Monday, March 18, 2013

What Darwin Didn't Know- Ch 1 - The Scope of Challenges Pt 4 - Interactivity - Pt 2

Book Cover: What Darwin Didn't Know
I've dove into Geoffrey Simmons' "What Darwin Didn't Know" (2004), to evaluate an anti-evolution book.

I'm maintaining an index of my responses here.

Today's Chapter - 1: The Scope of Challenges - Part 4: Interactivity - Part 2. I was getting a bit long-winded on the previous post, so I decided to split it up into two parts.

Reasons to (dis)Believe

Allow me to digress for a moment, to try to put this whole line of argumentation into a broader perspective.

It's possible to be convinced of something for bad reasons. It's also possible to be de-convinced for bad reasons.

For instance, I might be convinced to believe in astral projection because someone said he can do it (a bad reason). I might then stop believing because someone said that astral projection can't work because nothing can penetrate the firmament (also a bad reason). Setting aside which is actually true or not, it's important that our pathway to truth is accurate.

Simmons is casting forth tsunami after tsunami of bad reasons to dismiss evolution.

Do you know what would be a great reason to dismiss it? Let's not forget about the burden of proof, which the theory of evolution clearly has acquired. He can dismiss it if the burden isn't met. Obviously, I believe it has, and what I'm finding is that his argumentation doesn't affect the positive evidence we do have supporting common ancestry.

Even if something like irreducible complexity were to demonstrate a weak spot in evolutionary theory, we wouldn't just hastily dismiss evolution. We'd investigate. We'd keep looking into it until we've figured out how the supposed irreducibly complex system came about. Then, we'd update the theory with that new information, and we'd have a new shiny and improved scientific theory.

Falsification happens when the positive evidence is refuted... not because there's a gap in our knowledge. That's silly. That's why many of these arguments I'm getting from Simmons leave me struggling to even understand what his point is, or what is the rationale behind his conclusions. From my perspective, he's asserting things with no justification.

Ultimately, what I'd like is for people to believe for the correct reasons, and to disbelieve for the correct reasons.

If Simmons is like the other creationists, he doesn't care for my above position. The ends justifies the means with creationists, more often than not. It doesn't matter if the facts aren't on his side, or if his rhetoric is vapid. As long as he managed to snare another person for Jesus, whether he or she is convinced for good or bad reasons, that's all that matters.

To me, process and method is everything - not a pre-determined end result.

Addressing some Particular Claims

Speaking of unjustified claims, I thought I'd finish by addressing some peculiar points he brought up. Most of his "points" I can clump together and dismiss because they're empty rhetoric (as I've been describing in painful detail), but some stuck out as either "you're looking at it backwards" or "how did you come to that conclusion?"

The process that causes a baby to suckle and a mother's breasts to start releasing milk simultaneously cannot have come about with a few random changes.
Let's file this one under "... why not?"

Here, maybe the next sentences will put his statement into better context.
If one were to try to argue to the contrary, one would need to find examples of newborns that progressed through tiny, incremental steps: from those that didn't breast-feed, to species that partially breast-feed, to present-day mammals. 
Actually, he's right... kinda. He's right about the burden of proof... but what he's doing is essentially a shifting of the burden of proof, though it's a subtle one.

Here's the basic possibilities:

  1. Incremental Mutation Evolution established it.
  2. Incremental Mutation Evolution did not establish it.
  3. An alternative evolution-compatible process established it.
  4. Status: Unknown
I won't bother fact-checking whether we do actually have the data on this, since my point more or less surrounds the soundness of his logic, rather than whether the premises are valid. 

He's basically set up a false dichotomy... either we have to positively demonstrate that this one specific event in evolutionary history came about by incremental changes (#1), or it wasn't (#2) - and those are supposedly the only two possible stances. Note - I'm not spinning this. That's literally his argument. He said explicitly that it couldn't have happened by increments of mutation (accepting the burden of proof as soon as he made the claim)... and, if you disagree, you must provide evidence. It's a false dichotomy wielded as a shift of the burden of proof.

Further, he specifies a very specific set of steps it must follow, otherwise it's invalid... which immediately closes off other naturalistic possibilities - this is not how science works. For instance, the same concepts that demolishes irreducible complexity - transfer of function and/or reduction of function - could have lead to the setup.

Assuming I don't have that data, that means we're currently occupying possibility #4 above... which neither supports nor refutes the theory.

This next statement seems eerily familiar.

The chances of multiple, purposeful  interactive mutations happening to two individuals and then being passed down the generations is beyond calculation.
It's reminds me of Ray Comfort's silly "where did the first dog with eyes find a wife?" argument. Further, "purposeful?" Evolution is a blind process... there's literally no "purpose" behind it, any more than there being a purpose behind the shape of a river. That's just how the natural laws cause it to form.

I'm wondering how Simmons figures this. How does he know? What evidence is he working from? Can he possibly show his work? It appears to just be an empty, unevidenced, unsupported claim from the depths of his ass.

Photo of dice
Back by popular demand (me)
Like my 100-dice demonstration from an earlier post shows, one can roll 100 1-pip dice, in a small number of rolls, if a selection process is present. If that process is not known, or is not understood, it can seem terribly unlikely, but that's, again, an Argument from Incredulity.

He's also overstating the "interactivity" here. Infant creatures tend to "suck at" almost anything near them.. which can easily be established long before breasts evolved. For instance, birds tend to dangle food above the chicks' mouths... all they have to do is open up and point upwards... no extra organs from the parents needed.

The "suckling infant" part of this equation becomes trivial, so the "interaction" is only important in one direction. Plus, it might not have been that necessary before the breasts anyway, given how many creatures don't suckle. I've heard in passing that breasts are essentially modified sweat glands... which, and I gag to think about it, might have supplied some nourishment, even if it's just water, to the babies, who happened to be sitting nearby... and then the selection process takes over.

Note I keep saying "... then the selection process takes over." The nature of evolution is such that, the difficult bit is the initialization of a trait, which can occur from a transfer of function, or from a simplified trait. After that, it's coasting all the way.

All I'm doing here is pulling together some disparate factoids I've heard to compile together a likely possibility. Simmons is either unwilling, or unable, to contemplate the possibilities.

Nope, he just thinks it's statistically impossible with no explanation, and that's that.

Simmons seems perplexed at the idea of symmetry in evolution.
There are no fossils found with lopsided extremities. 
Actually he's wrong. Technically, this discovery was 4 years after his book came out, so we can give him the benefit of the doubt here.  Once again - he pissed into the wind and got wet - "What Geoffrey Simmons Didn't Know"

However, usually, I'd expect not to find examples. Most mutations are quite incremental. The mutations severe enough to instantly create large deformities generally are fatal. Evolution would keep those to a minimum. Fossilization is a rare process in the first place, let alone fossilizing non-regular events.

Symmetry would be one of the first things to evolve, since, for example, as humans are bilaterally symmetrical, that means that the DNA only needs about half the "information." It'd be faster to arrive at, easier to maintain, not to mention, symmetry does well in natural selection (running with uneven legs is difficult).

Why are creationists always surprised at the idea that evolution with natural selection could arrive at symmetry?

Somehow the top half coordinates with the bottom half, the left side with the right side, the front with the back.
Uh, it's called a "nervous system." It'd be difficult to survive if your body was uncoordinated, and could easily start early with simple forms.

What's the problem?

Just the complexity of managing simultaneous, coordinated growth alone is overwhelming.
... or hormones. Does he get hormones? The body uses them a lot for signals and coordination. The pituitary  gland is responsible for much of the growth hormones.

So.... what? It's complicated. And? Therefore evolution couldn't have done it? Is that presupposition surfacing again?

Can it possibly be coincidence?
Can what be coincidence? That we evolved a hormonal system to regulate our growth, which would be selected for because we'd be more likely to survive?

No... not coincidence. Evolution/biology.

This is an example of what I mean. I can't even follow his train of thinking, since it's so divorced from logic and reason. Yes. Biology happens... so therefore, it can't be naturally occurring? Did this argument come out of a random sentence generator?

He moves onto the digestive tract.
How does the small bowel know how to cooperate with the 500 different kinds of bacteria that live in it?
This is another "you've got it backwards" item.

It's more likely that the bacteria evolved to survive in the gut. Guess what? Killing the host would also kill them, if they're adapted to survive specifically in the gut, so it makes sense that natural selection would weed out those bacteria that are fatal to the host.... so they can continue to survive.

What's the problem?

He goes on like that... asking how the digestive system "knows" what to absorb or eliminate... all kinds of different biological mechanisms like that. I'm still trying to figure out his point.

Questions such as these are endless, yet they address important bodily functions that were unknown at Darwin's time.
I agree on both counts. Heck, the discovery of DNA just turned 60 years old. We've progressed a lot since Darwin's time, and the theory is updated to reflect that.

Evolution says we easily changed from prehistoric fish digesting algae to primates who savor meat.
I don't know about "easily", but that seems to be what the evidence shows, yes.

But not only do humans have many more and different digestive processes than our presumed forebears...
Uh, yes, that's to be expected with the evolving of better traits. One of the predictions of evolution, is an increase in complexity and sophistication... increase in diversity over time... you know?

... but experts overlook the relatively sudden appearance of a tongue and full set of teeth with a total lack of precedents.
Actually, no, we have plenty of knowledge about the history of teeth. There was nothing "sudden" about it. If anything, the number of teeth has decreased over time, as we went from saw-like jaws to more distinct individual teeth.

It's also peculiar how he specifies a "full set of teeth" - without any definition of what he means by that. He may have defined away the actual evolutionary history as invalid, again.

I'm also not finding a lot of support for his idea that tongues appeared suddenly either. I wish he provided a citation.

... and so what if it did? Didn't we cover the idea that some things evolve faster than others (or sometimes go stagnant) in a previous post? In regards to evolution, "suddenly" could mean hundreds of thousands of years. I frequently hear the Cambrian Explosion as happening "suddenly" as in like a year, as opposed to the 70-80 million years that scientists are calling "rapid."

There are few, if any, examples of mouths with partial tongues, a single, odd tooth, or both.
Yes, of course, because evolution doesn't work that way. It's like the "we don't see any fossils with creatures with half an eye", as though they're expecting modern vertebrate eyes cleaved down the middle.

It's not dissimilar from the problem of jacking up a house, lifting it from its foundation. It's not like they individually use a carjack on each corner of the house and lift each one individually, consecutively. That'd break all kinds of things in the house.

No, they go around and pump each lift point little by little, trying as much as possible to do them in parallel. That's what solves the problem.

The development of teeth most likely started as a somewhat jagged jawline... something that could grip prey better (or gnaw on plants)... and then natural selection took over, developing more distinct teeth, uniformly, across the board, all in parallel, one iteration after another.

So, let's mark this objection down as another "misconception of evolution that is confusing him."

Conclusion / Personal Annotations

That's (finally) the end of this one little section.

Basically, the arguments boil down to:

  • ... driven by misconceptions of evolution.
  • Arguments from Incredulity
  • Trying to disprove things we know by pointing at things we don't know yet
  • Unknown presuppositions and reasoning errors creating incoherent arguments 

... and not a single salient point to be found.

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