creationism in this new figure lies. Perhaps you can see how a cladogram illustrating the evolutionary relationships between a number of fossils challenges our understanding of evolutionary history, because I don’t see it. If anything, it affirms the evolution, not the Sudden Appearance by Divine Fiat, of tetrapods.

For extra credit, explain where in diagram b of the Niedzwiedzki paper it shows that Tiktaalik has been “blown out of the water,” as Luskin puts it. Should they have scribbled in a frowny face or a skull and dagger next to the Tiktaalik bar, or perhaps have drawn a big red “X” over it? Because I can guarantee you that Niedzwiedzki and coauthors still consider Tiktaalik a transitional form that is part of the story of tetrapod evolution. All they’ve done is put it on the end of a longer branch. Nothing has changed; Tiktaalik is still a revealing fossil that shows how certain vertebrates switched from fins to limbs.

Finally, just for fun, maybe you can try to explain how the “Big Tent” of Intelligent Design creationism is going to explain how the Young Earth creationists in their camp — you know, the ones that think the planet is less than ten thousand years old — are going to find it heartening that a fossil discovery has pushed one stage in tetrapod evolution back farther by another 20 million years. That’s 2 x 103 times greater than the entire span of time they allow for the existence of the universe, all spent in shaping a fin into a foot. There ought to be some feeble expression of cognitive dissonance out of that crowd, but I suspect they won’t even notice; as Luskin shows, they aren’t particularly deep thinkers.


Ahlberg PE, Clack JA (2006) A firm step from water to land. Nature 440:747-749.

Daeschler EB, Shubin NH, Jenkins FA (2006) A Devonian tetrapod-like fish and the evolution of the tetrapod body plan. Nature 440:757-763.

Niedzwiedzki G, Szrek P, Narkiewicz K, Narkiewicz M, Ahlberg PE (2010) Tetrapod trackways from the early Middle Devonian period of Poland. Nature 463(7277): 43-48.

Shubin NH, Daeschler EB, Jenkins FA (2006) The pectoral fin of Tiktaalik roseae and the origin of the tetrapod limb. Nature 440:764-771.

Comments

  1. #1 summerwino
    January 9, 2010

    Hah! Yer, Luskin really highlighted his ignorance on this one.

    I attempted a response on this also: http://bit.ly/5NZkJq .

  2. #2 Naked Bunny with a Whip
    January 9, 2010

    This seems to be a symptom of the Biblical view that the world was created in discrete and unique events, a view they project onto scientists. Scientists claim there must have been one first cell, which slammed together, fully functional, from random molecules! Scientists claim there must have been one animal that is the ancestor of all land animals! Scientists claim that dogs can give birth to cats!

    And every time reality fails to fit into their pigeonholes, it’s the scientists who are stymied.

  3. #3 blf
    January 9, 2010

    But cartoonvolution is soooo much easier to understand then this messy darwinvolution.

  4. #4 Davidpj
    January 9, 2010

    Ah, but how can you throw in your lot with these so-called scientists when they just ‘magic’ ten million years into their graphs?

    Sorry, I’m just trying to see whether I can stoop as low as the DI. I think I almost got there. Now I need to practice it with a straight face.

  5. #5 Sioux Laris
    January 9, 2010

    Didn’t Sagan remind folks that they also laughed at “Bozo the C[asey]L[uskin]own”?
    C.L.[own] is like a combination circus geek and creationist Benny Hill-style exhibitionist shill devoted to pimping sales of the rubber Ginzu Knives’ Psy-NN of the DI at every opportunity.

    If he has any family who have not died from shame, would they log in here and publically disavow him?

    How can anyone be so resolutely stupid as C.L.[own] and yet manage to maintain such an amazing level of irrelevant, impotent, hilarious dishonesty?
    C.L.[own] at least provides a warning to small children: study hard and stay out of churches or you might end up like him!

  6. #6 linux7master
    January 9, 2010

    Excellent job. Also, *told you so*. It is important to remember that Creationists will jump on anything they can twist to their advantage and publicize it further.

  7. #7 'Tis Himself, OM
    January 9, 2010

    GODDIDIT is simple. Science is involved, complicated and messy. People with simple minds like Luskin don’t want to deal with complicated and messy. So if they pretend that complicated and messy don’t exist, then they’re much happier.

  8. #8 AJKamper
    January 9, 2010

    Oh, not Luskin. Our law journal decided for no sane reason to publish one of his articles on how the _Dover_ decision was BADBADBAD and that there was still room to teach ID in the classroom. I had to edit some of the pages. No bad comments about his writing, I’m afraid–it was fairly clean–but I spent the whole session bitching about the inherent stupidity underneath it.

  9. #9 'Tis Himself, OM
    January 9, 2010

    What I find really annoying about Luskin is how he misrepresents what science is saying. This shows that creationism doesn’t have any validity because all he can do to promote his side is lie about the other side.

  10. #10 summerwino
    January 9, 2010

    @ #9 the sad thing is, I don’t think he means to lie, he just really doesn’t get it.

    And that causes him to draw ridiculous conclusions.

    The onus is on him to actually read the evolutionary arguments, but you think that will ever happen?

  11. #11 The Tim Channel
    January 9, 2010

    When the rightwing nutjobs lie about the fossils, it really gets your goat. I understand that completely. They are able to pull it off with some folks because the subject matter probably requires being smarter than a fifth grader.

    On the other hand, what seems to me an even larger affront to the dignity of mind is the ongoing crap about how 9-11, et.al. all happened under Clinton. There have been too many examples to note lately, but Rudy’s latest REALLY takes the cake.

    http://thetimchannel.wordpress.com/2010/01/09/mr-911-gets-amnesia-we-had-no-domestic-attacks-under-bush-weve-had-one-under-obama-video-tpm-livewire/

    Enjoy.

  12. #12 MetzO'Magic
    January 9, 2010

    The creotards just don’t seem to (conveniently) understand the concept of species ‘branching off’ at all. It’s one of their biggest straw men: “I didn’t come from no *monkey*!”.

  13. #13 MetzO'Magic
    January 9, 2010

    Sorry, that should have been: arguments from ignorance.

  14. #14 'Tis Himself, OM
    January 9, 2010

    MetzO’Magic #12

    That’s one problem with the 6,000 year old Earth. A fish has to give birth to an amphibian and a couple of generations later an amphibian has to give birth to a reptile and so on until a monkey gives birth to a human. There just isn’t time for gradual speciation. So instead GODDIDIT all in a week and spent Sunday afternoon watching the football game.

  15. #15 Josh
    January 9, 2010

    For Luskin not to conflate how we actually understand evolution with the foolish “linear trends of development from one link to another” concept, he would have to spend the thirty minutes or so that are necessary to learn how to read a cladogram. And all of these folks apparently think that learning is teh hard.

  16. #16 janegael
    January 9, 2010

    I’m NOT a scientist and have only a passing knowledge of cladograms because, frankly my brain doesn’t work that way, but I bow to those who have the training to create them, not to mention understand them. I figure that if I, who has spent hours studying the cladograms at the wonderful dinosaur exhibit at the NY Museum of Natural History, looks at figure B and my eyes cross — creationists are gonna run screaming in denial as their brains explode. No wonder they love the 7 day scenario, the truth is much much too complicated for them to possibly understand.

  17. #17 Ajje
    January 9, 2010

    The thing that pisses me off the most is that people actually believe this ignorant fool! What kind of education did he get…KentHovindism?
    What am I saying, that criminal shouldn’t get his own ism!
    Greetings from Holland!

  18. #18 mstriz
    January 9, 2010

    It’s funny how creationists selectively accept scientific dating methods when they *think* those methods work in their favor, but reject them at other times.

  19. #19 jivlain
    January 9, 2010

    I don’t know, DonaldM on UD followed Casey’s opus by concluding that new fossils show that “it seems less and less likely that there even is an evolutionary tape to rewind”. Lately, the ID movement has more resembled a clown car than even the culture-war weapon it was supposed to be.

  20. #20 Luke Vogel
    January 9, 2010

    wow, nice post PZ, thanks.

  21. #21 'Tis Himself, OM
    January 9, 2010

    The thing that pisses me off the most is that people actually believe this ignorant fool! What kind of education did he get…KentHovindism?

    Luskin isn’t any kind of scientist. He has a law degree.

  22. #22 Cuttlefish, OM
    January 9, 2010

    This paper shows when God begins
    To fashion feet from fishy fins.
    Through all of Luskin’s sad baloney,
    It’s just a search for Minchin’s “Tony”.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DXl68NF_uI
    (obligatory “Tony the fish” video)

  23. #23 blf
    January 9, 2010

    I suspect the tracks in question may actually be the impressions made by time-travelling vibrations from the collective headdesking of zillions of Professional Poopyhead Little Pee Zed’s readers. It’s possible it’s been detected by the various gravity-wave telescopes, and when the data is analysed will be interperted as a message from an hitherto unknown alien species, and decoded as “Giant cheese worships naked frog”, albeit some maintain the signal actually decodes to “Need more paperclips.”

  24. #24 Zernk
    January 9, 2010

    Wonderful explanation. It’s going to be so much fun to use the words “Needzweedzkee” and “Ticktalick” when slamming creationists. It was funny for me to see the quote “blown out of the water”, after a good friend (in spite of bein’ a idiot) said “gimme 10 minutes and I’ll blow evolution out of the water”. Later, I said “OK, go ahead”, and he handed me two books from some Discovery Institute retards which, of course, are now under a pile of old magazines someplace. That was the end of that.

  25. #25 Josh
    January 9, 2010

    It’s funny how creationists selectively accept scientific dating methods when they *think* those methods work in their favor, but reject them at other times.

    They also love to do this with depositional environments. They always tend to believe us when we interpret a sequence as having been water-lain*, but funny thing, they always tend to think we don’t know what we’re doing when we interpret a series of beds as the result of wind deposition…

    They perform no actual work on the rocks in either case, of course. They leave that to us; they’re happy to simply make pronouncements regarding what they feel we’ve gotten wrong or right.

    _______________________
    *Especially if it’s from some catastrophically quick process…

  26. #26 realinterrobang
    January 9, 2010

    You’d have to be a moron or an asshole to claim that Tiktaalik is a “fish.” Fortunately for him, Casey Luskin’s got both of those well covered.

  27. #27 boygenius
    January 9, 2010

    A quote from the first link in PZ’s post:

    Last year, however, came word of Tiktaalik roseae, which looks discomfitingly like those offensive “Darwin fishes” on the cars of smug college professors.

    I had no idea there were so many smug college professors on the road. And here I was under the impression that there was a shortage of science teachers in this country. Why, you can’t swing a dead cat by the tail without hitting a car with a “Darwin fish” on it, and I live in Boise feckin’ Idaho.

  28. #28 Opisthokont
    January 9, 2010

    What Luskin and his ilk do not understand is that every transitional form is a successful one. This is necessary: if a given species were not successful, it would have left no progeny, and therefore not have been transitional. Being a successful species means that it lived quite well as it was, and would not have been seen as a transitional species in its time. So the continued existence, for longer than we originally expected, of tetrapod-like fishes and fish-like tetrapods poses no problems at all to evolutionary theory; it simply means that a given form was more successful than we had at first expected.

  29. #29 Rorschach
    January 9, 2010

    . That’s 2 x 103 times greater than the entire span of time they allow for the existence of the universe, all spent in shaping a fin into a foot.There ought to be some feeble expression of cognitive dissonance out of that crowd

    Don’t expect too much !! The cognitive dissonance will manifest itself in depression, stomach ulcers, premature ejaculation or impotence, and attack on gays, but not in any admitting of” uhm, yeah, that’s kinda awkward for us now, im gonna have to get back to you on that one” …..

  30. #30 vanharris
    January 9, 2010

    Casey Luskin embarrasses himself again

    I don’t think so. When you’ve got Jebus on your side, & when you know you’re right, what’s to be embarrassed about?

    This guy has no idea just what an idiot he is.

  31. #31 https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawkLpFk4n0m1lJ2kvsR55kivUoWOGy1GrPo
    January 9, 2010

    I can never understand the interest in “transitional forms”. Surely there are no transitional forms – because everything is a transitional form! We are a transitional form, between the earlier Homo species and some other type of human, hopefully one with more understanding of how the world works, better self-control etc!

  32. #32 DavidCT
    January 9, 2010

    This is a clear indication that the creationists will not accept anything but ancestors that support the ladder model for evolution.
    They continue to attack this straw man that scientists do not support. I don’t know it this is because of willful ignorance or conscious misrepresentation. In either case it still plays well with their target audience many of whom will actively go out and vote to impose nonsense on our children.

  33. #33 Noni Mausa
    January 9, 2010

    Erhm … isn’t it the case that fish (and salamanders, and us) are still evolving and, given the right situation and lots of time could emerge from the sea, return to the sea, lose that tail and that yellow and black skin and evolve into Congressmen, lose our big brains and good looks and evolve into mudpuppies, etc etc?

    Life is pushy, it goes wherever there’s space, by whatever route is handy. At least that’s what it looks like to me.

    Noni

  34. #34 a.human.ape
    January 9, 2010

    Casey Luskin provides strong evidence for the idea that a person who looks like a retard is usually a retard.

  35. #35 Dahan
    January 9, 2010

    Look. I’m not a scientist. Don’t even play one on TV. In fact I never took a science class beyond my sophomore year (although I do like to read up on the latest findings, etc., being a total science geek). I’m a designer/artist. Yet even I could have told them what’s wrong with their claims in this regard.

    If a true layman like myself can figure this out, why is it so difficult for others? You don’t have to be a genious to figure this stuff out (although you did a great job of detailing it all, PZ). Chriminy, there’s some seriously self deluding poeple out there.

  36. #36 MikeMa
    January 9, 2010

    And this idiot Luskin wants to influence Texas’ choice of science textbooks. Freaking marvelous. He couldn’t find his ass with both hands and a map.

  37. #37 Strangest brew
    January 9, 2010

    What better evidence……

    Luskin = Fucking incompetent clown!

  38. #38 clausentum
    January 9, 2010

    It was clearly said at the time that Tiktaalik was probably not not on the direct lineage to modern tetrapods.

    New Scientist 9th September 2006 : link

    For all its amphibian-like characteristics, Tiktaalik is highly unlikely to be the actual ancestor of tetrapods. After all, most fossilised species represent side shoots on the tree of life, rather than parts of the main trunk or branches. Tiktaalik was probably just one of many evolutionary experiments going on about the same time.

    So these tracks don’t cause any problems for anyone who’s well-informed about developments.
    Scientists are doing a great job nowadays to keep us up-to-date on what’s happening, and letting us share in the excitement at these discoveries: Per Ahlberg’s video clip was marvellous.

    I remember being slightly disappointed hearing that Tiktaalik was probably not a direct ancestor, but then reflected that it’s just another indication of just how prolific nature is.
    What intrigues me most is just how the tetrapods settled down to 5 digits, and all variations disappeared. Steven Gould would’ve had the answer!

  39. #39 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    January 9, 2010

    Squaek! (Can’t even get that right)

  40. #40 vanharris
    January 9, 2010

    https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawkLpFk4n0m1lJ2kvsR55kivUoWOGy1GrPo,
    I think that “transitional forms” is valid. It describes species that were occupying a position between two Genuses, Families, Orders, Classes, Phylums, etc.

    Examples include the archaeopteryx, or monotremes such as the duckbill platypus. The latter are classed as mammals, but have retained reptilian characteristics peculiar to themselves, qua mammals, so in that sense, they are transitional.

    I wonder if Cre’ti’nists still have the “Great Chain of Being” (God as Spirit; Spiritual Beings; Human Beings; The Animal Kingdom; The Plant Kingdom; The Material (Inert) World) in mind when they talk of transitional forms?

    Within the Animal Kingdom, & their buggered-up philophosy, there would be divine creations forming discrete species, so they ask for transitional forms as our evidence of evolution by natural selection. Maybe that’s where the crocoduck derived its genesis?

  41. #41 skylyre
    January 9, 2010

    Bah, I knew when I read that article the creationist IDiots would shout AHA!

    If they’re so content with just saying gawdiddit then why bother arguing at all? If only they would just come out and say “Yes, we are happily ignorant and would much rather believe in fairy tales than use our brains.” Then the only arguing would be amongst themselves “My god has a bigger dick than your god!”

  42. #42 vanharris
    January 9, 2010

    MikeMa, do you have evidence that Casey Luskin uses maps to try to wipe his ass? If he can’t obtain lavatory paper, then he really oughta use the feckin’ bible instead: maps are useful, having both intellectual & practical value.

  43. #43 Glen Davidson
    January 9, 2010

    I think that Casey believes that if he shows that he and the rest of them are about as stupid as mud-sucking mollusks, that disproves evolution.

    I’m not buying, Casey. You’re artificially dumb, even if you perhaps were never very bright.

    One thing I might give them, though, is that the whole story of predictive paleontology in the discovery of Tiktaalik may turn out to be more luck than initially supposed. That remains to be seen, however, depending on subsequent discoveries and analyses.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p

  44. #44 wheatdogg.myopenid.com
    January 9, 2010

    isn’t it the case that fish (and salamanders, and us) are still evolving and, given the right situation and lots of time could emerge from the sea, return to the sea, lose that tail and that yellow and black skin and evolve into Congressmen, lose our big brains and good looks and evolve into mudpuppies, etc etc?

    I think the congressmen thing has already happened in some states, but the critters have not yet developed abstract thinking abilities.

  45. #45 steve
    January 9, 2010

    @32 I think it’s both willful ignorance of the grounding theories of evolutionary study (remember the Discovery Institute is a place with people who think browsing one issue of Scientific American qualifies you to write two books on the lack of transitional fossils), and conscious misrepresentation. Creationists in general love the lack of transitional forms bit; they think evolution and transitional forms means crockoducks exist. I don’t know if any of the DI members go that far in their thinking, but they don’t mind (as Luskin shows us here) invoking lack of transitional forms to play to the creationists who call on scientists to show them crockoducks (especially if the latter group has money to throw the DI’s way).

  46. #46 Anri
    January 9, 2010

    I really should create a City of Heroes character named Dunning-Kruger in honor of Casey Luskin.

    Nothing like good old-fashioned passive-aggressive geeky mockery! Woo Hoo!

  47. #47 Sastra
    January 9, 2010

    The average creationist — heck, the average person — apparently cannot distinguish a scientific expert from a pseudoscientist. If they sound right, claim to come from some sort of institute, and throw around technical terms, then those who disparage their expertise are involved in a petty social dispute. Science is just one “opinion” against another — just like it is when you argue with someone at a bar, or fight at the family reunion. You pick a side to believe and back by looking for a reason that means something to you, personally. Which one is in your group? Who do you identify with? Who would you like to be right?

    That’s how they settle the science.

  48. #48 Insightful Ape
    January 9, 2010

    Does anyone think the day will come that the creationists like Luskin will actually publish something, rather than try to distort the works of others?
    Waitin’
    and waitin’…
    Still waitin’…

  49. #49 Zeno
    January 9, 2010

    Luskin is incapable of embarrassment. In fact, I think everyone at the Discovery Institute must have had their embarrassment glands surgically removed.

    I’m also very sorry to see that Luskin must not read my blog. Four years ago I made the point that species don’t exist at points in time. Not an original insight with me, of course, but if a math teacher with no training in biology gets it, why doesn’t some stupid lawyer whose job it is to follow such things? (Perhaps the “stupid” part is robustly explanatory.)

  50. #50 Fraggle
    January 9, 2010

    God I knew they would do this. If it weren’t a discovery they thought they could exploit they would be in “that doesn’t prove a thing” mode and declare how silly evolution are that mere holes in the ground “prove” something about evolution.
    But if they think they can twist it in their favor then its super damning evidence. Hypocrites.

  51. #51 T. Bruce McNeely
    January 9, 2010

    “Blown out of the water”?

    More like a fart in the bathtub.

  52. #52 Ring Tailed Lemurian
    January 9, 2010

    MetzO’Mahic #12

    The creotards just don’t seem to (conveniently) understand the concept of species ‘branching off’ at all. It’s one of their biggest straw men: “I didn’t come from no *monkey*!”.

    One of the inmates of the current UK series of Celebrity Big Brother* is the noxious creotard (and bad actor) Stephen Baldwin. He was allowed to bring a Babble to the house and conducts daily preachings. He was using that argument a couple of days ago. “If we evolved from monkeys, how come they’re still here?”. How I wish PZ had been invited :)

    * I know, I know. What am I doing watching it? Because one of the other “celebrity” inmates is Vinnie Jones, who was once a football player for my club in its heyday.
    He was also well known as a hardman/thug (according to one’s club loyalties). He’s “underwhelmed” by Baldwin and I’m just hoping he loses patience and does to Baldwin what he once did to a journalist – http://www.contactmusic.com/new/xmlfeed.nsf/story/jones-bites-back_1000826

    Slightly OT – Does something like this (see following link) have any implications for the dating of evolutionary changes and/or the relationship between species, and if not, why not? – http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100107103621.htm

    PS. Yes I could embed the links, but I’m probably not alone in not liking clinking blind on links, especially on employer’s equipment.

  53. #53 chuckgoecke
    January 9, 2010

    I guess its an example of weak intellect that Luskin, et al, lack the imagination to see the world as it really is, instead of a black and white, leave-it-to-beaver world. That species exist as genetic clouds, starting slowly, drifting through time, fading away gradually(with notable exceptions), and intermingling and competing with other clouds of similar species. Dumbasses!

  54. #54 jaranath
    January 9, 2010

    “And every time reality fails to fit into their pigeonholes, it’s the scientists who are stymied.”

    I think you nailed it with this, Naked Bunny.

    I’d like to add that this affair reinforces another problem I keep seeing with the DI crowd. They keep claiming they’re fine with evolution as described by evilutionists, really, it’s just that some of the molecular and mathematical details don’t work out. Really! They’re just somewhere between mild Old Earthers and Theistic Evolutionists. Honest! Then they go try to undermine common descent for the umpteenth time.

    One of these things is not like the other…

  55. #55 Ring Tailed Lemurian
    January 9, 2010

    Damn, forgot to mention that Stephen Baldwin has lots of tattoos :) Never got as far as Leviticus, obviously.

  56. #56 EvolutionSkeptic
    January 9, 2010

    OK, so I may get labeled an idiot (feel free), and I may be laughed at (I’m fine with that), but I thought that maybe this is a good place to ask a couple of questions.

    I’m a Christian, and I’ve always been skeptical about evolution. A friend of mine had me read this blog post by Professor Myers in the hopes that it would help me understand what he says I’m not getting, but I’m still a little lost on this, I think. That could very well be because my science education isn’t great. My focus throughout school was in communications, so I rarely had to step foot in a science classroom. Most of my information about evolution admittedly comes from people who may, in fact, have a bias toward pushing me toward a more “creationist” perspective on it. So, while a skeptic, I feel like I’m reasonably open to the evolutionary side of the discussion.

    Here are a few questions I have that I’m hoping, perhaps, someone might find the time to address:

    1. Why implicitly trust scientists and the scientific method?

    What I mean by this is, what makes the scientific method so special that it should be trusted above, say, the research of Christian scientists who consistently raise what seem to me (an admitted layman) to be legitimate questions about the conclusions drawn by those who show a perceived reverence for the scientific method.

    2. Does it not raise questions about the motivations of these scientists when they simply move their conclusions whenever they find something new?

    Now, there could be something I’m missing here, so feel free to tell me if so. But I find the changing theories in science to be a bit discomforting, and it makes me question if the end game of all this is just to make sure evolution is true no matter what evidence is found. They’ll just make sure they find a way to fit a square peg in, whether the hole is round or whatever.

    3. In this particular post, I don’t see the difference between the graph with the different pictured fossils and the text lineage Professor Myers places just below it. Can someone explain that to me? To me, they look like they’re basically the same.

    4. If a species were to evolve into another one, why would that species continue to co-exist with its more well-adapted relative for millions years? Wouldn’t the more poorly adapted version be overtaken by the later version? And why would some individuals within a species evolve in a particular environment, while a decent number of individuals within said species would stay mostly static?

    OK, I’ll stop now. I don’t want to take up too much space, and I’ve probably written too much already. I recognize that these questions may not be the right ones and may even be elementary to many of you, but I’d like to understand this, and it seems like this is a group of intelligent, science-minded people … and that’s not exactly the type of group I have a tendency to hang out with.

    Any and all help with these questions would be greatly appreciated. And thank you to Professor Myers for sharing your expertise, even if I don’t quite get it all.

  57. #57 Samantha
    January 9, 2010

    Perhaps you can see how a cladogram illustrating the evolutionary relationships between a number of fossils challenges our understanding of evolutionary history

    To be fair, it DOES challenge our understanding of evolutionary history, just not in the way the creotards want it to. It challenges our prior notion of when and where tetrapods might first have evolved and how big a chunk in the world’s history they might have actually been a part of. However, as scientists and literary critics both know, you can alter a minor detail in a theory without completely tossing it aside as useless, which is what Luskin and his ilk would like to do.

  58. #58 Luke Vogel
    January 9, 2010

    Evolution Skeptic

    Wrote: “What I mean by this is, what makes the scientific method so special that it should be trusted above, say, the research of Christian scientists..”

    Are these scientist, scientist? If you say yes, then why trust those scientist? If they are scientist, what methods do they use beyond scientific methods?

  59. #59 tomarctomet
    January 9, 2010

    Janegael: For what it’s worth, here is an article I wrote explaining cladistics, and here are webnotes from one of my classes. They have a decidedly dinosaurian bias, but that comes with the territory…

  60. #60 SteveF
    January 9, 2010

    One of the authors of the paper, Per Ahlberg (also an author of many papers on tetrapod evolution) is a regular at a messageboard I’m a member of. He started a thread on this new paper. Contains some good discussion from other palaentologists.

    http://talkrational.org/showthread.php?t=21577

  61. #61 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    January 9, 2010

    What I mean by this is, what makes the scientific method so special that it should be trusted above, say, the research of Christian scientists who consistently raise what seem to me (an admitted layman) to be legitimate questions about the conclusions drawn by those who show a perceived reverence for the scientific method.

    Science, like the CSI shows, follows the evidence. It integrates the new findings into the old, and if errors were made, they are corrected. The Xian (allegedly) scientists start with a conclusion (the bible is inerrant), then (unsucessfully) twist the evidence to match their presuppositions. They can never make errors, as their holy book is inerrant.

    But I find the changing theories in science to be a bit discomforting,

    Science is not absolute. Science is approaching the truth (small t) on how the world works, but can never know the absolute Truth (capital t). As a result, it is always changing, but the changes are usually minor, and don’t effect the overall theory. Sometimes the changes are major, like the addition of genomes to the evidence for evolution. This came about because of technology that wasn’t available 30 years ago. And the evidence from the genomes support evolution.

    To me, they look like they’re basic all the same.

    Check the dates where the splits occur.

    why would that species continue to co-exist with its more well-adapted relative for millions years?

    You don’t understand evolution. For a population to split, usually there is change in environmental conditions. If the environment is static, species can remain fairly static. If the environment changes in a part of the range, adaption must occur in that part of the range. If the separation is long enough, then two species can occur, as they can no longer interbreed. They can after speciation occupy the same area. Neither is considered “superior”. They both fill available ecological niches.

  62. #62 summerwino
    January 9, 2010

    @ Evolution Skeptic #56

    1,) Scientific research doesn’t discriminate between backgrounds and faiths of those who do science. It all falls under the same criticisms. The concerns of scientists who are christian, about evolution etc, have been addressed constantly within the context of science. As soon as religion is brought in to question science, it isn’t science. And people like Luskin miss this point, misinterpreting scientific evidence.

    2.) The hypotheses of how these groups evolved is being revised. New evidence is accommodated to support our existing ideas and extend our knowledge. In this example with tetrapod evolution, we now have evidence that the transition started earlier. It doesnt change the importance of previous finds, or their status, except to so say we now have a bigger window of time where these changes were going on.

    3.) If you mean the a & b trees, the nodes in b go back further in geological time, not changing the relationships from a, but setting the divergence back earlier in light of this new evidence.

    4.) Evolutionary theory doesn’t suggest that. An adaptive shift could have occured so the species that diverges now occupies a new niche. That doesnt have any influence on the original species which can still quite happily go on until a selection pressure drives change/extinction. In a divergence, those populations that have benefited from a mutation will eventually only breed with one another (sympatric speciation) or a physical boundary means that two populations will gradually diverge (allopatric speciation)

  63. #63 Dania
    January 9, 2010

    1. Why implicitly trust scientists and the scientific method?

    The scientific method WORKS. It got us technology and medicine. Why does it work? Because it tries to eliminate as much as possible our human biases from the scientific process (there’s no room for wishful thinking in science, for example). It makes it possible for us to evaluate the evidence as objectively as possible getting us closer and closer to what is true by discovering what is wrong.

    The scientific method is a tool, and a very useful one.

    2. Does it not raise questions about the motivations of these scientists when they simply move their conclusions whenever they find something new?

    Yes. It shows that they are slaves to the evidence and refuse to hold as true conclusions that are demonstrably wrong. Do you consider that a bad thing?

  64. #64 dialogician
    January 9, 2010

    @Evolution Skeptic
    1) The point to science is that you aren’t supposed to implicitly trust it. It makes predictions. If the predictions line up with the reality, then we gain confidence in the underlying theory. If not, we make adjustments to the theory. Reality wins.
    2) If you discover new information and *don’t* adjust the theory to fit the new data, you aren’t practicing science. Note that the adjustment in this case is an incremental one, and entirely to be expected; the record of what happened 400 million years ago is incomplete. Adding to it is a good thing! Why would an expression of “hey, cool, this change happened earlier than we thought” give anybody the idea that the change didn’t happen at all?
    3) The bit you’re missing is that the graph has a horizontal axis: time. Which leads me to…
    4) Others have already pointed this out; it’s the classic “If we descended from apes, why are there still apes?” question. To its logical extreme, this reads: “If we are descended from fish, why are there still fish?” Answer: The water did not go away. New animals evolved to take advantage of an environment that wasn’t being used: land. This is heavily oversimplified, of course, but serves the purpose. It’s common for related species of animals to co-exist for long periods of time, as the environment that works well for both of them is still present.

  65. #65 tomarctomet
    January 9, 2010

    Evolution Skeptic:

    “2. Does it not raise questions about the motivations of these scientists when they simply move their conclusions whenever they find something new?”

    Absolutely not! Science is all about revising our ideas in light of new evidence, and looking for new evidence that–at least in principle–could overturn our older hypotheses. Those hypotheses that are not overturned after many repeated rounds of examination are the ones we can be more secure about. (In this particular case, the anatomical data supporting the interrelationships of the vertebrates in question). Those that are rejected in light of new information (again in this case, the dates of divergences) get modified.

    Science does NOT work by asserting “Here is our Revealed Wisdom(tm); all must accept it.” It does work by continually re-examining old ideas and proposing new ones.

    “3. In this particular post, I don’t see the difference between the graph with the different pictured fossils and the text lineage Professor Myers places just below it. Can someone explain that to me? To me, they look like they’re basically the same.”

    In the text version, the particular genus Eusthenopteron was the direct ancestor to the particular genus Panderichthys which was the direct ancestor of the particular genus Tiktaalik which was the direct ancestor of the particular genus Acanthostega which was the direct ancestor to the particular genus Ichthyostega. In the cladograms, the lineage of which Eusthenopteron is a representative and the lineage which includes all the others diverged earliest in time; the lineage containing Panderichthys diverged from the lineage containing the ancestors of Tiktaalik and the rest happened later, and so on: it is a pattern of shared common ancestry rather than a patter of direct ancestry.

    As an alternative example, all biologists would accept a cladogram in which the following pattern of divergence was found:
    +–E. coli
    `–+–Oak Tree
    `–+–Truffle
    `–+–Trilobite
    `–+–Me
    `–Triceratops
    But this would only mean that the common ancestor of Bacteria and eukaryotes was the oldest divergence, that plants and the fungi-animal group divergence was later, that the fungi-animal divergence was later still, that the arthropod-vertebrate divergence even later than that, and finally a reptile-mammal divergence most recent. It would NOT mean that I am ancestral to Triceratops, that trilobites were ancestral to humans and dinosaurs, etc.

    Hope this helps.

  66. #66 dutchdoc
    January 9, 2010

    #21:

    Luskin isn’t any kind of scientist. He has a law degree.

    How does having a law degree prevent you from also being a scientist?

    You may not agree with the man’s opinions, but Luskin DOES have a B.S. and M.S. in Earth Sciences from University of California, San Diego, and worked as a geologist before turning to law.

    Don’t make the same dishonest remarks that you accuse your opponents of. Do some (very simple and basic) research.

  67. #67 shonny
    January 9, 2010

    Posted by: vanharris Author Profile Page | January 9, 2010 10:31 AM
    MikeMa, do you have evidence that Casey Luskin uses maps to try to wipe his ass? If he can’t obtain lavatory paper, then he really oughta use the feckin’ bible instead: maps are useful, having both intellectual & practical value.

    Problem with wiping ass with the babble is that you end up with more shit around that area than you started with.
    That is why babbles are not recycled, they are too full of shit. Just add a bit of urine or water, and you have the perfect compost!

  68. #68 vanharris
    January 9, 2010

    EvolutionSkeptic, others have answered your questions.

    But at least you do ask questions, & it looks to me like you’re ready to make up your own mind on the basis of evidence, rather than just accepting the supposed authority of an institution which was founded on a set of superstitions derived from the mythologies of Bronze Age Mesopotamian goat-herding nomads.

    Good luck to you!

  69. #69 shonny
    January 9, 2010

    Posted by: dutchdoc Author Profile Page | January 9, 2010 12:19 PM
    #21:
    Luskin isn’t any kind of scientist. He has a law degree.
    How does having a law degree prevent you from also being a scientist?
    You may not agree with the man’s opinions, but Luskin DOES have a B.S. and M.S. in Earth Sciences from University of California, San Diego, and worked as a geologist before turning to law.
    Don’t make the same dishonest remarks that you accuse your opponents of. Do some (very simple and basic) research.

    You might find a prostitutes with university degrees as well, but they are still prostitutes.
    Although of a more decent kind than Luskin.

  70. #70 vanharris
    January 9, 2010

    shonny, than you for that clarification.,

  71. #71 percyprune
    January 9, 2010

    Others will answer your questions in more detail, but here are some brief starting points:

    1. Why implicitly trust scientists and the scientific method?

    That’s two questions. We trust the method, not the scientists. Scientists are only human and can get things wrong, so the method is an impartial system by which we test the scientists’ hypotheses. Since the method is based on empiricism, we can trust it.

    What alternative is there to empirical observation? I’ve yet to hear one.

    2. Does it not raise questions about the motivations of these scientists when they simply move their conclusions whenever they find something new?

    Science gives us the best-possible picture of the universe at any moment in time. As this picture is limited by our knowledge and instruments it is clearly liable to change, and change it does.

    As we get a better picture of things it may either better explain a hypothesis or modify it or quash it. It’s not always the case that a theory survives new data. Theories are often overthrown or require modification to keep up with the evidence.

    Yes, scientists are human and are invested in their work. They might be motivated to try to save a hypothesis if new evidence undermines it. But that’s the strength of the Scientific Method. It is unsentimental and no person can stand against it for long. The only fix for a poor theory is a better one that fits the evidence.

    This is one reason why Intelligent Design theories do not stand the test of time. They do not fit the evidence and in the marketplace of ideas they do not stand up to better theories supported by evidence.

  72. #72 beth.cimini
    January 9, 2010

    @Evolution Skeptic
    3. In this particular post, I don’t see the difference between the graph with the different pictured fossils and the text lineage Professor Myers places just below it. Can someone explain that to me? To me, they look like they’re basically the same.
    The text lineage that PZ wrote indicates direct descent, similar to the Bible’s “begats”… Adam begat Cain, Eusthenopteron begat Panderichthys and so on. This is NOT what scientists think when they use different fossils to trace evolution.
    Fossilization is a very rare event- only a tiny portion of animals ever get fossilized. When scientists draw evolutionary relationships like the one with the fossils, they think of it sort of this way: Pretend you have a time machine that you can focus on a certain date and a certain place and bring back anyone who is inside that spot. Now pretend you “abduct” someone from a spot in say, Rome every 200 years since 2000BC. It’s pretty unlikely that the people you find in 1000AD are going to be the great-times-7 grandparents of the people you find 1200AD (in fact, that would be pretty shocking!), but over time you’d see a general trend from ancient tribes through the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, all the way through modern Italians. The person with that imaginary time machine, as long as s/he had enough “abductions”, could pretty successfully draw a picture of European history even though the people they found are not direct descendants.
    Now imagine you found Leonardo DiVinci on a visit to Rome as one of your imaginary abductees. You might make some false conclusions about how technologically advanced people were at that time just because of how smart he was and how much he had invented that no on else really knew about. You might then be confused if the person from the next time point you took was a poor peasant who had very little understanding of science or mechanics at all- did the ancient Italians “regress”? Of course not, it was just that the first things you found weren’t entirely representative of their whole culture at the time, but with more sampling from similar places and times you will get a more accurate picture.
    Getting more and more samples from different time points all over the world is exactly what scientists do, EvolutionSkeptic. Sometimes we need to alter our reading of histories (in this case, fossil histories) because we find some different data, but my example above doesn’t disprove Enlightenment Italy any more than these tracks prove that evolution didn’t happen. In the same way it doesn’t matter if that peasant isn’t DaVinci’s grandson, it doesn’t matter if Tiktaalik isn’t our direct anscestor, it’s all about finding things that are representative of the world at the time. That’s why these fossil tracks don’t revolutionize evolution- we’d never seen tetrapods that early in our fossil “time machine” before, but that doesn’t mean that they were never there. It’s as if we had only gotten the Italian peasants before, and we had never found DaVinci. Now we see that fins-into-feet (or how to make a sweet hang glider) came earlier than we ever had realized before, but it doesn’t throw off the whole history of tetrapods.
    I’ve probably just made this worse instead of better, but did that make any sense at all?

  73. #73 shonny
    January 9, 2010

    You might find a prostitutes with . . . has of course an ‘a’ to spare.
    Shall never change my mind from singular to plural anymore. Maybe.

  74. #74 blf
    January 9, 2010
    Luskin isn’t any kind of scientist. He has a law degree.

    How does having a law degree prevent you from also being a scientist?

    It doesn’t, of course, but that is not what was said. Read it again. There is no claim having a law degree prevents anyone from doing valid scientific work. All that was said was a statement of fact: Luskin has a law degree. And a hypothesis: Luskin isn’t now doing any scientific work.

    This thread (and its not the only one nor the first time) illustrates Luskin’s current non-comprehension of science, scientific evidence, and the scientific method. The hypothesis seems valid: He is not now doing any science. It was not, and is not, claimed his law degree prevents doing scientific work.

  75. #75 EvolutionSkeptic
    January 9, 2010

    Wow. Great. This place works fast. I just stepped away for 20 minutes or so, and there were several replies that addressed my questions. And nobody seemed particularly abusive. Thanks for that.

    @Luke Vogel #58
    That’s a good question. I think the Christian scientists I’m referring to are scientists, but I imagine I have as much reason to believe they are as I do anybody else. Why do I trust them? I actually don’t. Which is why I’m here. I recognize that they’re biased, but my question was why the scientists who agree with the theory of evolution should not also be considered to be biased.

    @Nerd of Redhead #61
    Good answers about science. I would only ask from there, how do we know the scientists aren’t starting with the hypothesis that “Evolution is true” and then working back from there? Isn’t part of the scientific method to make a prediction prior to testing? Or am I wrong about that? And about the species split … you’re right that I don’t understand evolution. I completely agree. Hopefully, you guys can help with that. So are you saying that, if a species’ environment changes, some individuals within that species may take on evolutionary changes while others don’t, but they can still co-exist within the same environment? If so, why?

    @Dania #63
    On your last point, that does, in fact, seem like a good thing. How can we be sure that’s what’s happening and not that they’re just fitting evidence to their preconceived theory?

    @dialogician #64
    Gotcha. Well, in your examples of fish and then species taking advantage of the land, I’d consider that two species that change their surrounding environment. What about two species co-existing within the same environment, which is what I perceive Professor Myers to be talking about?

    @tomarctomet #65
    On your No. 3, I’m really trying to grasp what you’re saying there. I’ve read it a few times, but I’m afraid it may be written a bit beyond my scientific understanding. Is there any way to convey it to someone who lacks a bit in science ed? I do appreciate the effort. Thanks, tomarctomet.

    @vanharris #68
    Thanks for the kind words. Making up my mind on the basis of evidence is certainly my goal. I’m glad that comes across to you.

    Thanks again, all.

  76. #76 Dania
    January 9, 2010

    But at least you do ask questions, & it looks to me like you’re ready to make up your own mind on the basis of evidence

    Yeah, it’s refreshing to see a creationist come here and actually ask honest questions instead of smugly posting the same old and already refuted arguments as if they knew more about evolution than the scientists. Maybe that explains the lack of name-calling in the responses to EvolutionSkeptic’s post…

    Fuck the tone trolls. If some creationists get insulted here is because they deserve it. EvolutionSkeptic doesn’t.

  77. #77 thedarwinreport
    January 9, 2010

    But is Luskin really directing his ‘rebuttal’ at science? I think not. The ironically named Discovery Institute is a propaganda machine for the creationist ID cause. Luskin’s babel is just slop for his mob to consume, and for them to vomit up later as talking points –so they can sound clever without ever having read a bit of actual science.

    Luskin and his ilk aren’t afraid of appearing stupid to PZ or the enlightened readers of Science Blogs; Luskin is playing to his own audience, and he’s playing them like a fiddle, like the cynical anti-intellectual he is. To him it’s just about who can scream the loudest, and who can manipulate the crowd the best. He doesn’t expect an iota of thought from his readers.

  78. #78 monado
    January 9, 2010

    This new discovery emphasizes that one of the basic patterns of evolution is to produce a lot of branches in a geologically short time, followed by pruning as branches die off. It affirms that the old assumption of an evolutionary “ladder” was a construct of our imaginations.

    So, basically, Luskin is like an accountant making pronunciamentos about the validity of a huge historical research project, thinking that his critique should be authoritiative.

  79. #79 Mobius
    January 9, 2010

    Well, can’t say that I am surprised by Luskin. I saw this coming as soon as I read about the discovery.

  80. #80 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    January 9, 2010

    I would only ask from there, how do we know the scientists aren’t starting with the hypothesis that “Evolution is true” and then working back from there? Isn’t part of the scientific method to make a prediction prior to testing? Or am I wrong about that?

    Scientists had no idea about evolution 160 years ago. Then Darwin brought together data from geology and biology, and developed, based upon the evidence, the theory of evolution 150 years ago. This theory has been and still is being repeatedly tested. After all, there is a Nobel prize waiting for someone who overturns the theory of evolution. But to do so would require hard and convincing evidence. Note that nobody has done so to date, and the ID folks aren’t even publishing in the peer reviewed scientific literature. All the evidence collected after Darwin, which includes genes, radiometric dating, DNA, genomes, biochemistry, and numerous other topics confirm the basic outlines of the theory of evolution. Now, the paper for this thread changes just a minor topic, like say one page, in a thousand page textbook. Not a significant change, and still supports the basic theory.

  81. #81 aratina cage
    January 9, 2010

    Scientists claim there must have been one animal that is the ancestor of all land animals! Scientists claim that dogs can give birth to cats!

    Naked Bunny with a Whip #2, thank you! It is all so clear to me now that Casey Luskin, Ray Comfort, et al. think that the branches of descent are birth-lines detailing which species literally gave birth to which other species. So they would think it was shady of evilutionists to drag the birth-line of Tiktaalik down below that of the Polish tetrapod because the Polish tetrapod obviously was born before Tiktaalik.

  82. #82 MetzO'Magic
    January 9, 2010

    EvolutionSkeptic, hi,

    Others have answered your questions quite throroughly, and yet more answers will pour in during the half hour or so it takes me to compile this reply. Nevertheless, each of us will hopefully give you just a slightly different take on each question, allowing you to choose the answers that you can best identify with.

    1. Why implicitly trust scientists and the scientific method?
    What I mean by this is, what makes the scientific method so special that it should be trusted above, say, the research of Christian scientists who consistently raise what seem to me (an admitted layman) to be legitimate questions about the conclusions drawn by those who show a perceived reverence for the scientific method.

    Question right back at you: why aren’t the ‘Christian scientists’ publishing their work in the prestigious journals like Nature? I mean, if they have *empirically obtained evidence* that refutes some aspect of evolution, then why aren’t they getting it published? It would be a fantastic coup for them to do such a thing. The person or team who did it would be just as famous in scientific circles as Darwin. I maintain that why they haven’t done such a thing is because they have no *scientific* evidence that refutes evolution. They only have the Bible and a bunch of philisophical propositions like ‘irreducible complexity’.

    Actually, I’m going to break this reply up into separate answers to each of your questions as this could get long…

  83. #83 Sven DiMilo
    January 9, 2010

    Tetrapod evolution was spread out over a longer period of time than was previously thought

    To clarify, animals bearing features of various stages of the fish –> tetrapod transition coexisted for a LPoTtwPT. However, the time available for these transitions to have evolved now seems to be considerably less than before, though, so in that sense “tetrapod evolution” was actually compressed into a shorter PoTtwPT.

    You’d have to be a moron or an asshole to claim that Tiktaalik is a “fish.”

    Know what you mean about Luskin, for sure, but this is wrong–if the word “fish” means anything, then Tiktaalik was one.

    I can never understand the interest in “transitional forms”. Surely there are no transitional forms – because everything is a transitional form!

    That’s wahy paleontologists talk about transitional features (traits) instead. If a scientist (PZ, e.g.) uses the term “transitional form” you should mentlaly translate to “form that combines ancestral and derived traits.”

    What intrigues me most is just how the tetrapods settled down to 5 digits, and all variations disappeared. Steven Gould would’ve had the answer!

    and it would have been canonical, maximal, and politically correct

    I think that “transitional forms” is valid. It describes species that were occupying a position between two Genuses, Families, Orders, Classes, Phylums, etc.

    Gah! No!! Stop thinking about it this way! Genera, Phyla, and the other mre conventionally pluralized traditional taxonomic ranks are artificial constructs that are not meaningful in any way (the nested hierarchy is meaningful, but not the ranks assigned to groups of species)–even the seemingly best-defined extant groups are actually artifacts of what has gone extinct.

    classed as mammals, but have retained reptilian characteristics peculiar to themselves, qua mammals

    Yes! That is the way to think of them–combining derived (mammalian) with ancestral (reptilian) characteristics.

    When thinking about phylogeny, focus on the branches, not the apparent trunk!

  84. #84 kalibhakta
    January 9, 2010

    @ #40

    I wonder if Cre’ti’nists still have the “Great Chain of Being” (God as Spirit; Spiritual Beings; Human Beings; The Animal Kingdom; The Plant Kingdom; The Material (Inert) World) in mind when they talk of transitional forms?

    oh, gawd, they totally do. Dawkins has a wonderful riff on “The Pernicious Legacy of the Great Chain of Being” in The Greatest Show on Earth. I’m about to teach Puritan lit. and am greatly looking forward to adding his two cents to the dialogue.

    @ PZM: this was a marvelously lucid and entertaining post!

  85. #85 ThirdMonkey
    January 9, 2010

    EvolutionSkeptic @56

    Excellent questions and well asked.
    1. Why trust the scientific method? In short the scientific method is a process by which all available, empirical evidence is used to build an objective view of the world. What does this mean? First, empirical evidence is only that evidence which can be independently verified, preferably through multiple methods of observation. Based on that evidence we can begin to build explanations for what we see. These theories attempt to explain why we see what we see and try to use that knowledge to predict things. The closer our theories match reality the better we are at predicting the world and the better we become at building bridges and airplanes, making more powerful computers, and (in the case of evolution) find the causes and cures for disease. If the theory does not adequately explain reality then it will fail to predict and will be useless. It must then be modified or abandoned.
    2. Does it not raise questions about the motivations of these scientists when they simply move their conclusions whenever they find something new? Not at all. As explained above a theory must explain reality as closely as possible in order to be useful. This requires that a theory include all possible evidence. If new evidence is discovered then one of three things must happen: if the evidence goes completely against the theory then the theory must be abandoned (flat earth, geocentric universe, etc.), if the evidence provides a deeper insight (as in this case) then the theory is adjusted to account for it (in this case it is not the Theory of Evolution that is being adjusted but just the theory of exactly how and when tetripods evolved), or the new evidence was actually predicted by the theory in which case we can be more certain that the theory is accurate (like how the observation of gravitational lensing confirmed Relativity). If the scientists did not modify their conclusions in light of new evidence then that is when you should question their motives.
    3. The difference is speciation through common ancestry and speciation through direct ancestry. The first diagram shows that all of these species where related through a common ancestor. Brothers, cousins, second cousins, etc. While the second shows the species as child, parent, grandparent. This is an important distinction because the fossil record is incomplete and it is very difficult to show that one species is the direct descendent of another with certainty. But we can show that one species shares traits with another species and therefore the two species were likely to have a shared ancestor where the shared traits came from. By organizing different species by how closely they resemble each other then we can build the tree of common descent. The awesome thing about the Theory of Evolution is that once we were able to compare DNA (which allows us to determine direct ancestry) and we grouped existing species by how close their DNA matches we found that the two trees where the same.
    4. If a species were to evolve into another one, why would that species continue to co-exist with its more well-adapted relative for millions years? This question is a common misunderstanding. It?s not that one species evolves into another but that a species evolves FROM another. Throughout geologic history environments change drastically. Oceans rise and fall, continents collide and divide. When this happens one species may be split up into different, separated populations. Once split these populations will be driven by slightly (or sometimes drastically) different environmental pressures. For some the environment will remain stable and there will be very little change. For others there may be a lot of changes. Eventually if these two populations where to ever meet again then the differences might be so great that they can no longer reproduce together. Thus the population that changed a lot has become a new species which evolved from the shared ancestor of the species that changed very little.

    I would recommend reading Richard Dawkins? The Greatest Show On Earth. Granted he is not friendly to creationist arguments but the book does an excellent job of simply explaining the Theory of Evolution. I learned a lot from it and it helped clear up a lot of my own misconceptions.

  86. #86 dialogician
    January 9, 2010

    @Evolution Skeptic:
    Let me take a classic example here. Suppose we have a species of small finch. It lives on an island and eats small seeds from various plants. As time passes, some finches develop slightly larger beaks, and start to increase their foraging range to include bigger seeds – seeds that the original finches couldn’t break open. The bigger seeds have a higher energy content per seed; this is clearly a competitive advantage, right? But it’s not like the original finches have no food; the small seeds are still present. Over time, and with different groups of finches migrating to microclimates on the island to follow their food, we might have a speciation event — the large-beaked finches are now different enough that they can no longer interbreed with the small finches. But they’re both still living on the island, because they’re now adapted to different niches of the ecosystem.

    There’s more than just two types of finch involved at this point, of course:
    http://www.galapagos-islands-tourguide.com/galapagos-islands-finches.html

  87. #87 EvolutionSkeptic
    January 9, 2010

    I may actually not be able to keep up with all of these, but I’ll address what I see …

    @beth.cimini #72
    Sorry if it seemed like I ignored your post in my previous one. You must have been writing yours at the same time I was doing mine, so I didn’t see it until now. And now that I do, that actually does make some sense to me. I hadn’t thought about how rare it would be for a fossil to form, but, just logically speaking, I would think you’d be right. I’m vaguely aware of the process by which fossils form, and it would seem to be something that would be relatively unlikely to happen to any particular species. So the fossil record, like your example of abducting individual people from different times/cultures, would be quite incomplete with respect to seeing evidence for every single individual species that existed at any given time. And that would seem to mean — and correct me if I’m wrong — that any “transitional” fossils that were found would be a pretty big deal.

    @Nerd of Redhead #80
    With all the time and work that’s been invested in the theory of evolution, do you really think the scientific community would ever acknowledge it was wrong, regardless of the evidence? Would they allow counter-evidence to be published in this literature of which you wrote? It seems like a guy like Professor Myers (not to pick on him, necessarily, but ya know, he’s here and all) saying ugly things about Mr. Luskin would look a little silly if he were shown to be wrong. Yes? And are scientists willing to take that hit? Or will they, somewhat understandably, stick with evolution if only to protect their reputations?

  88. #88 MetzO'Magic
    January 9, 2010

    EvolutionSkeptic @ 56

    2. Does it not raise questions about the motivations of these scientists when they simply move their conclusions whenever they find something new?

    Now, there could be something I’m missing here, so feel free to tell me if so. But I find the changing theories in science to be a bit discomforting, and it makes me question if the end game of all this is just to make sure evolution is true no matter what evidence is found. They’ll just make sure they find a way to fit a square peg in, whether the hole is round or whatever.

    Nothing *substantial* has changed in the theory of evolution by natural selection since Darwin first proposed it 150 years ago. That says it all, doesn’t it? Of course, we have discovered many more fossils during that time, and little things like… genes. But guess what? None of those new discoveries has ever necessitated any major changes to the theory. There have only been minor adjustments, more like filling in the gaps in our knowledge, really. But if new evidence were somehow to emerge that invalidated some major facet of the theory, then the theory would have to change to accommodate it. That is how science works: it is self-correcting over time.

  89. #89 Sastra
    January 9, 2010

    Evolution Skeptic #56 wrote:

    1. Why implicitly trust scientists and the scientific method?
    What I mean by this is, what makes the scientific method so special that it should be trusted above, say, the research of Christian scientists who consistently raise what seem to me (an admitted layman) to be legitimate questions about the conclusions drawn by those who show a perceived reverence for the scientific method.

    As percyprune #71 points out, we trust the scientific method because it doesn’t trust the people who use the method. Science is a search for consensus of informed opinion among people who are forced to demonstrate their claims, models, explanations, and theories to other informed people who are trying to poke holes in them — or tear them down. And the critics are, in turn, forced to defend their criticisms.

    It’s a fierce competition, with very strict rules and criteria. Everything has to be done so that it can be seen. If someone cheats, then someone else will catch them, sooner or later — because you can’t fool reality, and reality is the check on everyone. No special privileges are granted to researchers who are esteemed, or of a favored race, country, or religion. On the contrary — fame, fortune, and the joy of discovery await those who can upset some view that’s been revered, and do it the right way — convince the skeptics.

    Out of this turmoil, a hard-won general consensus gradually emerges. And we can have confidence in this consensus, because of the process it had to go through. It’s like being confident that someone who has won the Olympic Gold Medal in skiing knows how to ski. There is no way anyone would be able to survive the selection process and win only because his family had “pull.” Everything is out in the open. There’s no “just trust me.”

    The so-called Christian scientists ought to be part of this process, but they’re not. Why? They’re not doing anything that stands up to criticism. So, instead of trying to make their case in science, they’re going right to the general public and claiming they’re being shut out because the system won’t let them in.
    It will. But not on their terms: they have to play by the rules. And the rules are a royal bitch. They have to be.

  90. #90 Zeno
    January 9, 2010

    @ #52: PS. Yes I could embed the links, but I’m probably not alone in not liking clinking blind on links, especially on employer’s equipment.

    Links are not generally “blind” in most browsers. Place your cursor over the link and look at the bottom of your browser window to see the URL attached to the link. Both Firefox and IE do this. I imagine others do, too.

    The advantage of embedded links is that even the long ones don’t spill over the boundaries of the browser window or the margins of the blog post. I like them.

  91. #91 raven
    January 9, 2010

    ES:

    1. Why implicitly trust scientists and the scientific method?

    No real reason. Scientists are usually right and when they are wrong, they admit it, correct themselves and move on. Science also works. We created modern 21st century civilization. The results speak for themselves. You don’t have to trust scientists. You just have to open your eyes and think for 10 seconds.

    What I mean by this is, what makes the scientific method so special that it should be trusted above, say, the research of Christian scientists who consistently raise what seem to me (an admitted layman) to be legitimate questions about the conclusions drawn by those who show a perceived reverence for the scientific method.

    This is very stupid. Roughly 1/2 of all US scientists describe themselves as Xians. Including many prominent evolutionary biologists. You are equating Xian with creationist and atheist with scientist and that is flat out wrong. Most Xians worldwide don’t have a problem with evolution, astronomy, geology and so on. Those so called Xian scientists are a very small minority who belong to weird fundie death cults and freely admit they oppose modern science based on cult religious dogma.

  92. #92 Citizen Z
    January 9, 2010

    EvolutionSkeptic:

    @dialogician #64
    Gotcha. Well, in your examples of fish and then species taking advantage of the land, I’d consider that two species that change their surrounding environment. What about two species co-existing within the same environment, which is what I perceive Professor Myers to be talking about?

    Forgive me if someone else has already addressed this, this thread is moving fast. To go back to your original question: “why would that species continue to co-exist with its more well-adapted relative for millions years?”

    I think a lot of people view it in stark terms, they picture one species eating the other species, or totally dominating the other species. But the previous species is “well-enough” adapted to survive to some extent.

    And as for

    3. In this particular post, I don’t see the difference between the graph with the different pictured fossils and the text lineage Professor Myers places just below it. Can someone explain that to me? To me, they look like they’re basically the same.

    They are largely the same. That’s why so many of us are calling Casey Luskin a moron. It’s a chart of how the discovery changed our understanding of history, Casey doesn’t realize it didn’t “blow up” that understanding.

  93. #93 Samantha
    January 9, 2010

    EvolutionSkeptic @ 75

    how do we know the scientists aren’t starting with the hypothesis that “Evolution is true” and then working back from there? Isn’t part of the scientific method to make a prediction prior to testing?

    It’s hard to explain the difference, but the simplest way to do so is to simply say that what the Christian scientists have is not a hypothesis but a pre-existing decided belief. A hypothesis is an educated guess and should be able to be disproved as well as proved. That is not the case for even the most ridiculous seeming claims of the creationist scientists (I use the word “creationist” rather than Christian because Christians can be good scientists who adhere to the scientific method). What the creationist scientists do is take their pre-existing belief and either discard and/or twist all evidence that disproves it. For example, they take the striation of the Grand Canyon and say it proves the great flood, despite the fact that geology quite clearly says it couldn’t. Now, you may think that this is what scientist do with evolution and you’re right, BUT they change the theory instead of the evidence. Creationists try to point to this as scientists trying to make a false theory true and, again, they’re right BUT that is true of all theories. All theories are “false” in that we don’t know every minor detail of truth. The only reason the details that still aren’t quite right in evolution are bigger is because it’s a younger theory that’s still being reworked. Still, the fact that every new bit of evidence changes the full theory slightly is GOOD, because it means that the theory is being made to fit the evidence, rather than the other way around. In the end, that is what a hypothesis is meant to do; provide a starting point from which refinements can be made. What creationist scientists have is not a hypothesis because they never refine it with new information.

    if a species’ environment changes, some individuals within that species may take on evolutionary changes while others don’t, but they can still co-exist within the same environment? If so, why?

    Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Sometimes, a species lives in areas A and B and the environment changing in B causes that species in B to change but not the one in A, such that the original species still exists in one area but not in another. Additionally, a species can diverge in one area if the environment changes enough to make life difficult but not impossible for them. Let’s say we have a species of frog that lives in ponds. Over time, their ponds become smaller, therefore there is less food. One day, a frog is born who can climb trees due to a mutation. This frog is able to access alternate food sources, so he is a desired mate. All his froggy children can also climb trees, so they do so and, after a couple of generations, begin to breed exclusively among themselves. Now, there are still frogs who didn’t mate with the tree climbers and their children can’t climb BUT with a number of their population leaving the old environment of the ponds, there are fewer frogs and thus fewer mouths eating the lessened food supply and therefore they are able to survive.

    Now, there are probably some errors in exactly HOW I described that change, but that’s the basic idea; one part of the species mates with the mutated member and moves on to a “different” environment while the other part remains due a lowered level of competition. In this case, the natural course of the mutation is to remove the competition rather than to overcome it.

  94. #94 https://me.yahoo.com/hairychris444#96384
    January 9, 2010

    EvolutionSkeptic

    As a layman who’s just interested in ‘interesting stuff’:

    1) The scientific or rational method has no place for arbitrary faith without evidence. Religion argues from a conclusion to explain the evidence, science does the opposite.

    2) Not really. If you find that a new explanation of observable evidence fits the results better, isn’t it best to use that? How else do you think that technology has been advancing as it has?

    Where evolution – and as an extension a 4.5 billion year old earth in a far older universe – is concerned, the evidence comes from a wide range of unrelated fields.

    3) I’m not really the best person to comment about that!

    4) Biological evolution is environment driven. The process is also exceedingly slow (although can be demonstrated – Google Lenski + e.coli). Another interesting effect are ring species which illustrate how this parallel evolution works.

    Basically, if you look at evidence and take your conclusions from that, making sure that any new evidence is taken into account and wound into the process, isn’t this the most reliable method of making decisions…? Isn’t this how you live most of your life?

    FWIW arguments from authority, whatever it’s alleged source, do not count as evidence. It’s put up or shut up!

  95. #95 Dania
    January 9, 2010

    This place works fast.

    Yeah, we’re many and from different time zones… There’s always someone around. :)

    @Dania #63
    On your last point, that does, in fact, seem like a good thing. How can we be sure that’s what’s happening and not that they’re just fitting evidence to their preconceived theory?

    They would be caught. :)

    Having your methods, results and conclusions carefully examined by other experts in your field (who are not always sympathetic to the hypothesis you’re advancing) is certain to dissuade you from trying to commit fraud (your scientific career would pretty much end up there). Even if you did manage to pass the peer review process by doing this, your work would still be open to criticism by virtually anyone…

    And let’s face it, if someone were to falsify evolution and came up with a new and revolutionary theory that explained the same facts that the theory of evolution does and more… A Nobel Prize would be almost certain. It’s not like there’s lack of incentive.

    So, my question to you is: Why aren’t creationists fighting evolution by doing science? If the evidence is on their side, why aren’t they submitting it to be published in the scientific literature? Fame awaits them…

  96. #96 MetzO'Magic
    January 9, 2010

    EvolutionSkeptic @ 56

    Your questions 3 and 4 have been answered a few times already by other posters. My answers would be redundant.

    Tell you what… if you are a genuine fence sitter on this issue, as you appear to be, then why don’t you read a popular science book on it and make up your own mind? I have just finished reading Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne and can unconditionally recommend it.

  97. #97 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    January 9, 2010

    With all the time and work that’s been invested in the theory of evolution, do you really think the scientific community would ever acknowledge it was wrong, regardless of the evidence? Would they allow counter-evidence to be published in this literature of which you wrote?

    You fail to understand scientists. They expect things to change. They only require that the changes in theories are done with scientific rigor. As I said, a Nobel prize awaits someone who overturns the theory of evolution. And it would get published, as journals like Science and Nature like to brag about the number of Nobel prize winners who first publish the material that wins the prize in their journals. There is no impediment to good science.

    Now, the places like the Discovery Institute aren’t doing and publishing science. Their only goal is to create doubt for evolution, while not expressly putting their ideas out for rebuttal. For example, Behe published a paper on irreproducible complexity in the scientific literature. It was quickly refuted, as it was wrong. Now that paper has ceased to exist as far a science is concerned, and it is ignored, and no follow-up has occurred on Behe’s part in order to resurrect his ideas. The reason is that he knows he is unscientific and will be refuted again. The same is true of those AIG writers.

  98. #98 raven
    January 9, 2010

    ES:

    2. Does it not raise questions about the motivations of these scientists when they simply move their conclusions whenever they find something new?

    This is silly. No. The motivations of scientists are to understand objective reality. Any sane, rational adult would modify or change their theories when they accumulate new data.

    It was once believed that the earth is flat. We have accumulated a lot of data that says it isn’t. Most people changed their model of what shape the earth is. Today the only Flat Earthers left are looked upon as ignorant idiots.

    Religion just gets it all wrong at the beginning and never corrects itself. After a few millennia, no one believes the dumb stuff and no one cares anymore. The Flat Earthers are almost gone. The Geocentrists are down to 20% of the population.

  99. #99 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    January 9, 2010

    Ahhhem.

    Casey Luskin says

    SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK

  100. #100 EvolutionSkeptic
    January 9, 2010

    @MetzO’Magic #82
    Fair question. As I mention in my previous post, I wonder if the scientists have too much invested in the theory of evolution and are rather resistant to counter evidence, seeing as it would appear to invalidate many of their statements and research. Why should I not consider this to be the case?

    @ThirdMonkey #85
    Those are interesting insights about the scientific method. If it operates as you say, that the evidence is inherently leading them to the conclusions, rather than the other way around, that does seem like the correct approach. Is the evidence for evolution so great that there is no real questioning it anymore?

    @dialogician #86
    Wow. Great example. That’s starting to make sense to me. So would it be correct to say that evolution is proposed not to be a … um, how do I say this? Not to be a pursuit of perfection so much as a gradual shift toward being better suited to survive? I’m not sure if that’s worded correctly, but maybe somebody can figure out what I’m trying to say.

    @Sastra #89
    Nice analogy. Taking it a step further, if someone else winning that gold medal would have brought a great deal of shame and torment upon the people running the IOC, would you still be as confident in the process?

  101. #101 beth.cimini
    January 9, 2010

    @EvolutionSkeptic (#87)
    No trouble at all, in the time it took me to write that monster about 8 responses that were probably much less rambling showed up ;)
    And that would seem to mean — and correct me if I’m wrong — that any “transitional” fossils that were found would be a pretty big deal.
    You may need to adjust your thinking slightly about “transitional fossils”. They’re awfully tied up in the idea of a “missing link”, which is a messy idea for a lot of reasons- species don’t rapidly change, they slowly add new things to themselves over time. There’s no “first tetrapod” in the same sense that no individual Italian person could be said to be “the first Renaissance Italian”- changes happen gradually and there isn’t a solid boundary between one species in the other.
    That being said, it IS a big deal when scientists find fossils that look about what we think they should look like given the slow change over time between species. This is EXACTLY what happened with Tiktaalik, one of the fossils PZ talks about above. They (being paleontologists in general, a guy named Neil Shubin in particular) knew about when very fish-like ancestors lived, and they knew about when you began to see things that looked like they had really well-developed legs (a tetrapod, meaning “four legs”), so Shubin hypothesized if he looked at fossils from right around the middle between those two points, he’d find a “fishapod”- something that lived in water but was clearly developing its fins into stronger leg-like things. He saw that there were rocks the right age in Canada, and when he went digging he found EXACTLY what he was looking for- Tiktaalik has characteristics of both fish and tetrapods (the Wikipedia article is surprisingly good if you want to know some of the details). In that sense, Tiktaalik was a “transitional fossil”, and finding it right where people thought it SHOULD be was a pretty big deal.
    This new paper shows that maybe the transition to “fishapods” happened a little earlier than we thought, but that doesn’t revolutionize tetrapod evolution any more than DaVinci thinking up airplanes disproves Italian history- it just means our fish and tetrapod samples hadn’t been as representative as we’d hoped, so we need to alter our time points a little.
    You can feel free to email me (my username @gmail) if you want to talk about this more.

  102. #102 dustycrickets
    January 9, 2010

    A little OT but I thought this article over at Biology News Net interesting… “From crickets to whales, animal calls have something in common”

    A snip:

    “Scientists who compare insect chirps with ape calls may look like they are mixing aphids and orangutans, but researchers have found common denominators in the calls of hundreds of species of insects, birds, fish, frogs, lizards and mammals that can be predicted with simple mathematical models.”
    http://www.biologynews.net/archives/2010/01/06/from_crickets_to_whales_animal_calls_have_something_in_common.html

    via Bouphonia.

  103. #103 Ewan R
    January 9, 2010

    In response to #75 (and doubtless lost in more interesting technical responses by the time I get done… but such is life)

    On your question about scientific bias – I guess one could say that the modern scientist is biased heavily towards the assumption that evolution is true – however this is not the same type of bias as a creation “scientist” holds when approaching the same set of facts. The scientist’s bias is a bias based on all the prior evidence, and there is a lot of it, from multiple scientific disciplines – the creationist’s bias is based on how they want things to be – all science technically works on a bias to a certain model of how the universe works (or how the particular aspect of the universe you are studying works) however this should always be a bias based on prior evidence rather than on prior conviction, and should absolutely be open to change should contrary evidence present itself (although with a theory as concrete as evolution this evidence had better be damned convincing)

    I believe that the question of speciation has been covered already, however, as I understand it, speciation generally requires the separation of populations within a given species (this may or may not be actual geographic separation, it could well be some form of diurnal separation) – these populations subsequently diverge and can be considered seperate species when reproductive isolation (population a and population b can no longer reproduce when in contact with each other) – unfortunately the world is not as black and white as we’d like, so you get all kinds of oddities like ring species, species who technically could interbreed – but dont etc etc – species arent particularly concrete things, particularly once you start looking at them temporally as well as spatially. I’d thoroughly recommend reading Darwin’s Origin of Species, and then a smattering of modern popular science books on evolution (my own personal preference would be to get everything by Dawkins – I read them chronologically, although might actually suggest starting with an Ancestors Tale or the Greatest show on Earth (you can skip the god delusion for now if you like, while a good book it doesnt really cover any evolutionary biology) and read each one a couple of times to hammer home the point – I’m sure others have their own personal favorites) – the subject of speciation, even at a basic level, probably requires more explanation than a single reply is ever likely to contain (particularly if you have multiple followup questions, and particularly as there is no single type of speciation, but many)

  104. #104 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    January 9, 2010

    Fair question. As I mention in my previous post, I wonder if the scientists have too much invested in the theory of evolution and are rather resistant to counter evidence, seeing as it would appear to invalidate many of their statements and research. Why should I not consider this to be the case?

    If you evaluate the “counter evidence” you’ll find it lacking. They can not support the claims they make. The anti-evolution crowd’s main claim to evidence is merely a lame attempt at poking holes in the very well supported and voluminous evidence that supports evolution.

    There is not counter evidence to evolution at this point. None. Sure small bits and pieces of the mechanics ofthe theory of evolution are updated with new evidence but none of that trends away from the fact of evolution. None of it.

  105. #105 raven
    January 9, 2010

    ES:

    If a species were to evolve into another one, why would that species continue to co-exist with its more well-adapted relative for millions years?

    That doesn’t happen very often if it happens at all. You are confusing coexistence in time with coexistence in space and ecological niche. Neanderthals and modern humans coexisted in time for tens of thousands of years. They did not overlap in space. When the two populations ended up coexisting in space, it didn’t last too long. They are gone and we are here.

  106. #106 mck9
    January 9, 2010

    1. Why implicitly trust scientists and the scientific method?

    What I mean by this is, what makes the scientific method so special that it should be trusted above, say, the research of Christian scientists who consistently raise what seem to me (an admitted layman) to be legitimate questions about the conclusions drawn by those who show a perceived reverence for the scientific method.

    You shouldn’t trust scientists themselves per se, any more than anybody else. What you should trust is the evidence, and plausible inferences from the evidence.

    What makes the scientific method special is that it provides a way to reject assertions as false when they conflict with observations. If you want to decide between two hypotheses A and B, then construct a situation where A predicts one thing and B predicts another. If the results agree with A’s prediction, and not with B’s, then you reject B as false. A may also be false, but you haven’t shown it to be false, so you provisionally accept it.

    Real life is usually not quite so neat, because there are typically side issues about methodology and the like. Over time, though, a consensus emerges that is accepted by all but a few cranks.

    Of course even that consensus can be overthrown, as when Newtonian physics was supplanted by relativity. That’s why one’s trust in one’s conclusions must always be provisional.

    By contrast, theology is not falsifiable. Take, for example, the doctrine of transubstantiation. Is the consecrated host, or is it not, a piece of the physical flesh of Jesus? A consecrated wafer is indistinguishable in all observable respects from an unconsecrated one. By definition, you can’t detect an undetectable difference. Theologians are reduced to shouting “Yes it is!” and “No it isn’t!” at each other, with no available procedure to settle the issue.

    There can be no progress in such a discipline. At best there may be swings in fashion. At worst there may be suppression of heterodoxy at swordpoint. Both outcomes are rather common.

    You refer to Christian scientists. Certainly some scientists are Christians (Francis Collins being a notable example). However, insofar as they are scientists, their religious doctrines should not affect their scientific work.

    Creationists may have scientific degrees in one discipline or other, and some have done some real science (Dave Menton for example). However they have published very little original research to support their creationist views. Mostly they nit-pick the work of others. In the eyes of mainstream scientists, those criticisms are typically uninformed, misinformed, misleading, or otherwise fallacious.

    Casey Luskin would be a good example, except that he’s a lawyer, not a scientist. The practice of law is the art of advocacy, not the pursuit of truth.

    Since I have never been to Paris, I have not personally verified that the Eiffel Tower exists, but it would be perverse to deny it. Likewise in science. Since no one can independently evaluate everyone’s conclusions, one must place a certain amount of provisional trust in the mainstream consensus, unless there is good reason to the contrary. Religious doctrine is not a good reason, because it is not falsifiable.

  107. #107 Dania
    January 9, 2010

    As I mention in my previous post, I wonder if the scientists have too much invested in the theory of evolution and are rather resistant to counter evidence, seeing as it would appear to invalidate many of their statements and research.

    Yes, it’s hard to overcome the status quo. But it’s not impossible, and if the evidence against it is strong, it will happen.

    BTW, do you have any examples of evidence against evolution that scientists are ignoring?

    Is the evidence for evolution so great that there is no real questioning it anymore?

    Yes.

  108. #108 'Tis Himself, OM
    January 9, 2010

    EvolutionSkeptic #75

    I would only ask from there, how do we know the scientists aren’t starting with the hypothesis that “Evolution is true” and then working back from there? Isn’t part of the scientific method to make a prediction prior to testing?

    Scientists make assumptions and then test the assumption. For instance, Tiktaalik was discovered because Neil Shubin and Ted Daeschler said there should be a fossilized critter with certain characteristics in rock of a certain age. They looked in fossil-bearing rock of that age and found Tiktaalik.

    So yes, Shubin and Daeschler started with the hypothesis that evolution works in specific ways and then made a prediction from that hypothesis. That’s the way most science is done. However, finding a prediction isn’t true is more interesting and rewarding. As Isaac Asimov said: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ (I’ve found it!), but ‘hmm…that’s funny’.”

  109. #109 Menyambal
    January 9, 2010

    With all the time and work that’s been invested in the theory of evolution, do you really think the scientific community would ever acknowledge it was wrong …

    Now there is an example of the cognitive dissonance that is taken for granted in the creationist community. They run with two conflicting assumptions, and never see how they clash . . . nor how they reflect their own projecting.

    First assumption: Charles Darwin invented the concept of evolution.

    Second assumption: All scientists are followers and worshipper of Darwin and will not do anything to disturb the religion of evolutionism.

    The clash: Every damned scientist would be trying to overthrow Darwin and set up his own religion and be worshipped.

    The projection: Science is a particularly grovelling religion.

    If evolution were just Darwin worship, this blog would be aimed at starting up pzevolution, and PZ would be working on a big white beard.

  110. #110 Ewan R
    January 9, 2010

    “Wow. Great example. That’s starting to make sense to me. So would it be correct to say that evolution is proposed not to be a … um, how do I say this? Not to be a pursuit of perfection so much as a gradual shift toward being better suited to survive? I’m not sure if that’s worded correctly, but maybe somebody can figure out what I’m trying to say”

    That isn’t an awful way of looking at it (pursuit of perfection however is)

    Essentially evolution works by filtering mutations generation by generation – the process of natural selection. Mutations which cause individuals which possess them to have greater reproductive success tend to become dominant in a population, mutations which cause individuals which possess them to have lesser reproductive success… well, logically tend to disappear from a population. In a very simplistic nutshell that is (in my opinion) a pretty good starting point from which to consider evolution (the fact that it is so mind numbingly obvious once you grasp it still leaves me amazed that it took so long for anyone to understand)

  111. #111 vanharris
    January 9, 2010

    Nerd of Redhead, “Scientists had no idea about evolution 160 years ago.”

    That’s not true. Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus, was an evolutionist. The first modern (as opposed to Aristotelean) evolutionary thought was being expounded in the 17th C. Buffon, Cuvier, Lamarck all were evolutionists. It was the mechanism that was lacking.

    Even here, Darwin had predecessors. William Wells, Robert Chambers, & Patrick Mathew. The latter published the theory of evolution by natural selection in 1831, with an exact description of it. He’s not counted as the originator of the theory because he held to the catastrophist doctrine in geology.

  112. #112 raven
    January 9, 2010

    Fair question. As I mention in my previous post, I wonder if the scientists have too much invested in the theory of evolution and are rather resistant to counter evidence, seeing as it would appear to invalidate many of their statements and research. Why should I not consider this to be the case?

    What counter evidence? The amount of counter evidence is around zero.

    Who has the most invested in their view point here? Scientists are invested in understanding the real world, creating the 21st century, and making the world a better place and rather successfully doing all that. Religious fanatics are invested in propagating their religion and not going to hell and being tortured forever.

  113. #113 Insightful Ape
    January 9, 2010

    Hey evolutionskeptic, why are you implicitly trusting science and scientists by using the Internet? It was people using the scientific method who invented it, remember? Going against 150 years of data is not skepticism, it is denialism. It never ceases to amaze me the world is so full of hypocrites who show their “skepticism” by denyig science, yet never hesitate to take advantage of it when it makes their lives easier.
    Why won’t you side ever come up with any tangible evidence for your claims? You know there are countless examples if findings that could potentially undercut the evolutionary theory-from bird fossils older than earliest dinosaurs to mammals without a blind spot in their eyes, to squid WITH blind spots in their eyes-yet no such thing has ever turned up. And you know if you ever found such things, it would be so groundbreaking that Science and Nature would be in competition over publishing rights.
    But no, you have to avoid the real work and just keep complaining that you are not taken seriously.
    Pathetic.

  114. #114 beth.cimini
    January 9, 2010

    Also, to briefly get at your #4 question (haha, as if I’m ever brief)
    4. If a species were to evolve into another one, why would that species continue to co-exist with its more well-adapted relative for millions years? Wouldn’t the more poorly adapted version be overtaken by the later version? And why would some individuals within a species evolve in a particular environment, while a decent number of individuals within said species would stay mostly static?
    Species don’t evolve into one another, in the same sense that there is no “first Renaissance Italian” before. Samantha’s example at 93 is a good example. Another is the cichlid fishes in lakes in Africa- there have been several incidents where only a couple of fishes get into a lake, and they can therefore take over the whole lake- some specialize into bottom feeders, some into big predators, others become smaller to get away. All of these different types of fish can be proven to come from the same parental stock. Presumably, there is one variety of cichlid in the lake that looks pretty much like the original fish that got into the lake in the beginning, so you could say “Why didn’t it evolve? Why are there still ‘parental-type’ fish?” Well, the original fish who got into the lake were obviously some pretty good fish (after all, they lived long enough to get there), so why should it change? Others split off because there were untapped food sources (say at the bottom of the lake, or by eating its cousins), but the original design is still good at being a fish.

  115. #115 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    January 9, 2010

    Is the evidence for evolution so great that there is no real questioning it anymore?

    It is being questioned all the time. But there are a million or so scientific papers that back evolution, both directly and indirectly, so it is very solid. But, it could be overturned with the right data, and a Nobel prize could result, so there is incentive to look for such things. But given the evidence for evolution, it would only be run across by accident. Real discoveries start when the scientist says “that’s funny”.

  116. #116 Blind Squirrel FCD
    January 9, 2010

    Samantha @93
    Not bad at all, but the frog in your example would not need to suddenly be born with the ability to climb trees. It is only necessary that some feature of the frog allow it to climb trees slightly better than its brethren. Natural selection would take over from there.

    BS

  117. #117 raven
    January 9, 2010

    ES:

    With all the time and work that’s been invested in the theory of evolution, do you really think the scientific community would ever acknowledge it was wrong …

    Sure. The goal of science is to understand the real world. Science gets things wrong occasionally. They admit it, correct it, and move on. Science routinely admits its errors as a matter of normal procedure. Phlogiston and the humors theory of disease are long gone and few even remember what they were about.

  118. #118 vanharris
    January 9, 2010

    Evolution Skeptic, “Not to be a pursuit of perfection so much as a gradual shift toward being better suited to survive? ”

    That’s all that natural selection can achieve. You are making real progress – you’ve understood something very basic. I think that the rest should really just fall into place for you now. I hope so, & applaud your impending liberation from superstition. (Although the Catholic Church & British Bishops, amongst others of religious authority, have actually endorsed evolution!)

  119. #119 aratina cage
    January 9, 2010

    EvolutonSkeptic #100

    I wonder if the scientists have too much invested in the theory of evolution and are rather resistant to counter evidence, seeing as it would appear to invalidate many of their statements and research. Why should I not consider this to be the case?

    Why? Because no counter evidence has been presented yet. The tetrapod tracks in Poland were not far enough back in time to be impossible under the theory of evolution. If someone were to find tetrapod tracks fossilized in Precambrian rock, then the theory would have been turned on its head or have to be held dubious until the fossil could be explained. That is why a standard saying on Pharyngula is “Show me bunnies in the Precambrian”. The Middle Devonian is not far enough back to cause an uproar.

  120. #120 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    January 9, 2010

    Vanharris, I will stand corrected. See ES, we scientists can admit we are wrong once new information is available.

  121. #121 Korny
    January 9, 2010

    EvolutionSkeptic,

    I think you are making a fundamental mistake on what science *is*, on what the scientific/empirical process is. And I think thats why you question why we should trust scientists over Xtian Scientists.
    Science is NOT exclusively done by people who are inherently different to you. The empircal method is not solely the ownership of people in white coats in expensive universities.
    YOU, EvolutionSkeptic, can do science. I’m not messing you around, or patronising. YOU can use the empircal method.
    For example: I hypothesise that you have only one species of plant in your garden. And, based on my observations of the world at large, I’m guessing it’s grass.
    Now, at this point you have two options. You can ignore my ludicrous assertion. Or you can go out and investigate. Maybe you only do have grass in your garden. Or maybe you find you have three rose varieties, an agapantha, two types of cactus AND grass. This is evidence against my hypothesis.
    If you produce this evidence to me, I will be forced to revise my hypothesis. My new hypothesis is that you have 7 types of plant in your garden.
    TADA. That is empirical science. That’s the scientific method. We just used empirical method to prove my hypothesis wrong.
    Incidentally, if you were systematically collect and identify one of every single species of plant on your city block, you could probably get it published, albiet in a much less famous magazine than “Nature”.
    And now imagine that after you spent all these weeks collecting this information about your city block, I once AGAIN came to you and said “There is only one species of plant in your city block, and it’s grass.” Imagine how that would feel!
    THAT is how we feel we have to deal with people who declare evolution is wrong, that the empirical method is wrong.

  122. #122 Insightful Ape
    January 9, 2010

    One more thing, evlutionskeptic. Science IS capable of adjusting course. That is because, science has something called peer review. Errors are ultimately exposed. Examples abound of how this works: Einstein toppled Newtonian gravity after 300 years. Quantum mechanics changed our entire understanding of the nature of the matter. The difference between Einstein and a Casey Luskin or a Michael Behe, though, is that Einstein had a ton of peer reviewed publications before he was ever known out of scientific circles. Creationists have done the exact opposite. They haven’t been able to present any evidence and found it easier to take their case directly to the public.

  123. #123 percyprune
    January 9, 2010

    Evolution Skeptic, it would be true to say that Science, being a human endeavour, certainly IS subject to institutional bias and, sometimes, a reluctance to accept new theories. We know this and admit it.

    However, the great thing about the Scientific Method is that is crushes all attempts to stand in the way of progress. This brings us to Intelligent Design which has not yet given us a theory or evidence that stands up to examination via the Method.

    Here’s the honest truth–if there was something to ID it would, right now, be building a consensus until it reached a critical mass and became accepted by the science community. However, it is not doing that. ID scientists are doing little original research and publishing almost nothing in peer-reviewed journals. When they publish theories they are swiftly shot down. What they are not doing is science that is being accepted and challenging the consensus.

  124. #124 MetzO'Magic
    January 9, 2010

    EvolutionSkeptic @ 100

    @MetzO’Magic #82
    Fair question. As I mention in my previous post, I wonder if the scientists have too much invested in the theory of evolution and are rather resistant to counter evidence, seeing as it would appear to invalidate many of their statements and research. Why should I not consider this to be the case?

    This thread *is* moving fast. Was going to answer this, but Rev. BigDumbChimp has pretty much said what I was going to say @ 104.

    Also important is what Nerd of Readhead said earlier: a Nobel prize is awaiting the scientist(s) who can disprove any major tenet of the theory of evolution by natural selection. BUT, their work would have to appear in a prestigious journal like Science or Nature. Good luck with any of the creationist ‘scientists’ doing that. They have no viable evidence, because they do not follow the scientific method!

  125. #125 amphiox
    January 9, 2010

    @Evolution Skeptic

    1. The scientific method is self-correcting. Errors are continuously being re-examined and corrected. That is why it is trusted.

    2. See #1. It is precisely because science continually updates its conclusions in light of new evidence that we can trust those claims above competing truth claims. We can be confident that the claim presented to us by science is the result of a process that continually checks for and removes accumulated error. Claims arising from a system based on a presumed revealed truth, on the other hand, can be expected to accumulate human error over time, even if the original premise was in fact true, and thus cannot be trusted.

    For example, even if Jesus was real and everything said and done by him was true and correct we cannot today trust a claim based Christian faith over a scientific one, because we have no way of knowing how much error has accumulated in the faith tradition over the intervening 2000 years. We have no way of checking if the gospels still accurately report what Jesus said and did. We have no way of knowing which of the four gospels, and to what degree, is the more accurate in those portions where they report the same events but provide different details. We have no way of knowing if any of the meaning was altered or changed at some point in the past through errors of translation. We have no way of knowing if any scribes in the past altered/added/removed sections to make things fit better with their own preconceived views (Conservapedia Bible project, anyone?). We have no way of comparing rival allegorical interpretations and determining which is the one that is most accurate. We have no way of knowing if and in what manner the personal interpretation of the faith tradition of the person making the faith-based claim is an accurate reflection of the underlying “truth” of the faith that the claim draws credibility from.

    3. Others have already answered this. The only difference is the length of the lines. The evolutionay prediction of the branching pattern of relationships has not changed. And that is the point.

    4. The most common mechanism for speciation is geographic isolation. By definition, then, the two separated populations cannot compete with one another, because they are no longer in contact with one another. Being separated in different locations means each will be subject to a different environment, and natural selection will cause them to adapt in different ways. In other words, their niches will shift in relation to each other. If in the future the geographic isolation ceases and they come into contact with one another again, they no longer occupy the exact same niche, and will not be in total competition with one another.

    If we take as an example the fishapod/tetrapod split, we can imagine an isolation event where one population experiences selection pressure that favors it spending more time on land, thus favoring variants with increasingly limb-like fins (they become more tetrapod-like), while the other population experiences selection pressures that favors it remaining more in the water, thus favoring variants that retain the more fin-like morphology (they remain as fishapods).

    If the two species come into contact with one another again at a later time, the tetrapods will be able to venture further/remain longer on land, and will not be threatened by competition from the fishapods on land, while the fishapods will be more comfortable and capable in the water, and will not be threatened by competition from tetrapods in water. They will compete directly only in the portion of the amphibious niche that they both share, but this competition will not necessarily drive either species to extinction, because each has a “backup” niche to which it can retreat where it will be free from the competition. In this manner, the two species can co-exist side by side for long periods of time.

    In the same manner, when human ancestors split from chimpanzee ancestors, humans did not eliminate chimps (yet, give us time. . .) because humans went out onto the savannah, while the chimps stayed in the jungle.

  126. #126 EvolutionSkeptic
    January 9, 2010

    Heh … OK, well, I think there’s now too many responses for me to respond individually. I really didn’t expect this many responses, but it’s been very informative. Does this blog usually have this many commenters, or are creationist dummies just a siren song for you guys? ;)

    I think the suggestion by some of you that I read a book like The Greatest Show on Earth or Why Evolution is True is a good one. Obviously, I’m not going to be able to get all the information I need from these comments. I really didn’t even expect this much, though. So for that, I extend my thanks to the, um, Pharyngula (whatever that is) community.

    I can’t say I’m 100% convinced at this point, but I’ll say you guys have helped me understand evolution more than I did when I opened this page earlier, and I’m seeing some very good points about science and the evidence behind evolution. I should definitely learn more about it, but I’m starting to think (not especially surprisingly, I’ll add) that there’s a reasonable likelihood that evolution has and does occur.

    And if evolution has occurred, I imagine the presumption would be that our species is also the result of the evolutionary process. My religion tells me I’m supposed to have a problem with that, that it’s supposed to be insulting to us, contradicts the Bible, etc. But am I wrong in saying we’re all animals, just like any other one? I’ve always found it overly self-important to think we’re the one special species out there to whom natural processes don’t apply. I’m not sure what that says about God, per se, but I guess that’s an issue I can tackle later.

    Anyway, please feel free to keep the answers coming. I’m very interested to read them. Though I won’t be able to answer them all individually, I’m reading and may be able to check in again here and there. Thanks again, everyone. I’m learning a lot.

  127. #127 Dania
    January 9, 2010

    And now imagine that after you spent all these weeks collecting this information about your city block, I once AGAIN came to you and said “There is only one species of plant in your city block, and it’s grass.” Imagine how that would feel!
    THAT is how we feel we have to deal with people who declare evolution is wrong, that the empirical method is wrong.

    That’s a wonderful analogy. It’s a nice way of explaining why we get angry at creationists (and AGW denialists).

  128. #128 Blind Squirrel FCD
    January 9, 2010

    mck9 @106

    Of course even that consensus can be overthrown, as when Newtonian physics was supplanted by relativity.

    Supplanted? Hardly. Relativity is a relatively minor addition to Newtonian Physics. It does get a lot of press, though.

    BS

  129. #129 Zach
    January 9, 2010

    Just in case no one has sent you this yet, Dr. Myers:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-cmHJthuq8

  130. #130 Becca
    January 9, 2010

    I’m a rank amateur, and I know my science is weak, but let me try to explain a couple of things to EvolutionSkeptic

    The thing to remember is that the Modern Theory of Evolution didn’t start out as a Big Theory. 150 years ago, Darwin made a lot of observations, and came up with his theory of evolution by means of natural selection. When he finally did publish it (it took him what, 20 years or so? to flesh out the idea enough, and IIRC a fair bit of anguish) a lot of people tried to prove him wrong. It didn’t work, and the more people tried to find flaws in it, the more the evidence for evolution by means of natural selection piled up.

    and then more evidence from other fields piled up. Darwin didn’t have a mechanism for natural selection: Mendellian genetics provided that. and DNA analysis provides yet more evidence… so far, everything that anyone has legitimately discovered has added to the strength and robustness of the theory – that’s why the ToE is sometimes called the Modern Synthesis: it brings in lots of evidence from lots of related fields.

    That’s why it would take strong evidence to bring it down. Irreducible complexity isn’t it, because nothing has been shown to be truly irreducibly complex – and in the attempt to see whether it was correct or not, we learned even more about bacterial evolution. That’s how science works.

    but you know, it wouldn’t take much to overthrow our view of evolution: the typical example is a genuine fossil of a rabbit in the Precambrian strata would do it nicely.

    The nicest thing about ToE is that, as someone said upstream, it *works* – I forget who it was who said that nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution.

    The problem with creationism is, even if ToE could be proved false, creationism wouldn’t necessarily be the answer. Creationism as a theory has no practical application. It doesn’t *work*. No new medication has ever come out of applied creationism.

    The other problem is that “God did it” as an answer is a stopper – there’s no new experiments, no new science, no new technology that can come out of it.

    (sorry for going on so long. I’ll let my betters answer EvolutionSkeptic far better than my mini-rant could)

  131. #131 Becca
    January 9, 2010

    I’m a rank amateur, and I know my science is weak, but let me try to explain a couple of things to EvolutionSkeptic

    The thing to remember is that the Modern Theory of Evolution didn’t start out as a Big Theory. 150 years ago, Darwin made a lot of observations, and came up with his theory of evolution by means of natural selection. When he finally did publish it (it took him what, 20 years or so? to flesh out the idea enough, and IIRC a fair bit of anguish) a lot of people tried to prove him wrong. It didn’t work, and the more people tried to find flaws in it, the more the evidence for evolution by means of natural selection piled up.

    and then more evidence from other fields piled up. Darwin didn’t have a mechanism for natural selection: Mendellian genetics provided that. and DNA analysis provides yet more evidence… so far, everything that anyone has legitimately discovered has added to the strength and robustness of the theory – that’s why the ToE is sometimes called the Modern Synthesis: it brings in lots of evidence from lots of related fields.

    That’s why it would take strong evidence to bring it down. Irreducible complexity isn’t it, because nothing has been shown to be truly irreducibly complex – and in the attempt to see whether it was correct or not, we learned even more about bacterial evolution. That’s how science works.

    but you know, it wouldn’t take much to overthrow our view of evolution: the typical example is a genuine fossil of a rabbit in the Precambrian strata would do it nicely.

    The nicest thing about ToE is that, as someone said upstream, it *works* – I forget who it was who said that nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution.

    The problem with creationism is, even if ToE could be proved false, creationism wouldn’t necessarily be the answer. Creationism as a theory has no practical application. It doesn’t *work*. No new medication has ever come out of applied creationism.

    The other problem is that “God did it” as an answer is a stopper – there’s no new experiments, no new science, no new technology that can come out of it.

    (sorry for going on so long. I’ll let my betters answer EvolutionSkeptic far better than my mini-rant could)

  132. #132 Becca
    January 9, 2010

    ARUGH! I thought that the new registration process wasn’t supposed to return duplicate post errors! sorry!

  133. #133 Gregory Greenwood
    January 9, 2010

    I cannot really see this Casey Luskin fellow’s problem. I am a layman, and so my understanding of evolutionary biology could probably be comfortably accomodated on the back of a postage stamp, but even to a noob like me it seems pretty clear that these earlier tetrapod footprint fossils demonstrate that these forms emerged earlier in the planet’s history than originally thought, and so the era during which the various transitional forms existed needs to be extended somewhat to accomodate this new knowledge.

    I do not see how this in any way invalidates Tiktaalik as a transitional form. The comparitive cladistic diagrams that PZ provided seemed to make that clear enough. I do not see what argument these creationists are trying to make. Am I missing something? Or are they (as I suspect) engaging in the usual fundie idiocy?

    One does not need to be a fully qualified evolutionary biologist to percieve something this obvious.

  134. #134 beth.cimini
    January 9, 2010

    @EvolutionSkeptic 126
    This blog usually does have quite a few commenters, but I think you got an especially large number of responses because unlike the vast majority of creationists who come this site, you actually appear willing to learn and change your beliefs. After so many “Nuh-uh” “Yes-huh” “Nuh-uh” “Yes-huh” battles, it’s a delightful change.
    I liked Why Evolution is True a bit more than Greatest Show on Earth, but either one would be a great place to start- If I recall correctly, Why Evolution is True is quite a bit shorter so it might be a good starting place.
    Good luck- it takes real courage to be so willing to come into the lion’s den and maybe get a new appreciation for lions. I also repeat my offer to email me at any point if you’d like.

  135. #135 ConcernedJoe
    January 9, 2010

    Bravo PZ

    And BRAVO/A Becca – way to peck away at the reasons for Creationism

  136. #136 Rincewind'smuse
    January 9, 2010

    Evolution Skeptic,

    With all the time and work that’s been invested in the theory of evolution, do you really think the scientific community would ever acknowledge it was wrong, regardless of the evidence? Would they allow counter-evidence to be published in this literature of which you wrote?

    Frankly yes, any cursory glance at any science blog or peer reviewed journal, reveals skeptics who snipe and argue about details all the time; in a word they pride themselves on laying out the information for all to see and analyze before they rip it to shreds. You should ask the same question of creationists.It’s interesting to me that there’s a little hint of conspiracy theory(the scale of which would be required among this many contrary scientists would be difficult to imagine) in your tone in post #100, that wasn’t in your first post.Are you as guileless as you first appeared? You’ve also allowed people to frame the argument in your mind as Christian scientist vs those other(atheist?)scientisits which is patently false, as there are numerous christian/theist scientists who support evolution.Third, check the background and credentials of everyone involved and beware of degrees not specific to this area of study…..unsupported claims outside your area of expertise are suspect…it doesn’t mean it’s wrong but its also never wrong to consider the source.

  137. #137 vanharris
    January 9, 2010

    EvolutionSkeptic, “And if evolution has occurred, I imagine the presumption would be that our species is also the result of the evolutionary process. ”

    Of course it is. I read Darwin’s “The Ascent of Man” when i was about ten. By age 12 i realized that religion was made up by people, & that there are no gods. I tore up my ‘holy book’. This was over 50 years ago, & i’ve never once even started to doubt that i was right on this.

    I would hate for my view of life to have been distorted by a great lie, or primitive superstition.

  138. #138 timrowledge
    January 9, 2010

    As Dania pointed out in #107 it can be hard to overcome the status quo; most people working in scientific fields are after all people and subject to jealousy, stubbornness, over-confidence etc just like anyone else. Sometimes, as Kuhn pointed out it simply takes the time for a generation of scientists to ‘die off’ for a better theory to move to centre stage. What happens is that a particular theory becomes established, gets taught widely, treated by a large number of people as if religion and when another theory tries to compete it gets lost in the noise. Note that this is a case where some of the scientists , usually not those working directly in the field, act like religionists in effect.

    A recent example would be the causes of stomach ulcers. For a long time it was held to be stress causing, well, whatever. Excess stomach acids, little malignant fairies, who knows. Antacids and surgery were used to treat them. People actually died of them. This view was pretty old and based on very little actual science I suspect. And the medicines were very profitable and so there was very little funding forthcoming to look into any more detail of the causes; after all a cure makes you money only once, treatment makes you money for life. Then someone noticed something that made them think; it doesn’t matter what the detail is. They did tests and experiments and thought hard and hypothesised that a bacterial infection could explain the problem better than whatever the previous theory said. They got a paper published in ’82 or thereabouts and a few people agreed it was a good idea. Lots didn’t. One of the scientists did a rather serious experiment on himself to demonstrate. It took until ’97 for the theory to gain enough support to get CDC involved and 2005 for a Nobel prize. AIUI something like 60% of ulcers are considered to be H.Pylori caused. Perhaps the rest are still caused by the fairies?

    It’s a social process as well as a factual process. Money gets involved – if you can’t get funding for experiments you’re going to have a hard time establishing facts and their connections. In the end, facts have to be established as being plausible, theories have to explain the connections between facts and suggest new connections with other facts, results have to be replicable and so on. In certain fields you can’t have it all; we can’t re-run earthquakes or the history of the universe.

    And finally, since I am neither a widely published philosopher of science with a track record of highly regarded work to establish my authority, nor a babble spouting religionist with an imaginary friend to tell you I’m correct no matter what the facts are, you should accept all the above as simply my view of a collection of facts that I learned whilst studying at a couple of quite good universities and therefore worth only slightly more than the paper they aren’t written on.

  139. #139 Sastra
    January 9, 2010

    Evolution Skeptic #100 wrote:

    Nice analogy. Taking it a step further, if someone else winning that gold medal would have brought a great deal of shame and torment upon the people running the IOC, would you still be as confident in the process?

    Yes, I would — if you’re referring to an overall process of judging the ability to ski where the people from the World Championship, the Golden Ski Association, the Federation of Downhill Skiing, and the New World Order of Ski Trophy are jealous of, and overlooking, everything that happens in the Olympic Committee with mean and beady little eyes, hidden reserves of Righteous Indignation standing by and ready, right next to the cameras and rulers.

    In order to have a conspiracy theory work, you need to have a closed society where members can all agree to keep things hidden when necessary. “The scientific community” simply can’t fit into this mold: it’s too large, too competitive, too open, too diverse — and there’s too much infighting. The scientific method sets up the system so that everything has to be repeatable, transparent, consistent, and coherent, with regular review and prizes for mavericks and whistleblowers. It’s a system, in other words, of checks and balances.

    Science is just the wrong platform for a grand conspiracy.

    I remember a quote by Phillip Klass, a popular skeptic who used to write elegant rebuttals of those folks who claimed that NASA and “scientists” were covering up the fact that the earth was being invaded by aliens in space ships. He said something to the effect “I know the people who would have to be in on this, if it’s true. I’ve talked to them. And talked. And talked. These guys couldn’t keep a secret if their lives depended on it.” Keep in mind, we’re pretty much dealing with nerds, here.

  140. #140 SQB
    January 9, 2010

    Mobius:

    I saw this coming as soon as I read about the discovery.

    Is there anyone who did not see this coming? If so, your login to this site should be disabled. Oh, wait…

  141. #141 https://me.yahoo.com/hairychris444#96384
    January 9, 2010

    EvolutionSkeptic

    But am I wrong in saying we’re all animals, just like any other one?

    Well we have the same bits & pieces as practically all other mammals so, well, yeeeaaaah… :-)

  142. #142 jaranath
    January 9, 2010

    EvolutionSkeptic:

    Your questions are excellent. They are precisely the sorts of questions a person in your position should be asking. If you follow them thoroughly, they’ll lead you to a much greater understanding of evolution. So be not ashamed.

    Be also not afraid. Though we are sharp of tongue and sniny of tooth here, we are also more than happy to nurture genuine curiosity such as yours. Such a coherent, honest, open request as yours is SO refreshing compared to the trolling we’ve become so jaded by. So, on to your questions:

    1. You shouldn’t.
    To really grasp this point you need to gain a fundamental understanding of the scientific method. Why is science methodologically naturalistic? What standards of evidence does it use? Why is direct material evidence most prized, why is indirect material evidence also valued, and why is non-material (e.g., supernatural, untestable, etc.) evidence rejected? What are independent lines of evidence? What are nested hierarchies? You’ll need to come to an understanding of just how easily you can fool yourself, and how to prevent that from happening.

    I don’t know off the top of my head the best resources to learn this (maybe others will have good recommendations…some of Sagan’s books, perhaps?) but it will take some effort. From a pop-media angle, Sagan’s Cosmos show is a nice intro (despite its age…available via Netflix), as is Mythbusters. The excellent Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe podcast is worth checking out, too. For me, I soaked it up from a few excellent science teachers and nature shows. Be aware that the scientific method was not some philosopher’s arbitrary invention; it was hard-won over millennia of literal blood, sweat and tears. It took a LOT of time and effort for us to refine the scientific method into what it is today. So a good book or three on the history of science (again, maybe others could recommend some) would also help.

    Once you understand why the scientific method is constructed as it is, why it’s so valued and respected, you’ll understand that you should never simply trust. True, there are times when you have little knowledge of a field and thus defer to the scientific consensus; in that sense you’re ?trusting? that the others who know the field are doing science properly. But you must always do so with reserve, always allowing for the possibility of changing your mind, especially if you eventually do educate yourself more in that field. You can also watch for the signs of people applying the scientific method correctly or incorrectly.

    2. Not at all.
    Among believers there is a tendency to think ?top down.? That is, Truth is absolute and decreed from the divine, and everything else follows from that Truth, is built around it. Science, on the other hand, is very bottom-up; truth is unknown, must be pieced together and refined slowly, gradually, constantly revised and never absolute. I’m not trying to challenge your faith here (that’s a whole other discussion), but you must understand that a great many believers keep science and religion separate, and accept things like evolution without feeling they have abandoned their faith. Might try Ken Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God to see how some do that.

    But perhaps the most important thing is to understand that, contrary to the portrayal of many like Luskin, science is not constantly utterly rewriting itself. Again, look to the history of science. When early physicists and astronomers began piecing together an understanding of our universe, the systems they came up with worked pretty well. As we learned more, refinements needed to be made, but they built upon and improved the existing theories which were already ?90% right.? Newton’s physics was not overthrown by quantum physics, Einstein’s ideas didn’t completely rewrite astronomy. They just tweaked it, and added some layers of depth. To put a GPS satellite in orbit, you still mostly must rely on Newton. It’s just that it will nearly, but not quite, WORK unless you also add a dash of Einstein.

    3. As others have said, the difference is time.

    4. As was beautifully said above, because ?the water did not go away.?
    You must also understand that species and populations are not linear concepts. These are not artifically channelized streams like the Army Corps might build, straight as an arrow with concrete bed and banks. This is more like the Amazon Basin, with countless wiggly streams and tributaries, most going ?nowhere.? The Tree of Life is very bushy indeed.

    Understand that speciation mostly happens on the population level. Especially with animals, you don’t have a ?cat give birth to a dog,? as many creationists love to say, a doubly deceiving phrase since even if it did happen that way, it would be a cat giving birth to a very-nearly-identical-but-just-barely-different-enough-to-not-be-a-cat. So it goes with populations, where any tiny changes are spread throughout the population. To any observer watching over generations, the whole population would appear to change as one.

    Now consider that a given species can exist in multiple, but mostly separate, populations. Various barriers including the physical (distance, rivers, mountains, etc.) can keep them apart, as can others like time. If then two different populations of the same species exist in environments that start to differ as well, then it’s likely the populations will change in different ways. Especially if one environment is mostly static, you’ll wind up with one population that looks much as it always has, and one that’s a recognizably different species. Now if the new species’ environment changes back to match the original, and that population re-adapts to the old environment, it still will probably be unable to breed with it’s old relatives. They’ll probably have some similarities to their old relatives, but these will be achieved through different means?you don’t just reverse the evolution that has happened thus far. Likewise, if there’s enough difference or time between them, they may be in sufficiently different niches that they won’t be competing with one another.

    Much too long, sorry, but I hope that’s some help. I highly recommend you especially work on step 1. Go, find lots to read. Many good lists of recommended books on evolution out there, PZ’s got some linked from here, I believe. So many of the follow-up questions I see you asking here?also excellent ones, you really should be proud?are talked about in the pop-sci literature, and the TalkOrigins archive is a nice place to look up individual details. And don’t be afraid. I can’t help you with the fact that some of your fellow believers will vigorously assert you can’t accept some or all of science. I’m sorry for that. All I can do is suggest is that what YOU believe is not THEIR decision, no matter who they are.

  143. #143 conelrad
    January 9, 2010

    Evoskeptic:
    Is the evidence for evolution so great that there is no real
    questioning it anymore?
    The ‘evidence for evolution’ is overwhelming, in that earlier
    eras had different sets of animals & plants. People
    are arguing over the details: is it as gradual as Darwin thought?
    Is natural selection the only driver of evolution, or just one of
    many? 35 years ago, Gould & Eldredge were thought to be challenging
    a basic tenet of evolution when they suggested that change was not
    continuous & gradual, but sporadic & spasmodic in some way. Now they
    are considered good Darwinians who applied a useful corrective to the
    exact meaning of the term ‘gradual’. It is also true that many of
    these arguments are at the level of philosophy, not science. If your
    philosophical position is that a supra-human designer produced all of
    the raw materials which empiricism works on, then it falls to you to
    show how this is superior to purely materialistic explanations.

  144. #144 amphiox
    January 9, 2010

    Is the evidence for evolution so great that there is no real questioning it anymore?

    At the moment, yes. But a single sufficiently anomalous finding and the questioning would start. Immediately.

    But it should be noted that Evolutionary Theory consists of multiple parts, and a finding that invalidates one part of it does not necessarily invalidate other parts of it. Finding a fossil rabbit in the precambrian would invalidate common descent but it would not invalidate natural selection.

    Some examples of anomalous findings:

    1. Asynchronous fossils – the much-mentioned rabbits in the precambrian. Indeed if the currently discussed tracks were rabbit tracks, they would count too. Evidence of rabbits (mammals) before the predicted ancestor of mammals (synapsids – which appeared around the Permian). These tetrapod/fishapod tracks do not count because tetrapod/fishapods are predicted to have evolved from lobe-fin fish, and although they are older than some well-known lobe-fins like Eusthenopteron they are still much younger than the first lobe-fins. Similarly, archeopteryx may be older than some of the well preserved feathered liaoning dinosaurs, but crucially it is much younger than the earliest known representatives of those dinosaurs clades.

    2. Evidence of foresight or planning in evolution. The appearance and preservation of an injurious mutation in anticipation of an environmental change in the future. Or a completely unbranched evolutionary lineage. This would invalidate natural selection, but not necessarily common descent.

    3. The discovery of a second genetic code, or a non-DNA/RNA/protein organism. This would invalidate common descent, but not natural selection.

    4. Extensive Chimerism. A mammal with feathers, or a land vertebrate with 6 limbs. (Limited degrees of chimerism could be explained by lateral gene transfer or endosymbiosis, but the swapping of whole organ systems, like feathered wings on a bat, would not).

  145. #145 raven
    January 9, 2010

    As Dania pointed out in #107 it can be hard to overcome the status quo;

    That can be true. But the status quo here is creationism.

    ID is over 2,000 years old and predates xianity. The xian creation myths are on page 1 of Genesis, probably written down in 700 BCE from older myths.

    We tried the religion appoach to understanding the world for millennia. These eras are known as the stone age, bronze age, iron age, and the Dark Age.

    ID isn’t some new challenge to evolutionary biology. It is (hopefully) the last gasp of bronze age mythology.

  146. #146 amphiox
    January 9, 2010

    Another important consideration is that scientific theories are also valued for their usefulness from a purely pragmatic point of view – in their ability to guide technical applications, and their ability to generate hypotheses that allow for further experiments.

    ID fails miserably on this criteria. It cannot even generate hypotheses about the nature of its putative designer, which should be the most important feature of any design-based theory.

    Scientific theories are also approximations of reality, and can remain useful even if we know they are not wholly correct. Take the much-maligned flat-earth theory. Expressed in mathematical terms, it basically states that the curvature of the earth is exactly 0, while the round earth theories state that the curvature is greater than 0. Well, in reality, the curvature of the earth is only slightly greater than zero (slightly being a value term that depends on scale). So, if your pragmatic goal is to build a road inside a city, or make a map of a small island, or calculate gas consumption of a trip across town, you do not need to take the curvature of the earth into account! You are implicitly using the flat-earth theory to guide your work, even though you know that on larger distance scales it no longer approximates reality close enough to be useful.

  147. #147 David Marjanovi?
    January 9, 2010

    And see where Livoniana lies in figure a by Nied?wiedzki et al.? See? See???

    It’s already older than Tiktaalik, but more closely related to us than Tiktaalik is, and it was discovered in 2000.

    The reason most of you didn’t hear about it is that it’s just a jaw fragment, not something one can get two Nature papers out of.

    It’s going to be so much fun to use the words “Needzweedzkee” and “Ticktalick” when slamming creationists.

    Not quite. In any Polish ie, the e is pronounced, and the i is just there to modify the preceding consonant. Ni is similar to the Spanish ñ. D? is a sound between dz and English j.

    Also, the aa is a long, loud & clear “ah”; that’s the whole point behind writing aa instead of a.

    +–E. coli
    `–+–Oak Tree
    `–+–Truffle
    `–+–Trilobite
    `–+–Me
    `–Triceratops

    Better:

    +--E. coli
    `--+--Oak Tree
    `--+--Truffle
    `--+--Trilobite
    `--+--Me
    `--Triceratops

    where time passes from left to right, and the top-bottom axis is meaningless.

    By contrast, theology is not falsifiable. Take, for example, the doctrine of transubstantiation. Is the consecrated host, or is it not, a piece of the physical flesh of Jesus? A consecrated wafer is indistinguishable in all observable respects from an unconsecrated one. By definition, you can’t detect an undetectable difference. Theologians are reduced to shouting “Yes it is!” and “No it isn’t!” at each other, with no available procedure to settle the issue.

    “There are no sects in geometry.”
    ? Voltaire: Philosophical Dictionary (1764)

    and PZ would be working on a big white beard.

    Well, isn’t he? ;-)

  148. #148 percyprune
    January 9, 2010

    Is the evidence for evolution so great that there is no real questioning it anymore?

    The short answer is yes, the facts for evolution are overwhelming. All we are arguing over is the detail.

  149. #149 MetzO'Magic
    January 9, 2010

    That was a refreshing change. I think the Pharyngulites actually managed to convinced EvolutionSkeptic to go away and have a closer look at the evidence.

    Now, cue standard Creationist Bingo™ spewing creotard in 3… 2… 1…

  150. #150 EvolutionSkeptic
    January 9, 2010

    Well, Metz, I haven’t exactly gone away yet. Believe it or not, I’ve actually read through all 149 comments. Not sure exactly what that says about me, but it’s a lazy Saturday afternoon. Figured it’s better than sitting here with a thumb up my ass doing nothing productive.

    But yes, I was just looking on Amazon for the evolution books that were mentioned. I might check the local library Monday before I spend the money on them, though. If I can read them for free, all the better. My intention, based on the comments here, is to read both. So we’ll see where that takes me.

    And somebody above mentioned Mythbusters. That show is fantastic and may have been one of the biggest reasons I did actually become interested in science. I’ve been watching that and really appreciating their approach to problems. I got talking to a friend of mine about the show, and he was trying to explain to me how it related to the scientific method, evolution, etc. I was doubting him, so he handed me his laptop and told me to read this. And here we are.

  151. #151 Josh
    January 9, 2010

    Is the evidence for evolution so great that there is no real questioning it anymore?

    Yes, it is.

  152. #152 Jadehawk, OM
    January 9, 2010

    I know these questions have already been answered, but I’ll try another perspective on them(and there is no obligation on your part to answer to all posts directed at you; just read everything and ask more questions whenever they come to your mind. don’t even need to adress them to individuals, since we all will respond to any questions you have anyway :-p)

    1. Why implicitly trust scientists and the scientific method?

    You aren’t supposed to implicitly trust a scientist; this isn’t a game of “trust me, I have a PhD”. It’s actually quite common for people with real expertise in one field to say completely idiotic things about another. Besides, even scientists are human and make mistakes.

    No, the “trust” is supposed to be in the scientific method because it was specifically developed to counteract the fact that humans are very fallible and are very easy to trick (even by their own biases). Basically it’s a giant pool into which you throw your ideas, to be destroyed by all other scientist who know something about your field. And only when an idea fails to be disproven by all those scientists does it become something like the Theory of Evolution in which there is a consensus of scientists.

    But if your idea does get refuted by a scientist, you don’t get to ever use it again; it’s dead. And that is the problem with those “christian scientists” who claim they have legitimate questions; those questions have already been answered! You don’t get to ask questions to which an answer already exists, and you don’t get to bring up “contrary evidence” if the evidence has already been refuted. If you do, you stop being a scientist and a skeptic, and become a denialist.

    All those “legitimate questions” and “contrary evidence” by creationists have been dealt with extensively by TalkOrigins.

    oh yes, and I should add: most Christian scientists are “evolutionists”; it’s only a small minority of Christians who don’t accept evolution.

    2. Does it not raise questions about the motivations of these scientists when they simply move their conclusions whenever they find something new?

    the constantly changing conclusions of science are a feature, not a bug. basically, the conclusions must ALWAYS conform to the available evidence, and the more evidence you have, the better the picture of reality. If science didn’t change, we wouldn’t ever learn anything, because the first idea about something would be also the last.

    Also, the conclusions don’t change arbitrarily. It’s a question of making our understanding better, not of completely refuting the understanding we had before. Basically, the original conclusions were mostly wrong and somewhat right… the next round was less wrong and more right, etc. Here’s an essay on how this works: The Relativity of Wrong

    3. In this particular post, I don’t see the difference between the graph with the different pictured fossils and the text lineage Professor Myers places just below it. Can someone explain that to me? To me, they look like they’re basically the same.

    do you see that diagonal line on the right? that’s the “line of descent”, so to speak. the critters aren’t on the line of descent, they’re on side-branches. that’s how scientists look at fossils. they’re not “father” and “son”, but rather cousins, or uncle and nephew; not related by a direct line. The difference is important, after all, it’s possible to have an “uncle” who’s younger than their “nephew”, but you cannot have a “father” who’s younger than their son :-)

    4. If a species were to evolve into another one, why would that species continue to co-exist with its more well-adapted relative for millions years? Wouldn’t the more poorly adapted version be overtaken by the later version? And why would some individuals within a species evolve in a particular environment, while a decent number of individuals within said species would stay mostly static?

    not all members of a species have the same genes. mutations happen constantly. In humans, for example, every child has on average 150 mutations. So, not all members of a species CAN evolve in the same direction, because they don’t all have the same genes for it.

    Also, speciation doesn’t occur much in stable environments. It usually occurs either when the environment changes (and then it’s possible that different members of a species have different mutations that now help them survive, but in two different ways… and then you get two new species), or when one part of a species get separated from another or move into a new environment; then only the members of the species that moved would evolve in another direction. Those members that stayed behind in the previous, stable environment won’t change and become a new species.

    Wow. Great. This place works fast. I just stepped away for 20 minutes or so, and there were several replies that addressed my questions. And nobody seemed particularly abusive. Thanks for that.

    If you don’t mind, from now on I’m going to link to this post of yours whenever we have what we call “tone trolls”: creationists who come in here, insult us, and then complain because we use bad words in response :-p

    I recognize that they’re biased, but my question was why the scientists who agree with the theory of evolution should not also be considered to be biased.

    they are; the scientific method is designed to weed out the bias. so you aren’t necessarily supposed to trust scientists as individuals, but you can trust the peer-reviewed, scientific literature to be as accurate as humans can make it. And we know that it does do what we want it to (i.e. weed out the bias and give us a good idea of how reality really looks like) because all the wonders of the modern world (medicine, cell phones, internet, etc.) came from this scientific method of peer-review :-)

    What about two species co-existing within the same environment, which is what I perceive Professor Myers to be talking about?

    well, they don’t really coexist in the same “environment” in the scientific sense: usually, critters that become successful species (i.e. live long enough for us to find them in the fossil record) find their own ecological “niche”. “Niche” means a bit more than just the same plece: it means what they eat, where they find the food, where/when they mate and lay eggs etc. Usually, two successfully coexisting species don’t share a niche, so it’s not really true that they share exactly the same environment. They just live at approximately the same time, in approximately similar places (not even in the same places: Tiktaalik is from Canada, this new walking critter is from Poland!)

    With all the time and work that’s been invested in the theory of evolution, do you really think the scientific community would ever acknowledge it was wrong, regardless of the evidence? Would they allow counter-evidence to be published in this literature of which you wrote? It seems like a guy like Professor Myers (not to pick on him, necessarily, but ya know, he’s here and all) saying ugly things about Mr. Luskin would look a little silly if he were shown to be wrong. Yes? And are scientists willing to take that hit? Or will they, somewhat understandably, stick with evolution if only to protect their reputations?

    you have to understand that being wrong in science is normal, and not something to lose one’s reputation over. OTOH, being a fraud IS something to lose one’s reputation, job, and access to funds over. So scientists don’t mind being proven wrong as much as most other people, because their reputations don’t hang on being 100% right.

    plus, if you read “the Relativity of Wrong”(linked above), you’ll understand that scientists are rarely really really wrong on the big questions; the big Theories don’t usually get overturned, they get improved (it’s what Einstein did to Newton’s physics, for example). And on the smaller things, scientists expect to be shown wrong on a regular basis. it’s how science works. if you hate being proven wrong, you aren’t meant to be a scientist.

    . Is the evidence for evolution so great that there is no real questioning it anymore?

    yes, it is.

    Not to be a pursuit of perfection so much as a gradual shift toward being better suited to survive? I’m not sure if that’s worded correctly, but maybe somebody can figure out what I’m trying to say.

    well, that’s a good first step. first of all, evolution doesn’t actually have a goal. there is no “pursuit” of anything at all, and certainly not perfection. And it’s also not really a question of getting “better” at surviving. when a species has a stable niche, it’s good enough and won’t evolve. It’s only when population pressures or other things force change on a species that the species ends up evolving because suddenly more members tend to die in this new environment, and minuscule advantages suddenly make all the difference between survival and death. The oft quoted “survival of the fittest” isn’t actually part of the Theory of Evolution, you know. It’s really more like “survival of the barely adequate”; as long as the traits you have make it possible for you to live long enough to have kids, you’re golden.

    Taking it a step further, if someone else winning that gold medal would have brought a great deal of shame and torment upon the people running the IOC, would you still be as confident in the process?

    no, but luckily this isn’t the case. like I said, being from in science isn’t shameful. Being a liar and a fraud is.

    Does this blog usually have this many commenters, or are creationist dummies just a siren song for you guys? ;)

    both; we all suffer from SIWOTI Syndrome :-p

  153. #153 thomas.c.galvin
    January 9, 2010

    I just wanted to thank you for the time you put into posts like this. I mean, dear Thor, you have footnotes. It’s great to have someone who 1. knows what he’s talking about and 2. can express it in relatively accessible terms, especially when you’re doing it on your own time, for free.

  154. #154 ThirdMonkey
    January 9, 2010

    @144
    “3. The discovery of a second genetic code, or a non-DNA/RNA/protein organism. ”

    And how freaking amazing would that be!

  155. #155 Becca
    January 9, 2010

    quoting Steve Novella over at NeuroLogica (in the discussion of Ray Tallis on Consciousnes:

    …survival advantage is not abstract or absolute ? it exists in the context of the organism and the environment. And a solution that is suboptimal may be selected for because it provides an immediate survival advantage, and by chance and historical contingency happens to be the advantage that one evolutionary line hit upon.

    Nature is replete with sub-optimal solutions.

    I’m glad EvoSkeptic has started thinking, and recognizes that humans are animals just like any other. I hope he/she comes back with more questions… I learn such a lot from these reasoned, thoughtful discussions. (even though, yeah, the other kind is a lot more fun)

  156. #156 David Marjanovi?
    January 9, 2010

    Shit. The <p> tag destroyed the <pre> one. Let me try again:

    +--E. coli
    `--+--Oak Tree
       `--+--Truffle
          `--+--Trilobite
             `--+--Me
                `--Triceratops

    Again, time passes from left to right, and the top-to-bottom axis is meaningless.

    Einstein had a ton of peer reviewed publications

    That would, frankly, surprise me. Peer review is a recent invention for catching mistakes before they’re published. Throughout the 20th century, many small journals lacked peer review, and to this day if you’re a member of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA you can get a paper into the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS for short) without it having to undergo peer review first.

    If we take as an example the fishapod/tetrapod split, we can imagine an isolation event where one population experiences selection pressure that favors it spending more time on land, thus favoring variants with increasingly limb-like fins (they become more tetrapod-like)

    EvolutionSkeptic, take note: The way to understand how scientists behave is the SIWOTI syndrome. (Mouse over the picture and read the text that appears, too!)

    I’m fine with the general explanation, but I must quibble with the example. The environment that favored the loss of the fin rays and the (further…) growth of digits almost certainly wasn’t the dry land. It more probably was water plants. Having digits makes it easier to climb around in them, sneaking up on prey and hiding from predators without moving so much water that everyone notices. Acanthostega seems to have been such an animal ? internal gills, huge tail fin for bursts of fast swimming, weak bones, but digits.

    Note also that the fins of Tiktaalik are elongated relative to the last common ancestor of Tiktaalik and us: the main axis has two extra bones that are missing in Panderichthys as well as in us. This is a lungfish-like adaptation to… to… something that has something to do with some kind of aquatic environment. :-)

    They will compete directly only in the portion of the amphibious niche that they both share, but this competition will not necessarily drive either species to extinction, because each has a “backup” niche to which it can retreat where it will be free from the competition. In this manner, the two species can co-exist side by side for long periods of time.

    Competition is disadvantageous. It is selected against. The less energy you need to invest in competition, the more you can invest in reproduction, in good old Darwinian fitness. Much of biodiversity exists because of “the ghost of competition past”.

    In the same manner, when human ancestors split from chimpanzee ancestors, humans did not eliminate chimps (yet, give us time. . .) because humans went out onto the savannah, while the chimps stayed in the jungle.

    Sort of. Some chimpanzee populations do live in the savanna.

    you don’t just reverse the evolution that has happened thus far.

    (Because it’s statistically unlikely to happen. Single characteristics reverse all the time.)

  157. #157 Jadehawk, OM
    January 9, 2010

    anyway, back to the original OP. it seems this whole fake drama is just another case of “If wetetrapods evolved from monkeysfishapods, why are there still monkeysfishapods”?

  158. #158 Kel, OM
    January 9, 2010

    I remember Neil Shubin pointing out in Your Inner Fish that Tiktaalik was almost certainly not ancestral to us. This shit is as dumb as those trying to invalidate archaeopteryx because it is too old to be ancestral. Is it really that hard to grasp that a transitional fossil shows transitions? Or are they just that dishonest?

  159. #159 percyprune
    January 9, 2010

    Is the evidence for evolution so great that there is no real questioning it anymore?

    It’s worth noting that even the intelligent design supporters agree that evolution works. However, they call it ‘microevolution’ and they don’t admit that it does anything more than minor morphological changes.

    They cannot, it seems, conceive that lots of small changes over lots of time results in large changes, like the accretion of snow on a snowball rolling downhill.

  160. #160 Josh
    January 9, 2010

    #146 was a great comment. I enjoyed the hell out of that.

  161. #161 Sioux Laris
    January 9, 2010

    And the excitement builds!

    Is “EvolutionSkeptic” that rarest of creatures: an honest Xian creationist willing to challenge the notion that the Bible (and years of “interpretation” by the least intelligent and least honest among the Xian community) doesn’t work for beans as a scientific text; that there are Christians who are scientists but can be no scientists who are Xians; that people [sic] like Ken Ham, Dr. Dino, and anyone ever remotely associated with the D.I. are utterly untrustworthy, and incompetent, deceivers who only desire to wage a cultural “dirty war” for a particularly ugly form of Xianity?*

    Stay tuned! Same Bat time! Same Bat Channel!

    * Or is he some guy/gal taking the piss out of all of us – especially the many who answered his/her questions so well and politely?

  162. #162 Gregory Greenwood
    January 9, 2010

    EvolutionSkeptic;

    It is refreshing to meet a theist like you who is actually prepared to look at the evidence and, critically, is also prepared to recognise the force of that evidence and adapt your position accordingly. All too often on Pharyungula we get people who cannot be persuaded by any argument, no matter how cogent and well structured, because they came here to proslytise, not to discuss.

    A debate with someone who is prepared to lisen to reason is not only more pleasant, it is also far more productive. It is a difficult thing to look at your long held beliefs with a critical eye. Many people never make the effort, but for those who do the rewards, in terms of understanding and broadening ones horizons, can be great.

  163. #163 Nebula99
    January 9, 2010

    EvolutionSkeptic:

    Is the evidence for evolution so great that there is no real questioning it anymore?

    This question has been responded to with both Yes and No, so let me clarify. The Theory of Evolution is only held to be true provisionally: that is, it is subject to doubts and questions and would be thrown out if ever enough evidence was found to refute it and a new theory was developed that better fit the evidence. However, there is so much evidence supporting evolution that the evidence against it would have to be very strong. Also, if evolution were ever to be superseded, it would almost certainly NOT be by special creation, as that fails to explain a vast amount of existing evidence and can therefore be seen as disproved. In fact, there is currently no competing theory being given any consideration in the scientific community, because no other theory that adequately explains the available data has ever been proposed. So there is “no real questioning [evolution] anymore” among biologists in the sense that all of the sane ones accept evolution, albeit provisionally.

  164. #165 Josh
    January 9, 2010

    I was off looking at rocks and fossils and so missed most of this discussion, but I did just quickly read through it all and I gotta say: the tone trolls can blow me. It is so refreshing to have an evolution skeptic around who actually discusses things.

  165. #166 Thalamus
    January 9, 2010

    Evolutionskeptic

    I’d just like to throw my two cents in on a question you asked up at #75

    Good answers about science. I would only ask from there, how do we know the scientists aren’t starting with the hypothesis that “Evolution is true” and then working back from there? Isn’t part of the scientific method to make a prediction prior to testing?

    I think this is a good question, and the answer is subtle one. Scientists work from the premise that if evolutionary principals are correct, then we should find certain things. If we don’t make predictions based around what we should find if evolution is correct, then how are we able to properly evaluate the evidence? As such, the scientist does not start out with the dogmatic position that evolution is true, and then tries to find evidence to confirm this, he constructs hypotheses based on what evolution predicts, and then sees if observations support or falsify a hypothesis, and finally draws a conclusion about the veracity of these hypotheses.

    This is different from so called “creation-scientists”, who start with their conclusion, namely, that the bible is inerrant, and selectively pick and choose evidence that fits their predetermined conclusion, and reject all that does not.

    A scientist works by saying “if x, then y”, and trying to determine if y can be confirmed through experiment or observation, which adds support to premise x.

    A creationist simply says “x is true, and anything that contradicts it must be false”.

  166. #167 EvolutionSkeptic
    January 9, 2010

    Sioux Laris -

    Heh. Yeah, I’m actually unconvinced of the “inerrancy” of the Bible, that many of my fellow Christians espouse. Of course, I’ve had people tell me that doesn’t make me a “Real Christian” or whatever, but I pay little attention to that. Too much of the Bible just doesn’t make sense as a literal account, in light of, well, other things in the Bible. The Bible’s fine as a sort of allegorical guide to the Christian faith, but I have little reason to think it’s much more than that.

    I’m not exactly sure what you mean by “there are Christians who are scientists but can be no scientists who are Xians,” so I’m not sure what to say there. And I don’t know who Ken Ham or “Dr. Dino” are (he sounds friendly enough), but I sort of think everyone I don’t know is untrustworthy. The only one I entirely trust is God, and he ain’t talking, as far as I know. People only receive the trust from me that they’ve earned. That’s sort of a big part of what’s been at the heart of my skepticism about both science and creationism, with regard to evolution.

  167. #168 David Marjanovi?
    January 9, 2010

    56 75 87 100 126

    the constantly changing conclusions of science are a feature, not a bug.

    Never mind pulling words out of my mouth, Jadehawk actually pirate-copies them out of my brain before I even get to type them! :-D

    the big Theories don’t usually get overturned, they get improved (it’s what Einstein did to Newton’s physics, for example)

    I’ve heard that if you take Einstein’s equations and set c to ?, you get Newton’s…

  168. #169 tomarctomet
    January 9, 2010

    David #147 & 156:

    You see the problem with trying to post cladograms on the comments section… The text-based cladograms (made with Keesey’s tree writer) looked fine before posting, and got squished when posted. Ah, well.

    EvolutionSkeptic: after others have approached the same question, do you still have questions on how cladograms work? If so, you can check out the links I mentioned in comment #59.

  169. #170 Gregory Greenwood
    January 9, 2010

    EvolutionSkeptic;

    Is the evidence for evolution so great that there is no real questioning it anymore?

    Perhaps the greatest thing about science, and by extension about the broader rationalist worldview, is that there is no dogma. Scientific papers do not, and if properly viewed cannot, acheive the status of a holy text. The evidence for evolution is, at the current time, so overwhelmingly great that it is considered, to all intents and purposes, to be a fact. This will continue to be the case indefinately unless a better explanation is found. By a ‘better’ explanation, I mean one that has a greater explanitory power and more effectively fits the available evidence.

    Evolution is in no way a ‘sacred cow’ of biological science anymore than quantum string theory is carved in stone for physics. Any competent biologist would know exactly what evidence would convince him or her that evolution was in error. I do not know the exact terminology, but there is some saying about rabbits in the pre-Cambrian that expresses this idea (I am sure more knowledgeable Pharyngulites will be happy to elaborate). Evolution will remain the preferred explanitory framework only so long as no objectively superior theory is available.

    Doubt, even of a theory as well erstablished as evolution, is central to the proper practice of science. Any scientist worth his or her salt is fully aware that our knowledge is not absolute at this time. Indeed, total and infallible knowledge of reality may never be acheived. The goal is always to strive to be a little less wrong than yesterday. The current consensus is that evolutionary theory, while doubtless not entirely perfect, is still a good deal less wrong than the creation mythology of any given religion.

    Even though I am not close to being any kind of scientist, I still have the utmost respect for scientists and the vital (yet often unrecognised, undervalued and underpayed) work that they do.

  170. #171 David Marjanovi?
    January 9, 2010

    56 75 87 100 126

    Oops. Forgot to remove the note to self before posting.

    You see the problem with trying to post cladograms on the comments section…

    The <pre> tag preserves the spaces at the beginnings of lines and imposes a monospace font. Owlmirror found out how to push the lines closer together (you have to specify the line height as normal, I kid thee not), and that’s what I tried to do, except I hadn’t quite remembered it correctly…

  171. #172 Kel, OM
    January 9, 2010

    I know these have been answered ad nauseum already, but I wanted to address question 1.

    1. Why implicitly trust scientists and the scientific method?

    Because science works. Just think about what you’re doing now. You’re sitting on a computer – a device capable of making billions of calculations per second, and not only that but being able to take the information and present it in a manner that is able to be recognised by you. That you’re computer is just one of many devices sitting in your home that’s electrical and being fed by a central source of electricity that also feeds the rest of the community. That this all hooks into a global telecommunications network, that enables people from all around the world to access and exchange information, all within a few milliseconds.

    In short, we should trust science because science has shown itself to work – not only in the ivory towers of academia, but so much so that science is the backbone of our civilisation. We should at least trust science because unlike every other system of thought that has promised the fantastical, science is the only one that has actually delivered and then some. The methodology clearly works, or as They Might Be Giants say: Science is real

  172. #173 Jadehawk, OM
    January 9, 2010

    Never mind pulling words out of my mouth, Jadehawk actually pirate-copies them out of my brain before I even get to type them! :-D

    I’z in ur brainz steelin ur finkinz

  173. #174 David Marjanovi?
    January 9, 2010

    The evidence for evolution is, at the current time, so overwhelmingly great that it is considered, to all intents and purposes, to be a fact.

    Nope.

    Evolution, descent with heritable modification, change of allele frequencies in a population, is a fact. I’ve seen it happen with my own eyes in a petri dish, never mind lots and lots of peer-reviewed publications that document such observations.

    The theory of evolution by mutation, selection, and drift is the best theory so far that explains this fact ? and at the same time explains the biodiversity and its changes through time (“the origin of species” in more famous words).

    Theories don’t grow up to become facts. Theories explain facts. (And laws, for that matter.)

  174. #175 Gregory Greenwood
    January 9, 2010

    David Marjanovi? @ 174;

    Theories don’t grow up to become facts. Theories explain facts. (And laws, for that matter.)

    Good point. I stand corrected. I should say that the evidence supporting the theory of evolution is so overwhelmingly great that it is currently almost universally accepted within the scientific community as the best available explanation of the facts.

  175. #176 Snoof
    January 9, 2010

    I’ve heard that if you take Einstein’s equations and set c to ?, you get Newton’s…

    *checks* Yep. If you take the limit as c -> +inf, gamma becomes 1 and stuff reduces to Newtonian mechanics. Also works if you take the limit as v -> 0, which is the preferable version, since it doesn’t violate the postulate of invariance of c.

  176. #177 Josh
    January 9, 2010

    Theories don’t grow up to become facts. Theories explain facts. (And laws, for that matter.)

    Bingo. And, because it can never be said too often, theories also do not grow up to become laws.

    Theories, laws, and facts. Three different things in science.

  177. #178 Lynna, OM
    January 9, 2010

    Just wanted to leave kudos for comments 146 and 152. Gold star, as well, for Jadehawk.

  178. #179 RBH
    January 9, 2010

    EvolutionSkeptic wrote

    But I find the changing theories in science to be a bit discomforting,

    That happens sufficiently often that there is a technical term for it. It’s called learning. As new data accumulate we learn from it, and alter our understanding of the world accordingly. That’s an adaptive trait found in some (but not all) humans.

  179. #180 timrowledge
    January 9, 2010

    Finding a fossil rabbit in the precambrian would invalidate common descent but it would not invalidate natural selection.

    Let us add some qualifications to that before we give some creodick an idea.

    A rabbit fossil found in what appeared to be an ancient pre-mammal strata would certainly make a bunch of people splutter up their morning coffee. Immediately after that there would need to be a whole load of checking done. Is it actually a rabbit fossil? Is it in fact a fossil and not something made in a kitchen with a Fisher-Price ‘my own fossil’ kit? Is the strata previously undisturbed so you can trust that the putative fossil was actually found there?

    Then you need to consider other possibilities that might affect the claim. Given just the one, I’d be extremely skeptical that we hadn’t missed something that made sense of it. If there were many, scattered around the planet then you have a different strength of evidence. A single item, or even a tight cluster, could be explained by a time machine much more easily than by the idiocy of creationists. At least there is some theoretical possibility of making a time machine with which to dump rabbits in the pre-cambrian! In fact if I ever perfected a time machine I’d be tempted to send some just to mess with people’s heads ;-) Though I’d be nice and make sure one of them had a tag on its collar explaining.

  180. #181 vanharris
    January 9, 2010

    Evolution Skeptic, “The only one I entirely trust is God, and he ain’t talking, as far as I know.”

    What about the folk who believe they know what their god-thing ‘says’? There are good reasons to not trust them.

  181. #182 John Morales
    January 9, 2010

    EvolutionSkeptic, I think you’ll find that the more you investigate this issue, the more you’ll find that “skepticism” to evolutionary science is a manufactured controversy.

    The only one I entirely trust is God, and he ain’t talking, as far as I know. People only receive the trust from me that they’ve earned. That’s sort of a big part of what’s been at the heart of my skepticism about both science and creationism, with regard to evolution.

    Well, to use religious language, God is talking — and the words are writ on the book of Nature. Science¹ is the discovery of what exists in Nature (aka Creation), and how it functions.

    The mindset of most of the scientists¹ who discovered celestial mechanics, the reality of deep time, and the inescapable evidence for biological evolution was one of reading the book of Creation.

    PS you might find this Wikipedia entry relating to the conflict thesis of interest.

    ¹ Known as natural philosophy back in the day.

  182. #183 jaranath
    January 9, 2010

    “People only receive the trust from me that they’ve earned. That’s sort of a big part of what’s been at the heart of my skepticism about both science and creationism, with regard to evolution.”

    Wow…you truly are a skeptic! Bravo!

    A couple additional things:

    I completely second Thalamus @166. The difference between a dogmatic foregone conclusion and a scientific prediction is that the scientific prediction is a “IF this is true, THEN what would you expect to find?” Indeed, that is often the best way to reply to a child asking a how or why question (at least, if it’s easy enough to help them walk through to a conclusion.)

    This is basically what we mean by “hypothesis.” We say–provisionally–”We think we’ll find the Higgs Boson if we build and operate the Large Hadron Collider, which would help validate our current theories about matter.” But we ALSO are hoping that we’ll discover some new, unexpected things in the LHC–either something instead of the Higgs, or some other unrelated phenomena. Then we try to make explanations and predictions of the new observations and try to find evidence supporting those predictions. In other words, some science is just about “what happens if I do this?,” generating raw observations, raw material we can build hypotheses and theories around, and then test.

    Regarding Mythbusters, let me add that while they are quite possibly the perfect introduction into skepticism and critical thinking, they are by necessity not as rigorous as many areas of science. When I first saw it, I was pretty irritated by that. But then I realized the show would stink if they didn’t balance rigor with production time, interest and explosions, and it wouldn’t be the perfect intro to skepticism that it is. And watching it carefully, I also realized they were cramming in a lot more rigor than I had at first thought. Either way, their show is infinitely better than anything I could produce.

    If I could add to your book pile, let me suggest Sean Carroll’s The Making of the Fittest and Endless Forms Most Beautiful. Excellent introductions into evo-devo, and the nice thing is that evo-devo pulls together some of the independent lines of evidence for evolution, showing the really awesome way they overlap. I felt Making was better to read first; a bit less technical and a bit closer to the sorts of questions you’re asking, about evolution in general, whereas Endless Forms fills in more detail about the nuts and bolts and answers many questions you probably think of while reading Making

  183. #184 kausik.datta
    January 9, 2010

    Kel at #172:

    Because science works.

    Absolutely. Without question.

    However – though rarely do I disagree with your very reasonable opinions – I feel I must caution you against promoting technology (such as the computer) as the pinnacle of science. It is true that technology exists because of the science underneath, but once the measurements have been taken and parameters established, technology sustains itself and requires no further rational thinking (perhaps I should allude at this point to creationist engineers and dentists we know and love so much).

    Science, as I am sure you’d agree, is much more than technology. It is a way of life; it is about rationality and skepticism – about generating hypotheses based on rational observations, gathering further empirical observations through painstaking work, critically analysing the available data, and rationally using that analysis as evidence for or against the hypotheses. It is about continuous examination and re-evaluation of everything that we find around us – from the fundamental principles of the sciences to the ethical considerations pertaining to the human identity – accepting and retaining that which has evidentiary support, and disregarding that which has none.

    That’s why Science works. It promotes clarity of thought and ideas, and provides a stable framework for understanding various aspects of life.

  184. #185 kausik.datta
    January 9, 2010

    EvolutionSkeptic:

    The only one I entirely trust is God, and he ain’t talking, as far as I know. People only receive the trust from me that they’ve earned.

    I am infinitely curious, EvolutionSkeptic. How exactly has ‘God’ earned your trust? Which ‘God’ will that be, and what has He/She/It done to deserve it?

  185. #186 Sioux Laris
    January 9, 2010

    Dear ES,

    You really must be new to all this! If you’re not pulling our collective leg.
    Wiki Ken Han or now-inmate Dr. Dino. If you are not instantly revolted, there isn’t much else we could ever say to one another.

    So, when you refer to being a “skeptic about the ToE {Theory of Evolution],” who exactly ARE these scientists (I’ll not employ “”) that have made you so? (I don’t recall any of your posts citing a source for your current stand.) Even the briefest of searches outside the D.I. should have shown you that it is entirely as deceitful and crazy as C.L. about its aims and, well,… about Life, the Universe, and Everything.

    Is your skepticism entirely uninformed?

    To answer your other question:
    Christians (and those holding any other belief system), can be scientists so long as they do not allow – and certainly NEVER demand – that evidence is true only to the degree that it conforms to and confirms their beliefs. A Xian (I refer to fundamentalist Literalists when I use the term – and, frankly, I mean to be slighting them by doing so) by definition cannot be a scientist. Or an honest human being, either, but that’s a seperate issue.

  186. #187 Jadehawk, OM
    January 9, 2010

    I am infinitely curious, EvolutionSkeptic. How exactly has ‘God’ earned your trust? Which ‘God’ will that be, and what has He/She/It done to deserve it?

    not that this isn’t a good question, but I don’t think it’s particularly useful right now to open up another line of discussion. A belief and trust in a god who doesn’t talk (presumably both to him and to others who claim otherwise), isn’t going to make much of a difference right now, and EvoSkeptic might already be getting overwhelmed with the evolution part of the discussion. :-p

  187. #188 janegael
    January 9, 2010

    tomarctomet — thank you for the astounding information on cladograms!! I’m a dinosaur nut so this is right up my alley. I’m actually far more interested in them than I am in human evolution. As far as I’m concerned genus homo was the biggest mistake Mother Nature ever made. We started out learning to survive and ended up blowing up buildings. Not much of an evolution to brag about and even less of a “creation.”

  188. #189 Kel, OM
    January 9, 2010

    However – though rarely do I disagree with your very reasonable opinions – I feel I must caution you against promoting technology (such as the computer) as the pinnacle of science.

    Yeah, it is bias given that I’m a computer programmer. But I don’t think I’m trying to sell it as a pinnacle, rather as something that can be directly observed by the person I’m talking to. While it’s not the pinnacle, it’s an immensely complex device that requires a strong grasp of the underlying nature of nature in order to harness it.

    In terms of achievements, the astounding predictive power of quantum electrodynamics stands out for me.

    It is true that technology exists because of the science underneath, but once the measurements have been taken and parameters established, technology sustains itself and requires no further rational thinking (perhaps I should allude at this point to creationist engineers and dentists we know and love so much).

    Indeed, but the drive for new technology is pushing the boundaries between the known and the unknown. The drive for room temperature superconductors or more efficient batteries stem directly from technological applications, but both are pushing forward the frontiers of scientific discovery. I felt it quite fitting that the Nobel Prize in physics last year went for two technological products that have revolutionised society.

    Science, as I am sure you’d agree, is much more than technology. It is a way of life; it is about rationality and skepticism – about generating hypotheses based on rational observations, gathering further empirical observations through painstaking work, critically analysing the available data, and rationally using that analysis as evidence for or against the hypotheses.

    I’d agree that it’s more more than technology, but I’d disagree that it’s a way of life – or at the very least shouldn’t be a way of life. It to my mind should be a methodology to use in evaluating claims, in trying to understand the nature of nature. But I wouldn’t want to use science to determine what music I like or what I want in a partner, or deciding what to read or watch (unless they are science-related).

    It is about continuous examination and re-evaluation of everything that we find around us – from the fundamental principles of the sciences to the ethical considerations pertaining to the human identity – accepting and retaining that which has evidentiary support, and disregarding that which has none.

    I’m all for the continuous examination and re-evaluation of everything, but I think you’re making a category error. While it’s nice to have science inform ethics, I wouldn’t want science to determine my ethics.

    That’s why Science works. It promotes clarity of thought and ideas, and provides a stable framework for understanding various aspects of life.

    Again, I’d tend to disagree on this. Science doesn’t work because it examines or re-evaluates over time. Any idea can do that too. The stagnation of homoeopathic ideas isn’t cause for its unscientific nature. And the concept of God has changed quite a lot in the last few thousand years, it’s been constantly examined and re-evaluated time and time again yet does not get anywhere.

  189. #190 jaranath
    January 9, 2010

    Sioux Laris:

    Actually, he already said he was uninformed. That’s why he’s here. There are many people who kinda sorta think some form of creationism is true vs. evolution because that’s the environment they’ve been in, but who aren’t plugged into the Discovery Institute and Answers in Genesis stuff and who have no idea who the players are.

    FYI, Evolutionskeptic, we don’t like the DI or AiG very much. In our experience they’re pretty dishonest. The DI is especially interesting. As I said in one of my earlier comments here, they claim to accept nearly everything about evolutionary biology. They claim their argument is simply that some of the steps in evolution are too improbable to have happened via natural mechanisms, and thus must have been the work of an unnamed Intelligent Designer. Besides the fact that such a proposition is a false dichotomy (“if your theory doesn’t explain it then mine MUST be true!”) it’s not really what the DI thinks. They believe the Designer is the Christian God of the Bible, and in practice they use an awful lot of the same tactics as good ‘ol Young-Earth creationists. Which is unsurprising, since they try to be “big tent” and successfully garner the support of YECs even though ostensibly they accept common descent and natural selection and reject the notion of a young (few thousand years old vs. billions) Earth.

    Take a look at the
    Wedge Document
    to see what I mean. (Short summary–: This is the “mission statement” of the DI, who claim publicly they don’t care who the Designer is and that they’re just doing science. It’s the DI’s Xenu.) You’ll find that both for the ID creationists like the DI and others, creationism is really always about the existence of God. It’s about either positively seeking to prove God exists with material evidence, or it’s about trying to tear down something (evolution, science, etc.) that they think can conclusively DISprove God’s existence, or at least weaken belief.

  190. #191 Roxolan
    January 9, 2010

    And as for Answers in Genesis, its reliability can be judged by its statement of faith ( http://www.answersingenesis.org/about/faith ), as well as the mere fact that it has one – scientists *never* make statements of faith about their discipline.

    “By definition, no apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the scriptural record.”

  191. #192 David Marjanovi?
    January 9, 2010

    So, finally, I can turn to comment 56…

    Why implicitly trust scientists and the scientific method?

    The method does sort of assume that scientists aren’t lying, but it is specifically designed to prevent them from fooling themselves ? and the easiest person for you to fool is always yourself.

    The scientific method has two parts, falsification and parsimony.

    The first simply says that if an idea ? or a prediction derived from that idea, more precisely ? contradicts an observation, the idea is wrong. “Wrong” can mean different things (see The Relativity of Wrong), and “observation” comes with a lot of complications (observations should be repeatable by anyone; ideally, it should be possible to arrange for them ? that’s called an experiment…), but these are the basics.

    The second says that when several ideas that have not been falsified so far explain the same evidence, those of them should be preferred that require the smallest number of extra assumptions. Falsification trumps parsimony, but much of what looks like falsification at first is actually a parsimony argument ? indeed, observations tend to rest on the principle of parsimony.

    It’s interesting that fraud seems to happen in science only under two sets of circumstances: when a lot of money is involved (research on cancer or stem cells), or as practical jokes that get out of hand (Piltdown Man is said to have been such a thing).

    Does it not raise questions about the motivations of these scientists when they simply move their conclusions whenever they find something new?

    Motivations don’t actually matter in science. There is such a thing as being right for the wrong reason.

    Michael Faraday discovered so much about the circulation of electricity that the unit of condensator capacity is named after him. What led him to these discoveries was the religious belief of the weird little sect he belonged to that circles were somehow sacred or something… Are physicists embarrassed? Do they try to keep that nonsense under a lid? Nope. It simply doesn’t matter.

    In this particular post, I don’t see the difference between the graph with the different pictured fossils and the text lineage Professor Myers places just below it. Can someone explain that to me?

    The picture shows a tree, with branching points. The text lineage shows a pole, without branching points. You didn’t take the picture literally enough. :-)

    Time passes strictly from bottom to top in both.

    If a species were to evolve into another one, why would that species continue to co-exist with its more well-adapted relative for millions years? Wouldn’t the more poorly adapted version be overtaken by the later version? And why would some individuals within a species evolve in a particular environment, while a decent number of individuals within said species would stay mostly static?

    Individuals don’t evolve (unless they’re Pokemon), populations do.

    So, what you need for cladogenesis (branching of the tree) to happen is a population that splits in two. The probably most common way this occurs is by simple geographic separation, as has been explained several times by now.

    Population = set of interbreeding individuals.

    With all the time and work that’s been invested in the theory of evolution, do you really think the scientific community would ever acknowledge it was wrong, regardless of the evidence? Would they allow counter-evidence to be published in this literature of which you wrote? It seems like a guy like Professor Myers (not to pick on him, necessarily, but ya know, he’s here and all) saying ugly things about Mr. Luskin would look a little silly if he were shown to be wrong. Yes? And are scientists willing to take that hit? Or will they, somewhat understandably, stick with evolution if only to protect their reputations?

    First of all I’ll quote Carl Sagan’s 1987 CSICOP keynote address:

    “In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know[,] that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.”

    Bureaucracies are faced with the problem of which scientists to hire, which ones to promote, to which ones award grants for their projects. The simple answer is “the best scientists”. So how do you measure the quality of a scientist?

    The simplest ways boil down to how much their publications are cited. If something is wrong, it’ll get cited by one or two rebuttals, and then everyone will just forget about it; if it founds an entire new discipline, it’ll get cited every day for decades.

    In other words, scientists are rewarded for figuring new things out. They are rewarded for blowing the consensus to smithereens. How do you get your paper on the title page of the most widely read and therefore most prestigious and therefore most widely read journal? By carefully demonstrating that everything we thought we knew is wrong, wrong, wrong. If your manuscript just says “so here we show that textbook wisdom is still true”, the editors will immediately reject it with the comment “boring” without even sending it out for peer review.

    This environment strongly selects for people with SIWOTI syndrome, as already mentioned.

    Previous revolutions in science bear this out. The controversy over continental drift ended within a few years when the theory of plate tectonics was developed in the 1960s based on a wealth of new data on ocean floors; the geologists accepted it instead of dying out. Similarly, though before the whole citation-counting business was invented, when Darwin’s book finally came out in 1859, the number of creationist biologists shrank very quickly (Thomas Henry Huxley ? check out his Wikipedia article ? famously said “How stupid of me not to have thought of this myself!”); the controversy ended in the 1870s when the last creationist biologists died, but there were only two of those (Richard Owen and Louis Agassiz), and their views were pretty hard to distinguish from evolution; everyone else had switched earlier.

    If you’re in science for the fame or the money, that’s like being a Catholic bishop for the women. That leaves the people who really are in it because they want to learn…

    “Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abyss nature leads, or you shall learn nothing.”
    ? Thomas Henry Huxley

    And are scientists willing to take that hit?

    Most are. The others tend to acquire a reputation as either assholes or little children who need a hug (I could name names).

    …Well, actually, I can name one name: several decades after his death, Henry Fairfield Osborn is still being ridiculed with epithets like “the only man who was capable of strutting while sitting down” because he was so sure he was right and was (on occasion) so wrong.

    Is the evidence for evolution so great that there is no real questioning it anymore?

    Yes, and that has been the state of affairs for a long time now. If you know of any evidence against evolution, please tell me, because I can’t think of any. :-|

    So would it be correct to say that evolution is proposed not to be a … um, how do I say this? Not to be a pursuit of perfection so much as a gradual shift toward being better suited to survive?

    Those that have more surviving fertile offspring have more surviving fertile offspring. (…Duh. I don’t say!)

    In other words, the offspring of those that had more surviving fertile offspring will be overrepresented in the next generation.

    Those who can best deal with the environment will have more surviving fertile offspring. (This is the exit from the tautology. This is the important part.)

    If the traits that allow them to deal with the environment better than the others are heritable, these traits will be overrepresented in the next generation.

    This is what is called natural selection. Really. That’s all there is to it.

    If the environment is stable, a population in it will soon be well enough adapted by this process, and then there will only be stabilizing selection anymore: any deviations will lead to fewer surviving fertile offspring, so the traits that cause such deviations will disappear from the population (as soon as a mutation creates them).

    If the environment changes, some deviation will offer an advantage. Directional selection.

    If the environment changes forth and then back, then directional selection will go forth and then back. Natural selection is entirely determined by the environment ? by the present environment, not the future.

    I imagine the presumption would be that our species is also the result of the evolutionary process.

    The evidence is quite overwhelming.

    My religion tells me I’m supposed to have a problem with that

    Ponder the fact that there are still Catholics even though the current and the previous pope have made explicit they have no problem with the theory of evolution.

  192. #193 JJ
    January 9, 2010

    EvolutionSkeptic:
    A good thing to understand – The difference between skepticism, denialism, critical thinking and the “open-mindness” fallacy

    A good video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T69TOuqaqXI&feature=player_embedded

  193. #194 raven
    January 9, 2010

    My religion tells me I’m supposed to have a problem with that

    It isn’t your religion of xianity. Worldwide most sects comprising most xians don’t have a problem with evolution.

    In fact, half the scientists in the USA are xians. Including biologists.

    If you mean your particular cult, it might. Religions are known for getting things wildly wrong. The Catholic church burnt Giordano Bruno at the stake and almost torched Galileo. For daring to accept that the earth orbited the sun.

    There are still a few Flat Earthers around. Most of them these days are Moslem “theologians”.

  194. #195 dialogician
    January 9, 2010

    @Evolution Skeptic:

    “evolution is proposed not to be a … um, how do I say this? Not to be a pursuit of perfection so much as a gradual shift toward being better suited to survive?”

    Exactly. It is not goal-oriented; random mutations simply cause some creatures, occasionally, to have abilites that their predecessors did not. (Or to lack abilities that their predecessors had — see also blind fish in caves.) If the mutation is neutral, it’s likely to be preserved. If it’s advantageous in a way that outcompetes the original creature on its own turf, it’ll predominate. If it causes the creature to be different in a way that gives it an advantage in a slightly different environment, you’ll likely have both populations surviving (and a speciation event, if it goes on for long enough). The whole process tends to be slow and gradual. Variations within a species are fairly impressive all by themselves (at 5’6″, I’m not a basketball recruit!); it’s not really strange that those variations could get concentrated in a way that leads to a different kind of lifeform.

  195. #196 Sioux Laris
    January 9, 2010

    I’ll chime in this one time, but certainly will not be slighting further comments that qualify:

    Kudos to the many, and subtly varied, explanations given to ES on this thread. They are some of the best I have read since coming here (years ago).

  196. #197 https://me.yahoo.com/hairychris444#96384
    January 9, 2010

    There are still a few Flat Earthers around. Most of them these days are Moslem “theologians”.

    Yes, this has to be obe of my favourite WTF YouTube videos. Christianity has a few hundred years of kind-of-enforced-progress over Islam. I would still be kind of worried if, as a westerner, my views were less advanced then the catholic church!

  197. #198 F
    January 9, 2010

    I’d really like to than EvolutionSkeptic and all the Pharyngulites for such an excellent thread. “Refreshing” is truly an accurate description.\

    I will not attempt to duplicate any of the excellent answers already given.

    EvolutionSkeptic did not know what a Pharyngula is. It is a stage of embryonic development. See small image and link right under PZ’s photo on this page.

    And for a different perspective, here is how non-science/crank “theories” (unfounded claims) are treated even when not particularly creationist: Balloon animals

    It isn’t all about mean atheists attacking christians. ;) Really.

  198. #199 dustycrickets
    January 9, 2010

    @196
    “They are some of the best I have read since coming here (years ago).”
    Posted by: Sioux Laris

    They’ve evidently been polishing (sharpening) their sniny fangs.

  199. #200 MetzO'Magic
    January 9, 2010

    David M. @ 171

    56 75 87 100 126

    Oops. Forgot to remove the note to self before posting.

    Thanks bejaysus for that. We thought you were playing Creationist Bingo™ and had a much bigger card than the rest of us.

  200. #201 A. Noyd
    January 9, 2010

    EvolutionSkeptic (#87)

    With all the time and work that’s been invested in the theory of evolution, do you really think the scientific community would ever acknowledge it was wrong, regardless of the evidence?

    I’ll give you an analogy to illustrate a major problem with your thinking here. Let’s say that you’ve spent an initial $50,000 out of an estimated $400k to start building a restaurant that, when done, will serve roadkill. You believe that most people would like roadkill if it was cooked right. Then suppose that a skeptical friend does a poll asking people in the area if they’d eat at your restaurant. Her results show enough people can’t get over the idea of eating roadkill even if it were to taste great. Would it be better to ignore your friend’s information and keep building just because you’ve already invested $50,000? Or would it be smartest to check her results with your own poll and, if your results match, change your plans so you don’t waste even more money? Like you with your partially-built roadkill restaurant, scientists stand to lose far more by ignoring reality and sticking with an investment based on incorrect information.

    And here’s a related analogy to show why scientists aren’t dogmatically dismissing creationist attempts to tear down evolution. Suppose that you are an accomplished restauranteer with a chain of vegetarian restaurants. You’ve done the research that shows a large number of meat-hating yuppies have started living in a particular neighborhood in the last decade, but the only restaurants there are all about the hamburgers, steaks, roasts, etc. This is just the situation that your current restaurants are thriving under, so you start building another location. Then suppose your skeptical friend tells you he believes your latest location will fail horribly. He won’t give you any reasons, but keeps bothering you to stop building. Would it be better to trust your friend over your extensive experience and research? Or should you demand he give you something more concrete than his feelings? Creationists, much like your friend in this example, don’t offer any compelling reasons to worry that evolution, in whole or in parts, might be wrong.

  201. #202 Islander
    January 9, 2010

    On the other hand, what seems to me an even larger affront to the dignity of mind is the ongoing crap about how 9-11, et.al. all happened under Clinton. There have been too many examples to note lately, but Rudy’s latest REALLY takes the cake.

    http://thetimchannel.wordpress.com/2010/01/09/mr-911-gets-amnesia-we-had-no-domestic-attacks-under-bush-weve-had-one-under-obama-video-tpm-livewire/

    Enjoy.

    Still blogwhoring, Timchannel? How many times do you need to be called on it?

  202. #203 AdamK
    January 9, 2010

    The sign-in worked!
    It’s a miracle!

  203. #204 chuckgoecke
    January 9, 2010

    Evolution Skeptic, You are probably getting the feeling you are some sort of Rock Star here. Well, it’s because folks like you, skeptics of evolution who are open minded, and willing to have a nice discussion, are as rare as transitional fossils! If you decide to stay on and hangout for a while, there another similar blog-like site , about equal in activity and bright fun posters; its Richard Dawkin’s site http://www.richarddawkins.net Its different from this site, not really a blog, slightly commercial, and professionally hosted, and more of an evolution and science news(and some politics) commentary site. These two sites keep me informed and busy just about every day.

  204. #205 timrowledge
    January 9, 2010

    It is true that technology exists because of the science underneath, but once the measurements have been taken and parameters established, technology sustains itself and requires no further rational thinking (perhaps I should allude at this point to creationist engineers and dentists we know and love so much).

    Y’what? Technology requires no further rational thinking? Do you actually have any clue about the subject?
    In case you hadn’t noticed quite a lot of actual research is done by people with engineering degrees and quite a lot of engineering is done by people with ‘pure’ science degrees. My first degree was a Bachelor of Science in engineering. Would anyone like to explain to me where exactly the ‘rational thinking’ stops? How about explaining why my research work in user interfaces wasn’t real research simply because I’m an engineer?

    Science and technology are part of a continuum, not separate – let alone competing – activities.

  205. #206 H.H.
    January 9, 2010

    I do not see how this in any way invalidates Tiktaalik as a transitional form. The comparitive cladistic diagrams that PZ provided seemed to make that clear enough. I do not see what argument these creationists are trying to make. Am I missing something?

    The argument creationists are trying to make is (paraphrased): “Tiktaalik is supposed to be the evolutionary precursor to tetrapods, yet was discovered during time when tetrapods already existed. Therefore the claim that Tiktaalik is a transitional species is false!” The reason Luskin is eager to make this argument is because creationists love to make the claim that “no true transitional fossils exist.” They do this largely by giving transitional fossils a definition not used by the scientific community. As PZ points out, a transitional fossil belongs to an expected group of species. Scientists don’t require a claim of direct ancestry. So Luskin’s argument is a non-starter. But additionally, nothing about being found 10 million years after the first tetrapods means that Tiktaalik isn’t the direct ancestor either. A parent species may live and evolve alongside a daughter species indefinitely. There’s no rule in biology that says a parent species has to go exist.

  206. #207 Miki Z
    January 9, 2010

    timrowledge,

    The research done is to improve technology, not to sustain it. I doubt that anyone here believes no research is happening in technology — it would be delusional or denialist to think so. Rather, computers (for instance) need not be understood any better than they are right now to keep building them as they are right now indefinitely. Most of us would not be happy with that situation.

  207. #208 Owlmirror
    January 10, 2010

    Lots of great comments and followups have already said more or less what I would have wanted to say, I think.

    Still:

    Jadehawk @#152

    They just live at approximately the same time, in approximately similar places (not even in the same places: Tiktaalik is from Canada, this new walking critter is from Poland!)

    And not the same environments, either: Shubin specifically looked for the geological signs of a stream/river when looking for Tiktaalik; Per Ahlberg (in the video on Nature) pointed out that the geology that these footprints were found in a matches a shallow marine environment.

    Interestingly, I remember that Shubin wrote that they knew they were looking in the wrong place on Ellesmere Island (at first) because they were finding deeper marine geology, so they stopped and started searching elsewhere until they found their river geology. But if they had looked for shallow marine geology instead, perhaps they would have found similar footprints, or the footprint-maker(s), or close cousins of the footprint-maker(s)…

    when a species has a stable niche, it’s good enough and won’t evolve.

    Well… given that mutations do keep on occurring, it might still evolve, even if those traits that are essential to the organisms surviving in that niche stay more or less the same.

    ==============

    EvolutionSkeptic @#167

    The only one I entirely trust is God, and he ain’t talking, as far as I know.

    When you say that you entirely trust God … what is it exactly that you are trusting?

    You don’t have to answer that, but it’s worth thinking about.

    We’ve had creationists come here and tell us flat out that evolution was “invented” to deny God, or that we were working from different “assumptions” that deny God. That was one of the more infuriatingly wrong things that creationists say, and more infuriatingly so when creationists keep repeating it.

    Science does not assume that God doesn’t exist (or that that God exists, either). The only assumption in science is that physical reality, the empirical world, is not a lie; a deliberate trick being played on us, or something that changes (or was changed) radically, possibly at the whim of an all-powerful being, in such a way that we have no way whatsoever to detect these changes. Or if it is a lie, it’s a lie that’s completely consistent in every single observation made, so we might as well treat these details as the provisional truth.

    I think that’s pretty much it.

    Oh, and this is an explanation of basic palaeontological concepts, and this is an easy-to-understand explanation of both misconceptions about transitional fossils, and the actual transitional characteristics of fossils that palaeontologists look for and compare.

    (David Marjanovi? has pointed out that some of the anatomical information in the second link is a bit outdated — but I think it still succeeds at its point, which is to get the basic concepts across to a layperson.)

  208. #209 EvolutionSkeptic
    January 10, 2010

    Well, I got back from a bar with my friend about 20 minutes or so ago and had to check in here one more time to read up to #207. He says I’m hooked now. But I’m a little drunk, so it could be that (don’t worry … he drove, and I’m crashing on the couch :) )

    Thanks again for all the thoughtful replies that have continued well into the evening … well, at least, for me. Who knows where all you are. It could be mid-afternoon for you.

    @kausik.datta #185
    God has earned my trust by creating everything in the first place and by being God. I understand many atheists aren’t going to get that, and I’m OK with that, but it is what it is. The question’s fair, I think. But regardless of your evaluation of my answer, I do look forward to learning about the potential for evolution.

    No, my skepticism is not entirely informed, Sioux Laris … as jaranath says. I’ll readily admit that. I don’t know off-hand the names of the scientists’ work that I’ve read. I’d have to go back and find exactly what I’ve read to tell you. But I’ll gladly acknowledge that they may not have been the most forthcoming.

    Interesting video, JJ. I thought the comparison to a court of law was particularly apt. I may need to watch it again to really absorb it. I’ll save the link.

    Ah, OK, F. I see that Professor Myers even has a link there to what a Pharyngula is. After reading the information at the link, I still don’t exactly know what it says, but “a stage of embryonic development” is descriptive enough.

    Thanks for the link, chuckgoecke. I’ll have to take a look at that when I get a chance. He’s the guy who wrote that “Greatest Show on Earth” book, right? I’m heading to the library Monday to see if they’ve got that book. Maybe I’ll check out his site sometime Sunday after church. I don’t know about a “Rock Star” so much, but the imagery is entertaining. I’m just so surprised to find so many knowledgeable, helpful people on here. I was expecting about three replies, at best. I’ll let Professor Myers take the “Rock Star” label. :)

  209. #210 Owlmirror
    January 10, 2010
    when a species has a stable niche, it’s good enough and won’t evolve.

    Well… given that mutations do keep on occurring, it might still evolve, even if those traits that are essential to the organisms surviving in that niche stay more or less the same.

    And just following up on this a bit for ES’s edification:

    There’s an ongoing debate in biology over whether natural selection is more significant in causing changes in organisms, or whether it’s really down to genetic drift — accumulated mutations that don’t hurt the organism, but don’t provide a significant advantage in an environment, either.

    Remember, accumulated mutations that do hurt the organism will be selected out.

    In addition to natural selection, there’s also what’s called sexual selection. Given that (almost) all multi-celled animals reproduce sexually, and that reproduction is so critical for evolution, a population can diverge because of some trait that for whatever reason affects mate choice — for example, birds that have the same general body types, and perhaps even the same general diet, but have different colour feathers, and mates are preferentially chosen based on the color(s) of their feathers. Again, keep in mind that genetic drift can and does happen.

  210. #211 kausik.datta
    January 10, 2010

    EvolutionSkeptic:

    God has earned my trust by creating everything in the first place and by being God.

    And how do you know that? Surely you weren’t there, were you?
    [Sorry Jadehawk, I couldn't resist.]

  211. #212 JackC
    January 10, 2010

    Evolution Skeptic – Welcome!

    I am not going to do anything here (I cannot possibly add to the comments above), but I would like to maybe add a book to your reading list. And it is NOT about evloution (per se anyway) – it is about Science and the Scientific method – specifically, about extraordinarily well known scientists – who get it wrong.

    BADLY wrong

    And how we know that and how we correct it.

    The book is “The Undergrowth of Science – Delusion, Self-Deception and Human Frailty” by Graetzer

    It’s an easy read and contains some pretty interesting stuff. Note that this is not a book of crackpots and lunacy – but ostensibly GOOD scientists that for a variety of reasons went the wrong way – and how this was corrected (sometimes not well by those on the wrong path).

    I haven’t read all that is here, but I feel you probably deserve some award for initially admitting your Christianity right up front, and yet maintaining a civil tone for as far as I could see down the thread.

    That is rare, if not unique.

    JC

  212. #213 kausik.datta
    January 10, 2010

    Kel at #189: Thank you for your reasoned response.

    Yeah, it is bias given that I’m a computer programmer… While it’s not the pinnacle, it’s an immensely complex device that requires a strong grasp of the underlying nature of nature in order to harness it.

    I don’t disagree with you on that, but is it universally true? Consider for a moment a computer programmer (CP), who is not Kel. Assume that this CP is adept at several programming languages, understands commands, structures, routines, subroutines and so forth, and is capable of breaking down complex situations to bits in order to provide efficient solutions. But does any of that prowess and required logical thinking underneath necessarily transfer to her/his life, outside the circuitry of computers? In other words, will a clever programmer perforce be rational, skeptical, and analytical in daily life – just by virtue of her/his training? Are you, Kel, OM, Computer Programmer, not a skeptic/analytic by instinct, rather than by training?

    I am sure you are, and this is why I call Science a way of life, an attitude. Science doesn’t stop at work. The highest degree in Science and scientific research is a PhD, a doctorate in Philosophy, because science is a philosophy; science is a way of discovery and knowledge, and technology is borne directly out of it. The ‘drive for new technology’ that you mention is, of course, pushing the boundaries between the known and the unknown, but if you think carefully, isn’t it the underlying scientific research that sustains this drive? You found it fitting that the Nobel Prize in physics last year went for two technological products that have revolutionised society. But the science hasn’t stopped with it, has it?

    …I’d disagree that it’s a way of life – or at the very least shouldn’t be a way of life. It to my mind should be a methodology to use in evaluating claims, in trying to understand the nature of nature. But I wouldn’t want to use science to determine what music I like or what I want in a partner, or deciding what to read or watch (unless they are science-related).

    I am in agreement with you about the methodological aspect of science. But to me it is honestly more than just a tool. To me, science represents the spirit of enquiry; it excites me because it forever pushes the boundaries of knowledge. What music I like depends on my mood, my emotional status, my personality, and my environment (which in all probability is very different from yours); who’s to say there is no science to it?

    I’m all for the continuous examination and re-evaluation of everything, but I think you’re making a category error. While it’s nice to have science inform ethics, I wouldn’t want science to determine my ethics.

    Science is but a name for rational enquiry and critical analysis. Wouldn’t you want your ethics to be determined on rational considerations? (Or perhaps I am misreading what you mean by ‘inform’ and ‘determine’?).

    Science doesn’t work because it examines or re-evaluates over time. Any idea can do that too. The stagnation of homoeopathic ideas isn’t cause for its unscientific nature.

    Yes, but just any idea doesn’t, does it? Science examines and re-evaluates over time, but critically, analytically – which is why untenable ideas (theories, hypotheses) get thrown away once the empirical evidence fails to support it. Science engenders this spirit of constant enquiry, and sustains it. Can religion say the same?
    The stagnation of homeopathic ideas isn’t cause for its unscientific nature, but is the direct result thereof – wouldn’t you say?

    And the concept of God has changed quite a lot in the last few thousand years, it’s been constantly examined and re-evaluated time and time again yet does not get anywhere.

    Yes, but to paraphrase the squidmaster, one cannot apply reason to examine an idea that one did not use reason to arrive at in the first place, no?

  213. #214 Kel, OM
    January 10, 2010

    Going to branch into some pseudo-theology here, but if there were a God why would He write the book of nature in English or Hebrew or any other language? Surely the book of nature would be nature itself. This is what I don’t get about creationists. They have senses by which to examine the world, they have a brain by which to understand what they are experiencing. So it would make sense to look at nature for what it is right? Well no, it seems that they are quite content to read a mythic narrative (mythic neither being true or false) and then complain that nature doesn’t fit the myth (or lie and say that it does fit the myth).

    Have we not eyes to see? Have we not ears to hear? Have we not brains to comprehend what we see and hear? Surely looking at the evidence is the way to understand how nature works, and the book of God is a way to understand our relationship with God. Otherwise there are such disparities as to think that those measuring are off by such a large degree that they think that the width of a room is the width of North America. That’s a huge error on what is meant to be reliable senses and thought processes.

    This is what I cannot get about creationists. They are so wrapped up in the Word being gods that they ignore the complete contradiction of Nature. If God is the author of Nature, then surely Nature is where to look to find God. Men author books, not God. It seems quite a strange inversion of attribution when we are ascribing to God the word of men, and to lying men what should be the Word of God.

    [/pseudo-theology]

  214. #215 MrFire
    January 10, 2010

    Adding another voice to the chorus: It’s a pleasure to see your open-mindedness, EvolutionSkeptic. And don’t ever take anyone’s word for it, including ours. Just stay honest with yourself, accept the arguments that seem most logical to you, be prepared to change that view based on a more logical argument, and see where that leads you.

    But am I wrong in saying we’re all animals, just like any other one?

    More than that; we’re all related. All life on Earth, as far as is known, I think. My favorite little mind-blower is this thought: one of your direct descendants (and mine!), way way back in the distant past, was a single-celled micro-organism. Some of your distant, distant cousins still are. And there may be lifeforms in the remote future, our direct descendants nevertheless, who may see us the way we see those single-celled organisms.

    It’s an unnerving and sobering thought at first, but that’s also what makes it so awesome.

  215. #216 John Morales
    January 10, 2010

    kausik,

    Yes, but to paraphrase the squidmaster, one cannot apply reason to examine an idea that one did not use reason to arrive at in the first place, no?

    I think one can, but it depends on honestly and critically examining the idea; the unstated premise above is that if an idea was acquired other by reason, its holder will not apply reason to it.

    Notice: ‘will not’, rather than ‘can not’.

    People are complicated.

  216. #217 Kel, OM
    January 10, 2010

    I don’t disagree with you on that, but is it universally true? Consider for a moment a computer programmer (CP), who is not Kel. Assume that this CP is adept at several programming languages, understands commands, structures, routines, subroutines and so forth, and is capable of breaking down complex situations to bits in order to provide efficient solutions. But does any of that prowess and required logical thinking underneath necessarily transfer to her/his life, outside the circuitry of computers? In other words, will a clever programmer perforce be rational, skeptical, and analytical in daily life – just by virtue of her/his training? Are you, Kel, OM, Computer Programmer, not a skeptic/analytic by instinct, rather than by training?

    That’s an interesting question? To be honest, I’m not sure. I was sceptical / analytic long before I became a programmer, programming is just an interesting tool in building things. But was that instinct or training? I don’t know. A mixture of both really I guess. That’s a really tough thing to answer, since I don’t have the 25 years of my life as data points I can examine. Which I suppose might say something about my nature.

    I am sure you are, and this is why I call Science a way of life, an attitude. Science doesn’t stop at work. The highest degree in Science and scientific research is a PhD, a doctorate in Philosophy, because science is a philosophy; science is a way of discovery and knowledge, and technology is borne directly out of it.

    This is where I think you’re equivocating the term science. On the one hand there’s the methodology applied to a processing of a body of knowledge. On the other, there’s the much broader encompassing of that same methodology into all facets of life. I don’t disagree with you that taking critical thinking skills beyond the scientific disciplines, but it would be a mistake to say that it’s science when thinking critically about politics or ethics or philosophy. It would be like referring to evolution in one sentence that life has evolved over time then in the next use it as short hand for the modern synthesis. I get what your trying to say and I don’t disagree, I’m just trying to highlight the problem with referring to critical thinking / scepticism / rational inquiry as science.

    The ‘drive for new technology’ that you mention is, of course, pushing the boundaries between the known and the unknown, but if you think carefully, isn’t it the underlying scientific research that sustains this drive? You found it fitting that the Nobel Prize in physics last year went for two technological products that have revolutionised society. But the science hasn’t stopped with it, has it?

    Honestly I’d be hesitant to try to put it in one camp or the other. Surely technology and the drive for innovation can impact on science as much as science can impact on technology. To go back to the battery example I used earlier, surely the drive for more efficient batteries is coming more from the energy demands of the market that the drive to find out new things about nature. At the same time, technology can also be a bi-product from the pursuit of knowledge (such as the world wide web coming out of particle physics research) or even as a direct consequence of gaining knowledge (the transistor being a deliberate invention).

    I don’t think you’ll ever find a one-way relationship between science and technology (and society even).

    What music I like depends on my mood, my emotional status, my personality, and my environment (which in all probability is very different from yours); who’s to say there is no science to it?

    I’m just saying I wouldn’t use science to derive what music I listen to.

    Science is but a name for rational enquiry and critical analysis. Wouldn’t you want your ethics to be determined on rational considerations? (Or perhaps I am misreading what you mean by ‘inform’ and ‘determine’?).

    Rational considerations? Yes. Science? No. I’d want science to inform me on considerations, but I wouldn’t derive it from science itself. As David Hume would say, the ought doesn’t follow from the is.

    Can religion say the same?

    Actually, it can. Take away the YECs and the OECs, and you’re left with a majority of Christians who accept evolution and God being the instigator and occasional intervener. Take what the Archbishop of Canterbury calls God and what was around only a few hundred years ago, and it’s a radically different entity that has been shaped and limited by natural inquiry.

    Buddhism is another example, that there are schools now in which Buddhist monks are being taught that when their dogma conflicts with science that their dogma is wrong.

    The stagnation of homeopathic ideas isn’t cause for its unscientific nature, but is the direct result thereof – wouldn’t you say?

    The stagnation of homosopathic ideas is to my mind more to do with the commercial success of the practice than anything else. If people were actually turned away by its unscientific nature, or the countless papers showing that it’s nothing more than a placebo, then I’m sure there would be those who adapt the practice just slightly. A few years ago on a website I gave a critique of homoeopathy to which I got the response “That was the old homoeopathy”, and something about the tiniest difference in practice meant that all my objections suddenly became invalid. Lipstick on a pig really ;)

    Yes, but to paraphrase the squidmaster, one cannot apply reason to examine an idea that one did not use reason to arrive at in the first place, no?

    They can (and do) try. Not everyone is a biblical literalist YEC who thinks that humanity was damned by a smooth-talking snake talking up the merits of fruit that gives knowledge to soul-infused golems.

  217. #218 Rorschach
    January 10, 2010

    Yeah, it’s refreshing to see a creationist come here and actually ask honest questions instead of smugly posting the same old and already refuted arguments as if they knew more about evolution than the scientists

    I doubt this person is a creationist.
    He appears rather open-minded, and seems to have some intelligence.

    I wonder if the scientists have too much invested in the theory of evolution and are rather resistant to counter evidence, seeing as it would appear to invalidate many of their statements and research. Why should I not consider this to be the case?

    Thousands of scientists from different fields have accumulated evidence for evolution over 150 years, they are not all part of a global conspiracy to fuck with your creation myths.
    Christians have heavy investments in the outcome of their “science”, you need to understand that scientists in general do not have such investments.Also, the fact that so many scientists all over the world, in different teams, labs, locations, work on the same thing, introduces a very powerful self-corrective.

  218. #219 Maslab
    January 10, 2010

    It is heartwarming to see an evolutionary skeptic actually curious about the subject and wanting to learn more, especially when I’ve got a friend who currently acts deaf whenever I try explaining what a scientific theory is. Next time he brings it up I plan on letting him have it. Smugness is annoying.

    Kudos to you, EvolutionSkeptic.

    @Kel #214: That is possibly one of the best arguments I’ve ever seen/heard against the bible. I am now intensely curious to know what some religious folk would make of it, so I will be asking them.

  219. #220 Rorschach
    January 10, 2010

    Kel @ 214,

    If God is the author of Nature, then surely Nature is where to look to find God.

    That was Paley’s idea, IIRC. It’s what the whole natural theology business was based on.

  220. #221 Snoof
    January 10, 2010

    I realise this has already been answered, but I just wanted to add something –

    With all the time and work that’s been invested in the theory of evolution Newtonian mechanics, do you really think the scientific community would ever acknowledge it was wrong, regardless of the evidence?

    Add this substitution and the answer becomes a resounding “Yes”. The historical evidence suggests that no matter how attached people get to certain theories, they _will_ get replaced if a better one comes along.

  221. #222 Rorschach
    January 10, 2010

    This just popped up in the sidebar quote :

    Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts don’t go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein’s theory of gravitation replaced Newton’s in this century, but apples didn’t suspend themselves in midair, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from ape- like ancestors whether they did so by Darwin’s proposed mechanism or by some other yet to be discovered.

    Stephen Jay Gould, “Evolution as Fact and Theory” Science and Creationism, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), p. 118.

  222. #223 Kel, OM
    January 10, 2010

    @Kel #214: That is possibly one of the best arguments I’ve ever seen/heard against the bible. I am now intensely curious to know what some religious folk would make of it, so I will be asking them.

    Just omit the part about me being an atheist if you can, don’t want the idea tainted by existing prejudice.

    That was Paley’s idea, IIRC. It’s what the whole natural theology business was based on.

    The idea has been around long before Paley, and has gone on long since then. Even in David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion he had a character arguing natural theology.

  223. #224 Sven DiMilo
    January 10, 2010

    In addition to natural selection, there’s also what’s called sexual selection…a population can diverge because of some trait that for whatever reason affects mate choice

    True, but mate choice (“intersexual selection”) is only half of the sexual selection concept. (“Selection” in “sexual selection” does not mean “choice,” it means the same thing as in “natural selection”.) Intrasexual selection is competition (including actual combat) among males for access to females. As a whole, sexual selection is best defined as “differential reproduction due to differential mating sucess.” As opposed to natural selection sensu stricto, which is differential reproduction due to differential survival or fecundity.

    one of your direct descendants (and mine!), way way back in the distant past, was a single-celled micro-organism

    Assuming you’re not postulating some sort of giant wheel of reincarnation, and that therefore you mean “ancestors” instead of “descendants,” then the vast majority of your direct ancestors (and mine!) were microbes.

  224. #225 Gregory Greenwood
    January 10, 2010

    H.H @ 206;

    Thanks. I have a better idea of what the creationist line on this stuff is now. As I suspected, their position makes precious little sense and relies upon the use of a wanton oversimplification of evolutionary theory to create a strawman for them to attack. It is also interesting to note that Luskin thinks he can redefine scientific terminology at will in a bid to manufacture a basis for his argument. I wonder when (or if) he will work out that he is not the one framing the terms of the debate

    So all in all there is nothing new here. Same old failed arguments, new coat of pseudo-scientific paint. Why am I not surprised?

  225. #226 David Marjanovi?
    January 10, 2010

    The highest degree in Science and scientific research is a PhD, a doctorate in Philosophy, because science is a philosophy

    That’s not some kind of universal fact. Over here, this nonsense was stopped several decades ago. I will get a doctorate in natural sciences, not in philosophy.

    Science theory belongs to philosophy, but science is an application of that, it is not itself philosophy. Philosophy is that which deals with just thinking, not with the real world outside my head.

    Just stay honest with yourself, accept the arguments that seem most logical to you, be prepared to change that view based on a more logical argument, and see where that leads you.

    Well, “logical”… be careful with that. Most of what is logical is nonetheless wrong, and most of what appears obvious is neither logical nor correct. Much of reality is deeply counterintuitive ? you don’t even need to go into quantum physics or relativity for that.

    Accept only falsification and parsimony. Reality is stranger than fiction.

    we’re all related. All life on Earth, as far as is known, I think.

    Absolutely. All known life shares lots and lots of features that it doesn’t need to share. Why exactly these four bases? Why DNA at all and not a protein or something? Why just these 20 amino acids in proteins, out of 800 that occur in living beings? And these are just the basics. There are gene duplications that must have happened before LUCA (the Last Universal Common Ancestor) because every known living being possesses descendants of both duplicates…

    My favorite little mind-blower is this thought: one of your direct descendants (and mine!), way way back in the distant past

    That’s an ancestor, not a descendant.

  226. #227 David Marjanovi?
    January 10, 2010

    Intrasexual selection is competition (including actual combat) among males for access to females.

    Or, in rarer cases, the other way around!

    As I suspected, their position makes precious little sense and relies upon the use of a wanton oversimplification of evolutionary theory to create a strawman for them to attack.

    In most cases, I think, this is not even deliberate. The oversimplification is all they know of the theory of evolution; thanks to the Dunning-Kruger effect, they really believe that’s all there is to it. They don’t notice they’re erecting a strawman; they honestly believe it’s the real thing.

    One exception is Jonathan Wells, the guy “who couldn’t think if Reverend Moon told him to think” (Glen Davidson). He’s bullshitting, and proudly says so.

    It is also interesting to note that Luskin thinks he can redefine scientific terminology at will in a bid to manufacture a basis for his argument.

    Well, first, he doesn’t understand the scientific terminology, so he doesn’t understand what he’s doing. And second, he’s a lawyer.

  227. #228 'Tis Himself, OM
    January 10, 2010

    I missed something from way upstream:

    dutchdoc #66

    Luskin isn’t any kind of scientist. He has a law degree.

    How does having a law degree prevent you from also being a scientist? You may not agree with the man’s opinions, but Luskin DOES have a B.S. and M.S. in Earth Sciences from University of California, San Diego, and worked as a geologist before turning to law. Don’t make the same dishonest remarks that you accuse your opponents of. Do some (very simple and basic) research.

    This is correct. Having a law degree doesn’t prevent someone from being a scientist. Edwin Hubble originally got a law degree and then became an astronomer. Although the example of Andrew Schlafly does argue that sometimes the burden of being a lawyer can be overwhelming when confronted with actual science.

    However, despite Luskin’s scientific degrees, he cannot be considered in any way, shape or form to be a scientist. Being a scientist means doing science. Luskin does anti-science.

  228. #229 Blind Squirrel FCD
    January 10, 2010

    Once again, Newtonian physics was not replaced by relativity. It was augmented! Time to drive a stake through the heart of this canard. (Again)

    BS

  229. #230 Gregory Greenwood
    January 10, 2010

    David Marjanovi? @ 227;

    Well, first, he doesn’t understand the scientific terminology, so he doesn’t understand what he’s doing. And second, he’s a lawyer.

    A lawyer you say? Well, that explains a lot.

    *ducks various thrown objects, then runs for cover*

  230. #231 Gregory Greenwood
    January 10, 2010

    Blind Squirrel FCD @ 229;

    Once again, Newtonian physics was not replaced by relativity. It was augmented! Time to drive a stake through the heart of this canard. (Again)

    Unfortunately, ideas like this are somewhat reminiscent of Dracula from the old Hammer House of Horror movies. No matter how completely you thought you staked/decapitated/burned-to-a-crisp-in-sunlight the monster last time, you can guarenteee it will be back for the sequel. And the sequel after that. And the one after that, seemingly indefinately.

    Then you think you have caught a break with a few years of peace, only to discover that Stephanie Meyer has written a little book called Twilight, and suddenly you are confronted with something far worse than the risen dead; legions of teenage ‘Twi-hard’ fanatics.

    Ohh, the horror!

  231. #232 Snoof
    January 10, 2010

    Once again, Newtonian physics was not replaced by relativity. It was augmented! Time to drive a stake through the heart of this canard. (Again)

    Fine. Would it be more accurate to say that Newtonian mechanics is invalid in certain domains? (Specifically those where velocities approach c and uh, wherever GR applies.)

  232. #233 Blind Squirrel FCD
    January 10, 2010

    Snoof:
    Much better. IIRC,at the time of Einstein, the only manifestation of any problem with Newton was a pesky discrepancy with the orbit of Mercury. Anyone?

    BS

  233. #234 co
    January 10, 2010

    Once again, Newtonian physics was not replaced by relativity. It was augmented! Time to drive a stake through the heart of this canard. (Again)

    How is it a canard? It says nothing of the motivations of the progenitor(s) of GR, nor of the limitations of Newtonian gravity. Would one say that Dirac merely augmented Schroedinger’s equation to make it relativistically valid?
    The only reason I’d see to insist that GR is only an augmentation of Newton’s gravity is for pedagogical purposes. And students are clever enough to see in which regimes one can use Newton’s equation, and in which regimes one must crank through GR.

  234. #235 co
    January 10, 2010

    There were also occultation effects noticed (during eclipses), which had to be explained, and the fact that Newtonian mechanics was not Lorentz invariant, whereas Maxwell’s equations were (the latter is more an argument for SR, but then one has to explain what will happen in the case of gravitation).

  235. #236 Ring Tailed Lemurian
    January 10, 2010

    In my post (#52) I asked if research such as this has any implications for the dating of evolutionary changes and/or the relationships between species, and, if not, why not?
    (I also have some vague memory of reports of a large (10? 12?) percentage of the primate genone being introduced by retroviruses (?) about 44/45 (?) mya, but can’t find the (sometime in 2009) New Scientist article that I got that from).
    I would have thought that if not all our DNA (excluding mutations) comes from our ancestors then we might have to rethink relationships based on genetic similarities/diffences.

    I haven’t had any replies yet.*

    Is this because
    a) It’s such a stupid question? (Quite possible, genetics is one of the many subjects I know virtually nothing about, and I would have expected to read something about this (from creotards going Hah! if noone else) and I would have expected a few here to point out what an idiot I am if that was so) :)
    b) Nobody can answer it? (Quite impossible, I would have thought)
    c) Everyone was having too much fun providing such excellent answers to EvolutionSkeptic’s questions which appeared almost immediately after my post?
    or d) Some other reason?

    If there is somewhere else better suited to answering my question, could someone direct me there, please?

    * although I have had a few replies (thanks to those concerned, I don’t know how I had never noticed, d’oh) pointing out that embedded link addresses appear in the bar at the bottom of browsers if you hold the cursor over the embedded link.

  236. #237 jaranath
    January 10, 2010

    co:

    I dunno in which ways you might or might not see it as a canard. But as I said above, the problem I have with it is that many people (even the general non-creationist public) tend to think “oh, those dumb scientists, they’re always thinking up huge elaborate theories and then COMPLETELY REWRITING THEM EVERY DECADE.” Not just modifying and improving and adding new chapters, but totally rewriting. You know, like last decade physics was a horror movie and this decade it’s a romantic comedy.

    So the strength of science, its downright eagerness to constantly write new, incrementally and progressively improved drafts, gets cast as a weakness through a fundamental misrepresentation.

    Which isn’t to say we don’t, on occasion, decide we really SHOULD have been writing a romantic comedy…

  237. #238 co
    January 10, 2010

    [...] as I said above, the problem I have with it is that many people (even the general non-creationist public) tend to think “oh, those dumb scientists, they’re always thinking up huge elaborate theories and then COMPLETELY REWRITING THEM EVERY DECADE.”

    You may be right. In that case, there is a very general failing with how the history of *knowing* is being taught. At least at the college level, every student I’ve known has been able to tell that knowledge changes, and hopefully we’re figuring out more accurate ways of describing the world.
    And, of course, I’ve known some very uneducated people, of the farmer and rancher and shipyard worker and general roustabout type, who, if we talked about such matters, didn’t see science as a complete rewriting of anything, but rather as a progression in knowledge (rather like improving medical techniques, etc.).
    Is the public—seriously—at such odds with reality these days? Or are we talking about a vocal minority?

  238. #239 Blind Squirrel FCD
    January 10, 2010

    jaranath;
    Exactly. The fact remains that Newtonian physics works just fine for 99+% every day applications. Hardly a “replacement”.
    co: Thanks. I had forgotten that.

    BS

  239. #240 co
    January 10, 2010

    Just to add, there were also questions about redshifted spectrum lines as light passed by massive objects (this is one of the three tests, along with orbital progression and occultation effects, that Einstein proposed for GR).

  240. #241 'Tis Himself, OM
    January 10, 2010

    I read somewhere that Classical Physics works well if one assumes C to be infinite and Planck’s Constant to be zero.

  241. #242 Blind Squirrel FCD
    January 10, 2010

    co: Did you mean orbital precession?

    BS

  242. #243 jaranath
    January 10, 2010

    RTL:

    For me, it’s a mix of B and C. I’m not enough of an expert on endogenous viruses. However, ERV is, so you might wanna check out
    her post on this.

    It’s not clear from your comment, but if you didn’t know, this isn’t exactly news. Well, the bornavirus doing it is, but we’ve known for a long time that we have a LOT of endogenous retroviruses, especially in the “junk” part of our genome. And yes, they can be another good line of evidence in tracing evolutionary relationships. This isn’t affecting the notion of inheriting most of our genomes from our ancestors, because the evidence already bears that solidly out. However, we recognize today that there is the potential for lateral gene transfer. There are also some new theories I know next to nothing about which suggest the earliest forms of life may have had massive lateral transfer.

    Mind-blowingest thing I’ve learned so far from ERV is that some of our genes use key genetic components–promoters, iirc?–that we picked up from viruses. In other words, our FUNCTIONAL genome is partly “stolen” from viruses.

  243. #244 co
    January 10, 2010

    I read somewhere that Classical Physics works well if one assumes C to be infinite and Planck’s Constant to be zero.

    ‘Tis true. Sometimes there are certain sticky limits which one has to be careful to take “the right way”, but, in general, c and h-bar serve to connect the “real” way to our “mesoscale” way. There are other constants which occasionally have to be similarly massaged, but most of them reduce to a speed at which information can propagate, and the assumption that c is infinite wipes them out.
    Germane to the conversation is the following from Wikipedia:

    The term classical mechanics was coined in the early 20th century to describe the system of mathematical physics begun by Isaac Newton and many contemporary 17th century natural philosophers, building upon the earlier astronomical theories of Johannes Kepler, which in turn were based on the precise observations of Tycho Brahe and the studies of terrestrial projectile motion of Galileo, but before the development of quantum physics and relativity. Therefore, some sources exclude so-called “relativistic physics” from that category. However, a number of modern sources do include Einstein’s mechanics, which in their view represents classical mechanics in its most developed and most accurate form.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newtonian_mechanics#Limits_of_validity

  244. #245 jaranath
    January 10, 2010

    co:

    I dunno. I’d hope that it’s a minority, as you experience. Though I do get the “scientists are constantly changing their minds” meme quite a lot, from people who oughta know better and who aren’t creationists. I think part of it is the constant blips of crappy mass-media reporting. “Scientists say coffee’s bad for you!” “Scientists say coffee’s good for you!” etc.

  245. #246 co
    January 10, 2010

    Blind Squirrel FCD, # 242:

    co: Did you mean orbital precession?

    Yes, yes I did mean that. Good catch.

  246. #247 co
    January 10, 2010

    I do get the “scientists are constantly changing their minds” meme quite a lot [...]

    Hell, I work in a National Lab, in a town where there’s a very good chance that any random bloke you meet on the street will have a Ph.D. in some hard science, and WE constantly roll our eyes at the latest reported results, especially those from the medical community. I think we all know, though, that it’s a side-effect of (1) poor or overenthusiastic reporting, and (2) the “need” to have results of _some_sort_. It’s rather sad, really, and I can see that this would contribute to John Q. Public’s mistrust of scientists (as has been continually reported in the last several years; this, itself, I have to question as perhaps being due to poor reporting!).

  247. #248 Ring Tailed Lemurian
    January 10, 2010

    @ jaranath #243

    Thanks for the reply, and the link. I’ve had quick peek at ERV and will follow any of the links there that I can understand. (Although when someone there provides links and says thay are too technical for them, then I very much doubt I will be able to understand a word).

    The ERV link (and comments there) seem to be concentrating on the fact that bornaviruses provide yet more evidence for common decent. I already believe in CD. What I wanted to know was if, or how, lateral transfer affects datings and phylogenic trees, and there is no mention of that there.

    It’s not clear from your comment, but if you didn’t know, this isn’t exactly news. Well, the bornavirus doing it is, but we’ve known for a long time that we have a LOT of endogenous retroviruses, especially in the “junk” part of our genome.

    I had no ludicrous illusions that I had discovered something that no one else knew, and yes, I was already aware that retroviruses laterally transferred genetic material. The fact that we have now discovered that bornaviruses do this too was what made me ask what implications this has for dating,relationships etc. If this has no implications I just wanted to know why not?

    If, for instance (made up figures follow), we are 27% carrot but we suddenly discover 25% of our genes have been laterally transferred in since the split between us and carrots then wouldn’t that mean that we are closer to carrots in ancestry than we previously thought?

    If the phylogenic trees and speciation datings use genes not affected by viral insertion, fine, but I am asking if that is the case, and/or, if allowances have been made for retrovirusal effects wouldn’t allowances/adjustments have to be made for our new knowledge of bornavirus transfer too?

  248. #249 Sven DiMilo
    January 10, 2010

    RTL, the mitochondrial and nuclear genes that are used for phylogeny reconstruction are unaffected by these viral insertions.

  249. #250 jaranath
    January 10, 2010

    Don’t misunderstand, I didn’t think you thought you’d just noticed something nobody else had…but I did mistakenly think that you thought this was a brand new concept, and was pointing out that no, we’ve known this sort of thing happens for a long time, just not in this one category of virus.

    However, while PZ and ERV would be better at addressing this than me, I would think it’s not going to change much of anything. I don’t think it did when we first figured out we had lots of ERVs, except in the sense that they provided another independent line of evidence of ancestry which could be used to verify and tweak existing relationships or add resolution to fuzzy ones. If you’re asking about genetic clocks, I dunno much about those. But for the genome, whether viruses or standard mutation are responsible for the changes, they’re still heritable changes and we would have noticed them even before we knew what specific mechanism was causing them, so I think the relationships and nested hierarchies ought not change much.

  250. #251 raven
    January 10, 2010

    What I wanted to know was if, or how, lateral transfer affects datings and phylogenic trees, and there is no mention of that there.

    The rate of lateral gene transfer in higher taxa is low enough to not make any difference.

    We generally either use bulk measurements such as hybridization data, large amounts of DNA sequence data, or mitochondrial DNA sequence which isn’t effected by lateral gene transfer for molecular phylogeny.

  251. #252 Antiochus Epiphanes
    January 10, 2010

    I would have thought that if not all our DNA (excluding mutations) comes from our ancestors then we might have to rethink relationships based on genetic similarities/diffences.

    I hope that my reply isn’t so simple as to be pedantic (apologies to those of you who so get this and are bored…skip to the next comment if you have a background in phylogenetics…or help me…I think I remember David B having some expertise on this).

    I don’t know much about mammalian phylogenetics, but in general, one can expect that phylogenies based on individual genes do not all recapitulate species phylogeny. The mathematical model which describes how copies of a gene within a population can trace to an ancestral copy of that gene is called coalescence (or sometimes “the coalescent”). Gene phylogenies trace how alleles of a gene coalesce at ancestral nodes, or points of shared ancestry in a phylogeny?the branching points on the diagram.

    Often, genes will coalesce at points of speciation. In this case the gene tree is concordant with a species phylogeny. Other coalescent events are not correlated with speciation, and these are the result of phenomena like horizontal transfer of genes (as in through a virus, or a hybridization even). Another phenomenon is called lineage sorting. This occurs when an ancestral population harbors multiple copies of the gene, and the fixation of copies in subsequent descendent populations is random, or at least doesn?t trace species phylogeny. Deep coalescence occurs when you have short, fat branches (rapid speciation in large, variable populations) in which case, coalescence will not trace species relationships either.

    The point is that no ONE gene is guaranteed to provide the correct species phylogeny even if the gene phylogeny is recovered accurately (which is an entirely different problem). However, points of coalescence due to horizontal transfer, lineage sorting, and short, fat branches should occur independently of each other for the most part, while coalescent points due to speciation should follow the same pattern in different gene trees. One of the emergent practices in molecular phylogenetics is to gather many gene trees and assay them for shared points of coalescence.

    [This is horrifically incomplete, will answer questions if I am able].

  252. #253 David Marjanovi?
    January 10, 2010

    Mind-blowingest thing I’ve learned so far from ERV is that some of our genes use key genetic components–promoters, iirc?–that we picked up from viruses. In other words, our FUNCTIONAL genome is partly “stolen” from viruses.

    “Stolen”? They came along and insisted on putting their promoters in there! :-)

    We generally either use bulk measurements such as hybridization data

    You still use that??? That’s so 1990.

    It’s not even a phylogenetic method, it’s a phenetic method: it measures gross superficial similarity instead of counting shared derived character states.

  253. #254 Antiochus Epiphanes
    January 10, 2010

    The rate of lateral gene transfer in higher taxa is low enough to not make any difference.

    I guess Magnoliophyta aren?t higher taxa? ; ?)

    If you want to be funded to study phylogenetics in the flowering plants you had better have a plan for dealing with the potential for lateral transfer.

  254. #255 Sven DiMilo
    January 10, 2010

    AE, can you clue us zoologists in to what you’re talking about?

  255. #256 Ring Tailed Lemurian
    January 10, 2010

    Thanks for the replies…
    Sven DiMilo #249

    the mitochondrial and nuclear genes that are used for phylogeny reconstruction are unaffected by these viral insertions.

    a) Only those genes are used for dating and phylogenic trees?
    b) ERV says they infect germ-line cells (sperm/eggs). But not mitochondrial or nuclear cells?

    jaranath #250

    I think the relationships and nested hierarchies ought not change much.

    How much is “not much”?

    raven #251

    The rate of lateral gene transfer in higher taxa is low enough to not make any difference.

    And in lower taxa?
    8% for just bornaviruses seems a lot to me.

    Antiochus Epiphanes #252

    I hope that my reply isn’t so simple

    Ho Ho. I had to read it three times :)

    points of coalescence due to horizontal transfer, lineage sorting, and short, fat branches should occur independently of each other for the most part

    “the most part”?

    Almost wish I’d never asked :)

  256. #257 Antiochus Epiphanes
    January 10, 2010

    Magnoliophyta are the flowering plants? Or are you referring to the previous post where I vomited up what I know about gene tree conflict?

    Fucking zoologists.

  257. #258 Antiochus Epiphanes
    January 10, 2010

    #256: Yeah…hence the apology.

    “For the most part”… you can expect that coalecent events from different lineages will be identical due to random events, but this is easy to model as a null. Actually, the coalescent model also provides a very good null (because it models drift) for testing hypotheses of selection.

  258. #259 amphiox
    January 10, 2010

    Tim Rowledge #180:

    Your time machine analogy is interesting to contemplate. Isolated incidents of time travel would not probably be a problem, but large scale time travel would, I think, really mess up our ability to understand evolution. Imagine if time-traveling creationists in the future had access to lots of time machines, and the dropped some 4 million rabbits into the Precambrian, all over the world? (Well the rabbits would quickly suffocate from lack of oxygen, so let’s say Devonian then.) Or they dropped 10 000 hawks into the Late Jurassic/Early Cretaceous. How could we ever work out any evolutionary relationships, or track change of gene frequencies over time if descendant and ancestral populations could freely travel back and forth in time and exchange genes? Could evolutionary change even occur in such a situation?

    Indeed, our hypothetical future sect of fanatical creationists could even use their time machines to go back and make creationism true by becoming the creators themselves.

    Evolution is an origin theory, and time travel would have the potential to turn all lineages into closed time-like (or is that space-like) curves, which makes origin theories unnecessary.

  259. #260 MrFire
    January 10, 2010
    Just stay honest with yourself, accept the arguments that seem most logical to you, be prepared to change that view based on a more logical argument, and see where that leads you.

    Well, “logical”… be careful with that. Most of what is logical is nonetheless wrong, and most of what appears obvious is neither logical nor correct. Much of reality is deeply counterintuitive ? you don’t even need to go into quantum physics or relativity for that.

    Accept only falsification and parsimony. Reality is stranger than fiction.

    Thanks for the correction.

    EvolutionSkeptic, if you’re still reading…like I said, don’t take anybody’s word for it! Inaccuracies like mine above can often lead to extremely poor conclusions.

    Note that David M. might still be wrong or inaccurate himself (though actually, he almost never is. He’s a pretty smart fella). But until I or someone else can come up with a point that substantively detracts from his argument, his point is more meaningful and accurate, and it stands. A very similar type of thing applies, much more importantly, to scientific theories.

    Assuming you’re not postulating some sort of giant wheel of reincarnation, and that therefore you mean “ancestors” instead of “descendants,” then the vast majority of your direct ancestors (and mine!) were microbes.

    That’s an ancestor, not a descendant.

    Oh Fuck!! I’m not that stupid, I SWEAR.

    *commits seppuku*

  260. #261 amphiox
    January 10, 2010

    This is highly simplified, but you can get around the lateral gene transfer problem by looking at many different genes. (Non-gene sequences also)

    Those genes that did not experience lateral gene transfer during the time period of interest would be expected to converge on a consensus tree that reflects the actual branching pattern of the clade of interest.

    Those genes that did experience lateral gene transfer during the time period of interest provide discordant trees that do not match the consensus, or each other, as each laterally transferred gene would have experienced its own unique lineage of descent.

    Also, laterally transferred genes between closely related species would not impact the analysis at higher taxonomic levels.

    If lateral gene transfer was so prevalent that we cannot find any predominant consensus, then we have a problem.

  261. #262 amphiox
    January 10, 2010

    I would say that relativity *supplanted* Newtonian gravitation, and it successfully did so because it not only explained the anomalies Newtonian gravity could not, but equally as important, also explained everything that Newtonian gravity explained just as well or better. And it did so by being able to derive Newton’s equations out from its own through the simplication of assumptions.

    I wouldn’t agree, as some have argued, that relativity was just an “augmentation” of Newtonian gravity, because, conceptually, it really was a very different (dare I say revolutionary? – maybe not) way of approaching the problem.

    This is all philosophical semantics, of course. For pragmatic purposes it doesn’t matter one whit what we call it. Both theories work, and both theories are right (mostly right, a little bit wrong). Relativity is a little bit more right and a little bit less wrong. But Newtonian gravity is simpler. For applications where the extra accuracy of Relativity is so slight as to not be significant (one could say that in such an application, the two theories are equally right, and parsimony then favors Newton), Newton is used. Note that NASA uses Newtonian gravity, not relativity, for planning all interplanetary missions that do not go closer to the sun than the orbit of Mercury (roughly).

  262. #263 Sven DiMilo
    January 10, 2010

    Magnoliophyta are the flowering plants? Or are you referring to the previous post where I vomited up what I know about gene tree conflict?

    No, I was wondering why one would need to be especially worried about lateral gene tranfer when trying to reconstruct phylogenies of angiosperms in particular (as I thought you ere implying). In other words, what’s so special about angiosperms? Is LGT common?

    Fucking zoologists.

    *eyebrows up!*

  263. #264 raven
    January 10, 2010

    In the new study, Japanese researchers found copies of the bornavirus N (for nucleoprotein) gene inserted in at least four separate locations in the human genome. Searches of other mammalian genomes also showed that the gene has hitched rides in a wide variety of species for millions of years.

    raven #251

    The rate of lateral gene transfer in higher taxa is low enough to not make any difference.

    And in lower taxa?
    8% for just bornaviruses seems a lot to me.

    It isn’t 8% for Bornaviruses. It is 4 copies of the Bornavirus in the whole genome. Out of 3 billion nucleotides, this is a very small percentage.

    8% of the human genome is retroviruses. We know this by DNA sequencing. If these aren’t phylogentically informative, people don’t use them. The same information that allows one to identify them can be used to exclude them when drawing up molecular phylogenies.

    “And in lower taxa?”

    It varies with the group. No point in making huge generalizations about a whole biosphere. Lateral gene transfer is much more common in prokaryotes and has made drawing up phylogenetic trees difficult. Scientists just do the best they can with what they have.

    What else can they do?

  264. #265 Sven DiMilo
    January 10, 2010

    a) Only those genes are used for dating and phylogenic trees?
    b) ERV says they infect germ-line cells (sperm/eggs). But not mitochondrial or nuclear cells?

    a) Yes. (There are some recent attempts to reconstruct phylogenies from whole genomes instead, in which case stuff like viral insertions become data.)
    b) hmmmm, some misunderstanding here. In order for viral insertions to be inherited, they have to have been inserted originally into a germ-line cell. However, this is an entirely separate issue from which genes are sequenced for phylogenetic analysis. (All* cells of non-bacteria have a nucleus and mitochodria.)

    *yes, yes, I know all about the exceptions

  265. #266 Antiochus Epiphanes
    January 10, 2010

    @263: Lateral transfer is horribly problematic in the flowering plants, and not all of it through hybridization (although that is common). The mt genome is such a mash, hardly anyone uses it in phylogenetic inference.

    Cool papers about that:
    http://www.pnas.org/content/101/51/17747.full.pdf+html

    and

    http://www.nature.com/hdy/journal/v94/n6/full/6800659a.html

    [I don't actually know how to post this as a link, noob that I am]

    The “fucking zoologist” comment was for my wife who sometimes reads the blog but rarely comments. She is a zoologist. And a cladist. And punchy.

  266. #267 David Marjanovi?
    January 10, 2010

    mitochondrial or nuclear cells

    …Oh dear.
    :-o

    Please go back to school and learn about basic cell anatomy. Wikipedia will do instead. Please. Pretty please!

  267. #268 Sven DiMilo
    January 10, 2010

    Thanks AE, I hadn’t known that–pretty cool.

    It chaps me a bit that these findings are sold as Darwin Wuz Rong!!! Only a slight exageration:

    Two recent reports suggesting that extensive lateral gene transfer occurs among higher plants clash with our view of evolution as Darwin understood it.
    The concept of descent with modification has proven exquisitely robust, with only two genuine mechanistic additions to Darwin’s principles of natural selection operating on variation among progeny, having emerged over the last 150 years. One is endosymbiosis…The other is lateral, or horizontal, gene transfer (LGT)

    First, since Darwin had no clue whatsoever about the mechanistic origin of variation, it’s no surprise that the old guy didn’t foresee this shit coming. But even so, it has always seemed to me that the source of variation makes no difference to adaptive evolution via selection. Point mutation, horizontal transfer, translocation/macromutation–from a population viewpoint it doesn’t matter where the “new genes” came from, their phenotypic results will be subject to selection in exactly the same way.

    Or am I missing something important?

  268. #269 Jadehawk, OM
    January 10, 2010

    I dunno in which ways you might or might not see it as a canard. But as I said above, the problem I have with it is that many people (even the general non-creationist public) tend to think “oh, those dumb scientists, they’re always thinking up huge elaborate theories and then COMPLETELY REWRITING THEM EVERY DECADE.” Not just modifying and improving and adding new chapters, but totally rewriting. You know, like last decade physics was a horror movie and this decade it’s a romantic comedy.

    are you reading the same thread I’m reading? because as far as I can tell, every time Newton/Einstein has been used in this thread, it was to make precisely that point, that science improves on large ideas, not completely replaces them. Where do you see someone using the “science always changes their story” canard?

  269. #270 Antiochus Epiphanes
    January 10, 2010

    Sven: Yeah…I think the Darwinian idea of evolution that is seen to have been turned on its head is the never-anastomosing “tree” of life (not natural selection)…what we have instead is a sometimes webby gene-bush (or forest of gene trees, or pick your metaphor). In any case, I agree that the idea that Darwin has been set wrong is oversold in the Heredity paper. Buffon was really the first (to my knowledge) to suggest genealogie as the best model for evolutionary relationships, anyway. What irks me most is that introgression has long been known as an important force in generating heritable variation and ultimately species among the plants. Nothing new here except the scale.

  270. #271 Owlmirror
    January 10, 2010

    Where do you see someone using the “science always changes their story” canard?

    Look @#56, the paragraph under question 2., 2nd sentence.

    “But I find the changing theories in science to be a bit discomforting” — ES

  271. #272 David Marjanovi?
    January 10, 2010

    Or am I missing something important?

    Nope.

    BTW, I just posted a few quotes from the paper on the previous thread. They’re about the marine environment of the site and the lack of evidence for walking on dry land as opposed to in shallow water.

  272. #273 Blind Squirrel FCD
    January 10, 2010

    amoiox @262

    Note that NASA uses Newtonian gravity, not relativity, for planning all interplanetary missions that do not go closer to the sun than the orbit of Mercury (roughly).

    Thanks. I was wondering about that.
    I read somewhere that relativistic corrections were applied to the GPS satellite system for accuracy.

    BS

  273. #274 Ring Tailed Lemurian
    January 10, 2010

    raven #264

    It isn’t 8% for Bornaviruses. It is 4 copies of the Bornavirus in the whole genome. Out of 3 billion nucleotides, this is a very small percentage.

    The Science Daily article to which I linked begins

    About eight percent of human genetic material comes from a virus and not from our ancestors, according to researchers in Japan and the U.S.

    As that article is about only bornaviruses (and says “comes from a virus” not “comes from viruses”) I presumed it to mean that bornaviruses contribute 8%, in addition to whatever percentage retroviruses contribute (and I thought I had seen somewhere that retroviruses might contribute 12%, but someone could clarify this).
    Was I misled by a ambiguous statement or are you being misled by the ERV piece which mentions four specific genes, and assuming they are the only cases?

    Antiochus Epiphanes #266

    Lateral transfer is horribly problematic in the flowering plants, and not all of it through hybridization (although that is common). The mt genome is such a mash, hardly anyone uses it in phylogenetic inference.

    I didn’t know that. So it is a problem, at least in Angiosperms.

    PS As there have been some comments about this being used to say it proves “Darwin was wrong/Evolution is wrong” I’d like to clarify that there is in no way a hidden agenda in my raising the subject, and I have absolutely no problem with evolution (which is of course the only possible rational explanation for the variety of life forms we see around us). I just wanted to be educated on how geneticists deal with any problems raised by lateral transfer and thought this was a good place to ask.

  274. #275 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    January 10, 2010

    I read somewhere that relativistic corrections were applied to the GPS satellite system for accuracy.

    Yep (about 2/3 the way down the page). Special relativity (speed of satellite) calls for the clock to run slower, but general relativity (satellite in gravity well) calls for clock to run faster. Overall, it gains 38 microseconds per day, so the frequency is dropped slightly to compensate during manufacture.

  275. #276 Antiochus Epiphanes
    January 10, 2010

    …there is in no way a hidden agenda in my raising the subject, and I have absolutely no problem with evolution…I just wanted to be educated on how geneticists deal with any problems raised by lateral transfer and thought this was a good place to ask.

    Of course…this stuff is cool. I normally have so little to offer that I was glad someone brought it up. Most fun I’ve had all week. Seriously.

    BTW, Darwin said a lot of stuff and some of it was wrong. No different really than any other most important scientist ever.

  276. #277 'Tis Himself, OM
    January 10, 2010

    BTW, Darwin said a lot of stuff and some of it was wrong.

    You can’t say that. We worship Darwin. We believe he’s infallible. Just ask the creationists, they’ll tell you about evilutionists’ deification of Darwin.

  277. #278 jaranath
    January 10, 2010

    Jadehawk:

    I didn’t mean in this thread, if that’s your assumption…?

    I see it most often from creationists and other anti-science types (obviously), but also roughly half the “laypeople” (non-science-geeks) I discuss science with. Sometimes it’s simply casual conversation, like the aforementioned crappy medical science reporting; “bah, tomorrow they’ll say cholesterol’s GOOD for you!” Sometimes it’s used by friends as a tease…but they basically mean it. They tease to make me uncomfortable, naturally, but they also think it’s a real weakness that would make me uncomfortable (they’ve confirmed that when I’ve pressed the question.) And it usually comes up as a defense tactic if I challenge a particular pseudoscientific claim at length.

    Oh, and RTL: Yeah, when I discuss genetics with people I usually treat plants with a handwave, a muttered “plants are…WEIRD…” and quickly change the subject. :P It isn’t that you can’t work on their genetics, it’s just that it makes my head hurt. Because…you know…they’re WEIRD. Ooh, look, squid!

  278. #279 timrowledge
    January 10, 2010

    How could we ever work out any evolutionary relationships, or track change of gene frequencies over time if descendant and ancestral populations could freely travel back and forth in time and exchange genes? Could evolutionary change even occur in such a situation?

    Well of course it could; exactly as it has, does, and will. It would just make the ancestry of many creatures about as complicated and mixed up as that of viruses and bacteria.

  279. #280 kausik.datta
    January 10, 2010

    Kel, this is too much downthread, but if you still see this, I wanted to thank you for a great discussion.

    The-awesomely-last-named David Marjanovi?, I have a quick question: So you are not getting a PhD, but a DNS? Is that what your degree will be called? You said, ‘Over here…’ Where is ‘here’? (I am sorry, I don’t know where you are from).

  280. #281 Owlmirror
    January 10, 2010

    So you are not getting a PhD, but a DNS?

    On an older thread, David M wrote: “In Austria, I’ll be a Dr. rer. nat., a doctor of natural sciences, not of philosophy; in France, I’ll be a Docteur de l’Université Pierre et Marie Curie — apparently they put the institution and not the field of study into the title. (It’s a cosupervised thesis with two supervisors in two countries, therefore the duplication.)”

    (Dr. rer. nat. == Doctor rerum naturalium, or more literally, “Doctor of the things of nature”).

    See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctor_of_Science

  281. #282 David Marjanovi?
    January 10, 2010

    (and I thought I had seen somewhere that retroviruses might contribute 12%, but someone could clarify this

    Actually, if you count all the decaying remains of retrotransposons and stuff as ultimately descending from retroviruses, over half of our genome comes from retroviruses. :-) “A virus” might (!) be supposed to mean “any virus” ? as a rule of thumb, journalists never understand what a scientist tells them, and many scientists don’t know how to explain stuff to journalists either…

    Is that what your degree will be called?

    No, the Austrian version will be Dr. rer. nat., Latin: doctor rerum naturalium, “of natural affairs”.*

    The French version will be a moronic “corporate identity” thing: Docteur de l’Université Pierre et Marie Curie… that’s right, the name of the institution rather than the field of study will be in the academic title. <headdesk> I’d have much preferred to be called docteur ès sciences, with the wonderfully archaic word for “in the” in it.

    It’s a cosupervised thesis. One degree, but two versions of the title.

    * I need to explain that the German-speaking countries put the Latin academic titles the other way around; “doctor of philosophy” (a title which still exists for doctors of various humanities) is Dr. phil. (doctor philosophiae) rather than Ph.D. (philosophiae doctor). Latin word order was free, you see. “M.D.” is Dr. med., “LL.D.” (legum doctor, “doctor of the laws”) is Dr. jur. (doctor iuris, “doctor of law in general”), and so on.

  282. #283 David Marjanovi?
    January 10, 2010

    On an older thread, David M wrote:

    WTF. Did you bookmark that?

    of nature

    Even more literally, it’s an adjective in the genitive plural, so “natural” is closer than “of nature”. :^)

    ==

    Been programming too much lately? :^)

  283. #284 kausik.datta
    January 10, 2010

    I see. What about the contractions? Will you be DRN in Austria and DDUMPC in France?

  284. #285 aratina cage
    January 10, 2010

    I have absolutely no problem with evolution… I just wanted to be educated on how geneticists deal with any problems raised by lateral transfer and thought this was a good place to ask. -Ring Tailed Lemurian #274

    I hope no one thought you had a problem with evolution. The responses to your questions and indeed this whole thread have been educational and enjoyable.

  285. #286 Owlmirror
    January 10, 2010
    On an older thread, David M wrote:

    WTF. Did you bookmark that?

    Nope. I remembered only that you had used the French spelling “Docteur” for your degree in France, and searched for that term.

    There’s only one thread hit on Pharyngula… (and when Google indexes this page, there will be two).

  286. #287 Antiochus Epiphanes
    January 10, 2010

    (Dr. rer. nat. == Doctor rerum naturalium, or more literally, “Doctor of the things of nature”).

    Or more, more literally, “teacher of the things of nature”.

  287. #288 F
    January 10, 2010

    RTL:

    As when watching science programs on the telly (even the ostensibly “good ones”), you have to be careful when reading SD. Some of the articles there are actually downright atrocious.

  288. #289 Linnea
    January 10, 2010

    (Coming out of lurkdom because I actually thought of something nobody else has said:)

    It’s sooooo refreshing, after reading this thread and several iterations of the endless thread, to see Evolution Skeptic show up and actually listen to what other posters are saying. Yay ES! High five!

    But, I have a slight bone to pick with you. You seem to want it both ways. On the one hand, you’re worried that scientists are so invested in being right that they might ignore evidence that goes against accepted theories. On the other hand, you say “I find the changing theories in science to be a bit discomforting”. Which is it? Scientists are too rigid, or too flexible?

    (I don’t really expect you to have an answer for this, as it’s clear that you’re in an exploratory phase, and really, it’s been great to observe your openness to knew ideas. But it’s something to think about.)

    And to PZ and all the rest of youse pharyngulites, heartfelt thanks from a non-scientist who’s been learning a lot, and laughing a lot, while reading this blog.

  289. #290 Kel, OM
    January 11, 2010

    Kel, this is too much downthread, but if you still see this, I wanted to thank you for a great discussion.

    I enjoyed it too.

  290. #291 https://me.yahoo.com/hairychris444#96384
    January 11, 2010

    amphiox @259

    I think that tracking parallel evolution would be the least of your problems with the paradoxes that occur! What would happen if the rabbit out-competed an original mammalian precursor? My brain hurts.

    Maybe dropping rabbit bones that were completely sterilised (introducing no modern organisms into the environment) as a laugh would be OK. Or maybe not. :-)

    Resurrecting the computer programmer thread, Kel @217:

    I’ve been thinking about this. IMO you do not need to be a skeptical thinker to be able to do this.

    You’re essentially applying knowledge (in code) to get a desired solution. The process is – certainly for me – driven by result. It’s known what data should look like after process, my job is to make sure that it all gets there! I don’t need to know how the hardare or software works, I just have to apply it.

    In an odd way I can see that it would be just as simple to apply this thinking to creationism, seeing designed patterns in complex entities.

    Personally I see it the other way: the complexity works against any deliberate design. That and the obvious bugs in biological systems. Whoever programmed this planet made a complete botch of it if we’re all v1.0. The whole thing is a legacy system of nightmare proportions!

  291. #292 Carlie
    January 11, 2010

    As when watching science programs on the telly (even the ostensibly “good ones”), you have to be careful when reading SD. Some of the articles there are actually downright atrocious.

    I remember well when I discovered ScienceDaily. It went something like “Oh wow, this is awesome!..click..click..click…Neat!…click..click…Oh, wait…click…click…click…Well, fuck.”

  292. #293 Billy
    January 11, 2010

    If creationists deny dating techniques, then they cant use them to refute evolution

  293. #294 David Marjanovi?
    January 11, 2010

    What about the contractions?

    Dr. rer. nat. is the contraction of the Austrian one.

    The French one would probably just be Dr. or at most Dr. de l’UPMC.

    Or more, more literally, “teacher

    I’m not sure how literal that is, actually. The normal word for “teacher” was magister.

  294. #295 Sven DiMilo
    January 11, 2010

    Sceloporus magister

    “We called him tortoise because he taught us.”

    wait

  295. #296 amphiox
    January 11, 2010

    re: #268

    My understanding is that lateral gene transfer doesn’t affect the working of, or validity of, natural selection one way or the other, but it does kind of mess up our neat assumptions about common descent at the organism level. Or, perhaps, not so much the assumptions themselves, but our ability to verify/falsify them experimentally.

    It also doesn’t affect common descent at the gene level. We can still trace evolutionary lineages of individual genes back to their origination from duplications of ancestral genes, all the way back, theoretically, to a single ancestral ur-gene (or perhaps several such genes). The gene lineages will simply hop around from species to species with lateral transfer events.

  296. #297 amphiox
    January 11, 2010

    re #279:
    My thought with the crazy time travel thought experiment was that if time travel was ubiquitous, descendent and ancestral gene pools could freely mix. Individuals could travel back in time and interbreed with with members of their own ancestral generations, including their parental population. In effect, the whole clade, all the way from the first self-replicating microbe to all the descendent modern lineages, becomes one giant gene pool, with no barriers to gene exchange. Speciation of any kind at any time would therefore be impossible (barring the positing of temporal isolation barriers).

    Furthermore, genetic variants eliminated by natural selection could travel forward in time to a point after their elimination, and reinsert themselves back into the gene pool, while new variants from the future could travel back before their origination, and flood the gene pool then. The whole concept of “change in gene frequencies over time”, the very definition of evolution, becomes a farce. In fact, in such a time travel scenario, nothing at all can change with time. Most likely the whole universe itself would not work.

  297. #298 Qwerty
    January 11, 2010

    Ahhh, if only the two drunk ladies would visit Casey and enlighten us with the inner workings of the Disco Institute.

    Oh well, wishful thinking.

  298. #299 Joffan
    January 11, 2010

    Let’s look on that positive note of cognitive dissonance you raise there PZ – next time (or any time!) a young-earther quotes anything by the Discovery Institution, we can tell them that the DI acknowledges that there were animals on this planet 400 million years ago.

  299. #300 SteveM
    January 11, 2010

    Yep (about 2/3 the way down the page). Special relativity (speed of satellite) calls for the clock to run slower, but general relativity (satellite in gravity well) calls for clock to run faster. Overall, it gains 38 microseconds per day, so the frequency is dropped slightly to compensate during manufacture.

    Wait, doesn’t being in a gravity well make a clock run slower (compared to one in “free space”)? So, the GPS satellite is moving compared to a ground observer, so we see its clock counting slower. But we are also (deeper) in a gravity well so we would see the satellite’s clock running faster than ours. Same result as what you said; I think the only confusing thing was where you said “(satellite in gravity well)” when it should really be observer (us) in gravity well.

  300. #301 JackC
    January 11, 2010

    SteveM – yeah – I thought there was something odd there too but couldn’t put my finger on it. The Wiki page appears to have it right (I haven’t checked revision history – I suppose someone could have caught it and changed it) – it says:

    “… the gravitational time dilation that makes a satellite run about 5 parts in 1010 faster than an Earth based clock”

    That would indicate exactly what you said, and I am pretty sure, what NoR actually meant.

    Very nice catch. I didn’t see it myself, which is becoming distressingly familiar.

    JC

  301. #302 Sven DiMilo
    January 11, 2010

    it does kind of mess up our neat assumptions about common descent at the organism level. Or, perhaps, not so much the assumptions themselves, but our ability to verify/falsify them experimentally.

    Agreed.

  302. #303 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    January 11, 2010

    SteveM & JackC, my apologies for not being clearer in the explanation of relativity and the GPS clocks. Very interesting that the special relativity effects and general relativity effects work in opposite directions.

  303. #304 Antiochus Epiphanes
    January 12, 2010

    @294: I had always heard that “doctor” is derivative of the Latin docere…ergo, one who teaches. Although, the formation could I guess mean “having been taught”. Someone here must know.

  304. #305 Kel, OM
    January 12, 2010

    For those interested, I ended up writing comment #214 into a longer post on my blog.

  305. #306 JackC
    January 12, 2010

    Nerd: Not to worry – I think it was what you meant anyway. The impressive thing is that the system DOES have to take the relativistic effects (both directions!) into account or the location accuracy suffers by a significant amount. The math on the page is enough to make your head swim. It makes sense that the orbital speed forces in one direction and the gravity well (of the observer, not the satellite) forces the opposite direction. Well – “sense” to those that follow relativistic effects anyway!

    Kel – I am going to have to take some time to read that. Exercising a large degree of self-control (at work) to NOT do it now!

    Speaking of math, I think I am gonna need some heavy aspirin supplies soon. My brother has sent me something he “believes” is important – and yes, that “belief” borders on the religious – and it involves some pretty hairy math, which I am certain is both invalid, incorrect and misguided. And I am gonna have to go through it and “try to be nice”.

    Like THAT is gonna happen!

    JC

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