googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Discovery: 10 Examples of an Evolutionist Spouting Nonsense

Monday, July 1, 2013

Discovery: 10 Examples of an Evolutionist Spouting Nonsense

Some media cater to what could be called, “pop science.” They present shows and articles on scientific subjects but package them in a way that is interesting to an unscientific public. I understand this happens and I'm usually not too critical on the groups that produce pop science so long as the information is correct. When the subject is evolution, however, I've usually found that the information presented is garbage.

This is the case in an online article published by Discovery called, “10 Examples of Natural Selection.” The piece is so poorly written that I could make a series of 10 posts – one on each example – explaining how wrong is the information contained in each example. I won't do that, though. Instead, I'm going to merely point out a few of the more egregious errors since these are the same errors that I've seen evolutionists make before. Below, we'll look at just the first two paragraphs. Text that is blue and italicized is quoted directly from the article.

First, the article terribly conflates natural selection with evolution. The title of the article says it is intended to be 10 examples of natural selection, yet the author starts by talking about evolution.  Read it for yourself:

When we think of evolution, we usually think of primates evolving into humans, and of the evolutionary changes that were made over thousands and thousands of years...”

Yes! That's exactly what I talked about in a recent post. The most common understanding of the word “evolution” is ape-to-man or dino-to-bird. Scientists have a more technical meaning and they want to harp on the fact that the majority of people don't use the word the way evolutionists have defined it.

But the truth is evolution is at work all the time.

In this context, the author is using “evolution” to mean “populations change.” He doesn't mean that one kind of animal changes into another kind of animal “all the time” - he's merely taking the word most people understand to mean “common descent” and using it to mean any kind of “change.” It's equivocation at its worst.

Sometimes the changes are small and appear insignificant at first glance, but they all play a part in natural selection and the survival of the species.”

Did you notice it? The author has now slipped in the term, “natural selection”? He was not careful to distinguish between evolution and natural selection. He starts out talking about one, then starts talking about the other. If he went on to explain the difference, that would be one thing. He doesn't.

But natural selection doesn't lead to the development of a new species. In most cases, the process simply allows a species to better adapt to its environment ...”

I'm not sure what this person means by saying that natural selection doesn't lead to the development of a new species. Does he mean, “never” or “not always”? Never mind. Even as a lay person, I understand that natural selection does indeed allow a species to adapt to its environment. It does this by selecting from existing traits only those that are conducive to the environment (see my last post on this subject). However, this author doesn't seem to understand how it works. See here how he explains it:

In most cases, the process simply allows a species to better adapt to its environment by changing the genetic make up from one generation to the next.[bold added]

I'm not sure if there's a technical meaning to the term, “genetic make up.” If he means that existing genetic variation is continuously reshuffled to create the best possible combination of traits, then OK. If he intends “genetic make up” to mean “new genetic material,” then we have a problem. Natural selection does not create anything new. It can only select from existing traits. But I'm pretty sure this author means to say that natural selection creates new genetic material. Look at his next point:

And the process is actually quite predictable. If a species lacks a certain trait that will allow it to survive, there are two options: Either the species dies out or it develops the missing trait.

There are so many errors contained in these two statements that I don't think I can adequately cover them all. Still, I will try.  

Mutations are random. The process of evolution is not "predictable."  If dinos had really changed into birds, no one living contemporaneously with the dinos could have predicted it. Of course, maybe the author means that “natural selection” is quite predictable which has a little more substance. I might predict that gray mice are better suited to wooded environment than white mice. But I still couldn't say with certainty what effect something like introducing a new predator might have on the indigenous species there. Even natural selection is not “quite predictable.”

But the worst error lies in the comment, If a species lacks a certain trait that will allow it to survive, there are two options: Either the species dies out or it develops the missing trait  If a species lacks a certain trait, why must it necessarily die out unless the trait evolves? Why can't it just continue in stasis? What trait are humans waiting to acquire, for example? Are we doomed for extinction or are we “working” to acquire this necessary trait? This is a classic example of bifurcation.

What makes it the worst, though, is that this wording gives the impression that evolution is a directed process. If a species needs some particular trait, somehow, natural selection will work toward acquiring that trait.  That's absurd! Yet time and time again, this author gives the impression that natural selection will do just that. For example, while discussing the Rat Snake, the author said, As a result, rat snakes have had to adapt to their local environments in an effort to avoid detection and hunt more effectively. In the case of nylon-eating bacteria, the author said, This is a very simple example of natural selection, where the most basic forms of life can adapt to whatever food the environment offers. Isn't that a hoot? According to this logic, if only birdseed is available in some area, then the crocodiles there can adapt to eat birdseed!

The hilarious quotes keep coming when the author talks about humans. He begins with the following:

Are humans still evolving? The simple answer is yes, even if the changes are not obvious.”

Wait a minute. I thought we were talking about examples of natural selection. You can see yet again how careless evolutionists shamelessly conflate natural selection with evolution as though they are the same thing. Tsk, tsk. If this were the only time I've heard that, I might chalk it up to misspeaking. However, this is rather ordinary for evolutionists and I've discussed it many times before.

One suggested example of “natural selection/evolution” among humans is how people with “sickle hemoglobin” are resistant to malaria. As before, the author hints that the trait was somehow created by a need when he says, The mutation probably happened over hundreds of generations as a result of the constant exposure to malaria and people contracting and surviving it. That sounds rather Lamarckian, don't you think? That's about as ridiculous as believing my children could inherit my resistance to chicken pox since people have been contracting chicken pox for thousands of years!

Besides that, “sickle hemoglobin” is better known as “sickle cell disease” or “sickle cell anemia.” Granted, it's true that someone who suffers from sickle cell is resistant to malaria but sickle cell comes with its own list of complications. Sufferers of sickle cell usually have life expectancies much less than normal. And by way of analogy, consider this: if I lost both arms, I would be resistant to handcuffs. That might be preferable if I faced the possibility of spending life in prison if I were ever arrested but all other things being equal, I'd rather have my arms.

I could go on but this post is too long already. Let me close by reminding you of the quote I cited recently from Laurence Moran of TalkOrigins.

Scientists such as myself must share the blame for the lack of public understanding of science. We need to work harder to convey the correct information. Sometimes we don't succeed very well but that does not mean that we are dishonest. On the other hand, the general public, and creationists in particular, need to also work a little harder in order to understand science. Reading a textbook would help.”

Mr. Moran, I don't think we should “share” the blame; If the public is confused about evolution, all the blame could be laid squarely at the feet of your cohorts for their intentional conflation and equivocation when discussing the subject. Furthermore, I'm skeptical that reading a textbook would help if it were written with the same attention to details as this article.


Steven J. said...

You shouldn't need to be reminded, every time natural selection is mentioned, that mutations are ubiquitous; the average human or other complex vertebrate is born with several of them, and they are not rare among bacteria. "Existing genetic traits" are added to by new mutations with every generation. Of course, some mutations (and some previously existing variations) are removed from the gene pool by natural selection or genetic drift in each generation, as well.

When Darwin first proposed his theory, some of his colleagues objected that it could not explain speciation: what advantage did an individual gain by losing the ability to interbreed with members of adjacent populations of what had been the same species? In modern evolutionary theory, speciation and adaption are treated as almost always separate processes (speciation is generally driven by genetic drift rather than natural selection); this is what is meant by "natural selection doesn't lead to the development of a new species."

Why can't species continue in stasis if they lack a trait needed to survive? Because stasis requires that they survive, which they won't do if they lack traits that enable them to survive. If, e.g. tropical conditions suddenly change to arctic ones, frogs aren't just going to continue as they were; they're going to freeze to death or starve. If the environment changes, a population dies or adapts (in which case, individuals without traits that enable the species to survive die anyway, and the survivors breed their replacements).

As for crocodiles adapting to eat birdseed, I don't think crocodiles count as "the most basic forms of life;" they have too many genes, too complex genetic interactions, and too slow a breeding cycle, compared to bacteria. Note that "mutations are random" is not so contradictory to "the process is quite predictable." If I roll a pair of fair dice, the outcome is random, but, e.g. a roll of "7" will come up, on average, one time in six. Many mutations recur in each generation in a large population, just as many of the same random typos show up in internet posts. Note that just as there are various ways the dice can land to equal "7," there are different mutations that cause, e.g. penicillin resistance in E. coli, and while it's not clear from the article, probably different mutations that give bacteria the ability to metabolize nylon.

Note that if you have one copy of the sickle-cell allele, you have sickle-cell trait. It makes you more vulnerable to low levels of oxygen (as in, e.g. living in the mountains or travelling by plane), but otherwise is important only for the added resistance it gives to malaria. "Sickle cell disease" occurs only when you have two copies of the allele, which presumably arose as a mutation that was conserved in areas of Africa where malaria was common (American Blacks have lower frequencies of this allele than their West African kin, presumably because less malaria here means that the costs of the trait outweigh the benefits).

RKBentley said...

Steven J,

Indeed, I do not need to be reminded that mutations are the only hope for evolution. Like you've heard me say recently, if I wanted to promote evolution, I would talk about trait adding mutations and nothing else. The article in question doesn't even use the word “mutation” until the last 3 sentences. All the rest of the time, it speaks vaguely of “natural selection” as though it is the agent that creates change.

But speaking of mutation, this article also does nothing to educate the reader of the differences between changes due to simple variation (like the beaks of finches or the legs of lizards) and supposed examples of change due to mutation (like sickle hemoglobin in humans).

You said, “Why can't species continue in stasis if they lack a trait needed to survive? Because stasis requires that they survive, which they won't do if they lack traits that enable them to survive.”

Yes, I noticed that qualifier as well. However, it still didn't make sense. In the example of the deer mouse, the article says the adaptation supposedly took 8,000 years. That was relatively quick according to the author so other changes are presumed to have taken longer. The desired trait must not be that necessary if the species still continues for tens of thousands of generations waiting for it! Even so, you know the options are not merely “adapt or die.” A third option is simply to improve. If some mutation could make one individual of a successful species become a better hunter, that individual might have more offspring than the others and the new trait could eventually make the entire population into better hunters than their ancestors.

You said, “As for crocodiles adapting to eat birdseed, I don't think crocodiles count as "the most basic forms of life;"”

I think I'm going to quibble over the author's intent. The impression I got was that the author was implying, ““even” the most basic forms of life...”

I'm going to snip the rest of your comments because, once again, you seem to have dodged my main point. Can you not see the blatant obfuscation? Can you not see the conflation of natural selection and evolution? Are you really going to sit there and defend Discovery's poorly written piece of crap? Like I said in my post, if there is confusion among the general public about evolution, it's because your side puts out junk like this for public consumption. You play your part when you don't soundly rebuke them for doing it.

God bless!!