Quora – Evolution

Quora – What evidence is used to refute theory of evolution? – Response to answer by Qedlin Saltum

Every one of these assertions presented as evidence against evolution is, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, on balance of all the evidence sets I have reviewed, actually false.

And to be fair, some of the reasons that the assertions are false are not at all simple, and actually require quite a bit of time and effort to understand. So it is easy to see why those assertions might seem reasonable; and to me they are not.

Evolution is not simple.

It starts from a reasonably simple system with 3 components:
1/ Something that can duplicate in some set of conditions, with some degree of accuracy;
2/ Variations in the conditions present;
3/ leading to differential survival of variations, thence changes in population makeup in different conditions.

And it does get very complex very quickly, as the rates of variation in copying, the degree of difference between contexts, the degree of linkage between populations in different contexts, the size and frequency of change in populations, etc are all important factors.

And given that it seems probable the cellular life emerged only once in the entire history of this planet (1 time only, over a period approaching a billion years, over the entire planet), and that it seems very likely that it happened over 3 billion years ago, it is not surprising that we haven’t yet worked out exactly how it first happened, and it is entirely possible that we never will. Clearly there were no atomic level video recorders present at that particular event.

And that doesn’t lessen any of the evidence pointing to that such an event occurred, even if such evidence doesn’t tell us much about the exact circumstances of the event.

As to the points 1–7 above.

1/ The idea that science is about the pursuit of Truth is an old one, and one clearly falsified by a modern understanding of the evolution of neural networks and the best understandings we have of physics (like quantum mechanics).

It isn’t any longer about looking for a singular unified theory of everything, but something quite different.

Anyone who looks seriously at the best understandings we have of physics and biology must accept complexity that is beyond computational prediction. Some aspects of reality seem to not simply be maximally computationally complex, or beyond complete computation (like irrational numbers, like Pi), but do actually seem to be random.

So the classical assumption that all outcomes must have a singular predicating cause does not seem to align with what mathematics and physics is telling us in the models of Quantum Mechanics that seem to be the best models we currently have of reality.

2/ is false in the broad sketch sense, even as it is true in the sense that we do not know the absolute specifics. But then modern science tells us (in the uncertainty principle) that we cannot know with absolute precision where anything is; so why should we expect such precision from biology. That just seems to be a failure of understanding the levels of complexity and possibility actually present.

3/ Replication requires DNA – false.
Clearly, before DNA came RNA. Most of the mechanisms of replication are RNA based, pointing clearly to DNA being a late comer to the picture.

What came before RNA?

Of that we can have no clear evidence. Such things do not fossilize.

There are certainly several sets of candidate explanations, but no overwhelming evidence one way or another for one or the other, nor is such a thing ever likely to exist.

Even if someone does manage to create conditions that allow for the emergence of replicating RNA, that doesn’t prove that those were actually the conditions in which it did actually first emerge.

So, as is often the case in modern science, one runs into irreducible uncertainty, as one does in Quantum Mechanics, and elsewhere.

A modern understanding of understanding itself is not based in the simple idea of certainty, but in the idea of contextually useful models of systems that are irreducibly complex and uncertain.

Just the idea of irrational numbers gives a hint at it.

An irrational number is one that has no finite expression as the relationship of any set of integers. There is proof that the infinity of irrational numbers is a greater infinity than the infinities of integers or rational numbers.

If we consider just one of them, Pi, it is fundamental to most mathematical treatments of reality, yet it may not be computed with absolute accuracy, so any real computation employing it will contain uncertainty beyond the limit of accuracy used in the approximation to Pi one chose to use in that particular computation.

The idea that anything in reality may be known with 100% accuracy is pure myth. Everything has uncertainty, even if in many cases that uncertainty is so small that we can ignore it for practical purposes.

4/ cannot get large change from small variation, wrong! That assertion ignores the testing of variations that occurs at the level of egg and sperm. The vast bulk of eggs and sperm never get to become zygotes. Any variations that are too deleterious are selected out at that level. That is a great deal of selection – millions to 1 in the case of sperm.

Beyond that, at the level of individuals, it only takes 2 children per couple to maintain a population. Anything beyond that must be selected out (on average, over time, once a population hits the ecosystem limits). Both of my parents had 8 siblings. That’s a lot of room for selection.

5/ There is no requirement for genetic and morphological expressions to be consistent. That is in fact one of the most powerful sets of systemic evidence of evolution; but that is not at all a simple thing to understand, and requires quite a deep understanding of probability and complexity theory.

6/ Rapid radiation defies theory. Untrue.

Evolution can work very rapidly on small populations.

If there is a geological period that reduces populations to small numbers that are widely geographically separated, and keeps those numbers small for a significant number of generations (like a large volcanic event producing wide spread acid rain and low light conditions for thousands of years), then the sort of thing we see in the geological record is exactly what one would expect.

Small populations can change very rapidly, particularly under very hostile conditions.
And by definition the probability of a fossil existing is tiny, and the likelihood of finding it is infinitesimally small.

7/ Absence of transitional forms. A nonsense. That claim has been made many times, and many times, as transitional forms have been found, people just say, well where is the form between those.

Not everything that dies gets fossilized.

Actually, very few things that die get fossilized.

Most things that die get eaten.

Most of the rest decompose.

It is only a very tiny fraction, way less than 1 in a million, probably less than one in a billion, that get fossilized.

We haven’t found all the fossils.

We probably haven’t found one in a million of the fossils.

So what we see in terms of transitional forms, is pretty much exactly what we would expect to see.

It is, in fact, very strong evidence for evolution – if one understands all of the contexts of physic, chemistry, geology, modeling, and probability that are involved in making such assessments; and gaining such skill sets cannot be done in a few minutes, it actually takes years of work.

So sure, it has to look as stated, if one uses overly simplistic models to make such assessments.
And all models are necessarily simplifications of the things they model.

So clearly, I am acknowledging all the uncertainties present in the models I am using, and am making no claims whatever to any sort of infallibility.

I am actually making quite a strong claim that all claims to infallibility are very likely false (a claim beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt).

And acknowledging all of that uncertainty and complexity, it is clear to me, as someone who has had a passionate interest in living and non-living systems for 60+ years, that we are most likely the result of a process of evolution by natural selection on this planet over something approaching 4 billion years. And we are complex beyond the possibility of understanding in detail, and that our models of ourselves will always and necessarily be simplistic models of a reality that is complex beyond our ability to understand in detail.

So I make a claim to a useful sketch, nothing more.

And I acknowledge that considering the earth to be flat is a useful sketch if one is building a house from lumber; but not so useful if sailing across the pacific to a small island. If doing that one needs a model of the earth that is more nearly round.

If one wants to create a system of GPS satellites to accurately position oneself on a flat map of any part of the roughly round earth, then one must use both general relativity and quantum mechanics, neither of which are anything like flat earth or certainty.

Reality seems to be like that. It allows useful approximations at particular scales, but denies the possibility of absolute certainty at any scale.

If that is what we have, might as well accept it, and stop wishing or looking for the sort of simplicity we once had as ignorant children.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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