Thursday, April 26, 2012

Evolution is...

Commentor bachfiend answers my request to define "evolution":

Evolution is 1. Common ancestry. 2. Descent with modification. 3. Natural variation within breeding populations. 4. Mechanisms for changing the proportion of variations within breeding populations, one of which is natural selection.

Pretty good summation. Let's sort it out.

Evolution is

1. Common ancestry.

Agreed. Common ancestry is usually cited by evolutionary biologists as a core tenet of evolution.

Common ancestry was asserted by Darwin in Origin, but it had been proposed several times before, most notably by Immanuel Kant and by Darwin's grandfather Erasmus Darwin.

There is certainly evidence to support the inference to common ancestry, although I believe that there are reasons to question it as well. I point out that even if it were shown that life is polyphyletic, it would have no relevance to Darwin's inference to random heritable variation and natural selection.

A synthetic organism capable of conventional heredity and reproduction, manufactured from scratch from chemicals in bottles this afternoon in a lab, would proceed to "evolve" in a perfectly Darwinian way, yet it would share no common descent with any other species. It would merely share common design.

It's hard to argue that common ancestry is an essential tenet of evolution when completely de-novo organisms-- unrelated to any other species by ancestry except by intelligent design-- would evolve just fine.

2. Descent with modification.

Here bach means that offspring are different from parents in heritable ways. True, and known to be true by everyone for countless millennia. About as banal an observation as one could imagine.

3. Natural variation within breeding populations.

Living things vary. Even more banal than descent with modification. Darwinists are always pushing the envelope of banality.

4. Mechanisms for changing the proportion of variations within breeding populations, one of which is natural selection.

Some traits promote reproductive success more than others do. I'm falling asleep...

There you have it, dear readers. The Theory of Evolution. Offspring are different from parents, living things vary, and survivors survive. The conclusion that most Darwinists draw from this profundity is that God doesn't exist. Go figure.

The only actual scientific assertion in "evolution" that isn't utterly banal is common ancestry, which is not an essential tenet of evolution and may well not even be true. Commonalities are as likely to be the result of common design as they are to be the result of common descent.

It's a scandal that this idiot "theory" is taken seriously. There is good evidence that even quite a few evolutionary biologists are coming to acknowledge that evolution's "indispensability" to biology is an illusion.

Evolutionary biologist and atheist philosopher Massimo Pugliucci:

Perhaps the trouble started with Theodozius Dobzhansky, one of the fathers of modern evolutionary theory, who famously said that nothing makes sense in biology except in the light of evolution... Problem is, Dobzhansky was writing for an audience of science high school teachers, and his statement is patently wrong, as an even cursory examination of the history of biology makes clear. For instance, developmental biologists had done a lot of highly fruitful research throughout the 19th and 20th centuries even as they ignored Darwin. And molecular biologists made spectacular progress from the 1950’s though the onset of the 21st century, again pretty much completing (sic) ignoring evolution.

I've long argued that Darwinists are furious mainly because they've been forced to explain themselves. That's one thing Darwinism can't survive. When Darwin's "theory" is actually explained, sans the jargon and evasions, people who understand the explanation burst out laughing. Nothing in biology makes sense without "things change and survivors survive"? My sides ache.

As the laughter grows, atheists will need to conjure up another creation myth. They're working on it. 


  1. Michael,

    Whereas the 'theory' of Intelligent Design states that God did something, somewhere, sometime for completely unknown reasons by a completely unknown mechanism.

    The banality of your theory knows no limits.

    If I were a believer (you might have gathered that I'm not) I'd say that God used the process of evolution to create humans and the Big Bang to create the Universe.

    Malaria must create a lot of problems for you believers. God created mosquitoes, which have no known use, except as fish food and perhaps a light snack for insectivorous bats. And then God created malaria. But to give humans an even chance, He then created sickle cell trait and glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency.

    Sickle cell trait gives increased resistance to malaria if heterozygous, but results in sickle cell anemia, a nasty disorder, if homozygous.

    But it's OK. He also created a tree containing a specific antimalarial, quinine. But put the tree in South America, where there was no natural malaria, until Portugese and Spanish Catholics decided it was quite OK to abduct Africans and drag them across the Atlantic to be lifelong slaves.

    And then according to your mate, Michael Behe's, God Intelligently Designed malaria parasites to become chloroquine resistant, because it needs two mutations, and Behe's claims that that is impossible for evolution to produce by natural means.

    Your God must have a malicious sense of humour ...

  2. Egnor has carefully cropped Pigliucci's words. (Surprise!) The quote continues as follows:

    This is not to say that evolutionary theory doesn’t help in understanding developmental and molecular systems, but it is a stretch of the record to make claims such as those of Dobzhansky. (It would be like saying, for instance, that nothing makes sense in physics except in the light of quantum mechanics. Plenty of things in physics make perfect sense even as one brackets quantum mechanics and considers it a background theory.)

    So, Pigliucci says that, just like quantum mechanics is one of the cornerstones of physics, evolution is one of the foundational principles of biology. If Egnor has any evidence that even quite a few evolutionary biologists are coming to acknowledge that evolution's "indispensability" to biology is an illusion, Pigliucci is not among them.

    Try again, Mike. Your quote mining skills are getting a bit rusty.

  3. On a more general note, it's silly to accuse evolutionary theory of being "banal." Successful scientific theories need not be flashy. They just have to work. That someone would poo-poo a scientific theory for being too simple has no idea how science works.

    Newton's theory of gravity is quite banal. All it says is that any two small objects attract each other with a force proportional to their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. That's it. It's that simple. As banal as it sounds, the theory correctly explains the motion of a dropped basketball, the motion of planets in the solar system and of stars in our galaxy. It doesn't explain where gravity comes from. But it makes specific enough predictions that enable scientists to test it.

    And test it they did. They found discrepancies that indicated that our picture of the solar system had been incomplete: the motion of Uranus deviated slightly from predictions of Newtonian mechanics. That led to the discovery of Neptune, another planet tugging on Uranus. And the motion of Mercury did not entirely make sense within the Newtonian framework. It took quite a bit longer to explain that as it required the development of general relativity.

    Evolution, as conceived by Darwin, may not be as mathematically sophisticated as Newtonian mechanics. It got lots more mathematical when it merged with genetics. (There are lots of quantitative models in population genetics.) But mathematical sophistication is not a requirement for a scientific theory. (Einstein's special relativity is based on the sixth-grade algebra.) It just needs to make specific, falsifiable predictions. That evolution does.

    People have reconstructed evolutionary trees by looking at genomes of various species. Discrepancies were found: some species had genes that they shared with organisms that weren't closely related by ancestry. The evolutionary tree of life had tangled branches! Thus horizontal gene transfer (HGT) was discovered. It did not invalidate theory of evolution any more than general relativity invalidated Newton's theory of gravity.

    And HGT is not just another epicycle, as some creationists wish to paint it. It is an important mechanism of evolution, particularly in the early stages of life.

    Creationists can whine all they want about evolution, but it is staying with us. Take a biology curriculum at any respectable university and you will find plenty of evolution there. Stony Brook, for instance, has the Department of Ecology and Evolution. The interdisciplinary Program in Computational Biology at Stony Brook includes faculty from Ecology and Evolution. Go ahead, Mike, tell your colleagues face-to-face that they are doing nothing. Make an ass of yourself.

  4. You've come out pretty heavily in favor of market economics on your blog, and yet the theory that underlies them is based on Adam Smith's work and his observation that the "invisible hand" of the market will operate. But Smith's theory is no less "banal" than the theory of evolution. The entirety of Austrian economics (which you appear to favor) is built on ideas that are as "banal" as that which you lambaste Darwin for.

    So why the difference? Do you think "banal" is okay for economics but not for biology? Do you just not understand economics? You appear not to understand biology beyond the eighth grade level, so I wouldn't be surprised if your knowledge of economics was drawn entirely from conservative talking points. But I'd be curious to see you explain why you are in favor of one "banality" but opposed to the other.

  5. Egnor, where do you stand on the opinion of the catholic church that god has a hand in evolution? A so-called theistic evolution?

    I just cant see the reason in theists, when they make fun of scientists - people actually trying to find evidence logically for how life has become as it is on this planet.

    Meanwhile, their 'banality', egnor, is the same banality that they've been spewing for a couple thousand years - a magical being snapped his fingers and poof! everything appeared as you see it. It really is ironic when believers in magic point to scientists and call THEM silly.

    1. @Mulder:

      Great questions, worth a post. I'll reply tomorrow.

  6. A synthetic organism ... would share no common descent with any other species. It would merely share common design.

    This seems to be a very basic tenet of the philosophy of science that many proponents of ID miss. Commonality may be consistent with ID, but so is uncommonality ... and good design, bad design, apparent design, hidden design, etc. ID and similar theories exclude nothing so they are consistent with whatever findings are made.

    Evolutionary theory, as it stands to today, successfully predicts the commonality seen between various lifeforms. If such commonality had not been found then evolutionary theory would have needed to be revamped or rejected. But it survives, and is a more successful theory than ID, precisely because it limits the type of world we should see.

    Popper explains this in more detail in Chapter 4 of "The Logic of Scientific Discovery". I suggest you re-read it. Or read it.

    Here bach means that offspring are different from parents in heritable ways. True, and known to be true by everyone for countless millennia. About as banal an observation as one could imagine.

    Only banal in hindsight. The heritability of traits was not fully understood, or fully implemented in domestic livestock, until the past few centuries. Prior to that while it was understood that certain traits were heritable, it was equally believed that certain traits in domestic livestock could be induced by alterations in the environment, feeding, training etc. In fact there is an ancient text on breeding that claimed goats could be made to have offspring with striped coats by copulating in front striped rows of bark. Crazy I tell you!


  7. I would love to be the biologist that discovers life that doesn't appear to share common ancestry with the life we know.

    What exactly would it take for someone to credibly claim evidence of a separate abiogenesis event? It would probably take more than a couple of unique amino acids or chemical substitutions in the structure of DNA. Those could represent an evolutionary split in some early form of DNA, or perhaps even pre-DNA.

    We've already made synthetic DNA, that when injected into a cell that had its DNA removed, results in a functioning cell capable of reproduction. Assuming civilization doesn’t collapse and the Christians and Muslims don’t win the culture war, it’s only a matter of time before we create fully synthetic life forms, our own little Von Neumann machines.

    Given the chance we will figure all of this stuff out. We will have more and more plausible theories of abiogenesis. We will search the solar system for life and evidence of abiogenasis. We will build telescopes that can detect life on other planets. There is so much we can and will know about life and its origins. Let us hope that religious reactionaries continue to become an increasingly sad self-parody while the rest of us figure out what really happened.


    1. Actually, KW, you'll figure all of this out fairly soon, in a few score years. You'll stand before the Guy behind it all,and He'll explain it to you.

      Folks on earth will keep learning, as they should. They will be led by Christians and by Christianity, which is the source of all modern science.

    2. The vast majority of top scientists are atheists., and China is leaping forward as Christian and Muslim reactionaries do all they can to undermine science education in countries where they wield significant political power. Europe is doing relatively fine when it comes to science education, but the United States continues to fall farther and farter behind, largely doe to the reactionary anti-science stance of Christian conservatives. Religion is the ball and chain that shackles the mind.


    3. Michael,

      Yeah, right. You go for the wishful thinking form of argument. The threat based argument. Disbelieve evolution otherwise your God will be angry at you when you die. Which sophisticated theology do you follow in insisting that God has a real physical body against which a resurrected and rematerialised dead soul can stand?

      Good to see that you believe so passionately in providing evidence for your bizarre assertions.

    4. KW,
      "China is leaping forward "
      Towards WHAT? You might consider what Tiger's eat for supper before you start waving those red pompoms about.

      "Christian and Muslim reactionaries do all they can to undermine science education in countries where they wield significant political power."
      What? Undermine science education? What?
      'Muslim reactionaries' seem to be doing just fine building Nuclear facilities, testing weapons, and designing countermeasures. They also seem to be doing fine at building massive Oasis city states and massive advanced military complexes with money from energy resources. Seems to be plenty of tech and market savvy Muslims about.
      Lots of them educated in the USA, too.
      The Christians? What have they done?
      Who ever heard of Europe, The Americas, or the world markets?

      "Europe is doing relatively fine when it comes to science education,"
      But they are Christian? Some even have a CROSS as flag, and a King or Queen!!!
      But never mind that.
      Here's the sobering facts: In the last 8 years all of my relatives save two, and all of my in-laws (total) have moved from the UK and EU to Canada and the USA (some to Australia and New Zealand).
      All of them have a story, and a dozen more friends on their way. Why did they not stick around for the 'science education', I wonder?

      "Religion is the ball and chain that shackles the mind."
      Cage. Minds are caged or broken.
      Ball and chain and shackles are two different things. Ball and chain usually refers to a undesirable spouse or obligation.
      Shackled means attached unwillingly to something or someone. Shackles are like hand or leg cuffs.
      People have limbs shackled together or to an object or another person.
      Anyway, belief is not a cage. It is a frame.
      Denial is a cage for the mind.
      Consider: I believe in science and God...and art, and philosophy, and love, and the mind, and the soul, and courage, and honour, and morality etc etc.

      Because you choose to selectively reduce ALL these ideas to nothing, or explain them as the result of chance - you deny their potency. You miss the trees AND the forest. You willingly hide behind the bars of the cage that is denial.
      You are the caged one.
      Caged by denial.
      Caged by an obsessive need to oppose what you cannot disprove.
      Never mind, KW.
      Try to live well.
      This kind of thing usually passes over even the most sceptical and angry souls.
      You have my prayers.

      "[...]but the United States continues to fall farther and farter behind, largely doe to the reactionary anti-science stance of Christian conservatives."
      Funny. Not the fart business. I understand that is a typo.
      The funny bit, I mean as in irony.
      The rest of the world thought it was a military and economic decline combined with an increased trend towards welfare/benefits (socialism) that created the classism, education gaps, decaying work ethic, and general social tensions you folks are experiencing.
      You know? Like all the other civilizations of the past?
      We generally also think it is reversible.

      But you know us 'foreigners'. LOL

      We did not understand that teaching evolution is forbidden in US classrooms, progressive education methods banned, secularism forbidden, and that the Biblical creation myth has somehow outsourced your ENTIRE manufacturing industry to slave labour markets overseas...where apparently the slaves are well versed in theories of genetic mutation and natural selection, having been raised as communist automatons....
      This neatly explains the need to cover up prayer banners, married couple murals, un-bless highways, demand the removal of war memorials crosses at park and in military bases, to force ensurers to cover contraceptives, to enforce 'employment equity' on campus religious groups ... it is to save the world/America from China????

      If incoherence was a religion, you'd be it's pope KW!

  8. Hello Dr.Egnor.
    I have been reading your blog for quite some time now although this happens to be my first comment. While I agree for the most part with your views on philosophy and theism, I disagree with your dismissal of evolutionary theory as “banality", "stuff changes", etc.

    2. Descent with modification.

    Here bach means that offspring are different from parents in heritable ways. True, and known to be true by everyone for countless millennia. About as banal an observation as one could imagine.

    Descent with modification does not merely mean that any given organism will show characteristics slightly different from those of its parents. (Such a silly statement would no doubt be laughably banal and easily explained by mundane genetic recombination.)
    Rather, "descent with modification" implies that if we were to observe a population of organisms today and (hypothetically) peek a few million years into the future, we would probably find that their progeny have undergone fairly dramatic changes. For instance, the evolutionary ancestors of modern human beings were considerably different from us: their cranial capacity was considerably less, they lacked bipedal gait, etc.
    This is (or rather was, when it was first advanced) a legitimate, novel scientific idea. It is, after all, neither necessary nor obvious: it is perfectly possible to imagine a world in which species are created by the Lord at the very beginning and remain almost exactly the same from generation to generation through the aeons. Hence, regardless of whether or not you agree with the idea, to dismiss it as a laughable banality certainly seems unfair.

    1. @anon:

      Good points. I'll address them in a post in a couple of days. Thanks for commenting.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. I will be brief (as usual) and only ask commenters of this blog just one (1) question.

    What is the difference between Darwinism and a roll off toilet paper?

    I will await your answers and, after grading them, will give you the REAL answer.

    1. Pepe,

      Who gives a stuff what you think, if 'think' is the correct word to describe what you do.

    2. It is FUN to poke holes in Darwinism?
      (for the slower folks: You do not want to poke a hole in the TP while using it)

  11. I deleted my post above because it had a grammatical error in it and I did not want to give (stupid) atheists (small) reason to be obfuscated.