Is evolution a hard science?

Discussion about scientific issues as they relate to God and Christianity including archaeology, origins of life, the universe, intelligent design, evolution, etc.
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Is evolution a hard science?

#1

Post by pat34lee » Fri Oct 04, 2013 10:28 pm

Of all the types of evolution that fall under the banner, only adaptation can be considered scientific. From cosmic to stellar to Darwinian evolution, all try to describe past events that cannot be observed, measured or studied directly in any way. Even if, one day, they come up with a way to explain how evolution could happen, they will never be able to prove that it did happen, much less how. This puts evolution in the philosophy camp, along with religion.

I saw the link about the human and chimp DNA. If only 5% of the total DNA were different, how many mutations would that be in total, and how long would they take to occur? According to Haldane's Dilemma, a lot more time than they had available. Since macroevolution is a fantasy anyway, the point is moot.

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Re: Is evolution a hard science?

#2

Post by hughfarey » Sat Oct 05, 2013 11:32 am

Er... where on earth did you get your ideas about science from? The explanation of past events by indirect measurement is a common feature of scientific inquiries, as is prediction of future ones. And what's all this about Scientists trying to prove things? Only Mathematicians prove things. Scientists provide systematic models which describe aspects of the observed universe as accurately as they can. Evolution does it with remarkable coherence.

Haldane's Dilemma is an oft-quoted Creationist label for a mis-reading of an idea by JSB Haldane that, among other things, attempted to determine a rate of genetic mutation. The complete genome of the human is about 300 genes different from that of a chimpanzee (out of about 22000), and there has been ample time for speciation. Haldane's actual words are "It is suggested that in horoletic evolution, the mean time taken for each gene substitution is about 300 generations. This accords with the observed slowness of evolution." As macro-evolution is well established the point is important, but fortunately not, in this case, a problem at all.

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Re: Is evolution a hard science?

#3

Post by pat34lee » Sat Oct 05, 2013 2:40 pm

hughfarey wrote:Er... where on earth did you get your ideas about science from? The explanation of past events by indirect measurement is a common feature of scientific inquiries, as is prediction of future ones. And what's all this about Scientists trying to prove things? Only Mathematicians prove things. Scientists provide systematic models which describe aspects of the observed universe as accurately as they can. Evolution does it with remarkable coherence.

Haldane's Dilemma is an oft-quoted Creationist label for a mis-reading of an idea by JSB Haldane that, among other things, attempted to determine a rate of genetic mutation. The complete genome of the human is about 300 genes different from that of a chimpanzee (out of about 22000), and there has been ample time for speciation. Haldane's actual words are "It is suggested that in horoletic evolution, the mean time taken for each gene substitution is about 300 generations. This accords with the observed slowness of evolution." As macro-evolution is well established the point is important, but fortunately not, in this case, a problem at all.
Sorry about the quality of my post. It was late and I was trying to be brief and yet cover as much ground as possible.

Which scientific inquiries use only indirect means of testing? Only those where direct observation, measurement, etc. cannot be done. The standard scientific method has 4 steps (sometimes 5 depending on the source).

1. Observation and description of a phenomenon or group of phenomena.
2. Formulation of an hypothesis to explain the phenomena. In physics, the hypothesis often takes the form of a causal mechanism or a mathematical relation.
3. Use of the hypothesis to predict the existence of other phenomena, or to predict quantitatively the results of new observations.
4. Performance of experimental tests of the predictions by several independent experimenters and properly performed experiments.
http://teacher.nsrl.rochester.edu/phy_l ... ndixe.html

300 genes out of about 22000? That doesn't sound like many changes until you look at the total number of mutations required.
1.23% of the differences are single base pair substitutions. This doesn't sound like much until you realize that it represents ~35 million mutations! But that is only the beginning, because there are ~40-45 million bases present in humans and missing from chimps, as well as about the same number present in chimps that is absent from man. These extra DNA nucleotides are called "insertions" or "deletions" because they are thought to have been added in or lost from the sequence. (Substitutions and insertions are compared in Figure 1.) This puts the total number of DNA differences at about 125 million. However, since the insertions can be more than one nucleotide long, there are about 40 million separate mutation events that would separate the two species.
http://www.answersingenesis.org/article ... e-sequence
You are correct that a theory cannot be proven. Why is it then, that every time something new pops up, or is made up, you hear scientists touting new proofs for evolution. It can never be proven to have happened in nature, much less that it happens today. It can be inferred, guessed at, wished for, but never proven.

As to what evolution explains. It takes observable phenomena like adaptation and mutation, and tries to expand them to fill the role of God in nature. More on these will have to wait as that alone can get to be a large subject.

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Re: Is evolution a hard science?

#4

Post by hughfarey » Sat Oct 05, 2013 4:07 pm

"Which scientific inquiries use only indirect means of testing? Only those where direct observation, measurement, etc. cannot be done." Quite so. Events widely separated from us in time or space, such as the formation of mountain ranges or the chemical content of stars are examples.
"300 genes out of about 22000? That doesn't sound like many changes until you look at the total number of mutations required." In the context of the so-called "Haldane's Dilemma" this is irrelevant. He made a statement regarding the rate of change of genes, which is entirely compatible with the evolution of humans and chimps from a common ancestor.
"Why is it then, that every time something new pops up, or is made up, you hear scientists touting new proofs for evolution." I have never heard a scientist doing any such thing. The popular press may do so, but scientists only claim further confirmation of evolution, in that every new discovery fails to disprove it. The link you gave describing scientific method goes on to say: "It is often said in science that theories can never be proved, only disproved. There is always the possibility that a new observation or a new experiment will conflict with a long-standing theory."
"[Evolution] takes observable phenomena like adaptation and mutation, and tries to expand them to fill the role of God in nature." Not at all. To a Christian biologist, evolution takes observable phenomena like adaptation and mutation, and uses them to help to explain the role of God in nature.

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Re: Is evolution a hard science?

#5

Post by pat34lee » Sun Oct 06, 2013 2:53 pm

hughfarey wrote:"Which scientific inquiries use only indirect means of testing? Only those where direct observation, measurement, etc. cannot be done." Quite so. Events widely separated from us in time or space, such as the formation of mountain ranges or the chemical content of stars are examples.
"300 genes out of about 22000? That doesn't sound like many changes until you look at the total number of mutations required." In the context of the so-called "Haldane's Dilemma" this is irrelevant. He made a statement regarding the rate of change of genes, which is entirely compatible with the evolution of humans and chimps from a common ancestor.
"Why is it then, that every time something new pops up, or is made up, you hear scientists touting new proofs for evolution." I have never heard a scientist doing any such thing. The popular press may do so, but scientists only claim further confirmation of evolution, in that every new discovery fails to disprove it. The link you gave describing scientific method goes on to say: "It is often said in science that theories can never be proved, only disproved. There is always the possibility that a new observation or a new experiment will conflict with a long-standing theory."
"[Evolution] takes observable phenomena like adaptation and mutation, and tries to expand them to fill the role of God in nature." Not at all. To a Christian biologist, evolution takes observable phenomena like adaptation and mutation, and uses them to help to explain the role of God in nature.
The ability to be falsified is one of the most important parts of a scientific theory. If there is nothing that will falsify a theory, you have no theory, you have a philosophy or religion. This is what evolution boils down to. From out of place artifacts, to the death of "junk DNA", nothing can be shown to falsify evolution that will not be explained away.

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Re: Is evolution a hard science?

#6

Post by hughfarey » Sun Oct 06, 2013 3:45 pm

The theory of evolution is very easy to falsify. All we need is to find an organism with no derivative DNA. A great many organisms have not had their genes sequenced yet. Jerry Coyne lists a number of others in "Why Evolution Is True." Thousands of scientists are working on aspects of evolution, digging up dinosaurs, examining genomes, observing mutation rates and so on, and any one of their observations could demonstrate that evolution, at least in that case, is wrong. Unfortunately for creationists, it hasn't yet happened.

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Re: Is evolution a hard science?

#7

Post by hughfarey » Sun Oct 06, 2013 4:06 pm

Forgive me from posting an addendum. Creationism, of course, is not at all easy to falsify. Perhaps the world, and all its apparent appearance of age really was created in seven days four thousand years ago, or in fifteen minutes two days ago, or in the blink of an eye yesterday. No falsifiability - no scientific theory.
On the other hand, if spontaneous creation is still going on, in accordance with the idea of Successive Creationism, we should be able to observe it now and again. I wonder how we would recognise a recently created animal, or what would distinguish it from a newly evolved animal. For example, last year the discovery of a new species of frog was reported, from New Guinea, the tiniest vertebrate known to man. So, was it created or did it evolve? From an evolutionary point of view, tiny frogs appear closely related to various better known species, and appear to have evolved from bigger frogs about a dozen times in different places, to take advantage of a particular ecological niche, and share most of the genes of the closely related species.
One possibility that might indicate spontaneous creation would be if a number of specimens all shared an extremely small gene pool, which would occur if only two of these new creatures were created, as opposed to the much bigger gene pool we would expect to be shared by the much larger group of individuals that evolved from their nearest relatives. Needless to say, no such animals have been found.

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Re: Is evolution a hard science?

#8

Post by pat34lee » Sun Oct 06, 2013 8:47 pm

hughfarey wrote:The theory of evolution is very easy to falsify. All we need is to find an organism with no derivative DNA. A great many organisms have not had their genes sequenced yet. Jerry Coyne lists a number of others in "Why Evolution Is True." Thousands of scientists are working on aspects of evolution, digging up dinosaurs, examining genomes, observing mutation rates and so on, and any one of their observations could demonstrate that evolution, at least in that case, is wrong. Unfortunately for creationists, it hasn't yet happened.
Without going online to verify, I don't think they have found or been able to check DNA on any fossil. In most cases, the only way they have to tell which animals or plants are 'related' are by similarity of structures, which can be deceiving.

One thought. They have been digging up dinosaur bones for almost 200 years now. Until recently, it was a scientific 'fact' that dinosaur bones were too old to have any soft tissue left. Until they found it, that is. Once they did, rechecking museum bones came up with a lot more. Do you think that none of those before knew about the soft tissue? Evidence that doesn't fit the established worldview has always had a tendency to disappear or be ridiculed or ignored by those who control the institutions.

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Re: Is evolution a hard science?

#9

Post by neo-x » Sun Oct 06, 2013 9:31 pm

pat34lee wrote:
hughfarey wrote:"Which scientific inquiries use only indirect means of testing? Only those where direct observation, measurement, etc. cannot be done." Quite so. Events widely separated from us in time or space, such as the formation of mountain ranges or the chemical content of stars are examples.
"300 genes out of about 22000? That doesn't sound like many changes until you look at the total number of mutations required." In the context of the so-called "Haldane's Dilemma" this is irrelevant. He made a statement regarding the rate of change of genes, which is entirely compatible with the evolution of humans and chimps from a common ancestor.
"Why is it then, that every time something new pops up, or is made up, you hear scientists touting new proofs for evolution." I have never heard a scientist doing any such thing. The popular press may do so, but scientists only claim further confirmation of evolution, in that every new discovery fails to disprove it. The link you gave describing scientific method goes on to say: "It is often said in science that theories can never be proved, only disproved. There is always the possibility that a new observation or a new experiment will conflict with a long-standing theory."
"[Evolution] takes observable phenomena like adaptation and mutation, and tries to expand them to fill the role of God in nature." Not at all. To a Christian biologist, evolution takes observable phenomena like adaptation and mutation, and uses them to help to explain the role of God in nature.
The ability to be falsified is one of the most important parts of a scientific theory. If there is nothing that will falsify a theory, you have no theory, you have a philosophy or religion. This is what evolution boils down to. From out of place artifacts, to the death of "junk DNA", nothing can be shown to falsify evolution that will not be explained away.
I agree and second Hugh's post.

And Pat, a theory being able to be falsified is a technicality only if we find opposing evidence. You could falsify the theory of gravity given that technical point, but I don't think we will.
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Re: Is evolution a hard science?

#10

Post by hughfarey » Mon Oct 07, 2013 12:44 am

pat34lee wrote:Without going online to verify, I don't think they have found or been able to check DNA on any fossil.
Quite so. Fossil DNA is unlikely to be the way to disprove Evolution. There are plenty of other ways. Finding a dinosaur fossil in pre-cambrian rocks would be a good one.
In most cases, the only way they have to tell which animals or plants are 'related' are by similarity of structures, which can be deceiving.
No. Analogous structures are indeed deceiving, which is why one must be cautious in using them to infer relationship. Fossil analogies remain tentative. DNA, on the other hand, is much more reliable, and is, in most cases, the way "they" tell how animals and plants are related.
One thought. They have been digging up dinosaur bones for almost 200 years now. Until recently, it was a scientific 'fact' that dinosaur bones were too old to have any soft tissue left.
No, it was't; failure to find soft tissue was indeed a fact, explained by the idea that conditions were unsuitable for its preservation. It was not a fact that no conditions existed whereby it could be preserved, and it was precisely by predicting the circumstances in which it might be preserved that it was eventually found. That's Science.
Evidence that doesn't fit the established worldview has always had a tendency to disappear or be ridiculed or ignored by those who control the institutions.
No. In the case of fossil DNA the established Scientific worldview was entirely able to assimilate its discovery. You may be thinking about the idea that the Earth was round, the Heliocentric view of the Solar System, Evolution, or even Relativity. These ideas took a very short time to gain acceptance by the Scientific community, as soon as the evidence for them became more compelling than the evidence for the previous 'worldview.' They were all, in your words, "ridiculed or ignored by those who control the institutions," but the particular institutions to which you refer were religious rather than scientific.

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Re: Is evolution a hard science?

#11

Post by PerciFlage » Mon Oct 07, 2013 3:25 am

hughfarey wrote:
pat34lee wrote:Evidence that doesn't fit the established worldview has always had a tendency to disappear or be ridiculed or ignored by those who control the institutions.
No. In the case of fossil DNA the established Scientific worldview was entirely able to assimilate its discovery. You may be thinking about the idea that the Earth was round, the Heliocentric view of the Solar System, Evolution, or even Relativity. These ideas took a very short time to gain acceptance by the Scientific community, as soon as the evidence for them became more compelling than the evidence for the previous 'worldview.'
Just to add to this point, Hugh, science positively thrives on contrary evidence. With well established and tested theories - relativity, evolution, quantum - results which don't obviously fit into the prevailing model provide the kind of research areas to which scientists can devote entire careers. One possible outcome of research is that the model can be found wanting, and a few small changes to assimilate the new findings can lead to a richer understanding of the model and to new predictions for further research. Another - more exciting - possibility is that the theory can be found to be utterly broken, leading to whole new branches of science be created to try to explore and explain the findings. That's the stuff of Nobel prizes.

As a recent example, before the discovery of the Higgs boson, a good number of friends of acquaintances of mine who study or work in particle & theoretical physics - as well as a large number of the physicists I read or heard interviewed - voiced their deep hope that the various experiments running at the LHC would show that the Higgs did not exist. Yes it would mean that an astronomical sum of money had been spent on a negative result and would throw a huge question mark over the Standard Model of particle physics, but just think of the research possibilities!

There are a few reasons why findings which are held up to entirely falsify well-verified theories are often ridiculed.

First is that long experience suggests that often - but not always - such findings are often pushed by people inexperienced or unqualified in the field*, that they are pushed prematurely, and that their implications are grossly overstated.

Second, the findings being promoted and ridiculed is quite often the same as or very similar to other findings which have been tried and found to be wanting in the past.

Third, the new finding might be a complete non sequitur - something which is internally logically sound, but built upon a fundamental misunderstanding of the prevailing science.

Fourth, there's a certain amount of saw-you-coming-a-mile-off at play. Some fields face relentless, repeated and spurious opposition from the same types of groups - evolution and cosmology from young earth creationists, medical from homoeopaths and quacks of all stripes, climate science from oil industry lobbyists. So a lot of people are dismissed more by the company they keep than the ideas they hold, which of course runs at least some risk of throwing the baby out with the bath water. People who fall into this fourth category typically embody some or all of the traits of the first three categories, so I guess dismissing them at-a-glance rather than through hearing out each and every tired idea is a kind of calculated risk.

*I'm not suggesting that people can't have valid ideas in areas outwith their direct field of expertise, but more that if someone is contributing to a particular field then a solid grounding in the literature is a very useful if not essential prerequisite.

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Re: Is evolution a hard science?

#12

Post by PerciFlage » Mon Oct 07, 2013 3:26 am

PS - I couldn't resist this one.

Is evolution a hard science? Sure, but not as hard as quantum physics.

I'm here all week, etc.

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Re: Is evolution a hard science?

#13

Post by Revolutionary » Mon Oct 07, 2013 11:12 am

hughfarey wrote:Creationism, of course, is not at all easy to falsify. Perhaps the world, and all its apparent appearance of age really was created in seven days four thousand years ago, or in fifteen minutes two days ago, or in the blink of an eye yesterday. No falsifiability - no scientific theory.
Isn't this rather indulgent in an aspect of absurdity?

You forgot the observation of light that is 13 billion years old beyond just 'appearance'.... Within this aspect of indulgence, why would God create something that has overwhelming proof that it is billions of years old and then desire us to believe otherwise?

We have a choice to believe Creationism of this sort is absurd, or that God is rather absurd.... As far as intellect is concerned, can't both sides come together in agreement on this one to remove the concept of God from that absurdity?

Using just a bit of logic where young world creationism is concerned, haven't we obtained enough 'proof' to falsify it?

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Re: Is evolution a hard science?

#14

Post by Revolutionary » Mon Oct 07, 2013 12:14 pm

pat34lee wrote: I saw the link about the human and chimp DNA. If only 5% of the total DNA were different, how many mutations would that be in total, and how long would they take to occur? According to Haldane's Dilemma, a lot more time than they had available. Since macroevolution is a fantasy anyway, the point is moot.
Mutations in what, a static model?

Many people are confused that a species evolves at a constant rate from some sort of random mutation or drift, this simply is not true.
A species, specifically one with drastically changing characteristics relative to time, has done so out of necessity as it relates to competition, predatory or prey and environmental stress. Without such a stressor, the changes present within even a divergence in a species would be minute.

If the stressor is significant enough, such as one capable of speciation, populations will be dwindled significantly.... This contributes to many events which increase the rate of evolution. The most basic is survival of the fittest, in this case survival of the characteristics that allow for the continuation of that species. It's base logic, as a population dwindles, the frequency of characteristics passed to offspring increases exponentially. The rate of propagation relative to the severity of a stressor is also significant to the success of survival which dictates how drastic a change in form can occur.

Lets choose something random like a flying squirrel..... Squirrels have a decent rate of propagation which allows for a better than 'average' rate of evolution.
Numerous factors could play a role here.... Overpopulation leading to a dwindling food supply resulting in competition in gathering and also favoring the male who was most successful in doing so.... Even something as simple as an ever so slightly larger flap of skin in the arm pit allowed for one to be more successful and efficient leaping between trees over another. They were more agile and escaped prey more readily. Their larger stores of food in the dwindling availability made them more nutritionally sound increasing their survival rate. This little flap of skin was the catalyst to this success, as long as it remains the prevalent favor in response to the stress put upon the species, it continues to develop as the 'focus' of selection contributing to it's 'growing' size relative to the success of continuation.

There are numerous factors that go into the equation of speciation and it's potential rate (from micro to macro), many minds fail to grasp this and the overwhelming logic surrounding it because of the narrow focus of indulging in trying to essentially 'dissect' the DNA.

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Re: Is evolution a hard science?

#15

Post by hughfarey » Mon Oct 07, 2013 1:59 pm

Revolutionary wrote:Using just a bit of logic where young world creationism is concerned, haven't we obtained enough 'proof' to falsify it?
You may have done. Answersingenesis, yecheadquarters, creation.com and numerous other Young Earth Creation websites think not. I guess a lot of people wandering around the internet aren't sure. I feel the need to respond to their doubt, lest they think that absence of a contrasting view constitutes scientific acquiescence in it.

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