Archive for transitional fossils

Archaeopteryx–icon of evolution

Posted in Evolution with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 9, 2010 by airtightnoodle


If you are in the Houston area, come on down to the Houston Museum of Natural Science to check out the archaeopteryx exhibit.  Running until September 6, 2010, this exhibit will “present some of the finest known fossils from the late Jurassic period showing life at the time of these first birds. Fossils from the world renowned quarries of Solenhofen, Germany, will be featured.”

Click here for more info including ticket prices.

Does accepting evolution require faith?

Posted in Evolution with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 11, 2008 by airtightnoodle
Science and Religion

Science and Religion

One argument made by creationists or proponents of intelligent design is that accepting (they typically say “believing”) evolution requires just as much faith as believing in the Genesis creation account.  These people say that evolution (sometimes called “Darwinism”) is as dogmatic as any religious belief out there.

It is hard to see how evolution, or science in general, can be called religious, when it does not have any of the characteristics of a religion.  Most religions include a belief in supernatural beings.  Evolution certainly does not require anyone to believe, or not believe, in supernatural beings.  There are also no sacred times, places, or objects; no ritual acts one must perform; and so on. 

To blur the distinction between evolution and religion, creationists argue that evolution cannot be proved.  Since it cannot be proved, one therefore must have faith to believe in it.  However, nothing in science can be proved with absolute certainty.  Yet most people would not classify jumping and knowing you will land on the ground as a “leap of faith”.  That is due to gravity.  Most people know this and accept it without a second thought.  Though nothing can be ultimately proved in science, high degrees of certainty can most assuredly be reached.

The theory of evolution is based on evidence that has been observed.  The amount of this evidence is not scant, in the least, as some creationists would have the world believe.  The amount of evidence supporting evolution is vast and well-documented, and it also comes from many diverse fields. 

Consider the following, which constitutes just a few pieces of evidence of evolutionary theory:

  • All organisms share the same basic mechanisms of replication, heritability, and metabolism.
  • Fossils appear in an order in the strata consistent with common descent.
  • The distribution of species across the globe is consistent with their evolutionary history.
  • Evolution predicts that new structures are adapted from other structures that already exist; similarity in structures should be based on evolutionary history rather than function, according to the theory.  For example, human hands, whale flippers, and bat wings all have similar structures even though their functions differ.
  • Speciation has been observed.
  • Other fields of science confirm that the earth, and the universe, have been around for billions of years–a long period of time, which evolution would require.

Creationists object that since evolution takes long periods of time, and since no one can go back in time to witness these changes, that evolutionary theory is therefore not scientific.  Again, if it is not scientific, one must simply have faith to believe in it, according to the creationists.  This begs the question to creationists: what do you think science is, and how does it operate? 

The Last Battle

The Last Battle

No one can directly see the earth moving around the sun.  No one can see atoms with their own eyes.  No one can see gravity.  Any possible theory of how a star forms must not be scientific, either.  We cannot create a star, the process is not repeatable, and the process takes a very long period of time.  Therefore, these theories must not be scientific either.  We may as well believe the depiction of stars as people from C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.  In fact, large parts of the science world, including much of astrophysics, astronomy, geology, seismology, plate tectonics, and more, should simply be thrown out of the world of “science”, according to this line of thinking.

What creationists do not realize, or simply refuse to realize, is that it is not necessary for all parts of evolutionary theory (or any theory) to be directly observed.  What is necessary is that evolution makes falsifiable predictions that can be tested, and it does exactly that.

Evolution predicts that fossils will be found in chronological order–fossils further down the tree of life are older than fossils that are higher up.  This is certainly falsifiable.  Haldane suggested that anyone wishing to disprove evolutionary theory only needs to discover a rabbit fossil from Precambrian rock.  (Ironically, most creationists say fossils do not prove evolution, yet most creationists readily accept that dinosaurs existed, even though no one was there to see them.  All we have left of them are their fossils.)

Evolution also predicts that we will not observe organisms being spontaneously created, or spontaneously changing into a completely different creature.  Evolution requires that mutations must occur and be allowed to accumulate over time.  Evolution also says that true chimeras cannot exist (as in, a mermaid or centaur).  All of these predictions certainly allow evolution to be falsified.  If the fossil record was found to be static, if chimeras were found, if a mechanism could be found that prevents mutations from accumulating, if organisms could be observed being created, if it could be clearly demonstrated that the earth has not been around for billions of years, then evolutionary theory would certainly need some major adjustments to it, or it would possibly need to be dismantled altogether. 

Instead, the predictions that evolutionary theory makes seem to be verified time and time again.  If memory serves correctly, when Charles Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species no one knew of any hominid fossils.  If none had ever been found, that would have falsified evolution as well.  If no transitional fossils were ever found, that would falsify evolution, too.  Yet when we dig up fossils, we see many examples of change over time.  Evolution predicts that speciation will happen; creationists argue emphatically that speciation has never happened and/or never been observed, but again, it clearly has.

Ironically, many creationists have no problem with the concept of “microevolution” (small changes within a species).  It is macroevolution, speciation, and common descent that they find dangerous.  These people fail to recognize that the same processes involved in microevolution are involved in macroevolution. 

Just as evolution is not a religious belief and does not require faith, creationism and intelligent design are also not scientific.  Both creationism and intelligent design rely at least partially on a supernatural being to explain origins and the diversity of life; this is not testable.  Neither creationism nor ID provides a model for making predictions, they provide no further problems for scientists to work on, and do not provide a way to solve other problems.  Evolution does all of this, and is arguably the best supported scientific theory currently in existence.  It does not require faith, belief that is not based on proof or material evidence, to accept it.

Why do creationists argue that evolution is a religion, or that it requires faith?  This argument deliberately blurs the line between religion and science.  Many religious people feel threatened by evolution and science in general.  Of course, science has turned a lot of the opinions and beliefs of the religious upside down over the years.  By challenging science, creationists are undermining the willingness of others to rely on science.  If evolution can be portrayed as a religion, a false religion more specifically, then perhaps Christians will be as unwilling to accept evolution as they are unwilling to adopt the Islamic or Buddhist religious systems.  One might even classify this as a defense mechanism.

It is my opinion that feeling threatened by evolution or science in general is simply unnecessary.  Having true faith means that one accepts and trusts that whatever God has done is okay.  What is troubling is that this type of faith does not seem to be compatible with most creationists.  Many creationists insist the Genesis creation account be read literally, even though there is nothing in the text that demands it be read in such a way.   Many creationists insist that any other interpretation is simply wrong, or even satanic.  Many of these people cannot accept that whatever God has done is okay, even if what God did was use evolution.  This fervent allegiance to something that so obviously contradicts the observations of the natural world around us does not serve as a good example of faith, and it certainly is not good “PR”, so to speak, for Christians, who unfortunately already have a lot of poor publicity to counteract.

As I have written before:

If God is the author of both the Word and nature, then we should expect there to be no conflict between the two when properly interpreted.

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Missing links

Posted in Evolution with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 2, 2008 by airtightnoodle

At theballoonman’s blog, recently an anti-evolutionist (at least, that is what they appear to be) by the screenname of J2nice78 presented the following Stephen Jay Gould quote to demonstrate that the fossil record is not acceptable evidence for evolution:

“The history of most fossil species includes two features particularly inconsistent with gradualism: 1) Stasis. Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking much the same as when they disappear; Morphological change is usually limited and directionless. 2) Sudden Appearance. In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transormation of is ancestors; it appears all at once and ‘fully formed.’” This has been more recently affirmed by others.

Of course, there is much more to that Gould quote, but that wasn’t what really interested me, personally.  What I really enjoyed was this bit from a user named Magistra:

And incidentally, “fully formed” is in the eye of the beholder, just as all points on a line are “fully formed” points rather than simply part of a line. Transition fossils are being found all the time, but you can always claim there are “missing links” just as you can claim there are still points between any two “fully formed” points on a line. However, the fact that there are still “missing” points doesn’t mean you can’t connect the dots.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

You may also enjoy reading this post from Skeptic Con: Why Creationists Are Delusional About the Fossil Record.

Ventastega curonica

Posted in Evolution with tags , , , , , , on June 30, 2008 by airtightnoodle

The Panda’s Thumb gives us a rundown on one of the latest fossil finds being called Ventastega curonica, another fish-like tetrapod.  This one appears a bit fishier than other similar fossils.Ventastega

Plus one of the comments at the site was particularly amusing:

This is terrible news indeed! Now just look at all those gaps we have to fill! Each time we find a new missing link, it’s creating TWO gaps!