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Darwinius Masillae

Entry 1014, on 2009-05-20 at 22:12:50 (Rating 3, Science)

Occasionally I want to listen to a confrontational, controversial podcast which is really going to make me go crazy because one or more of the participants is talking pure crap. Recently I achieved this by listening to a couple of old episodes of the Infidel Guy's podcasts featuring debates about evolution versus creationism.

I know that few people will admit to being a real creationist but I think many people do have doubts about evolution, if only because its so hard to believe that such complex biological organisms could arise from a natural process, and because of the perceived debate which doesn't really exist but has been artificially stirred up by creationists.

Another reason for this blog entry is the discovery of a new fossil, nicknamed Ida, and officially named Darwinius masillae. Yes, its a possible early ancestor of humans and is named after Charles Darwin, the great scientific hero and (to many people) religious villain.

I know that creationists will notice that this has been described as a "possible" human ancestor and I totally accept that. Establishing the lineage of 47 million year old fossils isn't easy. They might also note that there have been errors in the identification of fossils in the past and that there is some debate about the details of the human family tree. I accept all that but it doesn't really matter. Here's why...

Have a look at any reasonable source of information on the subject - and Wikipedia is a good source (contrary to many opinions) because its references on this subject are well documented (there are 51 in the entry for human evolution and most are to reputable journals). You will see a very comprehensive list of fossils representing a wide range of forms up to 45 million years old.

I agree that most of these fossils are incomplete but that's hardly surprising. There is a clear transition visible from very early forms to modern humans. Anyone without a bias on the subject would clearly see that the fossil sequence is real. Experts, of course, agree practically unanimously that the conventional interpretation is correct: that is that these represent a real record of human evolution.

The creationists can try to disguise the truth by rejecting the evidence but they are really just fooling themselves, as well as anyone silly enough to listen to them. I agree that there's a possibility that some of the fossils have been misidentified and the interpretation of some of their places in human lineage is certainly debatable but that criticism cannot be applied to all of the large number of specimens which now exist.

The only way creationism can be defended is through a huge global conspiracy. As I have said in the past, conspiracies shouldn't be ruled out completely but they should always be viewed with great suspicion. A more reasonable conclusion would be that evolution is the only sensible explanation of the origin of humans and of life in general.

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Comment 1 (2012) by ben daniels on 2009-05-20 at 22:24:39: (view recent only)

I wholeheartedly agree with your comments, and am still amazed that with such a huge body of evidence in front of them, the creationists cling to their outdated views. I noted with interest the Catholic church's latest release now accepting evolution as a valid theory, only 150 years late, but better late than never.

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Comment 2 (2013) by NJS on 2009-05-20 at 22:46:21:

I find it particularly ironic that creationists claim evolution is a huge global conspiracy ☺.

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Comment 3 (2014) by SBFL on 2009-05-21 at 03:57:49:

Speaking of conspiracies, what about the Copernican Principle? You might be interested in this article OJB:
http://www.discovery.org/a/2143

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Comment 4 (2015) by OJB on 2009-05-21 at 08:52:30:

Re comment 1. It doesn't seem to matter how much evidence exists, some people will still believe what they want to. I guess that's the essence of faith: believing in something even though you know its not true! I have no problem with them deceiving themselves but they should stop trying to spread their lies by manipulating education, etc.

Re comment 2. Yes, creationism itself could be seen as a global conspiracy and certainly many organised churches have colluded against the truth in an effort to maintain their power.

Re comment 3. Thanks for the link. I see it goes to the Discovery Institute. I will read it and comment later today. This should be fun!

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Comment 5 (2016) by OJB on 2009-05-21 at 12:57:59:

OK, so I've read the Discovery Institute stuff and its really just the same old argument which has been shown to be lacking in the past - that is because the Earth has so many special characteristics it must have been designed that way.

There are two (at least) problems with this...

1. Its a big Universe. There will certainly be some places where the right combination of characteristics have arisen purely by chance. Asking why we were so lucky that it happened here is like asking why was a single person so lucky to win a lottery. You can't ask that question after the phenomenon has been observed. If it happened somewhere else the life on that planet would ask the same question.

2. Life on Earth has evolved to fit in with the conditions here. I agree that there is only a certain range of temperature, etc that life can survive in but its not as narrow as they imply because life fits in with the conditions to a certain extent through evolution.

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Comment 6 (2018) by SBFL on 2009-05-23 at 08:15:39:

I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you (I think the article just gives great food for thought for us mere mortals) but you cannot compare this with the lottery! Noone would be stupid enough to buy a ticket in the lottery that results in Earth's conditions being the winner!

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Comment 7 (2022) by OJB on 2009-05-23 at 12:14:23:

The lottery analogy was to illustrate the following: the person who wins the lottery might say "what was the chance of me winning? I must have had help from God", and in fact the chance of that person winning might be one in 10 million, but someone had to win. The same with the Earth. It might be only one in 10 million planets where the right factors come together to allow life but the fact that Earth "won" shouldn't surprise us because it had to happen somewhere.

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Comment 8 (2027) by SBFL on 2009-05-24 at 20:04:04:

Someone had to win? Normally in a lottery you have to pick the numbers. And if the numbers don't come up? But if there is a lottery where someone had to win, then maybe it was designed such a way!!

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Comment 9 (2031) by OJB on 2009-05-24 at 22:18:09:

Its all about probability. Most lotteries are set up so that there will normally be a winner, if not this week then next week. Do you know any lotteries which are never won? Same with planets. Its possible that in the whole Universe no planet was suitable for life, but that's really unlikely.

As far as the designer is concerned, that makes the whole story a lot more complex for no good reason. Its certainly not impossible that the Universe was designed but that theory introduces a lot more problems than it solves.

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Comment 10 (2034) by SBFL on 2009-05-28 at 06:25:28:

Come on, you can be more open minded!!

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Comment 11 (2056) by OJB on 2009-05-28 at 22:16:27:

I am open minded to the extent that I will look at the evidence for all sides of an argument, but I then decide which one has the best supporting evidence and accept that as the truth until further evidence appears. I also don't accept unnecessarily complicated explanations when the simple ones work just as well.

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