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Jan 13 2011

Reducing Irreducible Complexity 2: Biological Boogaloo

I should be somewhere in the air at the moment, on my way to Science Online. I’m probably pretty excited at this point. Either that, or very very tired. Or, I suppose, both. They’re not mutually exclusive.

Further on QualiaSoup’s excellent Reducing Irreducible Complexity, some of the counterarguments he received and why they’re, well, basically, wrong.

Why is it that religious apologists think that by attacking evolution, despite the mountain of evidence for it and lack of evidence against it outside of one gigantic argument from incredulity, would somehow prove their god? Even if you knock out evolution as a plausible answer (and you really ought to stop trying — scientists have been trying for 150 years and haven’t managed!), how exactly does that prove YOUR god over the god your neighbor proposes? Or the multiple gods someone proposes down the street? Or the giant star turtle suggested by the guy living under the bridge across town?

Edit: yeah, so, flight was cancelled. Twice. Rescheduled to tomorrow. Gives me more time to blog, sure, but dammit, I could be relaxing at the Marriott having a drink over lunch with Stephanie Zvan in an hour if it weren’t for this nor’easter.

9 comments

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  1. 1
    Daniel M.

    Have you been to biologos.org?

  2. 2
    Daniel M.

    I just want to point out that not ALL Christians attempt to disprove evolution. My challenge is not the fact the species can evolve or that some have, it’s simply that scientists are making claims that the Darwinian mechanism alone is capable of producing all biological complexity. I have large reservations about that claim. I personally do not think it is even rational to assume such a ridiculous thing. But, before we even discuss evolution, I think the atheist has to deal with certain cosmological evidence that it is highly (astronomically) unlikely that a life-permitting universe came about by chance.

  3. 3
    khan

    So Daniel, I assume that you are much smarter than all the scientists who actually study this stuff?

    What is it like to be so brilliant?

  4. 4
    Jason Thibeault

    Shorter Daniel: I don’t understand how evolution works, therefore the Judeo-Christian God is the simplest explanation.

    Seriously, dude, arguments from personal incredulity are very weak tea.

  5. 5
    Daniel M.

    That’s not my point. I DO understand how evolution works and I do believe evolution has happened. I simply do not feel that any scientist has grounds to say whether or not natural selection is capable of doing what they postulate it can do.

    The scope of the Darwinian mechanism is limited and I think that when you consider the outrages probability that say something like homo-sapiens came about via genetic variation and natural selection, I am justified in inferring that chance simply is not much of an option. I happen to believe that God is involved.

    Perhaps you have a resource that you can point me to that goes over at least in some detail the best evidence for natural selection capable of producing extremely complex systems?

  6. 6
    khan

    Which god(s)?

  7. 7
    Jason Thibeault

    I’ve visited biologos.org before, and I am happy that such a site exists — a site by theists that is sympathetic to the verity of evolution goes a long way toward outreach. But I find that it makes the same artificial barriers necessary to try to divide up humans from the rest of Earth’s creatures.

    There’s a saying that if you can walk a foot, you can walk a mile. The idea that some theists have, that animals can evolve within species (so-called “microevolution”, where birds still beget birds no matter what) is a simply artificial barrier that says, once you get to the end of your block, you’re not allowed to keep walking. I’m glad that you accept there’s nothing stopping you from continuing your walk past the end of your block, but I’m a bit disappointed that you believe that at the end of the mile, there’s an invisible barrier that prevents animals like proto-apes from speciating off into both chimps and man?

    While I believe the specific genetics that led to our unique-on-this-planet intellect is extraordinarily rare, I don’t believe there’s any evidence, from the fact that we’re so genetically close to our cousins, through to the retroviral markers in our DNA that we share with many many other lifeforms throughout our evolutionary branch (but not whole other branches), that humans are anything but commonly descended as with the rest of life on Earth.

    An excellent resource for the varying lines of evidence for evolution is Understanding Evolution. The Wikipedia article on Timeline of Human Evolution is very well-cited, as well. Look at the citations for each specific claim, and you can drill down to where the evidence is fairly easily for each specific claim.

    DNA evidence is the best evidence we have that humans are from a common stock. And it’s not the only evidence we have by a long shot.

  8. 8
    Dan J

    …certain cosmological evidence that it is highly (astronomically) unlikely that a life-permitting universe came about by chance.

    And this evidence would be…?

    The phrase, “by chance” isn’t quite in line with present knowledge about cosmology and the origins of our Universe. Of course, in any Universe that arose without the possibilities for life, there would be no intelligent life forms to discuss it or even witness it.

    As I point out time and again, though, cosmology and evolution are completely different fields of study. Many Christians seem to think they are inextricably linked because of their inability to be reconciled with a literal interpretation of the Bible™.

  9. 9
    Dan J

    Perhaps you have a resource that you can point me to that goes over at least in some detail the best evidence for natural selection capable of producing extremely complex systems?

    Here’s a good one from 2006 that, “…provides empirical support for the proposition that natural selection is a general force behind the formation of new species by analyzing the relationship between natural selection and the ability to interbreed in hundreds of different organisms – ranging from plants through insects, fish, frogs and birds – and finding that the overall link between them is positive.

    Funk, D.J., P. Nosil, and W.J. Etges. 2006. Ecological divergence is consistently positively associated with reproductive isolation across disparate taxa. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 103: 3209-3213. (News Release from Vanderbilt University: New study finds natural selection is a general force behind the formation of new species.)

    Jerry Coyne discussed this in a post (from May 2009) entitled “More on Dick Lewontin and WEIT: what’s the deal with natural selection?” in regards to a review of his book, Why Evolution Is True. Coyne’s book itself provides a reasonably thorough discussion of the prevailing evidence.

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