2 Questions for Evolution Experts

These are not rhetorical questions, nor questions designed to get someone into a debate/argument. I’m just curious as to what answers people might have, because as a Mormon I don’t have to disbelieve in the concept of evolution. Could man have evolved from lower life forms and the gospel still be true? I don’t see why not, so it’s not a problem for me, nor have I ever been exposed to anything else in science that conflicts with my religious beliefs.

But I’ve been reading some Richard Dawkins lately, and I have two questions:

1. It seems obvious from examples such as Darwin’s finches or the breeding of dogs that there is some measure of evolution going on in the world. In the latter that has not resulted in any new specie of animal, but in the latter there are about 15 separate species. My question is whether there is any hard evidence, or what is the best supporting evidence available, to show that not just a new species but a new genus, family, order, etc. has arisen via the evolutionary process. It’s one thing to look at two finches located near each other geographically and with similar characteristics and say “These look like they’re related…” But how are fish and birds related, or whales and monkeys? I don’t mean how are they related on a biological map, I mean is there any hard evidence proving their relationship, or what is the best evidence available? Or is some faith involved? :)

2. Dawkins talks of a “primordial soup” giving rise to higher and higher forms of life. My question is how does one get from completely inorganic materials, the raw elements, to something living? We have the elements of the periodic table, and we have heat, cold, lightening, and other natural forces, but how does any combination of those result in organic material from that which is completely inorganic? If such a thing could happen completely by chance, it seems that with purposeful intent scientists working in a lab could make the same thing happen. But has any scientist been able to take inorganic material and create even the simplest single-celled life form? It seems there may be some faith involved in this belief as well.

I’m not saying I disbelieve either of these theories for the creation of life and the existence of man, I am open to the idea that this is exactly where man came from, but I’m wondering what the strongest evidence available is for either theory and would appreciate anyone who can point me in the right direction.

Thanks!

Comments

  1. I've often wondered these very things myself. It will be interesting to see what kind of answers you get to these questions.

  2. First, a little rant about identity.

    I have come to realize that any time I say, "As a ….(fill in the blank)," I am setting myself up for bias. Also, I am admitting my own need for identity.

    Identity gets in the way. You cannot come to scientific questions (or any questions at all) with a sense of identity. It has to be left at the door. For myself, I have decided to take make it a lifelong quest to abate my need for identity, and it has already provided dividends, radically freeing me from former biases. Just something to consider.

    And I do realize how hard that must be for Mormons, since I live in a highly Mormon town, and I see it everywhere. Identifying yourself as a Mormon is pretty much a mandate. Every ritual, every rite, every little talk is designed to reinforce that. I get it. Maybe it's unrealistic, but I would ask you to try, just as I ask all religious people, and all people from various cultural/national backgrounds to try, in earnest.

    Now then, on to your questions.

    Before scientific or philosophical questions can be settled logically, one must define the terms unambiguously. Most of the time when we struggle with a concept, it is because we are unintentionally victims of rhetoric. That rhetoric comes from slippery semantics. It turns out that having words to describe the universe is, on the one hand, immensely useful and helps us more forward into ever more abstract and sophisticated modes of though. On the other hand, words are chock full of hidden assumptions, connotations, and therefore biases.

    Your issue is with "species." What is a species?

    The current scientific definition is the following:
    "In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring."

    But this is by no means satisfactory in a logically complete manner, due to the reality of biology. The dilemma this creates is called "The Species Problem": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Species_problem

    The concept of "species" is one of those concepts we take totally for granted. We fail to understand what it is in an airtight way, while simultaneously assuming it makes sense, and this leads to all sorts of confusiong and unnecssary debate between theologians and scientists for example. It's a little like the concept of "the moral law," another phrase the Christians take for granted, but which has little resemblance to anything remotely logically airtight (another example, another time.)

    In other words, it's just semantics.

    The way in which people traditionally have taken this for granted is that they assume that there is a stark separation between two species automatically, whereas they assume they is a high degree of similarity between the members of a species. They are coming from a place of traditional Biblical thinking in which Elohim created each species from the get-go, and each species only mated with its own kind.

    As it turns out, they only semi-reliable way to decide whether two organisms are a different "species" or not is the somewhat arbitrary criterion that they cannot produce *fertile* offspring. They might have sex and everything, and they might *even* have kids, but those kids won't be able to have kids.

    What does all of this imply? That sometimes, two organisms become different enough SPECIFICALLY in their chromosomes that recombination of those chromosomes during sexual fertilization becomes abortive, OR that this process happens in their 1st general offspring.

    So really, all we are saying is, "sometimes two organisms can't successfully recombine their chromosomes." It's that simple.

  3. Why do we assume that two kinds of dogs, and radically different morphologically as they are, are different species? Well, we could easily do that, if we redefined species. We just happened to define it according to that particular trait because it's the only way we can hold onto the word and have it retain some useful meaning. (We have the word "breed" and "variety" already for other kinds of difference).

    In other words, a Chihuahua and a Great Dane are very different in very important ways, but none of those differences happen to be in the area of their DNA that prevents recombination of chromosones. Yet.

    Here's the problem: anti-Evolutionists demand proof that new species are created, but they fail to understand the most important dimension of evolution: time.

    I am going to explain this through analogy, and it's geeky, so bear with me.

    Say you went some a theater and watched a movie about fractals. How is that made? Well, it is made of frames. Each frame is a 2-dimensional image. There is an x dimension, and a y dimension. There are millions of pixels, and each one lies somewhere in the frame at an (x,y) coordinate. If every pixel were the same color, that would be a pretty boring picture, right? So there is a change in color as you move in the x and y directions. There is variety. Now, let's say that there is a region of yellowish hues, and nearby, a region of blueish hues, and so forth. If we think of the region of yellowish hues as a species, and we think of the region of blueish hues as another species, everyone will be happy, right? There is variety in the yellows, but they are all still yellow, and there is variety in the blues, but they are all still blues. Are you with me so far?

    Okay. Now, move to the next frame. Guess what? Chances are, it looks almost identical to the first frame. Maybe he yellow region has change tone a little. Maybe the blueish region has change shape a little, but very very little. Would you say that it's still the same yellowish region? Of course. Would you say it's still the same blueish region? Of course. If you didn't accept that, you wouldn't be able to watch movies. Your eyes and their brain comprehend, naturally, that these are the same regions, just offset in time a little.

    Now, move to the next frame and the next and the next. If you compare any two frames of the shot, you will think they are highly similar and continuous.

    Now compare frame 1 to frame 36000. Chances are, they look very different. You would think that the regions you can identify in frame 36000 have little to do with the regions in frame 1.

    You probably think all of this is obvious and has no point. But here's the kicker.

    That's not what you're doing here in this Evolution question. You aren't comparing frame 1 to frame 36000. You are comparing frame 36000 to frame 36000 and wondering where the evidence for Evolution is. It's there alright, but it's in the previous frames of the movie. And the frame rate for evolution, by the way, is much much much slower than that of a movie. A movie runs at 24 frames per *second*. If we look at the "frames" of speciation, it's probably more like one frame per hundred years or something like that. It depends on how you want to quantify "frames." We do know the highly regular rate of mutations from gamma rays, so that might factor in there two. Depending on the species, mutations can be expressed more or less quickly, so it's not super straightforward to pin down any definition of frame rate. It's more of a concept to help understand it, than an actual scientifically airtight phrase.

    • Gosh, so many typos. Sorry. *Why don't we assume two different kinds of dogs as radically morphologically different as they are…"

  4. As it turns out, there is some evidence that's more immediate, but this evidence usually occurs in less spectacular fashion on smaller species. For example, fruit flies:

    "Many examples of populations at different stages on the way to complete reproductive isolation can be found.
    • The picture-winged fruit fly, Rhagoletis pomenella, provides an example of speciation in progress.
    • Until the mid-1800s, these fruit flies courted, mated, and deposited their eggs only on hawthorn fruits.
    • About 150 years ago, commercial apple orchards were planted in the Hudson River Valley, near the natural habitat of Rhagoletis.
    • Apple trees are closely related to hawthorns, and some of the female Rhagoletis laid their eggs on apples instead of hawthorns, perhaps mistakenly.
    • Although fewer larvae survived on apples than on hawthorns, those that did recognized the odor of the apples and thus sought out apple trees for mating when they emerged as adults.
    • The two types of Rhagoletis that now exist in the Hudson River valley—one that feeds on apples and one that feeds on hawthorns—may be on their way to becoming distinct species.
    • Reproductive isolation may develop rapidly or slowly depending on the species."

    Quoted from https://encrypted.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&a

    "A small handful of European mice deposited on the island of Madeira some 600 years ago have now evolved into at least six different species. The island is very rocky and the mice became isolated into different niches. The original species had 40 chromosomes, but the new populations have anywhere between 22-30 chromosomes. They haven't lost DNA, but rather, some chromosomes have fused together over time and so the mice can now only breed with others with the same number of chromosomes, making each group a separate species."

    "A remarkable example is the London Underground mosquito. It is believed to have evolved from an above-ground species which moved into tunnels being excavated to construct the London underground rail system in the 1850s. Today the underground mosquito's aggressive bite gives commuters hell, while the above-ground species only feeds off birds. The two species can no longer interbreed and have become separate in just 150 years." http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2010/03/10

    • As a corollary note, one of the biggest reasons people fail to understand or accept evolution is that in addition to not understanding the trillions of base pairs of DNA that prove Common Descent beyond a reasonable doubt, they also fail to understand how chromosones work. The mice example demonstrates it very well, but as a general principle, chromosones are where it's at. If you want to understand and prove Evolution, look into that.

      Speciation is pretty much just a function of chromosone mechanics after all.

      • Just a correction. The entire human genome consists of about three billion base pairs (according to Wikipedia). Not trillions.

  5. Why smaller species? Because it takes longer for larger species to change genetically enough to radically change their behavior, breeding habits (sexual selection), form new morphological structures, and so forth.

    In fact, the more morphologically distinct you become, the longer it takes. Which is why all mammals, even whales which seem superficially so very different from us, are highly similar in structure. I mean, right down to the number and types of bones in various places in the skeleton. It's seems amazing when you've believed all your life that everything was created in one swoop that such similarity would exist. But the differentiation we *see* superficially is mostly due to modification and re-appropriation of existing features, not due to entirely new structures. So it takes a long time. Futhermore, most mutations are either neutral or destructive (think of birth defects). For every mutation that results in a psotive improvement, there are hundreds of thousands of malformed fetus that results due to the commmon mutation mechanisms hitting in an area of their DNA sequence that actually causes significant expression in negative way. There are even more that cause little to no significant expression. And by the way, none of what I just said is hypothesis. This is well-known medical science.

    Also one of the most exciting pieces of evidence is DNA. In particular "retroviruses." I could go on and on about those. They have settled the question of whether Common Descent is true beyond a reasonable doubt. There is a wealth of information out there. Please google.

    I can't seem to find part 1 of this series, but it is an excellent series going over the evidence for Evolution: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-CvX_mD5weM&fe

    Plus all of these: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1fGkFuHIu0&fehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9V_2r2n4b5c&fehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rX_WH1bq5HQ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XKeaGWhDng http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtFMEE5zVxw http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0wwhSlo1NI&fe

    Now if we can just get people to be reasonable and actually LOOK at the evidence and learn some biology. :)

    So, I hope that answers your first questions.

    In a nutshell:
    1) Species are merely two different breeds/varieties that have ceased to be sexual compatible in particular.

    2) You are attempting to compare two different species, one an ancestor, the other a descendent species, in one frame of time. Evolution does not work that way. You must compare between two frames of time, with enough separation to allow for imcompatible chromosones.

    3) Evidence does exist that is between more recent frames of time (decades or centuries), but most evidence was in the fossil record.

    4) Until DNA was discovered and sequenced. This is even better and reliable evidence (in fact, extremely compelling to the point that almost all biologists are non-creationists). You are talking about trillions of base-pairs, and the chances of two species having all of the retroviruses and various other non-expressed markers *without* Common Descent is just ludicrous. It's more like that O.J. didn't kill his wife than that chimps and humans are not both apes.

  6. As for your second set of questions about the origin of the phenomenon of life…

    "How does one get from completely inorganic materials, the raw elements, to something living?"

    This is fundamental misunderstanding/confusion about the meaning of "organic" and "inorganic." All carbon-based molecules are automatically organic. Why do we have a special term for carbon based molecules? Well, that gets into Physical Chemistry, but in a nutshell, Carbon occupies an extremely special place in the periodic table. In layman's terms, it is really fluid and awesome and combining in interesting, seemingly intelligent ways.

    All other elements are boring by comparison. They simply cannot form the variety of compounds, nor the complexity of compounds that carbon inherently can.

    Carbon's very existence almost automatically leads to interesting self-organizing structures. Indeed, scientists in the lab *have* created amino acids, a huge leap forward, and one that was once thought to be possible only by a Creator. Just because they have not been able to create a small lifeform from scratch in a mere 100 years or so of trying does not by any means mean that it can't happen somewhere over an entire planet with trillions upon trillions of spaces for it to happen over billions of years.

    Part of the problem is that even the most basic lifeforms are composed of enough self-organized carbon structures that reverse engineering them is not easy. This does not in anyway logically mean that they are created. An analogy is this: take a fractal. Try to reverse engineer its rules.

    Fractals are not really designed now are they? They are self-organizing structures that give rise to chaotic (and yes, that's actually got a mathematical definition) structures that are basically impossible to reverse engineer (that's part of the mathematical nature of chaos.)

    You are asking scientists to reverse engineer life, which is a similar fractal. Carbon is a fractal generator, you see.

    It's complex, self-replicating, and highly organized, just like any other fractal. And like any other fractal, extremely hard to deconstruct. There is one difference though: Life has an additional requirement to survive, and it is because of this that there are restrictions on life that give us clues on how to reverse engineer it. It's just not going to be easy or quick.

    • And then there is the fact, first discovered by scientists analyzing meteorites found in Mexico in the sixties, that the space debris that formed the earth contained amino acids.

  7. I find the controversy lies in the word “create,” and that this word,
    used as a concept specific to this issue, follows a long tradition of
    misunderstanding. Religion in general has traditionally viewed God’s
    “creation” of the earth, and of all life on it, in an overly-simplistic
    way that exploits its own inability to think, discern, and understand.
    Since the time of Darwin, religion has denied the possibility that
    evolution IS one of God’s creative processes. But what religion has long
    failed to see is that to

    disallow God any kind of creative process, including a system He,
    Himself, could
    have set into action, is to limit an omnipotent, omniscient, and endless
    God. The enormously fallacious logic here aside, wouldn’t the religious
    world, itself, label its own limiting of an endless God as absolute
    blasphemy? It would be much more blasphemous, I would think, than
    accepting that God followed a long, long, long process of creation–a
    long creative process that He, himself, designed and set into motion, and that we are just now beginning to discover and understand.

    That’s
    right! Any real thinker can see that belief in God is not
    irreconcilable with a belief in God’s lengthy processes of creation.
    Some people are just wrongly stuck in a narrow belief that the word
    “create” can only mean one thing, and that it can only look a certain
    way. But if you were to create a painting, and then create a pizza, and
    then a child, would all three processes look the same? I would hope not.
    You see, evolution IS creation; it just means that “creation” doesn’t
    have to look like what the religious world has traditionally wanted it to look like!

    This
    also means that evolutionists are not necessarily atheists; they’re
    just people who are realistic and open-minded, and who believe that
    science is busy uncovering God’s “fingerprints” (evidences of the REAL
    processes that God employed in his creation of our world and of us).

    So,
    evolution IS creation!!! Can we just try to wrap our religious heads
    around this? If we can’t, we’re headed for an embarrassing replay:
    having to absolve Galileo and Copernicus of their heretical claim that
    the earth IS NOT the center of the universe. Only this time it will be
    Darwin…(Saint Darwin! Imagine that!)…and his discovery of God’s
    creative process.

    Next lesson: Genesis and the Eden account are allegorical stories that support all of this.

    • I like to party, not look arectlis up online. You made it happen.

    • Thanks for spending time on the computer (writing) so others don’t have to.

  8. I see a lot of people have answered the whole evolution link question:

    Here is an article showing that in 2010 Craig Venter’s lab created a completely synthetic organism made in the laboratory:

    http://www.jcvi.org/cms/press/press-releases/full-text/article/first-self-replicating-synthetic-bacterial-cell-constructed-by-j-craig-venter-institute-researcher/home/

    And the scientific paper:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK84435/?report=printable

  9. It’s very trouble-free to find out any matter on web as compared to books, as I found this paragraph at this website.|

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