Monday, January 4, 2010

People Actually Think This Is an Evolution-Killer

I found this gem in the archives of Fundies Say the Darnedest Things, and I'd like to provide the appropriate response to each of the questions.

Students, give this test to your teachers. When they fail it, ask them why they are teaching this nonsense!

Teachers, give this test to your students if you really want them to know the truth about evolution!

1. Which evolved first, male or female?
Already we're ignoring one of the basic points of evolution.  There's no evolution from one species to a completely different species in a single generation.  Evolution proceeds by subtle yet useful mutations, which absolutely do not render an organism incompatible with others of its population.  So, for any given mutation, it doesn't matter which sex first mutated it.  It can thereafter be filtered into all members of the population.

2. How many millions of years elapsed between the first male and first female?
This is based on the assumption that #1 was logically effective or at least intelligible.  Next question.

3. List at least 9 of the false assumptions made with radioactive dating methods.
I believe this is a textbook example of the begging the question fallacy: the questioner assumes there are at least nine problems with radiometric dating.  The question isn't even clearly phrased, though; I can provide one false assumption: that there's anything wrong with the fundamental science of radiometric dating.  It takes ludicrous special pleading in outright defiance of Occam's Razor to suggest that rates of decay might have arbitrarily changed at some point in the past, and especially that they would all have changed in such a way that they're still consistent with one another and with other dating methods.
4. Why hasn't any extinct creature re-evolved after millions of years?
Each species is the result of millions of die rolls (metaphorically, duh).  The probability of a species coming out in any particular way is extremely low.  That probability would be compounded severely if exactly the same species occurred twice.

5. Which came first:
...the eye,
...the eyelid,
...the eyebrow,
...the eye sockets,
...the eye muscles,
...the eye lashes,
...the tear ducts,
...the brain's interpretation of light?
I bet you didn't think I could actually order them, but I will.
a. The brain's interpretation of light.  The first step to eye evolution was the mutation of a patch of light-sensitive cells.  Hell, even plants are capable of responding to light, and they don't even have brains.  Strictly speaking, it wasn't necessarily a "brain" that came first, perhaps something more primitive like a ganglion.  Flatworms may be a better example, with their flat eyespots.
b. The eye.  Once we had this patch of light-sensitive cells, it was beneficial to recess it more and more into the organism, because that allowed us to use shadows to determine the direction of light, the better to avoid predators.  The logical extension of this results in the pinhole camera, which gives a fuzzy but still useful image; we see this on the nautilus.  It protects this primitive eye to give a transparent cover to this pinhole, and further mutations would find that giving this cover a convex shape clarifies the image until we get the true lens focusing light onto the retina.
c. Eye muscles.  I'm just guessing here, but it seems like the next logical step.
d. Eye sockets.  They're probably be somewhere around here, though many animals that have eyes don't have bones.
e. Eyelids.  I don't know about fish, but we definitely have these in amphibians and all later land animals.
f. Tear ducts.  These would be more necessary the more terrestrial animals get; amphibians can still resort to just sticking their eyes into the water to keep them wet, but reptiles, synapsids, etc. would need them.
g. Eyelashes.  I think these only occur in mammals.  At least, I don't think I've ever seen a bird with them outside of cartoons.
h. Eyebrows.  If you just have a look at your dog, you'll see that she doesn't have any especially thick fur at the brows.  Eyebrows were one of the spots where humans retained hair when we lost most of it.
For a delightful explanation of the evolution of the eye, by the way, check this out.

6. How many millions of years between each in question 5?
See my response to question 2.  Next question.

7. If we all evolved from a common ancestor, why can't all the different species mate with one another and produce fertile offspring?
As a matter of fact, if this were not the case, evolution wouldn't produce any of the diversity we see, so we're lucky that it's not.  Now, the accumulation of millions of years of divergent mutations renders two strands of DNA unrecognizable to one another.  DNA is imperfect, so it can fudge a little when it sees something new, but if you throw enough weird data at it at once, it'll get confused and won't recombine.  Similar to learning, in fact.  That's why education is broken up the way it is, and they don't just give you the Origin of Species in a 3rd-grade science class.

8. List any of the millions of creatures in just five stages of its evolution showing the progression of a new organ of any kind. When you have done this, you can collect the millions of dollars in rewards offered for proof of evolution!
This depends entirely on your definition of a "stage".  If you mean different species, you'll find that, given enough intermediates, there's no clear boundary between one species and its descendant species.  If you mean individual generations, then you'd be hard-pressed to find five consecutive stages in the fossil record.  But if I can take more liberties, how about this: lobe-finned fish > tiktaalik > early amphibians > reptiles > birds.  We get lungs, arms, legs, scales, feathers, wings, and probably lots of internal innovations as well.  As for the millions of dollars, see my response to question 13.

9. Why is it that the very things that would prove Evolution (transitional forms) are still missing?
I cannot but facepalm at this.  They're not.  Every fossil found is a transitional form between something and something else.  Next question.

10. Explain why something as complex as human life could happen by chance, but something as simple as a coin must have a creator. (Show your math solution.)
First of all, a coin doesn't necessarily have to have a creator.  Look at sand dollars.  They occur naturally.  Now, the concept of a coin as a unit of money doesn't occur naturally -- but it isn't simple, either.  There's an immense amount of symbolic thinking that goes into assigning value to a relatively worthless and definitely useless object, not to mention the symbolism that generally always goes into the things depicted on coins.

Now, I'll get to the actual assertion.  The process of natural selection carries us logically from a simple proto-replicator (more on that later) to all the complexity and diversity we see today.  The analogy I like to use comes from video games, of course.  This video shows a playthrough of what is possibly the hardest video game ever devised, but edited in such a way that it appears he made it all the way through without dying once.  In a game where everything can kill you, this is extremely unlikely.  Beating I Wanna Be The Guy in one try is the video game equivalent (dropping some powers of ten off the probability, of course) of a human being being randomly formed from nothing but a churning primordial ooze.  Like I said, the video is edited -- and the game in fact has numerous save points scattered throughout.  Whenever the player died in the making of this video, he cut the run from the last save to the death out of the video.  The most unlikely thing he ever had to do was make it from one save point to the next without dying.  Granted, this is still unlikely for the typical gamer and will probably take several tries.  But we only see the tries that succeeded; the failures were discarded.  This is exactly how natural selection works.  In the process of random mutation, some individuals make it to the next save point and some don't.  Only the successful ones survived to reproduce and pass their successful genes on to the next generation.  If one of them is slightly better than the rest, then the genes that gave it that ability are more likely to be propagated.  Multiply that probability by many generations, and any beneficial gene (i.e. a gene that increases its own ability to propagate, via mere survival or reproductive success) will filter its way through the whole population.

All that's left is the proto-replicator I mentioned earlier.  If we get the proto-replicator, we get all of life as we know it.  The trick is getting it.  As I discussed in an earlier post, there are rather a lot of planets in the universe, and a certain fraction of those (still rather a lot) will be conducive to abiogenesis (the random shuffling of molecules to result in a proto-replicator).  Abiogenesis can be, to borrow a phrasing from Professor Dawkins, very unlikely indeed, and still have occurred.  Whatever the unlikeliness of abiogenesis, however, it's far more likely to have randomly occured than for an infinitely complex being like Yahweh to randomly spring into existence and then go about designing things.

11. Why aren't any fossils or coal or oil being formed today?
They are.  Next question.

12. List 50 vestigial or useless organs or appendages in the human body.
What would it prove if I couldn't?  In any case, the wasteful detour of the recurrent laryngeal nerve is strong evidence that if the human body was deliberately designed, it was done very poorly indeed.  Why is fifty the magical number that would prove Yahweh to be a bumbling incompetent?  Would a god who built us with 49 vestigial organs be that much better?
13. Why hasn't anyone collected the millions of dollars in rewards for proof of evolution?
Because the creationist challengers have given a standard of proof that is impossible in principle to meet.  For more details, see here.

14. If life began hundreds of millions of years ago, why is the earth still under populated?
Not to mention the series of catastrophic extinction events, the Earth has only a limited ability to support life in the first place.  The amount of fertile land we have can only support so many plants, which are the backbone of any land ecosystem, and photosynthetic plankton and other waterborne plants are only efficient enough to propagate under a certain density.  Even given those limitations, I'd say the Earth is very well populated.

15. Why hasn't evolution duplicated all species on all continents?
See my response to #4.  There are many ways for natural selection to reach the general goal of "find better ways to replicate genes".  As long as that goal is being served, natural selection is doing its job.

And I'm not even a scientist!  There is no reason why a biology teacher would be confounded by this drivel.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Queue: Update

This is, um, an update to the queue.  Surprise!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Return of the Queue

I play some video games.  I have played some other video games.  I will yet play still more video games.  Obviously nobody with a rational sense of what is or is not "wasting time" would be reading my blog anyway, so I'm going to list off the games that are on my to-do list.  Without further ado!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Virtue of DDO

If you've read anything like all of my blog posts (of which you should be very ashamed if you have), you'll know that I once played World of Warcraft for a month. If you were paying attention, you'd have realized that I didn't much care for it. Is it possible I just don't like the conventions of MMOs? Maybe. But then, that makes it slightly mysterious that I've become so fond of Dungeons and Dragons Online.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

No, Atheism is Not Literally a Delusion

So this guy named Bruce G. Charlton -- I won't stress the ironic similarity of his surname to the word "charlatan" -- wrote this article claiming that atheism is a delusion. P Zed linked to it today, but he left his readers to determine for themselves how it was fallacious. Because I'd like to exercise my rhetorical and logical chops, I'm going to do a paragraph-by-paragraph refutation.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Aliens and the Razor

It's okay to believe in aliens. That in and of itself is a perfectly reasonable position. After all, there are estimated to be somewhere on the order of 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (ten sextillion, or 10 to the 22nd power) planets in the universe. About 25% of the planets in our solar system alone are in the neighborhood of being able to support life, which means, if our solar system is typical (which it most definitely may not be), there are two and a half sextillion planets that can support life. Even if it only ever happens on one in a trillion (and estimates by reputable scientists have gone more likely than that even) of possible planets, then we'll still have life in some form on 2,500,000 planets. If it's only one in a sextillion, then there'll still be at least two planets in the entire universe, including this one, with life. So aliens, in the strictest sense, are really quite likely. The problem, though, is believing that aliens have discovered, reached, and interacted with us here on Earth. In this installment, I'll be exploring the many reasons why it's far more likely that believers in alien contact are far more likely to be deluded than right.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Question of Motive

Scientists say that the entire vast diversity of life on Earth was caused by genetic mutation (which changes individuals) and natural selection (which distributes the most effective genes around a population). Whenever a population divides for a long enough time, they become genetically isolated and will thenceforth continue to be divided even if they share a territory; the two groups will go their own way, and over millions of years they can become astonishingly different. We have a sequence of fossils that demonstrates this gradual change throughout consistent strata of rock. We have several independent dating methods that corroborate one another, including tree-ring dating and many different types of radiometric dating, all of which support the notion that the fossils we've found are many millions of years old if not more. We've seen bacteria adapting through random mutation in laboratory settings, and, as we'd expect, the mutant bacteria thrive and take over the population.