Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Why Evolution is True part 3. . . 'theoretically'

Creationists (including good old Ronald Reagan) are fond of saying that Evolution is "just a theory". This they feel gives them the opportunity and the right to put forward any other theory as if they were then on equal ground. They're not.

Part of the problem lies in the various uses of the word, theory. This from dictionary.reference

1. a coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena: Einstein's theory of relativity.
2. a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact.
3. Mathematics. a body of principles, theorems, or the like, belonging to one subject: number theory.
4. the branch of a science or art that deals with its principles or methods, as distinguished from its practice: music theory.
5. a particular conception or view of something to be done or of the method of doing it; a system of rules or principles.
6. contemplation or speculation.
7. guess or conjecture.

The problem that people confuse numbers 1 and 6 or 7. The example they give, Einstein's theory of relativity, is a good one. There is NO question about this 'theory'. In this case theory means as it says in #1. It is coherent, it covers a wide variety of cases, it has been verified in the laboratory millions of times. For example, the GPS satellites are so accurate that they have to compensate for the slight fluctuations in time caused by general relativity. Relativity is not theoretical and we don't speak of it any longer as 'in theory'. It has moved to well established theory.

But language is funny and varied. We can also use the word thus: "In theory I could play in the NBA", or "Theoretically, I could get a date with a super model". Creationist like to cherry pick and use THIS form of the word theory when in fact it is not at all connected to Darwinism. The entire book, Why Evolution is True, goes on to give many concrete pieces of evidence that are the foundation, and proof of Evolution. It is a theory but it's not "just a theory".

Interesting that of all the well founded theories in science (gravity, DNA, the atom, etc.) creationist only have a problem with one of them - Evolution. I have a piece about that in an earlier post that may be of interest here.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Why Evolution is True - part 2

Continuing my notes as I read Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne.

There are creationist and then there are the 10,000 Year-Old-Earth-Creationists. It's one thing to deny such a well established theory as Darwinian evolution it's really another level of denial- ism to deny radioactive dating.

To me to say that radioactive dating is somehow wrong would mean that we don't fully understand the nucleus. That would mean that machines based on our understanding wouldn't work. Things like hydrogen bombs, nuclear power plants, MRI, etc. But those machines DO work so what the hell?

10,000 year old earth creationist have a neat way out of this. The claim is that we are miss-lead in our calculating the age of things via Carbon 14 or U235 dating because we assume the half-life of these unstable isotopes is the same now as it was then. They claim that it was different 'then' and leads to scientists grossly over calculating the age of things.

Two comments: 1. Can you show some factors that affect the half-life of an isotope? Such things as temperature, pressure, humidity? Answer: No. There are no separate experiments that suggest that half-life of an isotope depends on anything. 2. From 1 then, this is backwards thinking like a lot of creationist logic. They are starting with the earth is 10,000 years old as fact and then adjusting the half-life accordingly instead of just asking, 'How old is the earth?'.

But this argument from the creationist keeps re-appearing. In "Why Evolution is True" we have a wonderful way to knock all of this down. What if there was an independent way to show the age of something separate from radioactivity that then agreed with what radioactivity predicted? That would not only nail down the age of that thing but also show that the half-life is a constant and did not have different values at an earlier time.

There is a type of coral that radioactive dating puts at 380 million years ago. However, this coral also keeps its own calendar independently of this. We know the earth spins around ever slower due to the friction of the tides. In other words are days are getting longer at the rate of about 2 seconds every 100,000 years. Doing the math you find that 380 million years ago the day would have been much shorter and that there would have been 396 days in a year since the earth goes around the sun at a constant rate making all the years the same length of time. Now, these corals leave a yearly ring just like trees do but they also leave a daily ring. All you have to do is look at these fossils closely and count how many daily rings there are between two yearly rings. What do you get? About 400 putting the age of the corals at around 380 million years just as the radioactive data predicted.

Slam dunk.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Why Evolution is True

This is the title of the book I'm currently reading by Jerry A. Coyne. It is a wonderful book and rather than write a review after I'm done I think I'll jot down some of the more interesting things as I read them. Helps me to understand too.

First some depressing facts from the introduction:

"Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals." To this statement only 40% of Americans said it was true. The only country to do worse was Turkey with 25%. Turkey is rife with fundamentalism as is America. Europe in general answers about 80% true as they do in Japan.

1 in 6 US teachers believe that God created human beings pretty much in their present form with the last 10,000 years.

Classification and the watch fallacy.

The watch fallacy from the 18th century Englishman, William Paley, is an old argument that goes like this: Let's say you're walking along the beach and you come across a pocket watch. Upon inspection (you take the back off) you find that it is finely crafted and perfect in every way for what it does. Clearly this was designed by some intelligence - a master craftsman - and didn't just pop up from prehistoric ooze. The observation that many animals are perfectly crafted for their environment suggests a master craftsman designing them and us.

Long before Darwin, scientist were busy classifying the flowers, trees, and animals. Many different civilizations did this and yet they all came up with basically the same classifications. You have things with backbones and things without. Inside the back bone guys you have things with fur or things with scales. Etc and so on. In other words there is a natural logic to the classification that is obvious to anyone doing the classifying.

If each creature were designed to be perfect for their environment then why are there so many common features between dissimilar animals and dissimilar environments? If each thing were a design separate from the other then the animals would be like a collection of matchbooks (the author's example). You might be able to classify the matchbooks by color, or size, or from where they came but all of these classifications are equal to each other and suggest no real logic.

On the other hand if we ask the question: What would you expect the classification of animals to look like IF animals evolved from earlier forms of animals? - you would get something exactly as we find it! This is true with the animal kingdom as we find it and continues to be true and is further supported by the fossil record of earlier forms of a variety of animals.

Not to mention, not all of the 'designs' are so perfect. Evolution has to work with what came before. It might be helpful for a turtle to have 6 flippers instead of 4 but evolution is stuck with making improvements on the quadruped now and doesn't start all over with every mutation. Why do men have breasts? Why do we have appendixes? Men's testes start up in their abdomens and move down through a tube at the age of a few months. This trip weakens that area of the body and is exactly why men are prone to hernias. This is a compromise. Keeping the testes cooler outside the body makes for more sperm production at the expense of making us susceptible to hernias. What master craftsman would make such a design?

Monday, April 19, 2010

So What?

This just in from CNN:

-- The two most senior leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq have been killed in a joint Iraqi-U.S. operation, officials announced Monday.

So what? Guess how much skill it takes to be a big shot in al Qaeda (hey, how about a 'u' in there?)? Guess how much education? All you need is to be zeolot for Muslim fundamentalism. This story is no big deal as the next knuckle head in line will take over and nothing will change.

No different than when a pope dies. Next guy takes over. No real skill involved (but probably a lot of back room politics in both cases).

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

4 shot in Chicago

Four people including 2 kids shot to death this morning in Chicago. . .

The suspect had been arrested in Madison last fall for allegedly beating Thompson, according to records. Just last week, Thompson filed a paternity case against the suspect, records show.
And in recent days, Thompson said the suspect had been fighting because he wanted her to dress in Muslim garb, but she refused, according to Shirina Thompson, the older sister of Twanda Thompson.

The suspect had also been acting strangely, talking about "going to Allah," she said. A law enforcement source said the suspect believed Allah wanted him to bring his family to Allah.

There you go. There's crazy and then there's RELIGION crazy. Scary.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Evolution and the Afterlife

I think I get it. I think I get why some religious people are such vehement evolution deniers. To accept the well founded theory of evolution you have to give up human's special place on the earth. To wit we have souls and animals don't. I got that right from my Lutheran minister's mouth when I asked if old Shep was going to heaven.


To accept evolution (which is like accepting gravity) is to then ask the question, at what point did we also evolve souls? If we are separate from the animal kingdom how do you explain all the similarities with the animals? For example our DNA is 95% similar to chimp DNA. If we always had souls does that mean that there are Australopithecans in heaven? Java man? Lemurs? Fish? Where does the evolved soul begin? Maybe there are levels of heaven for levels of evolution? If Cro-Magnon man had souls how sinful were they to be extincted!?

And another thing. .. .I am so sick of people decrying evolution because they don't like the idea of us evolving from monkeys. WE DIDN'T EVOLVE FROM MONKEYS! We evolved from earlier versions of US and so did monkeys evolve from earlier forms of monkeys. Us and monkeys have a similar common ancestor way back in the evolutionary tree but we did not come from monkeys so stop saying that!

This speaks to the larger idea of throwing out ideas and theories because you don't like them or they go against what you already thought. To find truth you have to first have a truly open mind. That can be hard to do but to just dig in and deny, deny, deny is, well, boring and leads you nowhere. It is also the kind of thinking that leads a civilization nowhere.