Saturday, February 18, 2012

Evolution or Intelligent Design?

The other day I said I had a problem with the theory of evolution. I broke the theory into two parts, which I called the Weak Theory and the Strong Theory. I said I was OK with the Weak Theory. That's the part that says we can trace our ancestry all the way back to the primordial slime. Who but an ignorant hillbilly could doubt that, in the light of the massive scientific evidence?

No, I'm not going to argue with the Weak Theory. It's the Strong Theory that gets me. I said I was going to hold off for a day or two and see if anyone could guess what I mean when I talk about the Strong Theory. Well, time's up.

The Weak Theory says,"this is exactly what happened". The Strong Theory says we know how and why it happened. The intricate development of millions of different life forms occurred through the mechanism of random errors in the transmission of the genetic code. The overwhelming majority of such transmission errors would naturally be harmful if not fatal; but here and there, it results in a characteristic which is useful. The bearer of this characteristic is more likely to procreate than his "normal" siblings, and the new characteristic is thereby incorporated into the gene pool of the population, where over time it ultimately dominates and becomes the new norm.

Is there one single scrap of scientific evidence to support the Strong Theory? In school we learned about the grey moths and the white moths. It seems that 99% of the moths used to be white, but during the Industrial Revolution smog coated everything in London with a layer of grey; the white moths became easy prey for birds, and as a result now all the moths are grey. Evolution at work.

But there were already grey moths in existence. The characteristic of interest was already present in the gene pool. Where was the random mutation that supposedly created it? There was none, because the gene already existed.

How does a brand new trait come into existence? That's a tough one. The much-maligned proponents of Intelligent Design like to talk about the problematic case of the human eye, and rightly so. There was once a time when not a single organism was sensitive to the presence or absence of light. They were all just blobs floating around in the ocean, and when one of them bumped into another, presumably the bigger one would wrap itself around the smaller one and mulch it down into digestible bits. A case of the blind eating the blind.

Now, what does the Strong Theory tell us? That somehow, one of these blobs laid its blob-eggs somewhere, and a cosmic particle came along and messed up the DNA in one of the eggs. The result was that a baby blob was born who was different from all the other blobs: somewhere on the surface of its body, there was a little patch of skin that contained photo-sensitive chemicals: compounds that would change state when exposed to light, and change back again when the light disappeared. Quite a trick for a random cosmic particle.

But that's not nearly enough. Somehow this patch of skin had to be hooked up to whatever rudimentary brain this blob must have possessed: the blob had to know that it was sensing light. The blog had to know that this tingling on its skin meant light, and it had to want to swim towards the source of that tingling, because perhaps there was more food to be had in that direction. By eating more food, the blob got bigger, and that made him more likely to survive in his blob-eat-blob world to the age of procreation. And his photo-sensitive offspring, over time, came to rule the world of the blobs through their inherent superiority.

So let's recap all the things that had to happen in a single generation for this genetic mutation to have taken hold. First, you needed the appearance of photo-sensitive compounds. This doesn't just happen by shooting a cosmic particle at a piece of DNA: the DNA doesn't become light sensitive. The DNA is a kind of a blueprint that creates an enzyme, and it is this new enzyme that manufactures the photo-sensitive chemical. But that's not enough. This new chemical, which is presumably just floating around in the protoplasm, has to somehow stimulate whatever locomotive mechanism this blob uses to propel itself around. It doesn't do any good to have a mutation which does one without the other.

That doesn't begin to address the question of how the blob is supposed to know whether it wants to swim towards the light or away from it. But never mind. Let's suppose it all works: that a single cosmic particle disrupts the genetic code in just the right way so that these three simultaneous, highly improbable developments occur (and without accidentally killing the blob in the bargain). The hard part is behind us; we've initiated the evolutionary chain, and now it's only a matter of time before this primitive photo-sensitive blob, the ancestor of us all, evolves into the myriad of life forms with the sophisticated organs of vision which we are all familiar with. Right?

The Creationists like to talk about a hurricane blowing through a junk yard, and when the dust has settled you find that by randomly flinging one piece of metal against another, it has managed  put together a Boeing 747. I'd say this is a pretty close to how the Strong Theory explains the evolution of the human eye. I know that saying this brands me as an ignorant hillbilly, but if the shoe fits I might as well wear it. I'd just like to throw one more wrinkle into the story of vision. It's the question of color.

Not all mammals have color vision. Presumably we humans have some ancestor who saw only black and white. What does the strong theory tell us? That somewhere along the line, a random mutation produced an individual with color vision, and because of his superior skills, his progeny came to dominate the gene pool over time.

A random mutation produced an individual with color vision? That's some cosmic particle we're talking about. Because anything less than a fully developed sense of color vision couldn't have been all that useful. Do you have any idea how much more complex a color TV is as compared to black and white? There are three different receptors, and there's all kinds of signal processing you've got to handle all of a sudden, and its a huge complication. And you can't argue that it came about gradually, because what kind of benefit is there to the individual who can see just a little red?

Come to think of it, how much of an advantage is color vision even when fully developed? Yes, it's nice to have, but it's not clear to me how an individual born out of the blue with the miraculous gift of color vision would have had all that much advantage over his black-and-white fellows. There were no color-coded electrical wires to worry about back then; yes, you could more easily tell the difference between a blackberry and a raspberry, but aren't they both delicious after all? I'm not saying it wouldn't have come in handy now and then, but to the extent that one such individual would ultimately dominate the whole gene pool? I just don't buy it.

The thing that bothers me the most about the whole evolution thing is that it's taken as a litmus test for admission into decent society. Question any aspect of the theory and you're branded as an ignorant hillbilly. Why is this?

I think it's because the proponents of evolution really want to use it as a weapon against religious faith. That's why the Strong Theory is so important to them. The Weak Theory is, after all, fully compatible with the idea that God has guided the process along with the intent of creating us in his image. But that's not good enough for the evolutionists. They demand that we acknowledge the random nature of the process, so that there is clearly no role for a Creator in their world-view. And if that means they have to argue for a Strong Theory that by its very nature cannot possibly have any scientific evidence to back it up, then so be it. 


Anonymous said...

You're not an "ignorant hillbilly"-you're right. We need GOd. Intelligent design is absolutely true. The Bible tells us that Satan will try to destroy our faith in God, and an example is using methods such as evolution to convince us that there is no God or Jesus. You might relally like the books Evolution: The Lie by Ken Ham and Many Infallible Proofs: Evidences for the Christian Faith by Henry M. Morris. And please, just try reading them...they are very eye opening, and you will understand more than the scientists who are denying God through evoloution (aka eviloution;-)Love and prayers, Laura

Laura said...

Sorry..I was typing really fast and I misspelled a few words:-P

Anonymous said...

You're looking all of this backwards. The probability of HUMANS specifically evolving is miniscule, but there was no goal to creating us. The chances of SOMETHING being evolved was high (relatively speaking). There was no goal to creat humans this way. We're just the result that came out at the end of the cosmic chance scale (plus intelligence has always been selected for to some degree).

You're also looking at things in too-large chunks.

As for the eyes, colour vision is better during the day (more detail, we can see certain things better, like fruits), and black-white vision is better at night (more contrast). The common ancestor had a mix of these traits. Animals that today have colour vision had diurnal ancestors, while animals lacking colour vision had nocturnal ancestors. Each specialized from a middle-ground.

That original pigment fragment probably just affected the simple organism's temperature at first. Cold-blooded ancestors needed to seek out warmth. The ability to detect this temperature change is what most likely was selected for. Specializations developed, leading to detecting the direction of the temperature source (A.K.A the Sun). Similar systems can be found in very primitive organisms today. Countless generations fine-tuned it, eventually leading to the modern eye.

I hope this resolves a few issues.

Also, Evolution and God are not mutually exclusive. If God exists, he generally works through scientific, understandable principals. Guided evolution is POSSIBLE (though not absolutely neccessary).

Anonymous said...

Who says God created us in his image? We're a very flawed race, both physically, metally and emotionally. Give a beaver a bigger brain and opposable thumbs and it's superior in every way (it doesn't have these, which is why we win).

If God was involved in Evolution, he went out just trying to create (maybe or maybe not with the goal of an intelligent race, but sure-as-hell not in his image). We're the result that just-so-happened to occur.

If God exists, he's most likely a shapeless cosmic blob of energy that can shift and change at will. If so, God created the amoeba in his image, then moved on.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

To immediately above poster: You mean the creationists, right? Not the supporters of evolution? I hope so.

Anonymous said...

It's a scientist's job to make testable hypotheses and then to test them.

There is no way to test for Creationism, so scientists don't do it. Even those that beleive in divine creation admit it's not a science, as it's not testable and can never be scientifically proven wrong (even a negative, disproving result, should one occur, could just be brushed away as God not wanting to show himself).

Instead, scientists work with what CAN be tested. Spontaneous genesis of primitive cell-like life, orders of magnitude lower than a bacterium, in chemically unstable early-Earth conditions, and natural selection taking over from there over the next few billion years.

There are immense volumes of evidence (genetic, fossil, chemical, observation --> inference-based, etc.), so much so that it's scientifically indisputable.

So far, we (the royal we referring to evolutionary-minded humans as a whole, not me personally) have not been able to replicate that original pseudo-cell creation. We've tried a number of theories, and they've not worked well. But that's not conclusive evidence against spontaneous genesis.

Proto-Earth had trillions of chemical reactions and interactions going at any given time, and it had about 1.2 billion years in a state where SOMETHING could happen. All it took was one random interaction of the neccessary parts to make a self-replicating cell-like thing. We haven't been able to replicate that in a few labs with only a couple of decades to try. We'll get there eventually.