Evolution and the Creativity of God (RJS)

Trilobite. Image from wikipedia.

Chapter 7 of God and the Cosmos: Divine Activity in Space, Time and History by Harry Lee Poe and Jimmy H. Davis is titled simply God and Life. Harry Lee Poe is the Charles Colson Professor of Faith and Culture at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Jimmy H. Davis is vice president for regional campuses and University Professor of Chemistry at Union University. After discussing openness and action in cosmology, geology, chemistry and physics they turn to one of the most controversial topic in the science and faith discussion: the role of God in evolutionary biology. In their discussion they make a point to separate biological evolution as natural history from natural selection as mechanism.

In many discussions evolution and natural selection are intertwined to the point where some feel that discrediting natural selection discredits evolution. What is forgotten is that the concept of biological evolution can be supported even if natural selection is not its mechanism. Thus in the following discussion we will consider support for evolution separate from any mechanism responsible.9

And the footnote is worth including as well:

9This approach follows the pattern of how scientists understand how phenomena develop. First, observations and experiments are collected into an organizing concept. For example, in order to understand the behavior of gases, scientists collected observations and experiments of gases at different temperatures, pressures, and volumes. Relationships were formulated relating these three variables without knowing the mechanism for these relationships. Later the kinetic-molecular model was proposed as the mechanism (causal connection) for the observed behavior: gases were modeled as billiard balls in constant motion, which gave rise to the observed relationships. Likewise in regard to biological evolution, we will first present the observations/experiments that led to the concept of evolution, followed by proposed mechanisms for biological evolution. (p. 213-214)

When I teach about gases at the upper-division undergraduate level and at the graduate level it is in the context of statistical mechanics and thermodynamics. We quickly move beyond the simple kinetic-molecular model described above. Molecules are no longer “billiard balls” but have size, shape, and intermolecular interactions that are two-body, three-body, and even higher order.

The failure of the kinetic-molecular model doesn’t invalidate the empirical observations collected as the gas laws. Nor does the need to refine and add sophistication to the kinetic-molecular model invalidate this model in its general approach.

Evolution as natural history is well established.  Natural selection as mechanism is almost certainly part of the explanation for evolution although Darwin’s initial proposal here has undergone many changes. It is certainly possible, even probable, that natural selection is not the whole picture. But revising natural selection as mechanism does not negate evolution as natural history.

Do you distinguish evolution as natural history from natural selection as mechanism?

What do you think it would take to disprove evolution?

Poe and Davis proceed to discuss the evidence for evolution as natural history. The key ideas of evolution, increasing complexity of species, common ancestors, and mutability of species are well supported by the evidence.

The oldest rocks have only simple life forms.

The youngest rocks have the life forms most similar to living organisms.

There is a progression with increasing complexity from oldest to youngest rocks.

Lineages undergo gradual change.

To show gradual change in a lineage, one needs a good succession of sediments without missing layers. Trilobites are one of the better known group of fossils. Trilobites first appear in the fossil record about 540 million years ago and finally disappear from the record in the mass extinction at the end of the Permian period about 250 million years ago. A study of eight lineages of trilobite fossils in a three-million-year sample of shale revealed that all lineages showed a net gradual increase in segments on the rear section of the trilobite. (p. 221)

Evolution as natural history could be falsified if, for example, rabbit fossils were found in rocks dating to the Cambrian, say in the Burgess Shale sitting alongside the earliest trilobites. But all of the evidence supports evolution as natural history.

Natural selection as mechanism. Here we can look at four postulates that set up the process of evolution by natural selection:

1. Individuals within populations are variable.

2. The variations among individuals are, at least in part, passed from parents to offspring.

3. In every generation some individuals are more successful at surviving and reproducing than others.

4. Survival and reproduction of individuals are not random; instead they are tied to variation among individuals.

Poe and Davis discuss a few examples that demonstrate the process. One example they discuss is the appearance of antibiotic resistant bacteria.  After WWII penicillin was introduced as a miracle drug. Within four years penicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus appeared. Methicillin was introduced as a replacement for penicillin and by 1961 methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus had appeared. Vancomycin was introduced and by 2002 vancomycin resistant Staphylococcus aureus had appeared in the US. This is a small scale example of the process, some will dismiss it as “microevolution.” But there is no significant difference between microevolution and macroevolution. The process is the same.

The mechanism for variability among individuals arises from genetic mutation, migration, and epigenetics. It is a complex and multifaceted process. Within the DNA we see point mutations, insertions, deletions, gene duplications, deletions of large chromosomal regions, chromosomal translocations, chromosome inversion, and genome duplication.

Variation between individuals and even the development of new species need not result from natural selection. Migration tends to homogenize populations while genetic drift is a nonadaptive random mechanism that increases diversity. Changes arising from genetic drift can be positive, negative, or neutral for survival.

Epigenetics refers to changes in the way genes are expressed due to changes in the environment or circumstance of an individual. This can be passed on from generation to generation. The care of parents for offspring can change the gene expression of the offspring – and of their offspring. Poe and Davis note that one epigenetic variation of the common toadflax (a flowering plant) has been around for over 250 years and thus for many generations.

Epigenetic insight says that not only do some organisms respond better to environmental stress because of their genetic makeup but that the organism can respond to the stress by reprogramming how the genetic makeup is expressed. Since the changes to the epigenome are partially reversible, the resulting phenotypes are possibly more variable and the changes to the phenotype less final than phenotype changes due to modification of the genome sequence. (p. 232)

So – the bottom line: Evolution as natural history is a clear part of the record. Natural selection is part of a very complex, and not yet completely understood, mechanism for the evolutionary trajectory observed in biology. Natural selection, however, is likely not the only mechanism at play.

And it makes no sense to go on about Darwinism and Darwinists. Natural selection as originally proposed by Darwin is only a vague empirical mechanism. Chemistry, physics, genetics, and more have put legs on the mechanism by bringing it down to the molecular level. This is an important point – not well appreciated by many. We are not, as one commenter suggested, “disciples of Darwin.” Darwin had important insights – but he was one of many. Evolutionary theory today would be no different except in nomenclature if Charles Darwin had never lived, just as the theory of gases would be no different if Robert Boyle had never lived.

But Where is God? Poe and Davis note that the universe is both open and purposeful. Evolution is not a highly contingent role of the dice but a constrained process with convergent solutions to the challenges posed to the development of life. Here they quote Simon Conway Morris and his book Life’s Solution – a book I posted on several years ago.

The mutation of DNA to produce new functions is open and complex – perhaps even unpredictable. We cannot predict exactly what capabilities may appear in the future. Perhaps we’ve reached an endpoint, perhaps not. But this openness leaves room for the action of God to direct both past and future changes – not by violating “natural laws” or causality but perhaps by selecting possibilities. Poe and Davis speculate that the epigenome provides another pathway for the action of God.

The epigenome refers to the collective instructions that tell the cells what to do as the body develops from a simple two-cell organism into something much more complex. Environmental factors like hunger and plenty affect the instructions of the epigenome. Rather than a dictator that determines the biological future of an organism’s descendants, DNA is a servant at the disposal of other influences. The genetic structure is open to outside influence. (p. 245-246)

Any move to eliminate the action of God from evolutionary biology is a philosophical or theological move, not a scientific move. To connect evolution with atheism is to make a metaphysical statement. There is nothing, according to Poe and Davis, in the science itself that removes God from the process. In fact deism restricted God’s involvement to the original act of creation and the establishment of laws, but the evidence of evolutionary history leaves ample room for the involvement of God in the process from one generation to the next. It is not either God or natural mechanism, but more accurately the action of God through the natural pathways we observe.

Even the role of death in creation is a philosophical rather than a scientific question – or so Poe and Davis suggest. The problem of death for people is a theological question – a perfectly valid question. But the role of “death” in the rest of the universe is simply a part of a universe with direction moving toward a purpose.

Does evolution or the elucidation of mechanisms for evolution remove space for the action of God?

How would we, or could we, identify the action of God?

If you wish to contact me directly, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

  • http://DerekLeman.com/Musings Derek Leman

    RJS:

    As always you make complicated things comprehensible and communicate science and faith in ways that those of us outside of the field need. When my belief in YEC dissolved, I’m glad you were here to show me how to pick up the pieces.

  • Rick

    I agree with Derek regarding your ability to communicate. It is appreciated.

    I am interested in the epigenetics issue in regards to original sin/how it is spread. I do think epigenetics does allow for actions of God.

    In regards to “How would we, or could we, identify the action of God?”, I am reminded of a Godpod discussion (podcast #68) I heard yesterday in which they were dealing with a similar question. One of the panelists mentioned that due to the Fall, and the impact of sin, such clarity of signs of God is not possible when just looking at science (or math, etc…). God’s creation is tainted and broken, and such damage removes clear evidences of Him. I am not sure if I fully agree with the panelist, yet they seem pro-science so the thought is an interesting one.

  • Rick

    RJS-

    On a related note, I did not know if you had seen Parchment and Pen’s review of From the Dust: Conversations on Creation.

    http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2012/06/from-the-dust-conversations-on-creation-a-review/#commentspost

  • CGC

    HI RJS,
    What would it take to dis/prove evolution? Since evolution falls under the rubrik of science, it would take some kind of new discovery and re-interpretation of the evidence by scientists with a whole bunch of scientists discrediting evolution. Possibly, useful in some form but not the best way to interpret things in what we now know in science?

    I think Christians who have historically disbelieved in evolution are going to find themselves more and more uncomfortable as evolution takes a stronger seat in future generations because of greater breakthoughs in science like geno-science and the DNA evidence to name a few. If the gaps in the fossil record get more solidified and mostly disappear, anti-evolutionists are going to find it harder to refute evolution with real science (and I’m not even talking about all the psuedo-science that is done by some).

    I think the faith component will always be there so I doubt the invisible will become scientifically testable like God is now the mouse that must jump through our hoops and perform on our scientific terms. The issue of identifying the action of God will be person by person who actually witnesses it. It will not be done in a lab by some scientist.

  • RJS

    Thanks Rick,

    I saw a couple of early versions of this video (when the name was still Leap of Truth) but look forward to getting a completed version.

    I think this video, along with Test of Faith put out by the Faraday Institute will work best if presented in a forum that allows for discussion, with experts on hand to field questions and facilitate discussion. It is something I would love to do and hope that the opportunity presents itself.

  • RJS

    CGC,

    It is interesting to consider this “faith element” in the context of things like the discussion Scot posted Sunday about an earthquake between 26 and 36 AD; and others brought up an eclipse in the same time frame. We don’t view these events as from God because they are inexplicable without his divine intervention. There are natural explanations for both earthquakes in that region (there is a major fault after all) and for eclipses. We view it as from God because of the connection to the crucifixion and because of relationship with God and his relationship with us.

    Likewise the parting of the red sea would, I think, have appeared “natural” without the timing of relationship to the deliverance of Israel.

    Something to think about anyway.

  • RJS

    Rick (#2), I think I will have to listen to the podcast you reference – where is it available?

  • Rick
  • Joe Canner

    I like the idea of separating natural selection as mechanism from evolution as natural history, especially when discussing this subject with those from a YEC perspective. The evidence we have is a series of “snapshots” of what life forms there were throughout history, plus an accumulation of pieces of those snapshots in the DNA of modern life forms. Natural selection is science’s approach to explaining this evidence. We can argue all we want about whether natural selection (with or without God) is the mechanism, but we still have to be able to explain the data and explain how our understanding of Scripture fits with that data.

    I don’t know that such an approach has ever totally convinced anyone, but I think it helps people to be more tolerant of non-YEC viewpoints.

  • Andrew

    RJS (#5), I made it to the world premiere of _From the Dust_ on May 31 in Palo Alto, and in that setting they did have a panel on hand to respond to questions, including John Walton from Wheaton, Darrell Falk of BioLogos, and April Maskiewicz of Point Loma Nazarene, all three of whom were in the movie itself. They also had a gentleman (whose name escapes me) that teaches chemistry at a secular university nearby, who had no relationship to BioLogos, so I know they’re welcoming involvement by people unaffiliated to BioLogos; I’m sure they’d love to hear from you! They specifically mentioned — in response to a questioner who wanted to promote the video to TV stations — that the ideal setting for showing the film is in just the setting you describe, where informed conversations can grow out of its viewing. In fact, the insert in the DVD case has discussion questions printed in it for that very purpose. The completed version of the film is on sale in both DVD and BluRay, and if I were them I’d give you a review copy for free.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Briefly tangential. I find that many who do not allow for evolution also cast scientists in the mold of “knowing more than god” while putting themselves in the chair of “being under god”. But I feel it is exactly the opposite. Those who doubt evolution at this point are the ones who are showing irresponsible certainty in face of the facts, while the scientists are the ones saying that they do not know therefore they continue to investigate. It is that lack of further investigation that is the key distinguishing feature between those who would know and those who do not.

    As the question to anyone outside of the context of this question, “Who is admitting that they do not know how things work? The one who will not investigate yet state a view quite strongly, or the one who will investigate to see if their view is right?”

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Another tangential thought. Richard Feynman is one of the genius people in the past 100 years. He is also a gifted communicator, in my opinion. One of the things I have recently watched is a 1993 documentary shortly after his death. In this video, starting at about 3 minutes into the 50 minute video he says

    In general we look for a new law by the following process. First we guess at it, then we compute the consequences of the guess, to see if this law that we guessed was right we would see what it would imply. Then we compare those computation results to nature, or we say compare to experiment or experience. Compare it directly to observation to see if it works. If it disagrees with experiment, it is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your guess is, it doesn’t make a difference how smart you are or who made the guess, or what his name is, if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlhInhfF3cc
    The Best Mind Since Einstein – Richard Feynman Biography (PBS: NOVA – 1993)

    That really captures the essence of the conversation. The first step is to say that we don’t know, and then make a guess. But what happens is that after you have gone through this loop thousands and thousands of times, as we have with many of the aspects of evolution, you really do start getting to something that is representative of what happens in nature.

    I recommend the video. I particularly like the scene where he recollects a discussion with his father about inertia and his father’s approach to explaining science.

  • Glenn Sunshine

    I’ve long argued that the issue isn’t evolution per se, but undirected evolution. Since I don’t see Gen. 1 as narrative history, I don’t think Scripture speaks to the mechanism of creation. It does place responsibility for the form of the world in God’s hands, however, and thus any theory that says that evolution is truly random as opposed to unpredictable from a human perspective would be incompatible with Scripture as near as I can tell. I think a lot of the problem comes from assuming human limitations apply to God. They don’t.

  • Bev Mitchell

    RJS
    This book arrived yesterday and I have read Part I already. It is indeed excellent and I look forward to Part II. Thanks for reviewing it. Also, just read today’s discussion so far …. some very good points. Many who follow your blog seem to be getting the bigger picture. Here is something along the same general lines.

     I’m hoping that Poe and Davis don’t try to get too specific about how or where they think God acts in creation. You comment that “Poe and Davis speculate that the epigenome provides another pathway for the action of God.” And you continue with the statement, “Any move to eliminate the action of God from evolutionary biology is a philosophical or theological move, not a scientific move”. Well said! However, we must also realize that any move to specifically say, from within our limited perspective, how God goes about his work (eg. through epigenetics) is very likely to be overrun by future science – it’s still a God of the gaps approach. 

    It is indeed fascinating that the genes are not nearly as straightforward a thing as envisaged in the one gene-one protein days. The emerging data on gene regulation and on the actual inter-generational transmission of some kinds of gene regulation, under some circumstances, represents a major, probably revolutionary, advance in our understanding. An analogy,  following the lead of Poe and Davis, would be the keys on a piano. We can know everything there is to know about a piano, it’s keys and strings, the physics of sound, etc. However, asking ten outstanding pianists with widely varying musical tastes and styles to each take a turn putting those keys to use will easily illustrate the variety inherent in a relatively simple machine. 

    The Lord is indeed subtle, more than we will ever be able to imagine, and, it seems, he has not asked us to find work for him to do. This is probably because we would not be nearly subtle enough in our thinking. We can’t seem to avoid reducing the problem to the question ‘How would I do it if I were God?’ This exercise will always miss the point, as well as provide wrong answers. The cosmos is a stage, the earth, from our perspective, centre stage. Scripture seems overwhelmingly interested in how we perform on that stage, with respect to God, other human beings, other living things and matter in general. How the stage was constructed, and exactly how God was involved, are not a big deal, from the perspective of Scripture.

    This is not to decry the work of science, essentially the use of our God given talents to better understand his creation. Give us more and more, it’s fun, fascinating, challenging, productive and, when the results are properly used, a great blessing. However, spelling out mechanistically how God might work  in creation – ‘What, specifically, does God do and how does he do it?’ – is beyond us. Our lack of subtlety, as well as lack of knowledge will always defeat us on this one. As you say, we cannot use scientific findings or thought to “eliminate the action of God from evolutionary biology…”. Nor can we use scientific findings to pinpoint where or when God acts in evolutionary biology.

    Bibliography for today:

    R.R. Reno “Genesis” Brazos Press, 2010
    Richard C. Francis “Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance”

  • E.G.

    Q: “What do you think it would take to disprove evolution?”

    A1: Proof that what we see as change is actually stasis-in-disguise. As long as there is change, or the possibility of change, there is evolution… by whichever means. In other words, it won’t be disproved by this avenue.

    A2: Proof that our current idea of timescales is wrong. Evolution of the type that we expect via the fossil record needs large swaths of time. Again, the evidence for the timeframe is solid, but for some reason it does seem more assailable by young earth creationists. Probably because to understand what’s going on you need at least a rudimentary understanding of physics and chemistry… something that most people do not have.

  • Bev Mitchell

    RJS

    That God works in the cosmos is a matter of faith; how God works therein is a matter for conjecture.  It is not enough, it seems, to believe that God is in control, we really must know (or think we know) how.

    I love the way Poe and Davis set things up and cover so many important points. A reader who chooses this book as their introduction to this large series of arguments, however, may find themselves wanting fuller development in many areas. Occasional huge jumps in subject from one paragraph to the next will also cause some ‘culture’ shock. 

    Having now read to the end of Chapter 7, I still say this is a very good book. The opening statement above signals my nagging concern. Indeed, as Poe and Davis so ably show, there is now very good cause to see nodes or ‘decision’ points along the way to becoming for what we call the natural world – ‘decision’ points where a decider might well act. The authors see these points as fundamentally different from the failed ‘gaps’ used so often in the past as a refuge for God’s actions. This is because these points of ‘decision’ owe their existence to the way the system works, not to the simple fact of our own ignorance. They are bullet-proof ‘decision’ points – they are real, independent of our attempts to know or our ways of knowing. They may well be, probably are.  But, to suggest that these points of ‘decision’ represent God’s ‘control panel’ is probably a mistake. The authors will have to do a better job of explaining how this view is not just another version of micromanagement by an all controlling creator. 

    Granting all the points made in the first seven chapters (except for incipient micromanagement) the Creator could easily have set initial conditions in the full knowledge that sentient beings of some kind would eventually evolve. Once beings able to receive God’s self-revelation emerged, his self-revelation began. A more open theology may agree better with this more open universe. :)

  • RJS

    Bev,

    I think your nagging concern is mine as well. But I also think this book is a very good contribution because it puts ideas up for consideration in a reasonable fashion. I think it has a lot to offer to the discussion. We are not going to find “THE ANSWER” in any one (or even several) books on these subjects – but we can gain insights and understanding from the strengths and weaknesses of each attempt.

  • Bev Mitchell

    RJS
    You are absolutely correct. Sorry if I came across as too critical. And, I haven’t even finished the last couple of chapters! Poe and Davis do say, at least in a couple of places, that we can’t find the Christian God via this route. Yet, this kind of analysis, which I find fascinating for a good number of reasons, needs to be very clear when defining it’s goals. As in the old days (very old days) of reading ASA material, one gets the feeling that some level of proof of God is the goal. Such proofs are unlikely to convince unbelievers and, theoretically, are not needed by believers. On the other hand, such analyses may help believers overcome their reluctance to revisit their interpretation of Scripture with respect to mechanisms creation. I take it this is your main reason for highlighting the book. It really does have a lot of very good stuff that could help in this way.

  • JohnM

    RJS,

    Okay, now THIS is starting to get somewhere. I don’t know if it is “THE ANSWER” either, or for certain if “theistic evolution” is the overall best explanation, but this is one way the phrase at least doesn’t sound like a contradiction to me. Not that I take if for granted anyone besides me cares how it sounds to me. ;)

  • http://www.cosmicfingerprints.com/ Perry Marshall

    1) Natural selection is only a delete key, it does not generate novelty. Saying “Evolution occurs by natural selection” is like saying “technological progress happens through failed product launches.” That’s a half truth, and that’s being generous.

    2) The real question of evolution is, where do positive adaptive traits come from? The best author on this subject that I have found is James Shapiro whose book “Evolution: A View from the 21st Century” explains that evolution is driven by “Natural Genetic Engineering” and the ability for cells to re-arrange their own DNA and form cooperative relationships with other cells. He thoroughly documents his claims.

    Shapiro’s blog on the Huffington Post is at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-a-shapiro and he describes these mechanisms in detail in lay language. They are astonishing. None of this happens by random accident.

    3) How would you prove the hand of God in evolution? I’m not sure you could. Wouldn’t it be better to treat evolution the way we treat the cosmos – we assume that God need not keep nudging the planets in their place to keep them in orbit; and neither does He need to push evolution along. Why? Because the ability to evolve is pre-programmed into living things.

    As an engineer, to me this notion of God is far more impressive than one who beams zebras onto the savanna intact, and has to because it’s allegedly impossible for them to evolve from something else.

    Evolution is an engineered process and there is MUCH to learn by studying it. Another window into the mind of God.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Final note on Poe and Davis
    Chapter 9, their conclusion, is practically worth the price of the book! There are flashes of brilliance throughout the entire work, offset by what comes across as a conflict. While making a stellar case for the cosmos, as currently understood, being a place where God could easily be at work within the rules, so to speak, the authors often seem to wish they could then point to specific places where God has worked. In Chapter 9, they come closer to freeing themselves from this conflict than anywhere else. One can almost see God free to work everywhere and always, without our worrying overmuch about how.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Reading Poe and Davis brought the following to mind. I think (hope) it is largely in the spirit of their work.

    Giving up our certainty of how.

    When we hold to a literal interpretation of Genesis (in the mechanistic sense) we rest assured that we not only know that God has created everything, we think we know how it was done. The first is true, the second we are being asked to give up. It is very scary, especially to the western, Augustinian, Newtonian mind to give up apparently certain knowledge of how something is done. After all, as faithful Bible believers, don’t we have a right to know how?

    There is a symmetry to our arrogance. While some believe that knowledge of what God has done allows us to dismiss God, others believe that belief in God as creator entitles us to know how God did it. Both views idolize mechanism – a very western form of worship. 

    To freely paraphrase Scripture, God says “I have done this for you as part of my self-revelation to you. What I have done is there for you to see, use, enjoy and cherish, to the full extent of the abilities that I have given you. I promise to continue this work for you while also revealing to you what I expect of you. Please know that all of creation will not be complete until you are in me and I am in you, and that I am doing all of this because I love you.”

    Perhaps we should learn to read between the lines something like the following: “Exactly how I did this is beyond your understanding – you can’t find my fingerprints, because they are everywhere.”

  • Norman

    Bev,

    Thanks for your helpful reviews and analysis, I do appreciate your rational and logical application you bring to these discussions. :)

  • Percival

    RJS said,
    “Evolution as natural history could be falsified if, for example, rabbit fossils were found in rocks dating to the Cambrian, say in the Burgess Shale sitting alongside the earliest trilobites.”

    Indeed, this is just the sort of thing that YEC would predict. Haven’t they noticed that this does not happen? Rather, if I were ever lucky enough to find rabbit fossils in Cambrian rocks I would think that it was evidence of a partially successful time machine experiment. (Poor Hoppy never made it back.) But seriously, one bunny in a rock would not be enough of course. We might ask what would it take to disprove that the Earth is roughly spherical and orbits the Sun? It is almost too silly to think about even though, personally, I like thinking about silly things.

  • John Inglis

    Accepting Evolution, but Separating History from Mechanism

    That has always seemed so obvious and logical to me, that it surprises me that anyone would think it controversial (the separation, that is). Of course, the separation may be irrelevant to some groups that either accept all three or reject all three (biological evolution, evolutionary history, evolutionary mechanisms).

    It also seems to me that such a premise is acknowledged by the leading IDers, some of whom accept common ancestry but critique the various modern theories of evolution.

    I would not use “natural selection” as a shorthand for evolutionary mechanisms, however, because it is not the most controversial mechanism.

    It’s rather obvious that animals die, and that consequently their genetic information is removed, and that therefore natural selection occurs. It is somewhat controversial in that it is possible that it removes too much genetic information from the gene pool and thereby impedes “adaptive” / “positive” change.

    The more problematic mechanism is the one(s) for the introduction of new information. Darwin’s understanding was essentially “black box”. The assumption that random genetic mutation is capable of providing sufficient new, postive / adaptive information within the timeframe available seems highly speculative on present evidence.

    The example of resistence to antibiotics is irrelevant unless it can be shown that the resistence genes did not previously exist and were the result of genetic mutation.

    It has also not been shown that random stepwise adaptive genetic mutations (1) occur frequently enough to overcome all the possibilities of death before reproduction, or (2) have a significant enough benefit to increase reproductive success sufficiently.

    Moreover, it seems that seems that random stepwise genetic mutations cannot overcome the necessity that each step significantly increase reproductive success, except for jumps of 1 or maybe 2 steps (one step occurs and remains until a second step creates a reproductive advantage based upon both steps being present).

    Fossils do not give evidence of stepwise genetic mutation.

    etc.

    I’m not saying that random postive genetic mutations increasing information cannot be a mechanism, just that at the present time it’s not a ringer.

    J.

  • John Inglis

    “Evolution as natural history could be falsified if, for example, rabbit fossils were found in rocks dating to the Cambrian, say in the Burgess Shale sitting alongside the earliest trilobites.”

    Actually, no it would not falsify evolution. Scientists would merely reply that we obviously do not understand the entire process of evolution well enough, and that we have to adjust current theories to account for the rabbit. If no adjustment is seen on the immediate horizon, then it is assumed that further research and theorizing will uncover one. Moreover, it could be theorized that one branch of the so-called tree of life advanced much more rapidly than others due to particular environmental and other conditions at the time that favoured rapid rabit evolution. Or it could be that evolutionary leaps (can’t recall the name of the theory) are a more valid theory that currently thought by most. In addition, if we’ve found one, then we will eventually find others. Our collection of past specimens is by no means complete and we are continually finding new organisms, and fossil preservation is a chancy thing anyway.

    Evolution is inherently nonfalsifiable, because every new finding is just used as a justification for a modification to existing theories (the current theory may be false in a few ways–it was never claimed to be perfect–but taking this new data into account will give us a better theory).

    J.

  • RJS

    John,

    A rabbit in the Cambrian would falsify evolution – but it wouldn’t falsify “natural” mechanism and would not require sudden conversion to supernatural causes. The new find would become data for development of a new theory. The rabbit in the Cambrian example was chosen here because it is so far afield that nothing much of the current theory could survive the discovery.

    Like all scientific theories evolution is potentially falsifiable.

    The mechanism and details of the time path of evolution are currently much more “fluid” than realized by the non-scientists. This is not unusual and simply reflects the normal process of doing science. Most of the things you mention in your comment are simply part of the data. Talk of fits, starts, and jumps in evolution is part of discovery of the path and mechanism.

    Evolution can’t be falsified by a discovery that it is punctuated instead of smoothly gradual, it could be falsified by discovering that the progression from simple to complex is not real.


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