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Random Evolution Facts

Entry 1536, on 2013-05-27 at 15:13:05 (Rating 4, Comments)

Continuing my series of "random fact" blog entries, I thought I would move on to another potentially controversial subject: evolution. If you follow this blog you will know the previous subject was environmentalism and that could reasonably be said to involve controversy because it is a basically political subject and one which is prone to extreme views on both sides.

But really evolution is not the same sort of thing at all. There should be no controversy because evolution is a fact and is entirely scientific. The only controversy is one manufactured by deluded nutters. But even if it is totally unjustified there is still a controversy, so let's move on to the facts...

First of all, a fact about that controversy: The result of recent surveys (from 2011) showed that just 50.9% of Americans believe evolution. In the 18 to 44 year old age group 56% believed it, in the older group under 50%, and amongst college graduates 63%.

Analysis: If I remember correctly this is the first time that surveys have shown that a majority of Americans believe evolution, so at least that is a positive point. This is supported by the fact that more young people believe it, which indicates the trend is likely to continue. No doubt this greater level of education leading to greater belief in the facts of science is what is worrying creationists and leading them to wanting to have their myths taught in school.

The last statistic - that 63% of college graduates believe evolution - is nice because it confirms the idea that the more educated a person is the more likely they are to believe in science. But it is still a surprisingly low number. It is hard to believe that a (presumably) intelligent person can complete a college (university) course without being convinced by the evidence. Of course there are many courses which have no scientific content so I guess this lack of knowledge might not be so surprising for graduates in the area of the arts and commerce, for example.

Fact: 99.8% of all species which have ever existed have become extinct.

Analysis: I have heard slightly different numbers for this statistic but they are always above 99% so it is safe to say the number is very high. I do agree that the definition of species is somewhat uncertain but this makes no difference to the basic idea (as I will explain below).

Evolution predicts that the forms of life gradually change over vast periods of time. The change happens through differential survival so extinction is really the most important outcome of evolutionary change. If the variety of life came about by a more directed mechanism, such as creation or intelligent design, we would expect little or no extinction. Why would an intelligent agent create species which are so poorly designed that only one fifth of one percent of them survive?

And the difficulty in defining a species is also a natural consequence of evolution. Because populations are constantly splitting, merging, and changing as a result of environmental and genetic factors species are never stable. Again a designer would be expected to create "types" of life in distinct groups. What we see is totally contrary to this idea.

Fact: RNA has a single helix and can contain information just like DNA can, but it can also act as an enzyme. Therefore a simplified model of early life is possible, involving one molecule (RNA) instead of two (DNA and protein). Because DNA is a better information transfer mechanism it would have out-competed RNA once it became established.

Analysis: There is no doubt that the chemistry of life is incredibly complex and many people have difficulty understanding how it could have arisen without intelligent intervention. But when the details of these mechanism are examined closely it can generally be seen how a much simpler function could have served as an intermediate stage to the complexity we see now.

The "RNA world" hypothesis isn't universally accepted but it does illustrate one way that the current complexity could have arisen. The current mechanism in "advanced" life involves DNA, RNA, and proteins and is perhaps too complex. But if DNA evolved after RNA it starts making sense that the complexity we see now could have started with something much simpler. It also explains why it is now perhaps unnecessarily complex.

Fact: Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, other primates have 24 pairs. If there was a common ancestor (as evolution states) the chromosomes must have fused at some point because humans couldn't survive the loss of a whole chromosome. Telomeres are structures which appear at the end of most chromosomes but are present in the center of human chromosome 2 (but are not in other species). This clearly shows a fusion corresponding to chimp chromosome 13.

Analysis: Despite creationists' ridiculous attempts to suggest the contrary, this is fairly strong evidence for a common ancestor. If an intelligent designer created two species why would one have almost identical DNA to another and why would there be clear signs that one branch had similar chromosomes to the other but slightly rearranged? Wouldn't the *intelligent* designer get it right the first time and not need to make changes "on the fly"?

The facts indicate evolution is true. Of course there is also a chance that there is a different mechanism involved but one which is virtually indistinguishable from evolution. But that sort of theory is just intellectually dishonest. The Catholic Church accepts evolution but says it is guided by God. Why would they even suggest anything so idiotic? If a god is guiding evolution he's sure doing a bad job.

A 99.8% failure rate is about what we would expect from a natural process with a high random component, but it certainly isn't what we expect if there is intelligent guidance going on.

The reality is clear to anyone who actually bothers to look at the facts and then applies an honest appraisal process to those facts. I could have thrown out all of the other facts in this file (those I included here are just a sample) and replaced them with one word: evolution. It's a fact.

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Comment 13 (3554) by Anonymous on 2013-06-05 at 08:21:56: (view earlier comments)

You should just give up OJB nothing can change a creationists mind once they have decided to believe whatever BS they like.

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Comment 14 (3555) by Richard on 2013-06-05 at 10:55:26:

Sigh - The brave 'anonymous', has made the same mistake, making nonsensical broad assertions without any way to back up the claim. Also made the mistake of not reading the original post (or remembering it) - Owen claimed and I agreed that education does in fact help change creationists minds. Also you forgot that this is not a post about 'creationism'. It's only about Owens single claim that evolution is 'fact'. Shame you cannot seem to grasp that distinction, as also fully explained earlier.

Also - Owen re not reading carefully: Pluto = joke, remember? Also - the list stated plainly they were in no particular order - there isn't a 'top ten' at all - that's a plainly dishonest response folks. And btw you didn't 'show' they were highly suspect at all - you merely typed your personal opinion on the matter in your post (as usual). As for the relevance of the 'source', sorry again you totally missed the point (or are pretending to)? I am not biased - I do not dismiss information on any pro-evolution site, simply on the basis that it's 'on a pro evolution' site?!! I will discuss, question or even dismiss it if I think the 'evidence' provided doesn't not hold water, as you have the right to do with the sites containing the alternative information. You are demonstrating clearly above (to your shame) that you are not similarly unbiased when you even make reference to the source in that way. Of course this information in on 'creationists' sites - where else do you expect to find it?! Again #notrocketscience!

The clearest demonstration of that very bias, is your statement: "How could I show you a site with experts who have a scientific disagreement with evolution? As far as I know, there are none". Wow.

For my part, this entire thread has been about calling into question radical claims that Owen has made about evolution being undisputed fact, i.e. that everyone 'clever' believes this, (can you see that this is NOT the same topic as whether it REALLY is fact). It can't be obviously, because all the 'clever' people 200 hundred years ago would have completely denied it - yet it's truth status of course has not changed one bit. Of course I have no problem with people disgreeing with me on either of these topics. ALso - in this post I was not meaning to 'just advance religion or creationism' - I think an honest reading of the thread will show this too - perhaps some other completely naturalistic process than evolution is true? It's Owen alone who has consistently brought up those distractions, in spite of my clear request not to do so in my first post! Now I wonder why that is?!

Anyway - That will do. Cheers, Rich.

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Comment 15 (3556) by OJB on 2013-06-05 at 12:45:49:

I think "anonymous" has a point. With most creationists there is no reasonable way that their ideas can be refuted. If you can look at the fossil and molecular evidence and casually dismiss it as you do then I really believe you have decided what you want to believe and can never admit you're wrong.

The list was clearly in a priority order since the two leading proponents of ID were near the top. You really need to look past the creationist propaganda and see what's really happening. Even if it wasn't, 10 taken at random is still a reasonable sample.

None of what I said was personal opinion, it was all from expert commentary. I guess there was an element of their opinion in some of the comments: for example that Faid's ideas are a joke, but with justification I think!

If the information on creationist sites was actually true I would expect to see it in many places. But it isn't. It's all lies and misinformation. The source is important. If you are a creationist you *must* reject evolution no matter what the facts are. A scientists just follows the facts, they have no need to believe any particular dogma. In fact, if a scientist showed evolution was false surely it would be worth a Nobel Prize!

There are no scientists (or almost none because there will always be a few with crazy ideas and maybe even mental issues) with expertise in relevant fields who disagree with the basics of evolution. The fact that the list you showed is so obviously false supports this.

Saying that one of the most important observations about the real world is a fact is not radical. Denying the clear truth *is* radical. You have a religious bias which prevents him from seeing the truth. You have allowed yourself to be deceived by creationist lies and refuse to concede this even when it is clearly apparent.

I don't care if there is a designer (or creator) or not so I have no built-in bias. If there was a designer it would be the most amazing and fascinating discovery of all time, but despite years of searching the designer refuses to be found. The obvious conclusion is that he doesn't exist.

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Comment 16 (3557) by Richard on 2013-06-05 at 17:03:06:

I really did want to leave this alone, but I hope other readers can see that there is really no excuse for some of these comments. I've given up repeatedly encouraging actual arguments over mere unsupported assertions, so will have to ignore almost all of the last comment above, but this typical claim that a creationist must reject evo' no matter what the facts are, whereas a scientist is just 'following the facts, having no need to believe any particular dogma' is simply desperate nonsense and must be addressed.

Why on earth would anyone feel the need to reject TRUE facts in order to remain a creationist (or a theist) if it were TRULY proven to be false?! I get that you and many others think it already is (fine). BUT - (to quote you) 'I don't care if there is a designer (or creator) or not' either, and most 'creationists' hold that view. I would hope reasoned thinkers are capable of grasping that (in the vast majority, but not all cases - on both sides) it's the interpretation of the very same evidence that has simply lead to two different conclusions about the world we all live in. IF your claim about philosophical bias is true, then athiests cannot escape the same charge. But then I am NOT the one making that downright rude or ridiculous claim that it's only ONE side can be either immune from (or full of) philosophical bias, in the way they interpret evidence.

Finally - My whole last paragraph in Comment 14 was devoted to explaining carefully exactly what 'radical claim' I was disputing, and you still missed it?! I did not say that your claim that 'evolution is fact' was radical at all. I have no problem with your right to make that claim. Never did. I stated clearly that the different claim that it was 'undisputed fact' was radical, and then showed why. You have then disputed that only by trying (and failing) to dismiss the entire list as (and I am being pretty kind here) 'unworthy of dissent'. :-) Your reason why they are unworthy? - obviously they must be - because they doubt evolution?! That is a classic circular argument that most reasonable folk will see is no real argument at all.

And speaking of circles, we are obviously now in one since most of this was there in my first posts - so I really will let you have the last word now Owen (it's your blog) - and let the other readers do their own critical thinking on this thread. Cheers - it's still been fun, and hope you agree. Rich.

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Comment 17 (3559) by OJB on 2013-06-05 at 21:11:01:

You know that no facts about the real world can ever be proved 100% (see my blog entry "Some Philosophical Thoughts" of 2013-03-07) so there is always an opportunity for someone sufficiently determined to reject them. Actually even my use of the word "facts" is incorrect technically because outside of logic and maths there are no facts.

However sometimes the evidence becomes so strong that calling something a fact is a reasonable approximation. But even then the fact isn't 100% proved and by carefully picking out outdated, irrelevant, and unproved evidence; misquoting experts; and simply making stuff up; a case can be made supporting anything. If you want a somewhat facetious example have a look at my blog entry "The Earth is Flat" from 2007-07-02.

If you are a Christian then clearly you must care if there is a designer (god). Actually you must believe in one or reject your emotional attachment to your religion of choice.

Every atheist I know doesn't say there is no god, we simply say there is currently insufficient evidence to believe there is one. That is not an intense emotional commitment like people have to their religions so we are actually less biased (I suspect no one is 100% free of bias).

I don't think I claimed anything as simple as there is no dispute about evolution. What I said is that there is no major dissent amongst the vast majority of relevant experts about the basics of evolution. Look back and you will see that's the sort of qualified statement I made.

I gave the reasons why I rejected each of the people I looked at on the list. There was nothing circular about it.

You really should examine your motivations and honestly ask yourself if you have been blinded by your religious beliefs, and have a look at the quality of your information sources. And if you really want to know the truth go and ask a biologist, like I suggested!

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