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Old 07-14-2011, 02:24   #1
ArtificialGrape
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ArtificialGrape's Evolution Primer

I will almost certainly come to regret the can of worms that this will open, but who doesn't like worms, so without further ado...

ArtificialGrape's Evolution Primer

It is not always clear when members really don't understand the basics of the theory of evolution or when they are intentionally misrepresenting them as some sort of strawman argument. The intent of this article is not to provide some all encompassing intro to evolution (see the Additional Reading section for some recommendations) but perhaps we can at least reach a common understanding of what the theory is and is not.
In this context, there is one illusion that you must do your level best to escape -- an error to guard against with all due caution. You must not imagine that the bright orbs of our eyes were created purposely, so that we might be able to look before us; that our need to stride ahead determined our equipment with the pliant props of thigh and ankle, set in the firm foundations of our feet; that our lower arms were fitted to stout upper arms, and helpful hands attached at either side, in order that we might do what is needful to sustain life. To interpret these or any other phenomena on these lines is perversely to turn the truth upside down. In fact, nothing in our bodies was born in order that we might be able to use it, but whatever thing is born creates its own use. --Lucretius, circa 80 BCE
First, what evolution (descent with modification) is not:
Now for what evolution is:
  • Evolution is the theory that the diversity of life on earth began with a single species that gradually evolved branching off new species, and that natural selection was the mechanism for most of this evolutionary change.
  • Evolution is gradual -- substantial changes can require hundreds, thousands or millions of generations.
  • Evolution tells us that all species (e.g. humans and ostriches) can be linked back to a common ancestor.
    Common ancestry allows for testable predictions about evolution.
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  • Evolution, at it's core, is natural selection which states that if genetic differences within a species impacts an individual's ability to survive and reproduce, then the next generation will have more of the "favorable" (to survival and reproduction) genes, and fewer copies of the "less favorable" genes. Subsequent generations become better suited to their environment over time as additional favorable mutations are preserved and accumulated while injurious mutations are eliminated. This simple process only requires that genetic variances within a species impact the likelihood of survival and reproduction. The ultimate effect can give the appearance of design, though the changes were accomplished entirely through a natural process.
  • Speciation generally occurs when a population becomes separated, reproductively isolated, and begins to diverge. These barriers are commonly geographic such as mountains rise, continents drift, drought splits a large forest into 2 forests with a joining grassland, etc. Once the populations diverge to the extent that they are not exchanging genes, and will no longer interbreed after they are reintroduced, they have become separate species.
There has never been a fossil found that was anachronistic to what evolution would predict.

Speaking of predictions:
  • Archaeopteryx (feathered dinosaur) was found in the fossil record where evolution would have predicted -- 145 million years ago between modern bird fossils from 70 million years ago, and theropod dinosaurs from 200 million years ago.
  • Evolution predicted a transition from fish to amphibian, and when in history that would have occurred. There were lobe-finned fish, but no vertebrates 390 million years ago, and there were land vertebrates 360 million years ago. Transitional species would have to occur between this range. Using the theory of evolution Neil Shubin predicted that if there were transitional fossils they should be found in fossils around 375 million years old, and in areas that were freshwater. Studying geological text books the team identified a region of the Canadian arctic. After 5 years of digs they found what has been named Tiktaalik with features between amphibians and earlier lobe-finned fish.
  • Marsupials:
    • Marsupials are predominantly found in Australia.
    • The oldest marsupial fossils (about 80 million years old) are found in North America.
    • Marsupials evolved and spread to the south and were to the tip of South America around 40 million years ago.
    • Marsupials were found in Australia around 10 million years later.
    • Marsupials in Australia diverged into the 200+ species found there today.
    • Question: how did they cross the South Atlantic?
    • Hypothesis: we know that before the continents split, South America and Australia were joined by modern Antarctica, so marsupials must have traveled across Antarctica between 30 and 40 million years ago.
    • Prediction: marsupial fossils should be found in Antarctica dating to 30-40 million years ago.
    • Findings: scientists that traveled on an expedition to Antarctica looking for these fossils found fossils of more than a dozen marsupial species, and the fossils were dated to 35-40 million years ago.
  • Humans and apes descended from a common ancestor. Apes originated in Africa. Prediction: earliest hominids would be found in Africa. And they were.


For any of the Creationists, how would a "theory" of Creation explain these?
  • The fossil record clearly shows the development of simpler organisms prior to more complex organisms. If all species were created at the same time why would that be?
  • 5 weeks after fertilization you had a tail and pharyngeal pouches (predecessors of gills). Why would that be the case if you did not have ancestors with a tail and fish-like gills?
  • Within the eukaryotic cell, mitochondria and chloroplasts have their own DNA. Why would God Design these organelles with their own DNA separate from the rest of the cell?
  • The Ichneumonidae family of wasps (3000+ species) reproduce by the female stinging her prey, laying her eggs inside the paralyzed prey, then after they hatch the larvae slowly eat their way out of the prey by eating the least essential parts first, then only at the end eating the essential parts and killing the host. Why would a benevolent God Design this into his Creation?
  • Atavisms, vestigial traits, and embryology -- too tired to elaborate tonight.
  • Southern continents (Africa, South America, Australia and New Zealand) each have at least one species of flightless birds (ostrich, rhea, emu, etc.). How does that distribution make sense given a Great Flood?
  • More on biogeography, but first 2 terms for background:
    • Continentals islands were once part of mainland continents, but separated through continental drift (e.g. Japan and the British Isles)
    • Oceanic islands arose from the ocean floor (without any life) (e.g. the Hawaiian Islands and the Gallapagos)
    The following are well documented:
    • Oceanic islands lack native mammals, amphibians and freshwater fish.
    • Continental islands contain native mammals, amphibians and freshwater fish.
    • Populations, such as birds, that are found on oceanic archipelagos islands today have many related species (e.g. the variety of finches on the Gallapagos).
    • Species, plant and animal, found on oceanic islands are most similar to those on the nearest mainland.
    • Very similar animals in similar habitats between Australia and the Americas have significant biological differences (marsupial and placental versions of moles, anteaters, flying squirrels).
    • Marsupial species are common in Australia and surrounding islands, but fairly rare outside of Australia.
    How does Creation explain these observations?

Additional Reading:
Revision History:
  • 10/24/2013 -- minor wording
  • 12/29/2011 -- revised Creationist questions
  • 07/14/2011 -- Initial Post

Last edited by ArtificialGrape; 10-24-2013 at 14:01..
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Old 07-14-2011, 02:31   #2
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I'm not particularly interested in addressing every argument from ignorance / God of the gaps attack that people may choose to mount. Questions that are not yet answered, and may perhaps never be answered, by the theory of evolution do not diminish what has been established.

I will try my best to answer honest questions that people may have, and I'll look to the evolution savvy members to help keep me in line.

Again, the intent was not to teach people everything they need to know about evolution -- there are lots of great resources for that -- but rather to (hopefully) preemptively address the "descended from apes" and "yeah, but where did the matter for evolution come from" remarks.

Thank you and good night.

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Old 07-14-2011, 04:41   #3
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But...but...that book of fiction is right because He said so.

Great post AG, saving this one.
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Old 07-14-2011, 04:50   #4
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Does evolutionary theory really suppose that all life descended from a single species?

I thought that current theory holds that in the earliest days of protein aggregation, that many different 'species' sprang forth (practically) simultaneously, and the first elements of speciation occurred rather rapidly as mutations happened rather randomly. Cellular differentiation set life on its current track, but those cells arose (and disappeared) from many different different alpha sources.
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Old 07-14-2011, 07:52   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by eracer View Post
Does evolutionary theory really suppose that all life descended from a single species?

I thought that current theory holds that in the earliest days of protein aggregation, that many different 'species' sprang forth (practically) simultaneously, and the first elements of speciation occurred rather rapidly as mutations happened rather randomly. Cellular differentiation set life on its current track, but those cells arose (and disappeared) from many different different alpha sources.
Darwin referred to a single "primordial progenitor" of all life, and my reading of Dawkins, Coyne, Shubin and others still share this view. I'm not sure that we would have the same DNA record that we have today if that were not the case, but I would certainly be interested in reading contrary opinions if you have any pointers.

-ArtificialGrape

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Old 07-14-2011, 09:30   #6
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Great post.

I would add the punctuated equilibrium theory of Eldridge and Gould in with evolution being gradual change over long periods. Some can be quite dramatic in short periods
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Old 07-14-2011, 09:44   #7
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Great post.

I would add the punctuated equilibrium theory of Eldridge and Gould in with evolution being gradual change over long periods. Some can be quite dramatic in short periods
I think it too much too fast for the class AG is teaching. He's already put up a ton of info.
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Old 07-14-2011, 10:56   #8
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Great post.

I would add the punctuated equilibrium theory of Eldridge and Gould in with evolution being gradual change over long periods. Some can be quite dramatic in short periods
Here is some dissent to punctuated equilibria, and some additional responses between Eldredge/Gould and Coyne/Charlesworth that may interest you.

Coyne recently wrote "that stasis and jumpiness suggested by Gould and Eldredge is simply wrong, as is their notion that many trends in the history of life (indeed, Gould maintained many features of organisms) are molded by species selection. In fact, in his last book, Gould couldnít come up with a single good example of the process that he earlier considered of paramount importance in evolution. I donít think that many paleobiologists, and certainly almost no microevolutionists, consider the mechanisms of punctuated equilibrium to be important".

Additionally Richard Dawkins responds to the theory in The Blind Watchmaker.

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Old 07-14-2011, 15:40   #9
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Originally Posted by ArtificialGrape View Post
I've gone through most of it. Part of the I.D. movements claims of the "controversy" is the debate over punctuated equilibrium and gradual change. Cause iffin the scientists can't agree on how it happened then maybe it didn't. Gotta love it.
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Old 07-14-2011, 15:58   #10
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I've gone through most of it. Part of the I.D. movements claims of the "controversy" is the debate over punctuated equilibrium and gradual change. Cause iffin the scientists can't agree on how it happened then maybe it didn't. Gotta love it.
Yep, disagreements between scientists often provide rich fodder for Creationist quote mining. I've read several scientist authors write about reading with amazement how they have been quoted out of context to represent their position opposite of what they were really saying.

Even this issue is really about how gradual evolution is. There is no disagreement with "life evolves".

-ArtificialGrape

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Old 12-22-2011, 01:43   #11
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Bump... still seems to be a lot of misunderstanding of even the basics.
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Old 12-22-2011, 14:03   #12
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Bump... still seems to be a lot of misunderstanding of even the basics.
Great initial post AG. As I have mentioned in another thread. I haven't completely given up on the idea of a power greater than ourselves. I have, however, given up on the idea of organized religion.

With that in mind, I have read your post and feel that it is very informative. I have not read all the extra reading yet, with my current schedule it may take me several days to get through it all.

I am the sort of person who's mind works chronologically. I understand that evolution is the theory, simply put, of how we got to where we are today and that it does not address how it all started. My question is, what area of science, if any, really addresses the origin of life? And do you have any suggestions on good reads for that topic?

Like I said, my mind works chronologically. I have a rough understanding of what evolution is about but before I can really wrap my head around that I have to ask the question, "What happened before that?"

Please do not read into this that I am trying to be inflammatory in any way. I am trying to wrap my head around the idea of, for the lack of better words, there was a "big bang" and the universe began to form. Through some weird twist of fate we end up with a planet that is the right distance from the sun, right gasses present, with the right mixture of land and water. But, is sterile. I am OK up to that point. Then, a few million years later, however long that may be, we begin to see single cell organisms. What happened in that period of time and does science have a theory or area of study for that time frame?
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Old 12-22-2011, 15:15   #13
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Great initial post AG. As I have mentioned in another thread. I haven't completely given up on the idea of a power greater than ourselves. I have, however, given up on the idea of organized religion.

With that in mind, I have read your post and feel that it is very informative. I have not read all the extra reading yet, with my current schedule it may take me several days to get through it all.

I am the sort of person who's mind works chronologically. I understand that evolution is the theory, simply put, of how we got to where we are today and that it does not address how it all started. My question is, what area of science, if any, really addresses the origin of life? And do you have any suggestions on good reads for that topic?

Like I said, my mind works chronologically. I have a rough understanding of what evolution is about but before I can really wrap my head around that I have to ask the question, "What happened before that?"

Please do not read into this that I am trying to be inflammatory in any way. I am trying to wrap my head around the idea of, for the lack of better words, there was a "big bang" and the universe began to form. Through some weird twist of fate we end up with a planet that is the right distance from the sun, right gasses present, with the right mixture of land and water. But, is sterile. I am OK up to that point. Then, a few million years later, however long that may be, we begin to see single cell organisms. What happened in that period of time and does science have a theory or area of study for that time frame?
Abiogenesis is in the realm of chemists because you're beginning with inert compounds. I provide some details around abiogenesis in the longer section towards the end of this post.

-ArtificialGrape
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Old 12-22-2011, 15:26   #14
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Thanks AG, I'll take a look at that in the near future. We've gotten some pretty good snow here in KS this week and I've been busy on the ambulance. Not really sure what day it is today.

Thanks again!
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Old 12-23-2011, 01:48   #15
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Wrong forum. Keep your observable facts and logic in the Science forum where it belongs. This is the religion forum, and we'll have none of that here.

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Old 12-23-2011, 17:58   #16
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Dear Mr. Grape, the Bible tells me you are wrong! Do you love Jesus or not?


...
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Old 12-24-2011, 01:15   #17
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Why is an evolution thread in the religious issues forum?
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Old 12-24-2011, 02:04   #18
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Why is an evolution thread in the religious issues forum?
Because some religious people disbelieve evolution, while not understanding it, because of religion.
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Old 12-24-2011, 02:11   #19
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Because some religious people disbelieve evolution, while not understanding it, because of religion.
A lot of religious people don't believe we should embrace socialism, while not understanding it, because of religion. Doesn't mean it will get moved from political issues to here.

Last I checked evolution was a scientific theory. Not a tennant of faith.
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Old 12-24-2011, 03:24   #20
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Last I checked evolution was a scientific theory. Not a tennant of faith.
Last I checked, David Tennant was the tenth Doctor. Why said anything about Timelords?
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