Larry Doesn’t Get Science Pt 3 – Evolution Pt 2 – Transitional Forms Pt 1

ChipmunkThis is part of a series: [Index].

Part 3 - Larry doesn’t understand transitional forms/fossils. This will be split into two parts, due to length.

A big aspect of my premise for this series is that even if we were to lay out the evidence for a creationist like Larry, it’d likely be rejected because he doesn’t understand the evolutionary model.

Heck, I don’t know how many times the phrase “Do you honestly expect us to believe that ______ ” came up in his 11-14 page response, as though his incredulity was an argument.

In this case, he seems to be struggling with transitional forms.

But for a process that is constantly at work with no intelligence guiding it and which produces changes only incrementally, I would expect that after billions of years of life on this planet, every living thing would be in a transitional state, like a city where every building is under construction, no building completed, yet all still inhabitable.

Larry has entered some kind of quantum state where here’s both right and wrong at the same time.

He continues after a bit, emphasis mine.

There is no master designer deciding when evolution can take a break, or even when a species is ‘complete.’  There are supposed to be constant changes, and after all these years, every living thing should exhibit these changes in progress.  Yet it looks to the casual observer like all of life has reached a state of equilibrium in that trees seem complete as trees, and human beings look like finished products.  Sure, we could all be smarter and better looking, and we still need a gene to prevent obesity, but nobody looks like the manufacturer is still at work here.

Okay, I ended up emphasizing everything because every part of that paragraph is noteworthy. This is an example of what could almost be another law of apologetics – that each any every consecutive statement they make is wrong… but that’d be more rhetorical.

Everything is transitional

Actually, he managed to be partially right, from before: “every living thing would be in a transitional state” – They are.

Assuming for the moment I ever have kids (hah!), and my lineage goes unbroken for a long time…

  • I am a transitional form between my parents and my children.
  • I am a transitional form between my ancestors 10 generations ago, and my descendants 10 generations from now.
  • I am a transitional form between my ancestors 10,000 generations ago, and my descendants 10,000 generations from now.
  • Each of those generations is a transitional form between their ancestors and descendants.

It’s just that the further apart you go, the more you notice a difference between the ancestors and descendants.

Larry would probably disagree that this is what a “transitional form” is, and I don’t know why. I think it may be our fault (on the evolution side).

All creatures are transitional

Truck

Truck

This is my truck.

Suppose, when “trucks” are advertised, the commercials involve slow-motion footage of these vehicles barreling through some construction site or quarry, carrying a load of cinder blocks in the bed, with Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock” playing in the background.

Suppose they’re always presented this way, and the audience had no other exposure to the concept of “truck” outside of these commercials, and wouldn’t know anything about them.

The company that makes them understands “trucks” fully, but one day, a truck engineer is walking down the street with his/her non-informed friend, and they see a truck, just driving normally down the street, and it pulls into a parking lot of a grocery store – to buy more expresso chip ice cream (because it’s the best).

That’s not a truck“, the friend says. “Why not?” “It’s driving too fast, it’s not in a quarry and it doesn’t have anything in the bed.

To the informed person, the reasoning is nonsensical. What do those attributes have to do with whether it’s a truck or not? But that’s the idea the person picked up from the commercials.

It’d be like if I were to show you a photo of a penguin walking around on the moon (without a penguin space suit). Clearly, something is afoot. Either the moon landscape is fake, or the penguin is fake, because from what you “know” about penguins, it’s not possible for them to survive on the moon.

From what we understand of evolutionary theory, the full scope of diversity of life on this planet was likely due to the process. Thus, we’d expect to see transitions of all degrees, from the barely noticeable, to transitions between major “types” of creatures, or structures on those creatures.

So when asked for evidence for these transitional forms, what do we do? We provide the most blatant examples, such as: Tiktaalik or Archaeopteryx… not examples of a wolf-like ancestor compared to a slightly less wolf-like ancestor.

What we may have done is provided those “key” examples to the exclusion of all others… and the audience has picked up on a pattern that we did not intend.

Within genetics, nothing identifies a species. The “species” (or other level of taxonomy) is just how we categorized the output, but the gene expression is incredibly fluid. There’s no identifiable bounding parameters (outside of issues of gaining/losing chromosomes, which is possible even on the level of entire genomes) preventing change, so thus, unless a descendant is a complete clone of the parent, it’ll be a transitional form between its ancestors and descendants.

So basically, yes, everything we see is a transitional form… we just gave people like Larry the wrong impression about what that means.

 

… to be continued in tomorrow’s post.

About Jasper

The vertebrate is a software engineer, and spends too much time thinking about a narrow set of topics.


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