While we're discussing scientific skepticism, what about evolution?

Let me state right from the start that evolution driven by natural selection makes a lot more sense than some magical spirit guy started it all and created all the animals and plants.

But what's seldom discussed is some of the amazing holes in the evolutionary evidence. We have ample fossils of some species and none of others. 

Case in point: We've all seen at least one chart showing the evolution of man, or of the horse. 

I dare you to find one showing the evolution of the cow. I've spent hours and hours on google image search and have nothing to show for it.

Another massive hole: the bat, quite possibly the most prolific type of mammal. Bats seem to have popped out of thin air. There is no record of a creature whose fingers gradually get longer and longer until they are long enough to support a wing made out of skin.

But these are far from the only creatures lacking transitional fossils. This critique of the Darwinian position by Dr. Duane Gish, a prominent creationist, raises a lot of very interesting questions. A quote:

The essence of the neo-Darwinian view is the slow gradual evolution of one plant or animal into another by the gradual accumulation of micromutations through natural selection of favored variants.

If this view of evolution is true, the fossil record should produce an enormous number of transitional forms. Natural history museums should be overflowing with undoubted intermediate forms. About 250,000 fossil species have been collected and classified. These fossils have been collected at random from rocks that are supposed to represent all of the geological periods of earth history. Applying evolution theory and the laws of probability, most of these 250,000 species should represent transitional forms. Thus, if evolution theory is true, there should be no doubt, question, or debate as to the fact of evolution.

Such is not the case at all, however. The fossil record was actually an embarrassment to Darwin, and some paleontologists are willing to admit that it looks even worse from an evolutionary point of view today than it did in Darwin's time.1 Some even appear to admit that there is, in fact, little, if any, evidence for transitional forms in the fossil record. Kitts, for example, states, "Despite the bright promise that paleontology provides a means of 'seeing' evolution, it has presented some nasty difficulties for evolutionists, the most notorious of which is the presence of 'gaps' in the fossil record. Evolution requires intermediate forms between species and paleontology does not provide them." More and more paleontologists seem to be coming to the point where they are now willing to admit that this is indeed the case, and are seeking to devise a mechanism for evolution that will tolerate, even predict, systematic gaps in the fossil record.

Other evolutionists remain steadfastly wedded to neo-Darwinism. They argue that there are examples of transitional forms in the fossil record, and that even if examples of gradual change are few, these few examples eliminate the necessity of seeking mechanisms for evolution other than neo-Darwinism. The examples most often cited are the reptile-to-bird transition (Archaeopteryx is the sole suggested intermediate), the so-called horse series, and the reptile-mammal transition.

Of the latter, Olson has said "The reptilian-mammalian transition has by far the finest record of showing the origin of a new class."2 Others claim that there are forms that stand perfectly on the reptilian-mammalian boundary. In an "Impact" article to be published soon, we will examine in some detail the "mammal-like" reptiles that some paleontologists believe represent transitional forms between reptiles and mammals. In the present article we wish to review the general nature of the evidence related to the origin of mammals.


Tags: Duane Gish, creationism, evolution, natural selection

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Oh, but every good Prod will tell you Catlicks don't read the bible.

(That, just to be clear, was sarcasm.)

Where is Dr. Bob when these important questions are being kicked around?  (reading the Bibble I suppose. :D)

He's on the side of evolution, actually.

True. Probably Michael would be the better candidate.

The conditions necessary for fossilization to occur are incredibly specialized and rare.  Consider the relatively few fossils we have when compared to the number of plants and animals that have lived and died on this planet.  The vast majority rot away into nothing, leaving no record.

Yes, getting fossilized is a bit like winning the lottery. 

I didn't find any detailed cladograms for cattle either, but saw a few less detailed ones that could be combined into something informative looking. There's probably some husbandry info around for how we've bred them. Hmm, bats look interesting. Appararently they're originate from north america. Would be fun to study.

As far as gaps in the fossil record, we fill them over time. No easy finds. Sometimes we predict rather well what we'll find. That's what science does. Genetics now validates a lot of it, and is also leading to a lot more other good stuff, like medicine and growing new body organs. Making the blind see, and the crippled walk, right Jesus? (How many fossils did he find, anyway?)

Let them whine about gaps. Time is on our side.

It's inevitable that there will be some incomplete fossil records of lineages, because fossilization requires certain very specific circumstances.  And on top of that those fossil layers must have, over the millions to hundreds of millions of years since the critters died, never get thrust to the surface and eroded away, until finally they must coincidentally end up just under the surface when we happen to be here, looking for fossils.

Just to take one example, anything living on Antarctica--huge numbers of species--as it moved over the south pole is undoubtedly lost forever; the glaciers, when they formed, would have scoured their remains off the continent.

I have no idea if anyone has ever researched this point but I would be greatly surprised if the following doesn't turn out to be true:  The vast majority of fossils that ever existed have been destroyed, and the vast majority of those left are buried so deeply we won't find them until/unless we stripmine the entire world to build a Dyson Sphere.

Although it's certainly true that one cannot perform repeatable experiments in evolution (at least not on large animal life, though if I recall correctly there have been things done with bacteria and fruit flies), such is not necessary.  We cannot see all lineages in the fossil record, but we can see enough parts of enough of them.  Furthermore, there isn't anything disconfirming in the fossil records (famously quoted example:  Rabbits in the Cambrian).  Given that most people cite Karl Popper's notion of science proceeding by falsifying a previous theory, not proving it true, that's good enough.  Besides which, as I have pointed out, other lines of evidence are actually more thoroughly convincing than fossils ever were.

If one is going to claim evolution is not fully scientific, then the same claim must be made for geology and astronomy (among many other "observational sciences").  In particular, astronomy is not experimental in the slightest (unless you know of a lab big enough to hold even an M-class red dwarf); it has learned what it has learned about stars, for example, by observing vast populations of stars and trying to puzzle out how that population has arisen and why stars differ and what their similarities are, and why those similarities exist.

There's no repeatable experiment here.  Except that it just so happens there have been hundreds of billions of repetitions relatively near by (in our galaxy and nearby galaxies) due to entirely natural (non-volitional) processes and we can simply go look.  We cannot see every star (not even in our own galaxy), nor can we see every star that ever existed (don't even think of demanding pictures of the supernova that touched off the formation of our solar system, then saying when there are no pics, "it didn't happen").  But because we find ourselves in a sort of natural laboratory with billions of experiments running in real time all around us, we can learn a lot.  We can also look for anomalies--the astronomical "Rabbits in the Precambrian" that current theory cannot explain, then work to explain them.

For many (but not necessarily Unseen), making the claim that evolution is somehow less scientific because it's an observational science is probably a product of oversimplified science education where you are taught to make an (arbitrary?) hypothesis, then test it with an experiment.  An experiment isn't, strictly speaking, necessary.  You need an observation.  Whether that observation is of something already out there or whether arrangements have to be made for the event to happen so we can observe it (an experiment), is secondary.

One of the most elegantly simple science fair entries I ever heard of was simply to test the notion that the moon's motion through the sky was east-to-west.  The entrant simply observed the position of the moon against the background stars over several nights and discovered to his own surprise that the motion is in fact west-to-east, but overcome by the (apparent) motion of everything including the fixed background from east to west, caused by the Earth's rotation.  No experiments, no lab work, no weird stuff in mommy and daddy's refrigerator, just observation.  Low budget, non experimental?  You betcha.  Scientific anyway?  You betcha.

I started off this thread by explaining that evolution driven by natural selection is the best explanation we have for modern species and the fossil record. I'm not an evolution denier. I just find that a lot of people nowadays smugly or ignorantly assume that evolution explains everything, it does not, and that there are no problems with it, there are.

Many and perhaps most of these these problems will probably remain forever, so if we atheists wonder how a religious person can bring "the God of the gaps" into the discussion, this is how.

discovered to his own surprise that the motion is in fact west-to-east, but overcome by the (apparent) motion of everything including the fixed background from east to west, caused by the Earth's rotation.

I can't help but keep thinking how important it is to present evolution as a useful explanation and predictor of how generations adapt, and this should include the more micro level of epigenetics. I mean that, instead of presenting evolution as "proof" of anything, especially as proof against the need for God in the universe. Screw the teleological proofs, and just let spiritual speculators have their fun at their creationist parties. They're not going to change history, anyway. (Yeah, they'll slow down progress in science, but eventually they'll look more and more foolish. I'm convinced that younger generations will learn better than older generations how to spot fraud and uliterior motivations, e.g. those of creationists.)

So what will eventually help us defeat the science denialists are the predictions we make that come true, and future developments we make possible. I want to become better at pointing out and putting on record how futures will unveil. Documented science prophecy, if you will.

(Yeah, they'll slow down progress in science, but eventually they'll look more and more foolish. I'm convinced that younger generations will learn better than older generations how to spot fraud and uliterior motivations, e.g. those of creationists.)

It may be dangerous to marginalize them and think of them as a shrinking fringe of crackpots.  I hope that's the case, but they attack school curricula at every opportunity.  If they succeed, they will create a negative feedback loop of ignorance. 

Per Erock68la:

"If they succeed, they will create a negative feedback loop of ignorance. "

Well said. 

They have already succeeded with a large number of the religious ignorant.

But of course to be religious is to be ignorant, willful ignorance at that.

The key to winning is the children and this they know.

This is a war not a game, like it or not they are winning. 

I'm taking this dialog up to the highest level since it was becoming very difficult to follow.

you asked for evidence for the evolution of modern cattle. I provided that evidence (the 10,500 year old aurochs (http://www.thinkatheist.com/xn/detail/1982180:Comment:1455761) skeleton and its domestication, and its preceding 2 million year

That's hardly a complete chart going from mammals who were concurrent with dinosaurs to the modern cow, of which the auroch is merely an example of an extinct modern cow which is exactly what I originally asserted: that there is no complete line leading up to modern cattle.

I am doing no such thing here. In this case, the evidence is that our planet (named Earth) is observed to orbit a star (named Sol) based on the laws of physics and orbital mechanics. Likewise, based on the same observable evidence of physics and orbital mechanics, a planet (named WASP-17) is orbiting a star (also named WASP-17).

It was you who introduced the claim (http://www.thinkatheist.com/xn/detail/1982180:Comment:1457099) that an unexplained anomaly in the orbit of the planet (Earth) around the star (Sol) would render false that it orbits the star (Sol) at all.

I nowhere said "that an unexplained anomaly in the orbit of the planet (Earth) around the star (Sol) would render false that it orbits the star (Sol) at all" and so I invite you to quote me saying anything that very thing. Not something you can fancifully re-interpret to mean that, but find me saying just that plainly so that no explanation along the lines of "here's what Unseen really meant."

Here, as in the climate change thread, where you insist on referring to skeptics as deniers, you use the technique of repeating a distortion hoping that if you say it often enough, people who aren't paying attention (which I suspect is almost everyone here) may start believing it.

It's all based on the same established parameters, the same standards of evidence. How am I 'moving the goal posts' and demanding a different standard or a greater set of evidences? Explain. Be specific.

But you're not going to address that are you? You're going to keep avoiding that point and then accuse me falsely of doing what you're doing yourself.

Even if you remove the unexplained anomalous orbit of WASP-17 from all consideration, there are unexplained anomalies in Earth's orbit around the Sun. These include various aspects of the Chandler Wobble (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chandler_wobble#cite_note-Gross-4), Nutation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nutation#Earth), and Polar Motion (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polar_motion#Theory).

Astronomy is an observational rather than experimental science like (even though it's not "a science") evolutiionary theory. Thus, we're often left with best guesses or "most likely" kinds of explanations rather than conclusive explanations.

which is that physics is subject to proof while evolution and astronomical explanations are based on preponderance of evidence. The one lives little room for doubt, the other does leave some room for doubt.

You're using the term 'proof' rather carelessly.

All science is subject to proof based on preponderance of evidence. 'Proof' in a scientific context means 'strongly supported by scientific means'.

Scientific proof cannot establish a scientific fact to be formally 'true' beyond all question. All scientific concepts are open to re-evaluation with the discovery of new data and the means of new technology. Absolute proof exists only in the abstract sense of mathematics and formal logic.

Like most words, "proof" has an array of meanings, and when it comes to science, the difference between "proof" and "evidence" is that "proof" is conclusive, "evidence" can approach but not quite reach the level of conclusiveness.

So, then, what is getting your back up about skepticism re: evolution and climate change, not by crackpots but by actual qualified scientists?

It's becoming clear that you just like to fight rather than let the give and take, the dialectic of discovery and debate, take place.

Science is as sure that evolution is true as that the Earth orbits the Sun. Science asserts neither statement (nor any statement outside of abstract mathematics) as a claim of absolute proof. The preponderance of evidence for both is overwhelming.

Science can't be "as sure" because we can observe our planet and the sun in real time and calculate our orbit, but there are big gaps in evolution involving events and processes which are simply permanently and irrevocably gone.

You claim (or strongly implied) (http://www.thinkatheist.com/xn/detail/1982180:Comment:1457099) there are "unexplained anomalies" in evolution, which is the science which shows that a population's gene pool changes over time. So let's see these anomalies. What are they? Then explain how these anomalies mean that it's not true a population's gene pool changes over time. (And you do realize this amounts to you denying that evolution is true?)

That is the point. I'm not the one who is failing to address it.

I did say there were anomalies the theory of evolution seems unable to explain. Bats, cows. Did I say evolution is thereby "not true"? No, rather I'm saying it's true to the extent that there's no better explanation. This is the same degree of proof we use for several other sciences.Even quantum theory is better proven than evolution because we can experiment with subatomic particles.

Just like when you wrongly use the term "denier" about me and my "ilk" (my ilk often including actual qualified scientists), you are attempting to paint me as an evolution denier. My original point was that there are some rather amazing gaps when it comes to depicting the ascent of certain species, and if one wants to know why some use those gaps allow some to deny evolution, well, there you are. They use those gaps. I don't doubt evolution at all because it's a far better explanation than imagining some supernatural ghostly spirit is responsible for creating the various species.

So, as I have said, I think you're just rather fond of arguing and, I'm adding here, you seem to do so by making mountains out of molehills. My assertions about climate science and evolution are not all that wild and in no way go beyond the facts.

Now, knowing you, you're rather helpless and will feel a need to respond and to have the last word. You won't.



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