Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Kent Hovind returns?

So, way back in the day (where "back in the day" is defined as "November of 2006") I wrote a post that, among other things, mentioned Kent Hovind. You remember Kent Hovind, don't you? The outspoken anti-evolutionist preacher who was convicted of tax fraud, among other things? In any case, the point of my post was basically that people who claim to be on the side of the angels can do bad things, so one should look to actions rather than labels when adjudicating someone's morality. Along the way, though, I mentioned the infamous challenge that Hovind leveled at pro-science types. To wit:

I have a standing offer of $250,000 to anyone who can give any empirical evidence (scientific proof) for evolution.* My $250,000 offer demonstrates that the hypothesis of evolution is nothing more than a religious belief.

*NOTE: When I use the word evolution, I am not referring to the minor variations found in all of the various life forms (microevolution). I am referring to the general theory of evolution which believes these five major events took place without God:
1. Time, space, and matter came into existence by themselves.
2. Planets and stars formed from space dust.
3. Matter created life by itself.
4. Early life-forms learned to reproduce themselves.
5. Major changes occurred between these diverse life forms (i.e., fish changed to amphibians, amphibians changed to reptiles, and reptiles changed to birds or mammals).


I basically dismissed this with a flippant remark, more or less because it was a digression from my point and, really, that's just how I roll. Nevertheless, recently a commenter by the name of She Loves God ran across this ancient post and decided to respond to it:

So has anyone come up with any evidence for evolution yet? Does he still have the $250,0000.00? Why haven't you gone to get the money yet?


Today's post is, in effect, my answer.

Dear She Loves God,

First of all, I want to thank you for asking the question you did. I realize that I didn't really address Hovind's offer at any length the last time I mentioned it, and that was an oversight on my part. To begin with the last question, I haven't gone to collect the money from Hovind because Hovind is essentially cheating. What I mean by that is that he's posed the challenge in such a way as to insulate himself from the possibility of having to pay. In order to understand what I mean, we have to consider what evolution is and what it is not.

It's difficult to define evolution succinctly but, at the risk of oversimplifying, it's a scientific theory that describes the diversification of life through the mechanisms of variation, selection, and retention. Variation refers to the diversity of genotypes and phenotypes on earth (i.e. all organisms don't have identical genes and physical/behavioral properties), selection refers to a mechanism for favoring some organisms and disfavoring others (e.g. most often "natural selection" that allows organisms better adapted to their environment to survive more successfully, though artificial selection is also possible), and retention refers to the propagation of the traits of successful organisms through their gene pools (i.e. typically by producing more offspring than less successful competitors). Over time these mechanisms, variation, selection, and retention, shape organisms to be better adapted to their environments, although constant change in environments means that the process never really ends. Now, in the definition above what you DO see is a basic theoretical framework for how organisms diversify and change over time. What you do NOT see is any explanation for cosmology or the origin of life (aka abiogenesis). In other words, evolutionary theory ONLY addresses how lifeforms change and adapt, not how life began and not why the universe is the way it is. Those are matters for other theories and, indeed, often other disciplines. Now, given that, let's consider Hovind's five elements that he demands evolution explain:

1. Time, space, and matter came into existence by themselves.


The theory of evolution does not address matters of cosmology. Evolution is a theory about the diversification and adaptation of life.

2. Planets and stars formed from space dust.


The theory of evolution does not address matters of astronomy or planetary science. Evolution is a theory about the diversification and adaptation of life.

3. Matter created life by itself.


The theory of evolution does not address matters of abiogenesis. Evolution is a theory about the diversification and adaptation of life.

4. Early life-forms learned to reproduce themselves.


This condition is murky, at best, because definitions of life often include the requirement of reproduction. So, in other words, if something is defined as "life" then it is capable of reproduction. Possibly Hovind meant "sexual reproduction" but that's not at all clear from the definition. If that's what Hovind meant, however, then yes, there is evidence for the evolution of sexual differentiation and reproduction. See here for a few citations.

5. Major changes occurred between these diverse life forms (i.e., fish changed to amphibians, amphibians changed to reptiles, and reptiles changed to birds or mammals).


Evolutionary theory DOES address this issue and, indeed, massive amounts of evidence have been identified. I've written an overview of some of the issues and evidence, but you can find more at talk.origins. For example, there are several articles on observed speciation events, a large mass of evidence for "macroevoluton" as well as an excellent discussion of the differences between the scientific meaning of the terms micro- and macroevolution and the ways in which creationists like Hovind typically use them. You might also take a look at a page on evolution provided by Professor Ken Miller, a biologist and a christian. In short, the evidence for both micro- and macroevolution is, in a word, overwhelming.

So, to answer your question most bluntly: I have not collected the $250,000 because Hovind has demanded that the theory of evolution explain things that it was never intended to explain. If the prize has not been claimed, it is not because science has not produced massive volumes of evidence in favor of evolution, but rather because Hovind, either through staggering ignorance or fraudulent intent, has made a nonsensical challenge.

To answer your second question, I don't know if he still has the $250,000 but, given his legal troubles, I rather doubt it. And, in answer to your first question, yes, scientists have, and there's a lot of it. Just read some of the links I provided and you'll get to see a small part of it.

Thanks for writing in! It's been fun.

-Drek the Uninteresting

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2 Comments:

Blogger scripto said...

"The theory of evolution does not address matters of abiogenesis. Evolution is a theory about the diversification and adaptation of life."

I kind of wish we would drop this argument. I see no reason to doubt that selective forces work on the molecular level and that when you get right down to it there is no really definite line between life and non-life. I guess it's just semantics but it seems like the study of the origins of life is just as robust as any other evolutionary discipline.

Thursday, April 07, 2011 9:48:00 AM  
Blogger Drek said...

Yeah, I know what you mean. Part of the issue, I think, has to do with the difference between evolution as a theory and evolution as a sort of metaphor. As a theory, evolution only applies once you have some kind of self-replicating system. So, once you have self-replicating molecules we're off to the races. Indeed, arguably the vast apparatus of life is, on some level, just the mechanism that certain molecules have developed for replicating themselves.

At the level of evolution as a metaphor, however, we can talk about systems "evolving" towards a stable state, favoring those elements that are more durable or likely to survive, but without necessarily the mechanisms of variation, selection, and retention coming into play. Thus we can have "stellar evolution" which has absolutely nothing to do with the theory of evolution. I think I would argue that abiogenesis has more to do with evolution as a metaphor than evolution as a theory. That said, a lot also hinges on what you're willing to define as "life" and early-on the mechanisms of evolution probably apply to self-replicating, but arguably non-living, systems.

Then again, speaking as an elaborate mechanism for the reproduction of a molecule, who am I to judge?

Thursday, April 07, 2011 11:40:00 AM  

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