1. says

    Yeah…. Rate of generations is only a small part of evolution. Mutations rate, and environmental pressures. Such a painful call just didn’t what evolution is. Also for perspective fruit flies becoming dragon flies would be like people becoming lungfish.

  2. Tomasz R. says

    Cancer survival rates can differ very much, and I could not find any data on what factors they depend.

    So on one hand what the guy was talking about might be just a part of a variation he interprets as a success. But perhaps some factors contributed to the results? I would definitely not put my bet on a prayer or miracles. If it’s a religious group then maybe they have some bans against smoking, alcohol, overating or consuming particular foods, not being lazy, leading ordered lifestyle, giving up greed (reduces stress)? Or perhaps a willingness try every possible approach helps, and as as a side effect it leads people to give faith-healing a try? Or a potential for cancer remission is higher than we expect, as statistical results are being artificially pulled down by those idiots not willing to give up smoking, alcohol, junk food etc. even after getting the diagnosis?

  3. noodlyappendage says

    Heya Russell — any news on the possible non-prophets pre-4.13 archive torrent that we were talking about before?

  4. mond says

    Jay was an interesting call. He claimed to be a skeptic and I will take him at his word on that.

    But I think he is being a ‘bad’ skeptic in his personal experience reason for belief in the power of prayer.

    He has disregarded the prayer studies which do not support his conclusion. He also reversed the burden of proof.
    He seems akin to someone who seen a magic trick and cannot explain it therefore magic is real. The reason he believes the magic is real; he saw it with his own eyes.

    To be honest it sounds as though he has gotten involved in a cult type group whose big thing is the power of prayer. He basically said his group has a big secret but only the chosen few get to take part. If they do not actively recruit (proselytize) I curious as to how he got involved.

  5. says

    There was definitely confirmation bias with the prayer guy.

    When he was pointing out his experiences with prayer helping animals, my question is, “How many animals were prayed for, and it didn’t work?” We don’t hear about those. We only hear about when there’s a success, so at the end of the day, it appears as though they’re all successes.

    If it turns out that 5% of pets with critical health issues managed to survive after prayer, even though 85% (if we go with national average) of their owners pray for their pets, that doesn’t seem that far off from statistical probability.

  6. says

    Thousands or even millions of generations of fruit flies bred *in* labs may only result in fruit flies because that’s what the scientists are studying and breeding for. For most purposes, the more alike all the specimens are, the better. If a fruit fly escaped from the lab and reproduced through those same thousands of generations, that descendant might not be recognizable as a fruit fly.

  7. 42Oolon says

    A few thoughts, you folks are great as always.

    If Fruit Flies reproduce once a day, and dogs say once a year, it would still take 273 years for the flies to mimic 100K years of dog-volution.

    Biologists say humans were about the same 100K years ago, like Matt correctly stated we could need millions of years to show big ass changes.

    The flies may have huge changes in a few hundred generations but look the same. Horseshoe Crabs? Some look the same as they did 150 million years ago but have changed.

    This guy was spouting a clunky micro-macro evolution BS, which Potholer54 has great vids to rebut.

    One tiny criticism: I wanted to hear a little more from Jen.

  8. says

    re: Matt and Jen talk to an evolution “skeptic”

    Wow you guys have a hard job. At times listening I’m thinking that he’s not really arguing, just looking for information — but at the same time, he also seemed slippery, like he’s trying to not get something and then twist it. Awkward.

    As I understand it, the path from single celled organism to us (and other living things) took an immense amount of time, and the environment and atmosphere has been different at different times. Tough to replicate; but a fruit fly experiment can let us see what we expect to happen — and it does.

    A wolf still resembles a dog. Human still resemble other primates. At best, a fruit fly is going to resemble its ancestors. If all the humans left the planet today and people came back in 10 million years, then we might see new and interesting variations from what we have now.

    Feel free to correct me where I’m wrong.

  9. sharkjack says

    THIS So much THIS.

    Drosophila (fruitflies) are mainly used in developmental biology anyway. Now developmental biology and evolution are so intertwined that they have a seperate field named after that (evo-devo) but still, most research on Drosophila is centered around finding out how certain mutations work, what genes are neccecary for what stages of development, etc. you want to control the outside factors as much as possible, so the flies are probalby very purebred and quite probably sequenced to make sure. Research tends to be 2-4 generations, or if you’re really fancy with your crossings you might get to 20 or something, but that is very controlled with the pure intent of breeding in certain characteristics.

    Still, Drosophila research has told us a lot about evolution. The Hox genes were found there, since Drosophila only has one cluster (we have 4. But don’t feel too superior because of that, Zebrafish has 7) so it was easy to identify what mutations caused what defects. Hox genes identify the segments, so when you see a fruitfly with legs where its eyes should be, (is that different enough for you caller? 1 mutation and it has full grown legs where its eyes should be!) that is probably a Hox mutation. But yeah in terms of genomne we’re not too different from other organisms. Manipulating the Hox genes through differential gene expression in subtle ways can cause immense variation. From snakes to bats to dolphins, it is really quite uncreative. 2 bacterial colonies of the same species tend to be more genetically varied than 2 species in the animal kingdom.

    in short, scientists find proving the existence of evolution boring. We can already see what it can do by looking at the animals and plants we’ve created by breeding over the last few thousand years. Now the mechanisms of evolution, those are still very interesting.

    I was pulling my hair out with the evolution caller, but you handled him pretty well. Evolution is a difficult topic to speak on and a gap in knowledge or understanding only makes that more difficult.

  10. 1415dr says

    He just wants them to hurry up and get to heaven. The Pagans need more time on earth to meet missionaries.

  11. Andrew says

    I think the evolution skeptic was genuinely looking for information, but he also got some weird ideas in his head about evolution. Even a logically derived conclusion can be fallacious if starting from false premises.

  12. Mingy says

    I love the show, and love you guys but I really think you didn’t handle the ‘evolution skeptic’ well. I assume he was sincere (he sounded like he was looking for an answer, not a shill). I understand, as Matt said early in the call, you guys aren’t evolutionary biologists, but I think it might have gone better if you had focused on his comments about ‘Darwinian Evolution’ : what did he mean, exactly? I *think* he thought that is ‘macro-evolution’ (speciation), presumably in contrast with ‘micro-evolution’ (adaptive change within a species.

    Matt did, correctly, move down the path of argument regarding genetic stability (as noted above old crabs look pretty much like modern crabs), and the non-deterministic nature of evolution. This latter point seems to be hard for a lot of people to grasp, which is why you get so many ‘why did X develop Y’ (and, sadly, the responses people cook up to explain it).

    The time-frame commentary is more or less irrelevant: speciation can happen pretty quickly, or very slowly, or sometimes not at all. Depending on the situation, you may find thousands of years to be enough, depending on how you define speciation. On the other hand, instead of speciation you could end up with extinction. After all, every individual in a population is an experiment in evolution, and nobody could predict in advance, which individual might, in time, lead to a new species.

    Anyhow I don’t want to try lecture you guys about what you could have said – you were live and did your best. Still, I think it would have gone better if you would have dealt further with his ‘Darwinian Evolution’ misunderstanding and taken it from there.

    Keep up the great work!

  13. wholething says

    Do many Christians think that when they get a test at the doctor’s office that has a low false negative rate in favor of a high false postive rate think that the test has actually shown they have a disease so they pray and pray for a cure, and when the follow up test shows the first test was a false positive, that the prayer cured them? Do they then tell everybody at their church that the Lord really answered their prayers?

    If one is going to pay attention to everybody in church who says they had a miracle, they should go to the cemetery and get some counter claims.

  14. Adam says

    The evolution guy seemed to be confused about “the goals of evolution”, which he assumed had a direction.

  15. terrycollins says

    Thanks for posting the latest episode video so quickly this week!

    I think the Catholics have great loop hole to the problem of common folk being able to bend God’s will for their own purposes. Saints. When Catholics pray to Jesus/God, it’s more about repentance and bestowing blessings on loved ones. When they want miracles, they pray to saints with godly powers. There’s a patron saint for just about any problem, (as long as the problem is something that can also be remedied by chance.) In the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, the walls are lined with the crutches of the disabled who were supposedly cured. It might be more impressive though if the walls contained artificial limbs.

  16. DanTheMilkMan says

    I’m not sure, but I think the fruit fly guy might have been the same douche bag that called in last week and hectored Russell about moral absolutes. Kind of the same thing about refusing to deviate one iota from the initial question, even though it’s not black and white. Now that the show is so much shorter, whether he was sincere or not, I would rather not have half the show be taken up by a discussion about an old fruit fly study. Maybe just refer him to some evolution websites or offer to continue the discussion in email.

  17. alt+3 says

    It should probably be pointed out that comparing the differences in human morphology to fly morphology (and his stupid 82% different metric, I believe, was about morphology) is very tricky. Humans are excellent at spotting very small differences between each other (good example: The Uncanny Valley. We have the ability to produce fairly photo-realistic images of people, yet something still feels “off” about them, and those are usually minute differences in lighting and certain features being millimeters off), where even trained biologists occasionally misclassify specimens from entirely different species. So, while fruit flies may go through very dramatic changes, even to the point of speciation, an untrained observer probably wouldn’t notice a thing.

    On a side note, this gets me thinking about if we ever meet aliens are they going to be able to differentiate between different humans? Might they have problems telling the difference between humans and other animals? Did Futurama happen to hit the nail on the head with Lrrr not being able to distinguish Leela from an orangutan?

  18. Muzz says

    I wonder if Jay has just got into Christian Science. They’re very anti-proselytizing (some more than others) and claim to have cured everything under the sun.
    Their conception of God and Jesus is vague and has very little to do with what’s literally in in the Bible as well (the whole faith is based on what is virtually a linguistic deconstruction of it).

  19. says

    What a frustrating first call, made all the more frustrating by the caller’s misleading terminology, which was not nipped in the bud right away: “Darwinian evolution,” “Darwinism,” and “Macroevolution” (or, rather, pretending that macroevolution is substantially different from “Microevolution”) are all creationist terms that obscure the truth.

    He seemed to be saying that he accepted that “microevolution” occurs (small changes within a species) but did not accept that “macroevolution” (or “Darwinian evolution”) happened.

    The caller was asking, essentially, how the fruit fly experiment – which he accepts as an illustration of regular ol’ (micro)evolution – demonstrated “Darwinian evolution” (descent from common ancestry), and he seemed to be under the impression that the fact that the fruit flies didn’t turn into dragon flies is some kind of blow against “Darwinian Evolution.”

    The best move for the hosts would have been to clarify the terminology upfront: what he’s calling “Darwinian evolution” is nothing more than evolution, the exact phenomenon demonstrated by the fruit fly experiment, but enacted over *millions* of years with all kinds of natural selective pressures that it would be impossible to replicate in a lab.

    The evidence for descent from common ancestors is so vast and convincing that it’s an established fact: it has nothing to do with whether fruit flies turn into dragon flies, which is itself absurd.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think the hosts were all that convincing in their responses to the caller – likely, they were understandably flustered by both his ignorance on the matter and the conviction with which he voiced that ignorance – and I suspect that viewers who know nothing about evolution probably came away with the impression that the hosts did not defend evolution sufficiently.

    I think the lesson to be learned from this is that calls about evolution need to be limited because – as Matt noted at the top of the show – it’s not directly related to atheism to begin with. If the theory of evolution were proven wrong tomorrow, it would tell us nothing about whether there is a god or not.

    My recommendation would be that in the future callers who object to evolution are told that we’re observed natural selection and that wide amounts of multi-faceted evidence from various disciplines confirm that natural selection, over millions of years, produces the diversity of life. Then give a link from talk origins, tell them it’s not directly related to atheism, and say goodbye.

    The second caller presented a textbook example of confirmation bias at work.

    What that caller needs to learn – and what most people need to learn – is that the mind tends to perceive reality as working the way it *expects* or *wants* reality to work. Our minds have been programmed by evolution to seek out patterns. This is indeed conducive to survival in a state of nature, but now that our lives aren’t consumed with surviving from moment-to-moment, that same pattern-recognition tendency tends to mislead us into mispreceiving the world.

    The second caller doesn’t seem to realize that no one is questioning his experiences: what skeptics question is his *interpretation* of those experiences.

    People like him tend to think they’ve “seen prayer work” and that their “experiences” suggest that there’s something supernatural, but this is wrong.

    They’ve “seen” isolated instances of coincidences. Their *minds* — their flawed, designed-for-survival, pattern-recognizing-even-when-there-is-no-pattern minds – tell them that these examples are prayers “working.”

    People like the second caller need to learn their own fallibility. Being a skeptic doesn’t mean, “I’ll believe it when I see it…oh, I saw something I interpret as supernatural, so I guess I’ll believe in the supernatural ‘cause I’m such a skeptic and I’ve seen it!”

    Being a skeptic means (especially) being skeptical of one’s own tendency to fall prey (no pun intended) to the mind’s illusions.

  20. scorinth says

    A webcomic I read in high school had an alien who couldn’t recognise a friend when he wasn’t wearing eyeglasses: “You’re not Tedd! His eyes are large and circular!”
    I think that might have been a riff on Superman/Clark Kent, though.

  21. John Kruger says

    You are spot on with both callers. It is too bad that AronRa is only available to the show on a very limited basis, he would be very qualified to answer the first caller. The fruit fly changes compared to species changes are analogous to a few steps on a 100 mile hike, the process is exactly the same, just different in scale.

    The prayer guy was actually engaging in a concurrence fallacy, in that he was not bothering to consider other hypothesis besides the one he already had. It is a kind of confirmation bias, a lot like “Post hoc, ergo propter hoc” only with slightly different timing. He needs to put his theory to the test and make some risky predictions that could show his theory to be wrong, and then share his results with the world to be scrutinized. I am guessing the “non-proselytizing” requirement is there because any testing will keep the prayers from working (how convenient).

  22. says

    Being a skeptic means (especially) being skeptical of one’s own tendency to fall prey (no pun intended) to the mind’s illusions.

    Exactly. It seems that’s the primary problem of my mother’s religiosity – she can’t comprehend that her interpretation of events, memory and experiences could be mistaken. If she thinks she saw something – it happened just the way she thinks it did.

  23. says

    He isn’t a skeptic, no matter what he claims. One can be skeptical with regard to certain claims, but to be a skeptic, you must use those tools on everything and clearly, he doesn’t. As such, he’s making a false claim, just as a “scientist” who doesn’t use scientific tools, would be.

  24. jacobfromlost says

    Jay was in the chat for quite some time after the show. I came to the conclusion he was a POE after the tenth time someone asked him if he was interested in finding out if prayer actually “worked” in certain circumstances, and then he proceeded to ignore any reasonable objective means to discover a real effect (dozens of ways were offered and he never responded to any of them–he just kept returning to his assertion of inexplicable personal experiences, drawing weird analogies, then qualifying the analogies into uselessness when it was pointed out such effects could be detected objectively). He also claimed to be unable to keep up with the chat (after an hour of keeping up with the chat and typing as fast as the fastest of us), and then said he would only talk in PM. Then he returned to remind us he would only talk in PM, several times, lol.

    He also was very thin on the specifics of his personal experiences, but drew analogies to playing roulette and falling on red 600 times in a row. When it was pointed out that this kind of effect could be detected with controlled experiments, he backed off and said maybe the effects were only slightly better than chance rather than 100%.

    This dance back and forth lasted for such a long time that I can only think he was havin’ a laugh, as it were.

  25. curtcameron says

    With the second caller (the power of prayer guy), I wanted to point out to him that what he was lacking was a control group. Just having a single data set doesn’t tell you anything. Some people/pets who were prayed for recovered, and he wasn’t saying it, but to him the rate seemed higher than he would expect for recovery without divine intervention.

    So instead of a real control group, he was comparing his data set to what he imagined a control group would look like.

    This is the central core of his problem. He claimed to be a skeptic, but he wasn’t very good at it, because a practiced skeptic should realize that you have to have a control group to keep you from fooling yourself. A skeptic also wouldn’t make the leap, even if he had a control group, from unexplained results to a magical explanation, but he was never justified in even getting that far to need to figure out a cause, because he had not actually observed an effect.

  26. koliedrus says

    I enjoyed the shit out of both callers. I can even imagine sitting down to dinner with Jay, tossing back a few beers and exploring the questions he has in detail. He did claim that he wanted to be “cured” of his theistic interpretation of events he’d experienced. Where do I donate for his bus ticket to Austin?

    The first guy made me realize that I’m not prepared to discuss fruit flies. My stuff is simpler than that.

    Humans witness a phenomenon. They call that a “Fact”.
    They try to figure it out.
    They call the figuring-out-process a “theory”.

    Stuff falls down. We give that a name. Today, it’s the Fact That Shit Falls Down because I can name it whatever I want.

    Then we ask ourselves, “why does shit fall down instead of up?”

    Then someone says, “I think I know! Here’s my theory…”

    We have theories (really good ones) about the Fact mentioned above. The same can be said for Time, Space, electromagnetism, nuclear decay and stuff on the tiniest of scales that make no sense to us large aggregates of Fermions and Bosons but can be manipulated in such a way that you can abuse Siri and post idiotic videos about it.

    When it comes to evolution, it’s no less a Fact than “the Sun lights the world”. No shit, we have theories about why stars do that crap, too! It’s AWESOME!

    So stuff does it’s changy thing over an incomprehensible period of time. If you’ve seen Cosmos and are familiar with the evolution animation, run that in your heads now. If not, searching for information is good for you.

    What lots of people are having a problem with is that they think Darwin came up with some idea and he has “followers”.

    That’s BULLSHIT!

    Darwin, like Einstein, was just the first of our ilk to try to explain some of the shit that is right there in front of us. It doesn’t matter who it’s named after. The Fact that it’s happening doesn’t go away because you read a book that says otherwise. Hell, let’s call it “Koliedrian Changy-Thing Theory”.

    Yeah. Anyway caller #1 has a theory about another theory.

    Meanwhile, light travels at a measurable rate, stars form, live and die in predictable patterns based on observation, changy-things happen and shit falls down.

    I have a theory about shit falling up. It’s called “Prayer”.

    The theory seems to be in dispute, though. I saw a video of a guy with a bag of Labrador poo and something called “Helium Balloon”.

  27. says

    The problem with this denial and argument from incredulity is that the descendents looked too alike to him (still fruit flies) however if speciaiation occurs then the flies sure as hell “look” different enough to each other.

    Every insect looks “just like” every other to untrained laymen.

  28. jacobfromlost says

    Right. The call gave that impression. But in the chat, control groups, falsifiable testing, confirmation bias, etc, etc, was all explained to him a dozen times. If he acknowledged these points at all, it was to assume his “personal experience” was actually a “test”. But most of the time he ignored all these explanations and kept talking.

    It went on so long that I no longer believed he had a genuine position, especially when he started saying he wanted help being more skeptical (while ignoring explanations of how to test with controls). He was either a POE having some fun, or someone who had truly deluded himself so far that much of what he was saying about his own position could not have been true (because many things were directly contradictory).

  29. sharkjack says

    If researchers wanted to, they could get fruitflies to become VERY different, but why on earth would you want to? The whole point behind model organisms is to have something you know a lot about with as little as possible unknown variables in the mix. A lot we’ve learned about evolution has been from populations of fruitflies that have been kept the same gene wise for hundreds of generations. Any new study starts with ‘wildtype’ flies, which are very well defined. However even if researchers did go do evolutionary research, these people would just complain that it wasn’t natural selection so it doesn’t count.

  30. says

    I’ll just go off on a tangent here, because that’s a little hobby-horse of mine. I think the majority of theists aren’t really stupid. Rather, the problem is two-fold:

    1) Misinformation. They’ve been told so much shit, that even the smart ones are having trouble reasoning their way through it. As you mention, if your starting premises are wrong, it doesn’t matter how rational you are, you’ll still end up with the wrong conclusion.

    2) Lack of practice. Thinking rationally is not a natural thing. We don’t do it on our own, we have to be taught. Some people never get taught and so, despite being quite intelligent, they never get to the point of thinking rationally.

    Incidentally, religion, especially the more fundamentalist versions of it, fail on both these points. They fill their followers with shit and they never train them in rational thought.

    Often religions will beat into their followers at least one basic axiom: God exists. I think a lot of the issues we face in these discussions are related to the fact that many theists do not see the existence of god as up for discussion at all. They see it as the starting point.

    I think one of the main things we have to get through is this idea that the existence of god is axiomatically true and obvious. Only then is a serious discussion possible.

  31. says

    I think that may be part of it. I seem to recall a caller from a much earlier show who told how she found a lump in her breast, prayed and the next day the lump was gone. She claimed this as an example of breast cancer healed by prayer. She never went to a doctor.

    She started off her story (as I remember) by saying directly that prayer healed her of breast cancer. It was only as the crew asked for details that the whole story was made clear.
    In my experience, every healing story turns out to be something like that.

  32. Alan says

    Even if you have a control group and even if the prayed-for group shows significantly better performance, you still have to show the mechanism that affected the prayed-for group. Otherwise you have correlation but not causation. It might have been something completely obscure, like the alignment of the planets or the weather.

  33. MikeHz says

    Evolution in fruit flies HAS been observed.

    “Scientists at the University of Arizona may have witnessed the birth of a new species.

    “Biologists Laura Reed and Prof Therese Markow made the discovery by observing breeding patterns of fruit flies that live on rotting cacti in deserts.

    “The work could help scientists identify the genetic changes that lead one species to evolve into two species.”

  34. ed142857 says

    Re the “Prayer Works” guy: Maybe a different line of reasoning would help illuminate the fallacy. If prayer _did_ work, what would it say about the deity? Is that a good god who could cure anyone, but won’t get off His Arse until he is petitioned to do so?

    We wouldn’t need hospitals any more, just teams of dedicated praying folk, armed with lists of sick people.

    But what of the poor unfortunates who have nobody to pray for them? Maybe dying slowly from starvation, AIDS or malaria. They are screwed, because that all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful god won’t lift a finger to help unless he hears the right words. He demands “prayment in advance.”

  35. shawnreza says

    Wow.. the evolution skeptic hasn’t really done his math, has he?

    If he’s using human evolution as the basis of calling fruit fly evolution “hundreds of thousands of years” relative to the number of generations…

    Homo Sapiens as a species is about 200,000 years old.

    200,000 years of human reproduction (with 20 being the reproductive age) is roughly 10,000 generations.

    A fruit fly reproduces in roughly a week. so 10,000 generations of fruit flies would add up to about 192 years.

    Do we have any fruit fly studies stretching out over 200 years? The fact that we’re influencing fruit flies to evolve at all within any reasonable time frame is a monument to our scientists.

  36. flymutation says

    Some scientists already mentioned, that they aren’t even trying to produce “macro” evolution in their labs. But rather trying to produce understandable small changes.

    I suspect that speeding up “macro” evolution in a lab might also face some challenges.

    * Small lab populations have less genetic material to work with, and less selection events than larger populations in the nature.

    * The mutation rate might already be rather optimal in the nature. Increasing it may introduce harmful mutations too quickly compared to reproduction rate. Many mutations get wasted.

    * Mutagenic environment causes pressure to survive in a mutagenic environment, it may be more significant than other pressures.

    * Flies are probably rather optimal already. Too quickly accumulating mutations will make them less fit, and may make the valleys between local optimums even deeper.