Sep 03 2007

The Argument From Design — Now With 40% More Cosmology! Or, Why David Hume Rocks

Earth“This can’t have all just come into being by itself. It’s too big, too complex, too perfectly balanced. Nothing this amazing could have just come into existence on its own. It had to have been designed.”

This is the argument from design. And it’s not just for wacky creationists. According to Michael Shermer’s How We Believe, it’s the single most common reason that people give for believing in God — including progressive, rational, science-loving believers in God.

It’s the single most common argument for the existence of God. And it’s a terrible one.

I want to talk about why.

Tree_with_gardenfernsArgument 1: No, it isn’t.

The argument from design essentially says, “Look at the world, how wonderful and complex and perfectly balanced — it has to have been designed!”

The response to that argument: No, it doesn’t.

Blind_watchmakerThat’s the whole point of the theory of evolution. (Let’s start there — we’ll get to the cosmology in a minute.) If you believe in the argument from design, you really need to read about the theory of evolution a whole lot more. (I suggest The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins, easily the best explanation of modern evolutionary theory for the layperson that I’ve read.) The whole point of evolutionary theory is that it explains exactly how life came to be the complex and amazingly balanced web of interconnections that it is, with species beautifully adapted to their environments — not through design, but through natural selection and descent with modification.

Mutation_and_selection_diagramsvgSome people — mostly creationists — mistakenly see evolutionary theory as saying that life evolved by accident. Nothing could be further from the truth. Evolution is the opposite of accident. Evolutionary theory says that accidents — mutations — happen… but only the ones that help the life form survive and reproduce will get replicated in the next generation. It’s the opposite of accident. It’s a series of accidents that get filtered out through the harsh, unforgiving, entirely non-accidental process called survival of the fittest.

Puddle_with_reflectionDouglas Adams (the “Hitchhiker’s Guide” guy) summed this up beautifully in his posthumous book The Salmon of Doubt: “Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’” That’s evolution in a nutshell. Just like the hole was not designed for the puddle, the world was not designed to fit us — we evolved to fit into the world.

Fossil_3Other people — many non-creationist theists — argue that evolution happened, but God helped it along. But there’s no evidence for that theory whatsoever. There’s no explanation as to what the mechanism for that process would be, or for how we would determine whether it’s true. And more to the point, there’s no need of it. There is an unbelievably enormous mountain of hard physical evidence — fossil records, DNA, anatomical studies, you name it — supporting the idea that evolution is entirely capable of happening all by its lonesome, as a 100% natural event with no divine intervention necessary at any point.

GalaxyAnd here’s where we come to cosmology. Still other people completely accept evolution, accept that life on earth doesn’t need God to explain it… but think that the cosmos does.

This is where David Hume comes in.

David_humeI’m going to paraphrase here, since I don’t have his books handy, and don’t feel like ordering them from Powell’s just so I can quote them in my blog. Hume argued that order and stability in the universe can easily be explained without a designer. He pointed out that, even if you start with a completely chaotic, random, unstable universe, given enough time some forms are going to come into being, purely by chance, that are stable and orderly. And because they’re stable and orderly, they’re going to last longer than the forms that are unstable and chaotic.

SieveTherefore, given the filtering process that you naturally get from huge gobs of time (I’m pretty sure that’s how Hume put it), you’ll eventually have a universe with fewer and fewer unstable and disorderly forms, and more and more stable and orderly ones.

Origin_of_speciesBear in mind — Hume was writing a good century before Darwin. And yet this is one of the best broad outlines of evolutionary theory to date. Especially if you add “self-perpetuating and self-replicating” to “stable and orderly.” Hume’s theory works even better then: in a chaotic universe, forms that are not just stable but good at perpetuating and replicating themselves (read: surviving and reproducing) will not only stick around but will proliferate. Hume was a goddamn genius. He rocks.

SaturnAnd the thing is, this principle DOESN’T just apply to biological life on earth. It applies to the cosmos as well. There are planets because planets are a stable form. There are stars because stars are a stable form. It’s not really evolution — it’s not descent with modification — but the filtering process over time is not at all dissimilar.

Big_bang_timelineNow, it’s true that we know far less about the cosmos than we do about life on earth. (We know a lot more than we did fifty or even five years ago, but there’s still an enormous amount we don’t know.) Why the universe developed the way it did, how it came to exist in the first place… these questions, along with “What is consciousness?” and “What, if anything, is free will?” and “Will the Cubs ever win the World Series?” are the great mysteries of our time, the great questions that science is working on but has yet to answer.

ApolloSo for about the billionth time on this blog, I’m going to cite my piece The Unexplained, the Unproven, and the Unlikely. And I will again say this: Look at the history of the world, and the history of knowledge in the world. The number of times that a once-mysterious phenomenon had a divine or supernatural explanation successfully replaced by a natural one — thousands upon thousands upon thousands. The number of times that a once-mysterious phenomenon had a natural explanation successfully replaced by a divine or supernatural one — zero.

Earth_axisTherefore, with any given unexplained phenomenon — including the nature and origin of the universe — it is about a billion times more likely that the explanation will eventually turn out to be a natural one rather than a divine or supernatural one. And David Hume’s “order out of chaos” filtering process provides an excellent basic framework for reaching that explanation.

To argue, “We don’t know exactly how this happened, therefore it’s reasonable to say that God made it happen” is called arguing from ignorance, and it’s a logical fallacy. There’s no more need to explain the cosmos with intelligent design than there is to explain life with it.

End of Part 1. In tomorrow’s conclusion: What we would do if we didn’t exist; begging the question; and what the river is trying to do.


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  1. 1

    Nice. I’ve tried to argue almost exactly that, many times, but Hume’s formulation really pins it down perfectly, doesn’t it? Thanks for that.

  2. 2

    Excellent essay! I’ve always tried to argue that the universe is far too orderly (all electrons have the same unit charge, etc.) to have ever been just magically zapped into existence by the capricious whimsy of some invisible sky-zombie named God. Nobody takes me seriously.

  3. 3
    King Aardvark

    The thing that always bothers me is how theists will use the argument from design and then claim that it proves their own particular sect is true. So what if a supernatural spark (allegedly) was required to start the universe? It doesn’t bolster your man-god sacrificed to himself religion any.
    Anyway, good article as always.

  4. 4
    J. J. Ramsey

    “I’m going to paraphrase here, since I don’t have his books handy”
    You mean that you couldn’t find what you were looking for here?: http://infidels.org/library/historical/david_hume/

  5. 5
    Greta Christina

    “You mean that you couldn’t find what you were looking for here?”
    Didn’t know it existed. Holy farking zarquards. Thanks!

  6. 6
    Jon Berger

    Don’t forget the well-documented fact that he could out-consume Schopenhauer and Schlegel.

  7. 7

    As usual, allow me to pre-emptively apologize for my hoggingly long comment!
    You write – “There is an unbelievably enormous mountain of hard physical evidence — fossil records, DNA, anatomical studies, you name it — supporting the idea that evolution is entirely capable of happening all by its lonesome, as a 100% natural event with no divine intervention necessary at any point.”
    I don’t know about this one, Greta. But first I must admit I’m somewhat taking your quote out of context. Your quote doesn’t argue necessarily that there is a mountain of evidence for evolution per se, but for evolution’s capacity to occur. At any rate, you got me thinking, as you usually do, so here goes.
    I agree with this statement if and only if we are discussing microevolution. From my research, the evidence opposes macroevolution.
    For example, species appear fully formed in the fossil record. Darwin’s original general theory called for a series of slow gradations. When paleontological research was first developing, Darwin and his backers were confident they would find these slow gradations and transitional forms. When the entirety of the fossil record showed otherwise, evolutionary scientists went back to the drawing board. The result was neo-Darwinism, and punctuated equilibrium most notably advanced by Gould.
    I’ve read a fair amount of Dawkins and my bones to pick with that guy run deep. As for the mutation theory, Mendel and others have demonstrated that 99.99% of the time, genetic mutations hinder the life cycle of a species. Denton covers this extensively.
    Another red flag is Pasteur’s law of biogenesis. To my current awareness, nobody has ever to date been able to show that life can arise from non-life. The flies-in-a-jar experiment proved this.
    I also wonder as to the dichotomy of the “natural” and the “supernatural” you propose. If indeed “supernatural” elements exist in the universe, would they not be better described as macro-natural? If God exists I think it’s fair to say God’s acts are also natural.
    And this is the reason you’ll never replace a natural explanation with a supernatural one. Generally, supernatural theories are outside the realm of scientific inquiry.
    One thing I will say is that rarely do the die-hard evolutionists wish to discuss the substantial amount of anomalous evidence – for example bronze sandalprints in cretaceous rock, or Anasazi cave paintings of Brontosauri.
    Anyways, thanks again for the mental fuel. I’ve got a few relevant posts about this sort of stuff on my blog:

  8. 8
    Greta Christina

    “Your quote doesn’t argue necessarily that there is a mountain of evidence for evolution per se, but for evolution’s capacity to occur.”
    I’ll rephrase, then. There is an unbelievably enormous mountain of hard physical evidence pointing to the idea that evolution not only could have occured, but did occur, and is continuing to occur even as we speak.
    “I agree with this statement if and only if we are discussing microevolution. From my research, the evidence opposes macroevolution.”
    I’m sorry, but this is flat-out incorrect. For one thing, macroevolution and microevolution are not different processes. Macroevolution is merely microevolution over a longer period of time. Small changes over time add up to large ones.
    And there IS evidence for macroevolution: everything from anatomical similarities in wildly different species, to DNA patterns in different species, to embryonic development in different species, and so on. The fossil record doesn’t tell the whole story or even most of the story, as fossilization only occurs rarely. (Also, if memory serves, it’s simply not the case that the fossil record doesn’t show any transitional forms. The fossil record does also show some jumps, but there are other explanations for that than punctuated equilibrium. And even Gould and other believers in punctuated equilibrium still thought it was a natural process, and not one that needed an interventionist God to explain.)
    You say you have bones to pick with Dawkins, but you don’t say what they are, so I can’t argue with them. (Again, if you haven’t read “The Blind Watchmaker,” that’s the one to read.) But even if mutations are harmful 99.9% of the time (I don’t know if that number is accurate, but I’ll go with it for now), that doesn’t contradict evolutionary theory — if a beneficial mutation happens 0.1% of the time, that’s one out of a thousand animals/ plants/ whatever, which is enough over time to confer selective advantage.
    “To my current awareness, nobody has ever to date been able to show that life can arise from non-life. The flies-in-a-jar experiment proved this.”
    Actually, not only do biologists think that life can occur from non-life — they think they’re going to be able to re-create the process, within 3 to 10 years from now.
    To quote PZ Myers in this article: “It’s just a particularly complicated kind of chemistry, and it’s more of a deep technical problem than anything else.”
    “If indeed “supernatural” elements exist in the universe, would they not be better described as macro-natural? If God exists I think it’s fair to say God’s acts are also natural. And this is the reason you’ll never replace a natural explanation with a supernatural one. Generally, supernatural theories are outside the realm of scientific inquiry.”
    There’s a big logical contradiction here. If God’s acts are natural and affect the physical world, they should be observable, and thus inside the realm of scientific inquiry. If the supernatural does not have an observable effect on the physical world, then (a) it’s useless as a hypothesis, and (b) even if it exists, it doesn’t concern us, since it doesn’t affect us. You really have to pick one. God/ the supernatural either has an effect on this world, or he/it doesn’t.
    (BTW, I’d like to point out that “supernatural theories are outside the realm of scientific inquiry” is one of the classic self-perpetuating protective layers that shields religion from the necessity of defending itself as a hypothesis, one of the very ones I talked about in “Does The Emperor Have Clothes? Religion and the Destructive Force of Asking Questions”:)
    “rarely do the die-hard evolutionists wish to discuss the substantial amount of anomalous evidence – for example bronze sandalprints in cretaceous rock, or Anasazi cave paintings of Brontosauri.”
    Go to Evolutionblog:
    I’m sure he’d be happy to discuss anomalous evidence with you. I haven’t heard of either of those particular things, but I’d be willing to be that they’re either misinterpretations or flat-out frauds. Every single piece of evidence I’ve seen that supposedly contradicts evolutionary theory has turned out to be either one or the other.
    Really. I don’t know how to say this any more clearly, but evolution — macro, micro, all of it — is a “theory” only in the sense that gravity is a “theory.” It it supported by an overwhelming body of physical evidence from every field of biology, from physiology to cellular biology to molecular biology to embryology to genetics. If you have a belief in God based on a belief that evolutionary theory is incorrect, then you have a belief in God that is in denial of the hard, known facts.

  9. 9

    Rad! That’s an awesome reply. Seems we both love debate. Another plus is that it seems we can both discuss heated topics without wanting to beat each others brains out when we see each other at work (insert smiley face here).
    I’ll try to respond in order. I feel that macro and micro are totally different. Microevolution is observable and supportable by the scientific method. Macro is not. Most people usually get out of this by saying, “we can’t live long enough to observe it” and i have no problem with that. But I still feel the two are totally different processes.
    My favorite quote ever is, “The whole world is pink through rose colored glasses.” As the great Arthur Conan Doyle notes, “What we call ‘facts’ and ‘evidence’ are terribly tricky things,” meaning that people tend to interpret things in a way that supports their belief system. We are all guilty of this to some degree!
    Point in mentioning that: As far as the evidence for macroevolution that you state, the homology argument, in my opinion, does not hold up, and a creationist could just as simply cite homologous features as suggestive of a base design pattern.
    As for the Dawkins thing, I’ve read his book substantially. I don’t even want to go into my many bones to pick with him, but for brevity I’ll say his comparison of the ant-creation theory to genesis was absurd. Maybe I’ll do a piece and point to it later!
    You write, “Actually, not only do biologists think that life can occur from non-life — they think they’re going to be able to re-create the process, within 3 to 10 years from now.”
    Through my rose colored glasses, this is by no means synonymous with evolution as it is currently taught, but actually severely devastating. Why?
    Because biologists recreating life in a laboratory simply strengthen the hypothesis that life is a product of intelligence and design – the biologist(s). Were we to lock the biologists (designers) out of the building, I doubt these chemicals would randomly synthesize into “life.”
    As for the article you pointed me to in regards to biologists creating life, the only mention of the topic it gave was the quote you pulled. And I was a bit bummed because the writer just isn’t objective, and he / she uses inflammatory, derogatory comments and ad hominem arguments. In my undergraduate opinion, despite however educated this person may be, that sort of exegesis is simply just not professional or championing the beautiful phenomenon of science.
    The anomalous evidence thing I’ll skip for now, and I don’t fully see the “logical contradiction” you mention. I’ll think more about that later.
    Again, microevolution is a non-debatable fact, but I felt your comparison of macroevolution and gravity was really misleading. You can’t test macroevolution. All you can do is extrapolate the principles of microevolution and theorize that’s how macroevolution works. Thus, like God, macroevolution will likely always remain an unproven theory, because neither are accessible via the scientific method.
    And lastly, my belief in God surely does not stem from my opinions on macroevolution. I could go on and on about why I believe whatever I believe, but space and time are limited and that would be pretty damn narcissistic anyways – I’m just a fan of debate and intelligence and you excel in both (insert another smiley face here). You just can’t get this sort of stimulation from MTV or an iPod; this is worth it’s weight in gold.
    Who else could come up with something like “Holy farking zarquards!” That had me laughing my ass off!!!

  10. 10

    “Again, microevolution is a non-debatable fact, but I felt your comparison of macroevolution and gravity was really misleading.”
    Well, I could argue that micro-inertia is a non-debatable fact, but macro-inertia is not since it can’t be observed – maybe after a million years an object’s motion just stops even with no interference.

  11. 11
    Greta Christina

    Here’s the thing, CL. So far, the only argument you’ve made for macroevolution being different from microevolution is, “I feel it.”
    So what you’re basically saying is that on the one hand, we have overwhelming physical evidence from every single branch of the biological sciences, and the considered opinion of every serious biologist — the people who (unlike you or I) have actually done the training and the research in the field — for roughly the last 100 years.
    On the other hand, we have you and your gut feeling.
    I’m sorry, but I just don’t find that a very compelling argument.
    The whole point of these two posts on design — and in fact, the whole point of the scientific method — is that our gut feelings and instincts aren’t always right. Our gut feelings and instincts evolved to tell us about predators and prey and social interactions with each other in the African savannah. They didn’t evolve to tell us how life on this planet developed, or how the universe came into being. In fact, quite the opposite — our gut feelings and instincts evolved to see design and intention and pattern, even when none exists.
    More on the scientific method, and how it works to minimize human error and bias, here:
    Again, microevolution and macroevolution are not different processes. The latter is just the former happening over and over again over time. (In fact, the terms aren’t even used by evolutionary biologists; they were made up by the Intelligent Design movement.) And there is in fact ample, ample evidence supporting the theory, both for small changes and larger ones over time, in fields ranging from physiology to embryology to genetics to molecular biology to epidemiology to the fossil record. In fact, speciation not only can be observed in the human time frame — it *has been observed.* A few citations:
    Picky Female Frogs Drive Evolution Of New Species In Less Than 8,000 Years
    Ring Species: Unusual Demonstrations of Speciation
    Color Patterns On Reef Fish Drive Evolution Of New Species
    We’ve Seen The Future, And It Is Us
    These examples weren’t even hard to find — I dug them up after five minutes of Googling the phrase “evolution of new species.”
    You argue that similarity of skeletal and other physical structures doesn’t necessarily suggest evolution — it could just suggest a “base design pattern.” My question (one of many, but we’ll stick to this one for now): Why should that be? Why on earth should the giraffe and the mouse and the whale and the sparrow and the alligator and the human have the same “base design pattern”?
    There are many, many things about the “base design pattern” that cause serious problems. Humans, for instance, get terrible problems with our feet and knees and backs because the “base design pattern” comes from an animal that walked on all fours. There are all sorts of freakish and pointless anomalies in the “design,” from the optic nerves crossing (right eye to left side of brain and vice versa) to the “all over hell and gone” pathway of the vagus nerve. And don’t even get me started on the size of the female human pelvic girdle as a limiting factor on the size of the human brain, and thus on human intelligence.
    If there really were a designer who periodically interrupts the flow of evolution to magically make improvements, he’s doing a piss-poor job of it. The only reasonable explanation of these anomalies and “design” flaws is that the “designer” — i.e., evolution — has been limited to making very minuscule changes to the previous design, over and over and over again.
    And again, there is not a shred of evidence that this periodic interruption by a designer ever happened. If evolution had been periodically interrupted by a designer to make changes, you’d expect to see sudden radical changes in anatomical structure: optic nerves un-criss-crossed, pelvic girdles completely restructured to allow for less fragile babies with bigger brains, eyes and ears moved to our elbows so we could move them around, that sort of thing. That hasn’t happened. What the overwhelming body of evidence shows is slow, small changes adding up to large changes over several generations.
    As to your argument that scientists see evolution because they expect to, I’d like to point out that the scientific community didn’t start out believing in evolution. It had to be dragged into it kicking and screaming. And the dragging was successful because the evidence supports the theory. The theory explained tons of previously unexplained data, and it’s done a bang-up job of predicting new data. It is, in fact, one of the single biggest success stories in scientific theory, right up there with heliocentrism and relativity.
    And as to your argument that “biologists recreating life in a laboratory simply strengthen the hypothesis that life is a product of intelligence and design – the biologist(s)”:
    I’m sorry, but this is a classic example of the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” circular reasoning of Intelligent Design advocates. When biologists said that they didn’t know how life originally began, ID proponents/ creationists said, “See? You don’t know how it began! It’s a miracle! It had to have been done by God!”
    Now when biologists say, “Not only do we have an idea of how it began, we think we can recreate the process in the lab,” ID proponents say, “See? It needs an intelligent designer to make it happen!”
    No, no, no, on both counts. On the first count, the fact that we don’t understand a particular phenomenon doesn’t mean the explanation is supernatural. Again:
    And much more to the immediate point: The fact that a natural phenomenon can be re-created in the lab doesn’t prove, even in the slightest, that the phenomenon had to have been intelligently designed. Scientists re-create natural phenomena in the lab *all the time.* When scientists grow mold in petri dishes or smash particles in particle accelerators, does that mean that mold growing and particles smashing are not natural processes? Of course not.
    And the same is true of abiogenesis. If scientists really do re-create it in the lab, it won’t show that the process needed an intelligent hand to make it happen. It’ll show that the process is a natural one, a physical one, one that didn’t need to be zapped by divine supernatural energy to get it going.
    Speaking of which: So because PZ Myers at Pharyngula is snarky, therefore he doesn’t have his facts right? Umm
 he got the story from the AP. Here are several other citations:
    Here’s the thing. As someone once said (I’m trying to trace the source of the quote, but it seems to be unknown), “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.” You can say “Evolution just doesn’t seem likely to me” a thousand times a day, but that doesn’t change the fact that the evidence overwhelmingly supports it — not just the small changes, but the small changes adding up to big ones over time. Every serious scientist who actually spends their life studying biology thinks it’s not only likely but obvious. It’s not an opinion. It’s not even a theory, except in the strictest scientific use of the word. It’s a fact. You are on the wrong side of history on this one.
    P.S. “Holy farking zarquards!” isn’t mine. It’s from Douglas Adams.

  12. 12
    Greta Christina

    And now I want to talk about why this is so important.
    Here’s the thing that you may not be aware of. Intelligent design — which is the theory you’re proposing, CL — is not a serious scientific theory. To be more accurate, it’s not a scientific theory at all, since it’s not falsifiable.
    Intelligent design is creationism.
    Intelligent design is the Christian Right’s way of trying to shoehorn fundamentalist Christian doctrine into the public schools, on the taxpayer’s dime.
    In other words:
    Intelligent design is a cover story for theocracy.
    This isn’t my cockamamie conspiracy theory. In the recent Dover case, the really big court case about intelligent design being taught in the public schools in Dover, PA, internal documents and memos from the ID proponents showed that this was, in fact, exactly what they were doing. They’d been stopped from teaching creationism in the public schools, and so they basically changed the word “creationism” to “intelligent design,” shuffled their language around a bit to make the God stuff more vague, and tried again.
    They lied about this in public and even on the stand, but their own internal documents show that this was their intention all along: to use “intelligent design” as a way of getting their fundamentalist religious beliefs taught as fact, in the science courses, in the public schools.
    In direct violation of the First Amendment.
    Is this who you want to be getting into bed with?
    ID is not science. ID is religion masquerading as science, put forward by people who want to turn this into a Christian nation. When intelligent, thoughtful people like yourself treat ID as if it had scientific credibility, it makes the job of the Religious Right easier — and the job of those of us who are fighting their attempts at theocracy harder.
    (Am planning to reply to your comments on Part 2 as well, but we have a plane to catch tomorrow, so it may be a couple/few days.)

  13. 13

    Its an interesting thing to say that 99.9% of mutations are hermful to life and I would absolutely disagree with this.
    I would say it is more correct to say that 99% of mutations have n noticible effects on life in the next generation at all.
    Of the 1% that do affect the organism, it is probably true that a large proportion of those mutations have a negative impact. For example, sycle cell anemia being a result of a mutation.
    However as sometimes happens, the environment can change… What can be negative can be turned into a positive.
    So when the sycle cell mutation is expressed in a hetrogeneous genome, it provides a decent protection from malaria. This is where the genome contains 1 gene with the mutation and 1 gene without.
    So, things that are detrimental to life now, can manage to survive just because it is not too bad. However, something then happens that means this mutation is now highly desirable.
    Think about very small mamals at the time of the dinosoars – at that time being small and hairy would not have looked likely to succeed for long as there were few of them andd were only able to survive in quite specific environments. Then the environment as a whole changed and being small and hairy was good, then they could expand to fill the roles previously filled by the terrible lizzards.
    Look at Polar Bears – they have a very narrow habbitat to fill and could very easily be made extinct. However bring on an ice age and they are sitting pritty.
    So the mutations on their own do not need to provide some great advancement for a particular animal to survive in the population, it just has to be not too bad.
    Distances between species (in terms of divergance) can be calculated by the number of mutations that occur during common and dormant genes. this shows that many mutations occur all the time is parts of the genome that are not actually expressed. Then at some time in the future, the culmination of these mutations can be expressed as a certain “key” gene “turns on” the previously sleeping genes.
    Also the fossil record will, quite naturally be very limited in the number of “missing links” by the very nature of what they are…
    Do demonstrate this further, the chances of any given animal being fossilised is minute… so when a new pheno type arrises (this is the expressed genome like the coloration, size etc) the population will be very much smaller than the population of the pre-existing types. So, for example if a bird mutated to develope webbed feet in a population of toed birds, the chances that this would be fossilised would be slim. Also, if it was fossilised, it would no doubt be mis-identified as a different species. However, if the environment then changed so that the suculent shoots of grass failed and there was an advantage to eating water plants, the webbed feed suddenly becomes a desirable trait for the species and the population dynamics change.

  14. 14

    Sorry about my previously long post…
    Another thing to consider is: what is a species?
    how do you differentiate between species of currently living animals?
    How do you differntiate between species of fossilised animals?

  15. 15

    Hi Greta,
    Sorry if I’m like the maniac blogger right now but I’ve nothing to do all day while recovering.
    I was going over this thread. I have some legitimate questions related to the original post, and some things I’d like to add in the interest of clearing up some of what’s in the thread.
    Instead of just going off with them, I thought I’d ask if you’re at all interested in hearing them.

  16. 16

    Loved puddle allegory! I find that when debating intelligent design it’s often unnecessary to talk about evolution at all. Scientific arguments are so complicated and often complicate the debate.
    Better simply point to ID’s rational flaw.
    Let’s say hypothetically that we have no idea what could have made the world so functional and complex. Just because there are man-made entities that in some respects resemble those in nature we can’t conclude that natural entities are also intelligently designed. They could have come about in some way we haven’t thought of.
    There’s nothing but a similarity between natural and man-made entities to corroborate the idea that they were both the result of intelligent design. That doesn’t prove anything.

  17. 17

    I’m sitting here rolling a die ten times, and it came up with the sequence 4632236245. The odds against that sequence are over 60 billion to one.
    Greta, I think that should be 60 MILLION to one. This undermines your entire article. Now I have to start believing in God. DAMN!

  18. 18
    Timothy (TRiG)

    I know a guy on h2g2 (the website founded by Douglas Adams) who maintains that he has yet to see a theistic argument which Hume hasn’t already countered.
    Douglas Adams uses that puddle analogy toward the end of his excellent excellent talk Parrots, the Universe, and Everything.

  19. 19

    Th thr f vltn s hx.vltnsts hv p tll nw fl t dg t th fssl prfs f th grdl trnsfrmtn frm p t mn.

  20. 20

    solomon: They have. See this list of human evolution fosils.
    But even without anyfossils (suppose all this happened on the shores of Krakatau island, and is so now lost), it would still be completely accepted due to two other rock-solid chains of evidence: genetic, and morphological/developmental.
    Although genetics is quite recent, the other has been understood for almost 300 years. Zoologists have accepted the family relationship between humans and other great apes ever since Linnaeus named chimpanzees “Homo troglodytes” in 1735.

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