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Monday, July 28, 2008

The blind leading the blind


Modified from the original in Slate magazine

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There is now a big debate going on over the evolution of blind salamanders.[1] [2][3]

Darwin made important contributions to biology but I think that his followers are doing him a disservice by overrating his contributions and exposing him to a lot of criticism for his mistakes and a lot of condemnation for his negative influence on society in general. For example, I doubt that the Darwin-to-Hitler idea would be such a big thing if the Darwinists were not pushing Darwinism so hard.

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17 Comments:

Blogger Jim Sherwood said...

What important contributions to biology can we ascribe to Darwin, Larry? Apparently the idea of common descent through a branching tree of life was first advanced by Darwin; but it's not clear that even the tree of life (which is "evolution" in one wide sense of the word) can be shown to really be true by proper scientific tests.

Darwin is often said to have discovered natural selection, but that's not true. The great scientist James Hutton published the idea of natural selection in 1794, long before Darwin. Hutton didn't use the phrase "natural selection," but he described the process. Hutton thought that natural selection produces minor changes in living forms: but not new species.

Monday, July 28, 2008 2:21:00 PM  
Blogger Jim Sherwood said...

James Hutton's theory of what we now call "microevolution" by inheritable variations and natural selection, was evidently well-known to biologists in the early 19th century: especially in Edinburgh, Scotland, where Hutton had lived. Darwin studied in Edinburgh and it seems likely that he heard about Hutton's theory there; although that hasn't been proved.

In 1831 Patrick Matthew, a wealthy farmer, published his theory that species in general had emerged by inheritable variations and what he called a "natural process of selection." Matthew, who had (suprise! suprise!) studied in Edinburgh, published a very brief and rather vague, but recognizable, theory of the origin of species much like Darwin's later theory, as part of a longer book.

Monday, July 28, 2008 2:59:00 PM  
Blogger Jim Sherwood said...

Information about James Hutton and Patrick Matthew is available on the Internet. It's easy to believe that Darwin read Matthew's book at some point and picked up the phrase "natural selection" from Matthew's very similar phrase, perhaps unconsciously. But he may also have coined the phrase independently.

Anyway, it's clear that Darwin wasn't the discoverer of natural selection, nor was he the first to propose evolution of species by inheritable variations and natural selection. What he did was to write a long book full of vague and inconclusive arguments in favor of that theory, which for some reason persuaded many scientists and intellectuals that it was true.

Also, theories of evolution, but not by variation and natural selection, had been proposed long before Darwin, by Lamarck and by Robert Chambers (1n 1844.)

Monday, July 28, 2008 3:23:00 PM  
Blogger Jim Sherwood said...

After Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859, Patrick Matthew wrote a letter to a magazine saying that he had the same idea long before Darwin. Darwin publicly admitted that Matthew was right (he could hardly have done otherwise, since Matthew's book was available.) But as a well-known biologist who had published a much longer account on the subject, Darwin got the general credit, and Matthew faded into obscurity.

The mechanistic, materialistic theory of evolution of species that was apparently dreamed up independently by Matthew, Darwin, and Wallace, was actually a fairly obvious, crude, and simplistic one which could be concocted by anyone familiar with breeding or artificial selection: such as a farmer like Patrick Matthew. I certainly don't think it was a great discovery, and I don't think it's true.

Monday, July 28, 2008 3:50:00 PM  
Blogger Jim Sherwood said...

Incidentally, in 1813 a physician named William C. Wells also published a theory of what we now call microevolution by inheritable variations and natural selection. Wells (this is getting to be boring) had studied in Edinburgh, as had Darwin and Matthew, where James Hutton's theory was presumably well-known.

Anyway, both Matthew and Wallace eventually abandoned their original idea of perfectly mechanical, materialistic evolution of all species due to accidental inheritable variations and natural selection. Both concluded that intelligence had to have played an important role. So they essentially abandoned what we now call Darwinism; and turned to ideas of evolution involving a vital role for intelligent design.

Darwin, on the other hand, stuck with the idea of perfectly mechanistic evolution of all species. And he also believed that "Lamarckian" inheritance of acquired characteristics played an important role in evolution: although that seems to rarely be mentioned. Of course, that would also be a mechanistic, materialistic process not involving intelligent action.

Monday, July 28, 2008 4:28:00 PM  
Blogger Jim Sherwood said...

About the blind salamanders, I guess some creationists have held that random mutations and natural selection can break or destroy old features, but not create new ones.

However Michael Behe, who believes in intelligent design but isn't a creationist, thinks that random mutations and natural selection can produce new features at times. For instance, he argues in The Edge of Evolution that RM+NS produced a form of "antifreeze" in the blood of cold-water fish, which allows them to survive in very cold water.That is certainly a new feature.

But Behe thinks that it's much easier and much more common for RM+NS to break old features than it is for them to produce new ones.And sometimes breaking an old feature is helpful to survival, and thus the change will be favored by natural selection, according to Behe.

In The Edge of Evolution, Behe mainly argues that RM+NS has been shown to very rarely produce new interactions between protein molecules. And since the basic structures of life depend upon such protein interactions, he holds that unaided Darwinist processes could not have even produced the two basic cell-types, the prokaryotes and the eukaryotes.

The "edge of evolution", according to Behe, is the limit of what unaided mechanistic evolution can accomplish. His aim in the book is to estimate what that limit is.

Monday, July 28, 2008 4:58:00 PM  
Blogger Phae said...

Sorry to break up Jim's six-post conversation with himself, but what sort of big debate are you reading, Larry? Looks to me more like Panda's Thumb pointed out the salamander's blind eyes are not a loss, but a gain of information to prevent expression of nacent genetic material - a genetic "lock" on the eye - that is more complex, not less. And then a bunch of IDers are bizarrely repeating the disproven claim over and over.

Jim, as always, please tell me just one prediction made by ID "theory." Many times you have been asked when you were discussing ID, and you have always been unable.

Monday, July 28, 2008 5:14:00 PM  
Blogger Jim Sherwood said...

I don't read all of the stuff that is posted here by obviously ignorant Darwin-fans. As to the question, ID in life is a scientifically valid conclusion, if it can be shown to be deduced from well-established data to a sufficiently high degree of quantifiable, mathematical probability. A conclusion properly deduced in that manner, doesn't need to have any predictive power to be valid.

Monday, July 28, 2008 5:32:00 PM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

Phae said...

>>>>>>what sort of big debate are you reading, Larry? <<<<<<

Well, there is a big debate, but I have not been following it closely. I just liked the cartoon, so I decided to post it along with some links to give some background for it.

Monday, July 28, 2008 6:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Jim said...

"I don't read all of the stuff that is posted here by obviously ignorant Darwin-fans. As to the question, ID in life is a scientifically valid conclusion, if it can be shown to be deduced from well-established data to a sufficiently high degree of quantifiable, mathematical probability. A conclusion properly deduced in that manner, doesn't need to have any predictive power to be valid."

Translation: ID lacks predictive capabilities and therefore represents shit science but I can't admit this so I'll perform a few mental contortions just make shit up so I can continue arguing.

Monday, July 28, 2008 6:55:00 PM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

Jim Sherwood said...

>>>>>> What important contributions to biology can we ascribe to Darwin, Larry? <<<<<<<

Well, he did describe the relationships between living things well enough to persuade a lot of people that his theory of evolution is valid, and that is an achievement.

Jonathan Wells, author of "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design," has pointed out that Darwinists have hijacked credit for scientific ideas to which they contributed nothing. With this outrageous cockamamie idea that evolution is central to biology, the Darwinists can claim credit for just about anything.

>>>>> The great scientist James Hutton published the idea of natural selection in 1794, long before Darwin.

In 1831 Patrick Matthew, a wealthy farmer, published his theory that species in general had emerged by inheritable variations and what he called a "natural process of selection."

Incidentally, in 1813 a physician named William C. Wells also published a theory of what we now call microevolution by inheritable variations and natural selection.

Also, theories of evolution, but not by variation and natural selection, had been proposed long before Darwin, by Lamarck and by Robert Chambers (1n 1844.) <<<<<<<

Olivia Judson's article Darwinmania mentions Erasmus Darwin, Lamarck, Matthew, and Wells, but does not mention Hutton and Chambers. The article says,

But hold on. Does he deserve all this? He wasn’t, after all, the first person to suggest that evolution happens. For example, his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, speculated about it towards the end of the 18th century; at the beginning of the 19th, the great French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck made a strong case for it. Lamarck, however, failed to be generally persuasive because he didn’t have a plausible mechanism — he could see that evolution takes place, but he didn’t know how. That had to wait until the discovery of natural selection.

Natural selection is what we normally think of as Darwin’s big idea. Yet he wasn’t the first to discover that, either. At least two others — a doctor called William Wells, and a writer called Patrick Matthew — discovered it years before Darwin did. Wells described it (admittedly briefly) in 1818, when Darwin was just 9; Matthew did so in 1831, the year that Darwin set off on board HMS Beagle for what became a five-year voyage around the world.


Often those who become famous are not the originators or the pioneers but those who improve, publicize, or commercialize ideas. For example, James Watt did not invent the steam engine -- he merely improved it.

>>>>>> The "edge of evolution", according to Behe, is the limit of what unaided mechanistic evolution can accomplish. His aim in the book is to estimate what that limit is. <<<<<<<

I have not read "The Edge of Evolution," but my impression is that Behe tries to show that evolution is very unlikely in situations that are highly unfavorable to evolution (small populations, long generational times, complex organisms, and big evolutionary changes) by showing that evolution's ability to produce change is very limited in situations that are highly favorable to evolution (large populations, short generational times, simple organisms, and small evolutionary changes). To me, it is like the concept of limits in the sums of mathematical series -- even when the sum of an infinite series is unknown, it is known that the sum of the series converges if every term of the series is bounded by the terms of a series whose sum is known to converge. Darwinists argue that macroevolution is just a sum of a lot of microevolutions but Behe is asking how that can be if microevolution is very limited.

What I did not like about Intelligent Design before was that it appeared to be highly subjective. For example, Behe could not define irreducible complexity exactly -- he only said, "I know it when I see it." I think that William Dembski tried to make ID more scientific by means of his ideas of "specified complexity" and the "explanatory filter." Anyway, I was more attracted to non-ID criticisms of evolution, but it seems that all we read about in the news now is ID and ID and more ID. As a result of the asinine Dover decision which gave ID a black eye, those who are trying to introduce criticisms of evolution into the public schools are forced to give assurances that they are not trying to introduce ID. That jackass Judge Jones was asked to not stigmatize ID by ruling that it is less scientific than competing ideas, but he didn't listen.

Monday, July 28, 2008 9:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

What I did not like about Intelligent Design before was that it appeared to be highly subjective. For example, Behe could not define irreducible complexity exactly -- he only said, "I know it when I see it."

Larry,

Have you read any of Behe's books? He defines "irreducible complexity" and I quote; "A single system which is composed of several interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning. (Darwin's Black Box p39)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008 12:00:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

Michael said,
>>>>>>Have you read any of Behe's books? He defines "irreducible complexity" and I quote; "A single system which is composed of several interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning. (Darwin's Black Box p39) <<<<<<

No, I have not read any of his books, but I am aware of that definition. But he also said, "I know it when I see it."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008 3:42:00 AM  
Blogger Nada Platonico said...

Larry wrote, "That jackass Judge Jones was asked to not stigmatize ID by ruling that it is less scientific than competing ideas, but he didn't listen"

By whom? You mean the defense team? Too bad they didn't do a better job defending ID. Not.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008 12:05:00 PM  
Blogger Phae said...

Jim:
As to the question, ID in life is a scientifically valid conclusion, if it can be shown to be deduced from well-established data to a sufficiently high degree of quantifiable, mathematical probability. A conclusion properly deduced in that manner, doesn't need to have any predictive power to be valid.

Actually, it is fairly commonly accepted that a scientific theory must be able to make testable predictions in order to be a valid theory. This is known as "falsifiability." It is one of the reasons string theory is looked at so skeptically - until we build large hadron colliders, we can't test it (note, though, that there ARE predictions from string theory, unlike ID).

You could have made your answer a lot shorter by just saying, "I can't."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008 4:54:00 PM  
Blogger William Wallace said...

Yeah, yeah, it is a gain in information according to PZ...whatever.

And it's not a bug, it's a feature.

And the check is in the mail.

Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008 9:34:00 PM  
Anonymous 'Nonymous said...

"it is a gain in information according to PZ"

It is a gain in information. The blind fish have not "forgotten" how to make eyes; the genetic codes are still there. If there were a need for eyes again, in a few generations sight would be regained.

"it's not a bug, it's a feature"

In a cave, eyes are superfluous. If you don't believe me, visit a cave, wait for the tour guide to turn off the lights (they generally do), and see how useful your sight is. Now imagine it 24/7.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008 10:48:00 PM  

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