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.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Because I'm a moron who should know better.

Having been lured in by a reader's comment, I now find myself compelled to respond to another blogger's request.

And yes, I know I'm going to regret this later.

Please, by all means, join in the fun. I've repoduced my response to his post below.

Why, oh why, am I so easy to sucker into these things? I ask you...

Have fun!

1). Do you believe that "evolution" is a proven fact?

That depends on your meaning. There does appear to be evidence that the process of evolution has, within human history, resulted in the generation of new species. This process, known as "speciation," has been observed in data, and inferred from the geological record. For a fairly detailed accounting of this, see here.

If you mean is evolution a proven fact for explaining human life on Earth, the answer is no. The operation of evolution in geologic time to produce the human species is inferred from fossil and genetic evidence, but cannot be "proven" with our current means.

That said, however, it's important to note that science doesn't "prove" anything. Since science cannot directly observe all places in the universe at all points in time, it cannot demonstrate that any one thing is always true. What science does is falsify hypotheses, showing that they are incorrect. Over time, this process of falsification allows science to narrow in on correct answers, essentially by eliminating the incorrect ones. A corollary to this is that in order for a theory to be scientific, it must be subject to falsification. An explanation might sound good but be non-scientific if there is no way to demonstrate that it is incorrect.

So, that being said, it is logically incorrect to claim that science ever creates "proven facts." It simply heaps up enormous mounds of evidence and falsifies incorrect alternatives, leaving us with considerable confidence in a particular answer, but not the absolute certainty implied by the term "fact."

3). If not, do you believe that evolution is a theory yet to be proven, but is the only viable option? If so, why?

There's a clear misunderstanding of the term "theory" here. A theory is one or several interrelated hypotheses that have been subject to numerous tests and have yet to be falsified. They, additionally, usually have some sort of predictive power. A theory is not an off-hand guess, but is rather the result of considerable scientific scrutiny. To say that evolution is a "theory" is, in scientific terms, quite a compliment. Some other notable theoretical constructions include quantum theory, atomic theory, and gravity. So, while evolution is certainly a theory, and one that will never be "proven" (for the reasons discussed in my answer to your question #1), it has yet to be falsified despite considerable effort.

As to whether or not it is the only viable option- I would say certainly not. I would, however, say that it would be difficult for another explanation to account for the physical evidence for evolution and the processes observed in modern time. Without such an explanation being unfalsifiable and, therefore, unscientific anyway.

4). Can you cite an example of a species that is currently undergoing evolutionary change? If so, can you cite what those changes are?

Your question asks only for evolutionary change, rather than speciation, so I'll use Humans. We're presently observing a change in the incidence of Sickle Cell Anemia which appears to be a result of evolutionary shifts. Sickle cell, a genetic disease causing a deformation of the red blood cells, has traditionally been most common in African or African-derived populations who are, or were, exposed to malaria. Significant evidence seems to support the theory that this is because having the trait for sickle cell, but not the disease itself, confers some protection against the malaria parasite. So, in malarial areas, having a sickle cell gene is adaptive. African-derived populations living in the U.S. and other areas with low rates of malaria are showing decreasing rates of sickle cell anemia (see my earlier link). In essence, because there is no advantage to having a sickle cell gene in the absence of malaria, the gene becomes wholly negative in its consequences, and natural selection decreases the gene frequency. So, we are observing evolutionary change in a human population in historical time.

If you want evidence of speciation, see my earlier link on the subject.

5). Can you cite an example of a species that has been proven to have evolved from another species? Please cite both species.

Please see my earlier link on speciation.

6). If evolution has stopped, can you offer an explanation as to why?

Evolution has not stopped, as should be obvious from my earlier answers.

7). If man evolved from apes, what race of man is most closely related to apes? (What race has shown less evolutionary change?)

This question is almost impossible to answer because the actual scientific value of the concept of race is in dispute. What are usually thought of as distinct races are genetically almost identical and are fully capable of inter-breeding. As such, we have different variants of a single species. It is no more remarkable that humans living in widely separated areas for long periods resemble members of their own group more than members of others, than it is that members of the same extended family resemble each other more than outsiders. Race, as we usually think of it, is more a social construct than a biological one. So, in short, the answer is that no human "race" appears to be less evolved in the manner you seem to intend.

8). Which species of ape is most closely related to man? (Which has shown the most evolutionary change?)

DNA studies indicate that Humans are most closely related to Chimpanzees (See an additional, more technical, cite here.) It is incorrect, however, to characterize this as "the most evolutionary change." Such a characterization implies that evolution is heading somewhere in particular- it is not. No one form is objectively "better" than another, merely better adapted to a particular environment. Humans appear to have gained their evolutionary advantage from being flexible and able to spread over wide areas, but this isn't the only possible strategy. If you really want to talk about a species that has shown "the most evolutionary change" I think I'd have to go with influenza.

9). If you answered either (or both) #8 and #9, what evidence supports this change?

Well, question #8 is simply poorly asked. Question #9 is supported by DNA studies. My supplied links should be sufficient to get you started.

10. If evolution is a proven fact, or is the only viable option, what is the threat from considering other options? I.e. - What is the harm in discussing other options.

I see no threat in discussing other options, as evolution is not a proven fact (See my above comments on falsifiability) and is not the only viable option. As a scientist, I welcome rival ideas to the table so long as they're prepared for vigorous testing. Testing, however, is the issue. Creationism and Intelligent Design are non-falsifiable. I cannot demonstrate that a supreme being didn't create the universe in its present form with the deliberate intent of deceiving us. As such, both I.D. and Creationism, while ideas explaining life, are not scientific ideas.

Therefore, while I have no problem with teaching creationism or intelligent design in schools, (See here or here for my previously-stated position) it cannot be taught in a science class. To do so is to imply that these ideas meet the criteria to be referred to as scientific hypotheses, which they do not and cannot as presently stated. They don't even begin to approach the level of support necessary to be called "theories." As such, they are explanations, but not scientific ones.

When someone gives me a way to falsify God, or an ancient race of space aliens, (Though I.D. in the non-religious mode is more or less equivalent to panspermia, which is not widely supported) I'll accept I.D. and Creationism as, perhaps, having scientific merit. Until then, keep it out of the science classroom as it isn't science.


Blogger Brayden said...

Way to go Drek. You make my scientistic heart swell with pride.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005 12:15:00 PM  
Blogger Nicholas said...

Go Drek! But i'm afraid you might be so open minded that your brain has fallen out ;)

Tuesday, October 04, 2005 3:02:00 PM  
Blogger Drek said...

Thanks, guys, I appreciate the kuddos.

Chuk: Yeah, I was amused by the brain falling line as well, seeing as how I use it. Just goes to show you that the definition of critical thought can vary pretty dramatically from person to person.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005 9:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this post but where is Turner Tuesday!? I love that guy, so friendly and stuff.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005 11:01:00 AM  
Blogger Drek said...

Yeah, I know, I know. I've been really bad about Turner Tuesday. The problem is that it's a time-intensive post to write, so I have to start working on it in bits and pieces the week before. Keep your fingers crossed for next week- all I can say.

Feel free to call me names, though.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005 11:13:00 AM  

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