Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What Darwin Didn't Know- Ch 1 -The Scope of Challenges - Part 8: What Darwin Didn't Know

Book Cover: What Darwin Didn't Know
I 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 8: What Darwin Didn't Know

There's one more section to go after this, the "Bottom-Line Points" of the chapter. That'll be interesting.

Here, in this section, he wraps up talking about all the things Darwin didn't know. As usual, I find that every single consecutive sentence has something wrong with it.

He starts out talking about Darwin didn't know a lot of things (yes, yes, we get it. The Wright Brothers knew very little about aerodynamic engineering too). Of course, Simmons ignores the idea that Darwin's work was improved upon, mistakes corrected, and gaps filled.

... but we aren't teaching or using "Darwin's Theory of Evolution", and more than we teach "The Wright Brother's Aerodynamic Engineering" in college. That'd be silly, unless the course is on the history of aerodynamic engineering knowledge.

If a pig could be made into a fatter pig, Darwin felt that gills could change into lungs, fins into legs, and a monkey into a man.
This is a very dubious statement. Let's list out all the problems.

  • Nice example of "fatter pig" - something that's a question of how much a single organism eats, and thus, an example for obfuscation. If he had chosen Darwin's analysis of finch beaks from the Galapagos islands, that would have been more fitting.
  • Darwin didn't "feel" this was true. It was a logical analysis of the evidence he was gathering, cross referencing with all other data... something creationists have a really hard time doing. It also turned out to be basically right... as much as an version 0.1 of a theory could be expected to be accurate. We're now on Evolution CS7 Platinum 64-bit. 
  • Simmons is missing a broader point that Darwin wasn't trying to project humans into having evolved from earlier primates. He was attempting to figure out a model that best fits the evidence that this was already true.
  • Is this really a controversial idea? If I can change a word in a book, it's logical to say that I could change an entire book into a completely different story, if I simply change enough words. The next step is confirming evidence. We got that. (link to TalkOrigin's 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution)
He continues...
Although an artist makes it look simple, the genetic change from one species to another is more complicated than transforming Paris into Hong Kong.
Yes, and?

Actually, I've had a bit of a realization here. I've rambled at length before, about how Simmons seems to have a presupposition that complexity requires intelligence. It appears to inform all his "points", where, if you aren't starting with that assumption, his arguments seem empty.

I'll argue that it's even worse than that. Not only is this a presupposition of his, he's actually got it backwards.

Set aside any notions you may have about supernatural spirits manipulating reality. Let's look at what's demonstrably true, and directly observable. What do we see? We see the most intelligent species on this planets (humans), barely making a dent in understanding the complexity of the world around us. Typically, when we do, it's not us doing it, but rather machines who end up simply telling us some summary information.

Take a bucket of sand and dump it on the floor. This pile of sand is unfathomably complex - the shape and size and composition of each grain - the location and rotation of each, etc. The full capacity of the human race could not exactly reproduce this pile of sand. At best, we could mimic it.

Yet, even the creationists would accept that it doesn't take intelligence to have formed this pile of sand. The natural world did it, and without any controversy. Many things in this world happen that are incredibly complex, but we have no problem with the idea that nature produced them. That's normal.

Instead, what we find is that the "intelligence" that exists within humans can abstract, categorize and simplify complex data. We'd take that pile of sand and abstract it conceptually to a tan-colored cone geometric shape. That's what intelligence does.

So, not only is intelligence not required for absurd levels of complexity, it could be argued that if something is too complex, intelligence couldn't  have (or probably wasn't) been responsible... but rather, it has to be a product of the natural world.

... and that's a position one would come to, through an evaluation of the actual evidence available.

Of course, the likes of Behe and Dembski would argue it's a categorical error. The "type" of complexity they're talking about isn't the same as in my argument. They'd talk about "specified complexity" - like information, that has only been observed to be created by intelligence for a so-called "specific purpose".

This quickly descends into the "DNA is code" argument, which is basically an Argument from Analogy.

I'll probably tackle the topic of specified complexity at some point in the future, but for now I digress. My point is, the relationship between complexity and intelligence may not be what you think it is... and if it's something you're presupposing when making arguments, that may be why the people you're arguing with may not accepting your arguments - they aren't making that presupposition.

Although man and monkey are 95 to 98 percent genetically similar, the difference at the chemical base level is still in the millions.
It'd help if he'd specify which species of "monkeys" he's talking about. It's a semi-broad category, like "mammal". Curiously, he's skipping over that little tidbit, that genetics has shown, that the more recent the fossil record (and other fields) have shown that we have a common ancestor, the higher this percentage.

Basically, the closer the relative, the more DNA we share, and the more distance, the less DNA we share... you know, what you'd kinda sorta of expect from common ancestry.

But let's skip over the confirming evidence and focus on things that appear to show discrepancies in the theory, shall we?

Further, if we were to actually compile a list of differences versus similarities, we'd find that "monkeys" and humans are way way more similar than dissimilar. 

It's like Simmons is comparing a red '97 Corvette and a blue '97 Corvette, and scoffing at the idea that they're 99.99% identical... because they look so different. He's focusing on some superficial differences, while ignoring the fact that the drive trains are identical, the engines are identical, the mufflers are identical, the interiors are identical, the wheels are identical, the headlight are identical, etc.

What can we say are actually the differences between a chimpanzee and a human? They're smaller, more hairy, not quite bipedal, smaller craniums... we're talking about a small set of small (arguably "microevolutionary" differences). Yet, the basic structure of our brains are the same; the skeletal structure is the same; the eyes, digestive systems, cardiovascular systems, respiratory systems, and even the basic cellular structures, are all the same.

So yes, 98%. Easy. 

There may be millions of differences, but there's hundreds of billions of similarities.

He adds in a little quip:

(Note that the DNA of the zebra fish is 92 percent similar to humans. Why don't zebra fish and monkeys hang out together?)
I'm not sure I know what he thinks his point is.

I'm having some difficulty fact-checking the 92 percent assertion, but this article says 70%. This article says we share 57% DNA with cabbage.

... but what's the point? That 57% probably covers everything from basic cell function to junk DNA that goes back to the common ancestry between cabbage and humans. 

Ironically, it's the creationists who (rightly) keep pointing out that individual cells are very complicated. The implication, they don't seem to realize, is that cellular function may account for a large chunk of our DNA. With that in mind, it wouldn't be surprising that two organisms, who have common ancestry, and have the same basic cellular structure, would share quite a bit of DNA. The difference between an alligator and a human is more a question of the quantity and arrangement of cells... instead of how those cells work, and work with each other. The alligator brain cells are still basically the same as the human brain cells. We just have more of them.

With further irony, they're the ones who keep trying to bring in Information Theory, when it comes to DNA. Well guess what, if we do that, the quantity of cells is a very easy question, that's not complex, and that doesn't require more DNA to produce.
var NUM_BRAIN_CELLS = 10000000;
... change to ...
var NUM_BRAIN_CELLS = 10000000000;

But my point is... what's his point? They don't hang out together because one or the other would die (lungs versus gills)... something that could be the difference of 0.1% in DNA.

That, and zebra fish don't really hang out with anyone. They're jerks.

Despite huge gaps in the fossil evidence...
I assume this sentence will end with ", common ancestry is cross-confirmed by multiple independent lines of evidence, including genetics, which could demonstrate it on its own, but the other fields additionally independently corroborate this fact.", right?

... and though he lacked even the simplest genetic information, Darwin's guesses have dominated modern scientific thought like no other.
Wow, no. That didn't complete like I thought.

He spun "hypotheses" and "theory" into "guesses" - hypotheses, by the way, that have since been multiple independently corroborated and confirmed by independent lines of evidence, with more data confirming every year, as more and more research is done. 

Darwin's "thought" on the topic is the tip of the iceberg, the rest having been researched and learned by the scientific community, and is held to be true due to the multiple independent cross-confirming independent lines of empirically demonstrably true evidence.

I'm getting repetitive, but I feel I must drive this point home. It's not as though Darwin made some shit up, and the scientific community just takes it as unquestionable doctrine. That's religion. This is science.

Even his strongest proponents have admitted there have been significant problems with his theories...
It's a singular "theory". He only had one regarding evolution - Natural Selection. 

Of course! Fuck, even I would say his original theory had significant problems... for instance the question of heredity, which Simmons brought up before. But guess what...?
  • The things Darwin was wrong about, have been corrected and/or discarded from the theory.
  • The things Darwin didn't know, or other gaps of knowledge, have been (mostly) filled in.
  • The things Darwin was correct about, have been retained and expounded upon.
... you know, science. It's not like we're still running on his original version of the theory.

 ...and have merely offered Band-Aid guesses of their own. 
And, as usual, he offers no citations, no examples. Nothing. Just empty accusations.

Don't quit your day job (unless you've already retired, in which case... enjoy your retirement, I guess).

What Bertrand Russell Once said may readily apply: The fact that an opinion is widely held is no evidence whatsoever that it is not utterly absurd.
Interestingly enough, Russell was talking about religion. He's right, too. 

Evolution has overwhelming evidence for its existence. Religion and creationism have none.

What Darwin didn't know is simply not relevant to the modern day theory. He's not a spiritual leader. He's not a person who we dogmatically follow and revere his every word as doctrine.

He made a theory, it turned out to be true, and he's rightly earned fame for discovering the keystone to modern biology, in the same sense that Einstein is rightly famous for producing General Relativity that turned out to be a revolution in our ability to understand the physics of the universe.

Darwin is famous in the science circles because he was right.

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