What Is Evolution?

In debating about evolution, it is often necessary to arrive at a definition of what ‘evolution’ actually is. Creationists tend to  have their own fairly bizarre definitions, none of which you’re likely to find in any textbook, but us ‘evolutionists’ often aren’t much better. Thankfully, people like this are around to shed some light on the subject.

The comment section of that post is particularly interesting. Look out for the guy who refers to ‘biological technology’. Whoever came up with those damn analogies has a lot to answer for.

30 Responses to What Is Evolution?

  1. Eric Kemp says:

    forknowledge

    Would you consider it dishonest for evolutionary biologists to define ALL evolution as “a change in heritable traits over generations” (if that is accurate) when this definition of evolution has never been observed or tested in the “macro” sense?

  2. forknowledge says:

    No. Nothing in evolutionary theory (or in common sense) suggests that we should even be able to observe evolution on the ‘macro’ scale. I don’t see that there’s any need to have a seperate definition for the process just because you’ve decided to examine it over a longer timescale.

  3. Eric Kemp says:

    I agree.

    Does it bother you, then, that we can’t observe, test or falsify “macro” evolution and yet, we still call it science?

  4. forknowledge says:

    Actually, we can both falsify it and more than adequately infer its existence from both the processes of evolution on the ‘micro’ scale and from myriad other sources of evidence. Rejecting evolution based on your dim idea of what science is about would also require that we reject a massive amount of robust scientific knowledge in other fields.

    Although, I guess that’s not much of a problem for you:/

  5. Eric Kemp says:

    forknowledge

    I like how you say we can falsify (prove wrong) macro-evolution, a point that I disagree with (if we can’t observe and test a theory, how can we prove it wrong?), but ignore the other two, observation and testing.

    The American Heritage Dictionary defines science as :1a. The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena.

    Again I ask, why are we including macro-evolution as “science” as defined above if we can’t observe it or experimentally investigate it?

    You might want to call up the American Heritage Dictionary people and tell them that their definition of science is “dim”.

    If a piece of knowledge is “scientifically robust” then it would be observable and testable! If it’s not observable and testable, then it can’t be “scienctifically robust” and shouldn’t be labeled as such! Wouldn’t you agree with this?

  6. penguinfactory says:

    “if we can’t observe and test a theory, how can we prove it wrong?”

    If we could observe evolution occuring in the way you’re talking about, we wouldn’t be able to prove it wrong because that would provide irrefutable evidence of it’s existence. But you’re forgetting that we can test evolution very easily, for example by examining the fossil record for stuff that shouldn’t be there- ie, the famous bunnies in the pre-cambrian. Such a discovery would instantly disprove the theory of evolution.

    “Again I ask, why are we including macro-evolution as “science” as defined above if we can’t observe it or experimentally investigate it?”

    Evolution can be investigated scientifically. You seem to be defining “experimentally investigate” as “scientists recreating things in a lab”, which isn’t the case at all. Investigating the fossil record or DNA evidence is experimental investigation, where scientists have a pre-concieved idea of what they expext to find if evolution is true and what they expect to find if it’s not. If they find the former, evolution’s stature as a theory grows, if they find the latter, the opposite occurs. This is no different to a scientist experimenting with chemicals or alpha particles and examining the reults in a lab, with the exception that the events being examined occured a long time ago and the scale of the investigation is much larger.

    “If a piece of knowledge is “scientifically robust” then it would be observable and testable! If it’s not observable and testable, then it can’t be “scienctifically robust” and shouldn’t be labeled as such! Wouldn’t you agree with this?”

    I don’t know about Forknowledge, but I agree completely- and since evolution is both of those things, it must be scientifically robust.

  7. forknowledge says:

    I don’t really have anything to add to what PF said, except to point out that you do ‘observe a theory’ – a theory is a framework to explain observed facts or phenomenon. Natural selection is an observed ‘fact’ of science which is explained by the theory of evolution (for example).

    ‘Macroevolution’ in biological terms means change at the species level or above. Speciation has been observed, although I now foresee a sudden, pressing need for scientists to observe change at the family or kingdom level….

    Eric, unless you’d like to propose a mechanism by which the processes of evolution suddenly stop working over long time periods, you’re kind of spinning your wheels in the mud here.

  8. Eric Kemp says:

    Penguin

    I was waiting for forknowledge to give me this kind of response but you beat him to it.

    “If we could observe evolution occuring in the way you’re talking about, we wouldn’t be able to prove it wrong because that would provide irrefutable evidence of it’s existence.”

    But I thought that macro-evolution was already “irrefutable”?

    And you missed my point. Since we cannot observe it happening or observe it NOT happening how can we prove it wrong? More importanlty, how can we call it science if we can’t prove it wrong?

    “But you’re forgetting that we can test evolution very easily, for example by examining the fossil record for stuff that shouldn’t be there- ie, the famous bunnies in the pre-cambrian. Such a discovery would instantly disprove the theory of evolution.”

    Firstly, this is not testing evolution. There is no controlled environment, control group or experimental group. Hence, not experimental investigation.

    Secondly, this isn’t what happens. When evolutionists find something that “shouldn’t be there”, you just rework you theory or say something like, “Well, I guess we were wrong that it shouldn’t have been there.” And this isn’t some fanciful, hypothetical claim I’m making, this literally happened within the last decade. Before a few years ago, it was a scientific “fact” that soft tissue could only survive for a very limited amount of time. But then, 3 years ago, Mary Higby Schweitzer of North Carolina State found 70 million year old soft tissue within a bone of a T-Rex and then all of a sudden, soft tissue is able to survive 70 million years. Check it out: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7285683/

    The unobservable, untestable nature of macro-evolution allows the theory to be changed whenever seemingly contradictory evidence comes to light.

    Oh, and let me quote National Geographic on the issue, “The new studies provide strong support for the hotly debated claims that organic material previously extracted from the T. rex’s leg bone is original dinosaur soft tissue that somehow escaped fossilization.” (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/04/070412-dino-tissues.html)

    See how they never question the obvious contradiction to evolution that finding “70 million year old” soft tissue is? Macro-evolution is a “fact”, therefore everything we find must some how fit this fact, including that soft-tissue can some how survive 70 million years. This is all very scientific.

    “Investigating the fossil record or DNA evidence is experimental investigation”

    This is just straight up false. The American Heritage Dictionary defines “experiement” as, 1a: “A test under controlled conditions that is made to demonstrate a known truth, examine the validity of a hypothesis, or determine the efficacy of something previously untried.”

    Investigating dead fossils is not a “test under controlled conditions”. You cannot test the theory of a living process (macro-evolution) with dead fossils. To claim otherwise defies logic. You cannot test a theory that happens over millions of years, and happened millions of years ago, by studying current DNA. That doesn’t make sense. Are you studying legit areas of scientify query to attempt to gain evidence for your theory? Surely. Was an “experiment” done to gain this evidence? No. Is this “experiemental” evidence? Not at all. So again, macro-evolution cannot be tested.

    “…where scientists have a pre-concieved idea of what they expext to find if evolution is true and what they expect to find if it’s not.”

    This is exactly the point and I agree with you. If evolution is true you would expect to find similarity in the fossil record and similarity in DNA. And what do we find? Similarity in both.

    In the Creationist model, where an all-powerful, all-knowing God created all species “after their own kind”, we would also expect to find similarity in the fossil record and similarity in DNA, we find both.

    And now what you’ll say is, “But you assumed a priori that God created everything”. You’re right, I did. You, however, are ignoring your own a priori assumption. Which is that all of this is possible WITHOUT God. Not only would gathering evidence on this assumption be impossible, you have no REASON for believing that the universe, life and microevolution are possible without God. You just assume it’s possible. So both of us have “preconcieved ideas”, as you put it, that our theories are true. So what’s the problem? The problem is that you are claiming that your conclusions are scientific in nature when they are not (you cannot observe, test or falsify your conclusion).

  9. forknowledge says:

    Eric:

    The posts actually just ended up in my spam queue for some reason. I’ve deleted the other two posts as per your requests and approved these two. It shouldn’t happen again, but I’ll keep an eye on the queue just in case.

    EDIT: Hang on, I approved the same post twice by accident (it was in the queue three times). I’ve deleted one and left the other.

  10. Eric Kemp says:

    forknowledge

    feel free to delete one of them (and this one) because they are both the same reply just written differently because I thought I lost one of them

  11. forknowledge says:

    Eric:

    The T-Rex bone material is nothing new to PF or myself. This one did the Creationist circuit when it was first discovered and then more or less disappeared just as quickly. Schweitzer and her colleagues did not find actual preserved haemoglobin or red blood cells in the bone, they found evidence of degraded haemoglobin and some structures that could have been remnants of blood cells. The bone was wasn’t completely fossilized, but that also doesn’t mean that it was in pristine condition; it took a lot of work to get that ‘organic’ or semi-organic material out of it.

    The bone has also been dated non-radiometrically and found to be millions of years old. What’s interesting about this one is that soft tissue has been extracted from samples over 10,000 years old, and DNA has been extracted from samples several hundred thousand years old. If all fossils are actually young, we should be finding preserved organic material and DNA in almost every fossil we dig up.

    National Geographic is not a scientific journal, it’s a popular magazine. If you’d like I could take a look at the actual paper and follow-up material on Monday when I go back into college, but for now this seems like yet another example of Creationists blowing an unusual discovery completely out of proportion.

    I’m not sure whether examining the fossil record should be considered ‘experimental’ (although again, either PF or myself could find out from a source more thorough than the American Heritage Dictionary), but it is still definitely a test of evolution. In many areas of science it is impossible to perform a controlled experiment in the laboratory – however, that does not mean that these hypotheses or theories cannot be tested at all. So far everything found in the fossil record has supported evolution, and that includes those Tyrannosaurus fossils. Pointing out weak attempts at twisting the evidence out of shape is not a very good way of attacking the enormous body of evidence here.

    PF also touches upon the predictive ability of a theory, something that’s much-overlooked by many. Evolution has made some amazingly accurate predictions in the past, and continues to be incredibly powerful when it comes to explaining observed phenomenon. The evidence is exactly as one would expect if evolution was true, while it almost unanimously contradicts the idea of a young earth or the special creation of all life.

    Finally…

    And now what you’ll say is, “But you assumed a priori that God created everything”. You’re right, I did. You, however, are ignoring your own a priori assumption. Which is that all of this is possible WITHOUT God. Not only would gathering evidence on this assumption be impossible, you have no REASON for believing that the universe, life and microevolution are possible without God. You just assume it’s possible. So both of us have “preconcieved ideas”, as you put it, that our theories are true. So what’s the problem? The problem is that you are claiming that your conclusions are scientific in nature when they are not (you cannot observe, test or falsify your conclusion).

    Ah, and here we get to the comedy!. Your psuedo-theory is not scientific in the least; you’re correct on that much. But if you’re going to drag legitimate science through the mud, at least have some idea what you’re talking about. Please, provide some reason for anyone to believe that evolution must have occurred with God’s intervention. If the naturalistic explanation is sound (and it is), there is no reason to assume the existence or actions of the supernatural.

  12. penguinfactory says:

    Firstly, this is not testing evolution. There is no controlled environment, control group or experimental group. Hence, not experimental investigation.

    There doesn’t need to be any of those things. Not all scientific research uses these concepts.

    In a way you’re right about the soft tissue- people thought that soft tissue couldn’t survive that long, they were wrong, and now we know better. But this isn’t some kind of sinister example of scientists covering up a discovery that refutes evolution, because the fact that scientists found intact tissue from a dinosaur doesn’t damage the theory at all. It just means that tissue can, in exceptional circumstances, survive longer than we thought.

    This is just straight up false. The American Heritage Dictionary defines “experiement” as (…)

    Like I said, not all scientific research takes the form of repeatable experiments performed in a lab. I didn’t say that we can perform experiments to prove evolution, I said that we can conduct experimental investigations. I already mentioned the predictive ability of the theory- that’s how you investigate something like evolution. It’s not an experiment as most people think of them traditionally, but it’s still firmly in line with scientific principles.

    You cannot test the theory of a living process (macro-evolution) with dead fossils.

    Yes you can, because fossils are the evidence that the process leaves behind, just as a murder will leave clues that you can piece together.

    And now what you’ll say is, “But you assumed a priori that God created everything”. You’re right, I did. You, however, are ignoring your own a priori assumption. Which is that all of this is possible WITHOUT God.

    Actually, you’re kind of right there. I did assume that all of this is possible without God- but I did it for the same reason that I assume rain and lightning are possible without God. Simply put, there is no reason whatsoever to think that God is needed to explain anything we can observe. We have a perfecltly good natural explanation for the diversity of life- why add a supernatural component?

  13. Eric Kemp says:

    Forknowledge

    “The T-Rex bone material is nothing new to PF or myself.”

    Obviously. My only point to bringing this up was this: Penguin made a claim that evolutionists form theories about what they’ll find if evolution is true, and if they find it, then evolution gets more support, if they don’t, then evolution gets less support. I showed that this isn’t all that happens, because when “unexpected” things are discovered, the theory of evolution gets shifted to include that new discovery. This goes hand in hand with since evolution is unfalsifiable, nothing can prove it wrong.

    “National Geographic is not a scientific journal, it’s a popular magazine. If you’d like I could take a look at the actual paper and follow-up material on Monday when I go back into college…”

    That won’t be necessary. My example of the T-rex soft tissue was brought up in the scope described above, and it served it’s purpose.

    “I’m not sure whether examining the fossil record should be considered ‘experimental’ (although again, either PF or myself could find out from a source more thorough than the American Heritage Dictionary), but it is still definitely a test of evolution.”

    Sure, let’s explore other, more scientifc, dictionaries than the American Heritage Dictionary. My definition of science doesn’t come from that dictionary, it comes from all of the scientific training I’ve had (secular if you’d like to know). That dictionary just supports what I’ve learned at the university level.

    “In many areas of science it is impossible to perform a controlled experiment in the laboratory – however, that does not mean that these hypotheses or theories cannot be tested at all.”

    Surely, but, if we’re talking specifically about phynotypic changes at the family level or above, as evolution theorizes took place, those changes (transitions) are untestable. They are untestable by definition.

    “So far everything found in the fossil record has supported evolution, and that includes those Tyrannosaurus fossils.”

    Really? Please tell me specifically how those T-Rex fossils by themselves support evolution.

    “Evolution has made some amazingly accurate predictions in the past, and continues to be incredibly powerful when it comes to explaining observed phenomenon. The evidence is exactly as one would expect if evolution was true, while it almost unanimously contradicts the idea of a young earth or the special creation of all life.”

    When it comes to observed phenomena, evolution and Natural Selection are the fact of life. The theory of biological evolution itself has nothing to do with a young earth or an old earth, now you’re getting into dating techniques which are a whole science, and discussion, of themselves. But I wrote a whole post on the scientific evidence for special creation and a refutation from you was no where to be found. Not that you have nothing but time on your hands to browse Creationists websites looking for an argument, but your blog DOES say, “Destroying Creationism”.

    “Please, provide some reason for anyone to believe that evolution must have occurred with God’s intervention. If the naturalistic explanation is sound (and it is), there is no reason to assume the existence or actions of the supernatural.”

    The naturalistic explanation for what is sound? The beginning of life? The exact mechanism for phenotypic changes? Are you sure about this and could you be more specific?

  14. Eric Kemp says:

    Penguin Factory

    Could you provide another definition that defines “scientific evidence” without observation, testing or falsification?

    Also, my point is that you DON’T have a perfectly good naturalistic explanation for the diversity of life since the theory cannot be tested, observed or falsified, that’s what we’re discussing here.

  15. penguinfactory says:

    Could you provide another definition that defines “scientific evidence” without observation, testing or falsification?

    Woah, woah, slow down! When did I ever say that studying evolution doesn’t involve those things?

    Evolution can be:

    a) tested by examining the facts to see if they fit with the theory
    b) observed, indirectly, through the fossil record and
    c) falsified by….. well, I already answered this one didn’t I?

    I showed that this isn’t all that happens, because when “unexpected” things are discovered, the theory of evolution gets shifted to include that new discovery.

    Just because a discovery is unexpected doesn’t mean that it invalidates evoluton. Like I already said, the fact that dinosaur tissue can survive for longer than originally thought has nothing to do with evolution.

    This goes hand in hand with since evolution is unfalsifiable, nothing can prove it wrong.

    Rabbits. in. the. Pre-Cambrian.

    How are you not getting this? Discover mammals billions of years too soon in the fossil record, or something else of the same magnititude, and you’ll completely demolish evolution- there is no way such a discovery could ever be reconciled with the theory. If species really don’t arise by evolution, discoveries like this should be a dime a dozen.

    So, nothing can prove it wrong? No, it could very easily be proven wrong. The fact that no one has done it yet doesn’t make it unfalsiable.

  16. forknowledge says:

    Eric:

    Wait, you’ve studied science at university level?

    Why are you still so bad at it?:/

    You brought up the T-rex fossils and completely failed to make any sort of point with them. You were trying to imply that the discovery of degraded tissue in a very well preserved fossil should have proven evolution false, but you have no basis for that claim in the first place. As PF has pointed out, it was a non-sequitur.

    As has also been pointed out to, we can indirectly test the validity of the idea that phenotypic changes happen at or above the species level by examining the fossil record (that massive elephant in the room for Creationism) and by examining genetic and molecular evidence. The various strands of evidence pretty clearly point to evolution.

    Really? Please tell me specifically how those T-Rex fossils by themselves support evolution.

    Every new fossil is a test of evolution. PF has said this three times by now: if evolution didn’t happen, the fossils wouldn’t tell us so clearly that it did.

  17. Eric Kemp says:

    Penguin

    “Woah, woah, slow down! When did I ever say that studying evolution doesn’t involve those things?”

    I’m confused about what we were discussing then. My position is that the theory of macroevolution is not scientific because it is unobservable, untestable and unfalsifiable. You countered this by saying (in reference to “testing” in particular), “There doesn’t need to be any of those things. Not all scientific research uses these concepts”

    Now you’ve reversed this position and have claimed that macroevolution IS observable, testable and falsifiable (to be fair, you HAVE been claiming the falsifiability the whole time) . So let’s go with that.

    “a) tested by examining the facts to see if they fit with the theory”

    This isn’t “testing” as modern science defines it. You’re equivocating to fit your theory. Testing includes a controlled environment with an experimental group. As I asked before, please provide me with an accepted definition of “testing” that fits what you are saying.

    “b) observed, indirectly, through the fossil record”

    Indirect observation is NOT observation. This is not the kind of observation science requires to be science. This is more equivocation.

    Falsification:

    Sure, you could imagine a scenario in which macroevolution could be proven wrong. My point is that since macroevolution isn’t unobservable and untestable, you really couldn’t scientifically prove that it never happened. Finding a bunny in some geological column you wouldn’t “expect” to be there, could be explain in a myriad of ways (just like soft-tissue you wouldn’t “expect” to be there).

    You keep going back to examples of the geologic column, are you sure that the only explanation for it is billions of years?

  18. Eric Kemp says:

    forknowledge

    “Why are you still so bad at it? :/”

    I’m the only one keeping to the accepted definition of science here, while you’re claiming that something you can’t even see is scientific.

    “You brought up the T-rex fossils and completely failed to make any sort of point with them. You were trying to imply that the discovery of degraded tissue in a very well preserved fossil should have proven evolution false, but you have no basis for that claim in the first place.”

    I think you read what you want to read. As I said earliar, my point in bringing up the T-rex soft tissue was to refute a point Penguin made, nothing more. Scroll up if you want the proof.

    “Every new fossil is a test of evolution. PF has said this three times by now: if evolution didn’t happen, the fossils wouldn’t tell us so clearly that it did.”

    You are begging the quesiton. I asked HOW the fossils show that evolution happened and all you do is repeat that the fossils show that evolution happened. So I will ask again: How, and please be specific now, do fossils show that evolution happened?

  19. penguinfactory says:

    I’m confused about what we were discussing then. My position is that the theory of macroevolution is not scientific because it is unobservable, untestable and unfalsifiable. You countered this by saying (in reference to “testing” in particular), “There doesn’t need to be any of those things. Not all scientific research uses these concepts”

    I can’t believe I actually have to do this, but let’s rewind for a moment.

    The comment I replied to with “There doesn’t need to be any of those things” wasn’t you saying that evolution is unobservable, untestable and unfalsifiable. what you actually said is this:

    Firstly, this is not testing evolution. There is no controlled environment, control group or experimental group. Hence, not experimental investigation.

    That’s what I was replying to. I did not say that evolution can’t be tested, observed and falsified, only that not all scientific investigation uses controlled enviroments, control groups and experimental groups. Those are laboratory concepts, and science isn’t confined to labs.

    This isn’t “testing” as modern science defines it. You’re equivocating to fit your theory. Testing includes a controlled environment with an experimental group.

    No, it doesn’t. Testing in this case just means checking the theory against the facts.

    Let me give you an example: relativity. This theory was first tested by observing the corona of the sun during an eclipse (because relativity predicted that light from the sun should bend slightly due to gravity). The photo of the eclipse was taken during an expedition in Africa, not in a lab or a “controlled enviroment”. At no point in the process did control groups and experimental groups come into it, yet this is seen as a valid empirical test of Einstein’s theory.

    Indirect observation is NOT observation. This is not the kind of observation science requires to be science.

    Yes it is.

    Many, many scientists devote entire careers to studying things that happened a long time ago (the formation of planets, enviromental change over millions of years, ice ages etc). None of these phenomona can be seen directly (although we can see snap-shots of the stages of planet formation). All of them have to be observed indirectly, through the evidence that the processes left behind. If this isn’t science, why do so many scientists accept this kind of observation as science?

    Sure, you could imagine a scenario in which macroevolution could be proven wrong.

    Which is the exact definition of falsafiability. From wikipedia: Falsifiability (or “refutability”) is the logical possibility that an assertion can be shown false by an observation or a physical experiment.

    My point is that since macroevolution isn’t unobservable and untestable, you really couldn’t scientifically prove that it never happened.

    Yes, you could. The type of fossil discoveries I’ve been talking about would disprove evolution because they should be utterly impossible if evolution is true.

    Finding a bunny in some geological column you wouldn’t “expect” to be there, could be explain in a myriad of ways (just like soft-tissue you wouldn’t “expect” to be there).

    There’s a huge difference between those two examples. As me and FK have been telling you (repeatedly) the theory of evolution does not state that soft tissues should ony remain intact for a certain amount of time, so finding out that they can do this for longer than we thought doesn’t damage it in the slightest. Why would it?

    On the other hand, the theory of evolution does state that mammals absolutely can not have existed in the Pre-Cambian era, which is why our rabbit would be so devestating if it was found.

    You keep going back to examples of the geologic column, are you sure that the only explanation for it is billions of years?

    Yes.

    I’m fully willing to back up that assertion as well. I already debated Sirius on this issue and he didn’t exactly come out of it well (although of course he thinks he did).

  20. Eric Kemp says:

    Penguin

    “That’s what I was replying to. I did not say that evolution can’t be tested, observed and falsified, only that not all scientific investigation uses controlled enviroments, control groups and experimental groups. Those are laboratory concepts, and science isn’t confined to labs.”

    And, to be fair, I did mention this, that you were referring to testing in particular, although I could have made it clearer.

    “At no point in the process did control groups and experimental groups come into it, yet this is seen as a valid empirical test of Einstein’s theory.”

    This is an excellent example and it allows me to clarify my position. Firstly, we weren’t talking about empiricism, we were talking scientific testing. Did you really think that my position is that studying fossil’s isn’t empirical?

    Secondly, as you stated, Einstein’s theory was that light would bend due to gravity. Here is the key, he was able to observe this happening during an eclipse. The theory of macroevolution states (among other things of course) than reptiles evolved from amphibians. Are we able to observe this evolution? NO. And no amount of twisting will make it otherwise. It was hundreds of millions of years ago (if not billions) and we can’t recreate today. It cannot be observed “happening” as Einsteins’ theory could be. Don’t you see the difference? This is where you will backpedal into your “indirect observation” stuff, so let’s tackle that.

    “All of them have to be observed indirectly, through the evidence that the processes left behind. If this isn’t science, why do so many scientists accept this kind of observation as science?”

    Firstly, in this statement you are defining science as “what many scientists accept as science”, this is circular reasoning. Under this logic I could define any thing any way I wanted to and as long as I get the “so many” on my side, I’d be right. Secondly, if any of those scientists are honest with us, they’d tell us of the huge limitations such indirect observation has.

    For example: Let’s say we’re studying two fossils. What are actually observing, actually seeing? Two remains of once alive animals. That’s all we’re really observing. Now, let’s study these fossils and compare them. What do we get when do that? Generally speaking, similarities and differences. Now, let’s do inferring about what those similarities and difference could mean? This is where your “indirect observation” comes into play. It’s nothing of the sort, it’s inferrences and conclusions based upon a plethora of real world observations. By studying the remains of dead animals, you are not observing macroevolution, you are inferring macroevolution. And that’s ok, let’s just be honest about it.

    “On the other hand, the theory of evolution does state that mammals absolutely can not have existed in the Pre-Cambian era, which is why our rabbit would be so devestating if it was found.”

    The theory of evolution says nothing about mammals in the Pre-Cambrian. The theory of evolution states that we all evolved from a single-celled organism. What this has developed into, based on fossil evidence, is that mammals did not exist before the Cambrian. If we suddenly discovered mammalian fossils that indicated they were before the Cambrian, evolution would chug right along, absorbing this new fact that mammals DID exist before the Cambrian. It would just be chalked up to something that we were wrong about but now are right about.

    Would you really abandon your belief in evolution if a mammalian fossil was found indicating it lived pre-Cambrian? Would you really?

    To add to your conversation with Sirius regarding the geologic column, I would have to read the correspondence, and I honestly don’t know if I have the time for that right now.

  21. forknowledge says:

    The theory of evolution says nothing about mammals in the Pre-Cambrian. The theory of evolution states that we all evolved from a single-celled organism. What this has developed into, based on fossil evidence, is that mammals did not exist before the Cambrian. If we suddenly discovered mammalian fossils that indicated they were before the Cambrian, evolution would chug right along, absorbing this new fact that mammals DID exist before the Cambrian. It would just be chalked up to something that we were wrong about but now are right about.

    Would you really abandon your belief in evolution if a mammalian fossil was found indicating it lived pre-Cambrian? Would you really?

    Butting in here for a moment, but you’ve leaped off the deep end of scientific ignorance. Again. If you had any real understand of the what the fossil evidence for evolution actually is, there’s no way you’d claim that evolution could simply ‘absorb’ the fact of a pre-Cambrian mammal.

    And yes, if it was discovered that mammalian species lived pre-Cambrian it would convince me that evolution as we conceive of it could not have occurred. It would be a pretty crippling blow.

    I could ask the same question of you: if every attempt at disproving evolution on your part fails, will you accept evolution?

    ADDITION: You’re wrong about the observation of the corona in relation to the theory of relativity. This is still not directly observing it (as I said, you can’t ‘observe’ a theory), but merely observing a phenomenon which it predicts should occur. Similarly, the theory of evolution predicts that we should find fossils in a certain order and of certain types, assuming that fossilisation occurs frequently enough to build up a reasonably large amount of samples – this is why I said that the T. rex bones you brought up are evidence for evolution.

    I’m not sure what you’re trying to say with the claim about inference. An enormous amount of science is inferrence from observed phenomenon, evolution included. It seems as if you’re just arguing semantics, because I don’t see how you think this is a weakness in evolutionary theory.

  22. penguinfactory says:

    Firstly, we weren’t talking about empiricism, we were talking scientific testing. Did you really think that my position is that studying fossil’s isn’t empirical?

    No, I just threw the word “empiricism” in there as an afterthought.

    Einstein’s theory was that light would bend due to gravity. Here is the key, he was able to observe this happening during an eclipse.

    I actually brought up relativity only to show that not all tests of a theory involve laboratory experiments with a set of narrowly defined concepts (control groups etc). So I’m not “back-pedalling” in an way by answering this.

    What we’re getting into now is the fact that you can’t actually see evolution occuring. And, yes, the answer is indirect observation. This isn’t, however, the problem that you seem to think it is.

    Using indirect observation, we can never say with absolute certainty that things happened the way we think they did. We can’t prove 100% that tiktaalik was a transitional species between fish and tetrapods. What we can do is gather enough evidence to elect this scenario as the most likely one to be correct.

    To use an oft-repeated analogy, solving crimes depends on the same sort of reasoning if you can’t get a confession or some other form of conrete evidence (like CCTV footage). We can’t actually recreate the event in question, but we can draw a likely conclusion from the evidence left behind.

    Let’s say we’re studying two fossils. What are actually observing, actually seeing?

    Two fossils. And I agree- that’s no way to observe anything. But get lots of fossils, dated and arranged in chronological order, and you really are indirectly observing the process of evolution.

    The theory of evolution says nothing about mammals in the Pre-Cambrian.

    Yes it does. Specifically, it says that there couldn’t have been any, for the simple reason that rabbits are modern, highly evolved animals. The basic tenet of evolution is that organisms change and adapt gradually, but to go straight from pre-Cambrian fauna to a mammals without any know precursor species existing in close time periods would require…. well, a miracle.

    A few other observations that would invalidate evolution if a pre-Cambrian bunny was discovered:

    a) How would a mammal survive in a world with no plants? Unless pre-Cambrian plant fossils were found as well, the most likely explanation for this fossil would be that the evolutionary model is incorrect and that the seemingly chronological sorting of the fossil record is an illusion.

    b) If pre-Cambrian plants were found, that would still leave the issue of time. How could life have gone from almost microscopic soft-bodied marine organims to land-dwelling mammals in such a short space of time, given our estimates of when life on Earth began.

    c) There’s also the issue of the later fossi record- why would our Pre-Cambrian bunnies vanish abruptly off the face of the Earth for over a billion years and then re-appear in more recent times?

    Would you really abandon your belief in evolution if a mammalian fossil was found indicating it lived pre-Cambrian? Would you really?

    Yes. I don’t “believe” in evolution, I accept it because of the weight of the evidence, and I’d abandon it happily if that evidence suggested something else.

  23. Eric Kemp says:

    Penguin and Forknowledge

    Alright, now this is getting fun. I won’t have time to respond until later today, but when I do, I’ll post it on my blog. Since we’re talking about the Cambrian, let’s talk about the Cambrian.

    For the record: I completely agree with you, that the current evolutionary model absolutely excludes mammals existing pre-Cambrian. And, as you said forknowledge, if a mammal was found pre-Cambrian, then the current evolutionary model would be destroyed and it would seem a “miracle” has taken place. My position, however, is that evolutionary scientists WOULD have to rethink their entire model, but that’s all they would do is rethink it. OR they would question the validity of the mammal fossil indicating it was pre-Cambrian since mammals can’t be pre-Cambrian. Do you see what I’m getting at?

    However, I will admit to having no such direct evidence for academia’s reaction to a pre-Cambrian mammalian fossil. It is purely speculation on my part.

    However again!, I have evidence that such a re-working of the evolutionary model has taken place before, and THAT is what I’ll write about on my blog. I’ve been at somewhat of a writer’s block recently, that and I’ve been very busy with an exam that is taking place in a few hours, so I thank you for giving me something to write about.

  24. forknowledge says:

    Please don’t write about the formulation of the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis (or, God forbid, the Extended Synthesis). It’s common knowledge that the theory of evolution has undergone (and may soon undergo) dramatic changes.

  25. penguinfactory says:

    However, I will admit to having no such direct evidence for academia’s reaction to a pre-Cambrian mammalian fossil. It is purely speculation on my part.

    So in other words, you’re just biased against mainstream scientists?

  26. Eric Kemp says:

    forknowledge

    Naw, I wouldn’t do that to you. But I will come back to your “dramatic changes” statement.

    Penguinfactory

    Um, nice strawman. To be accurate, my position is that every human being has presuppositions that govern what their conclusions are, scientists are no different. But this is a COMPLETELY different topic of conversation. It’s one that I’d love to have, but it’s just not what we’re on right now.

  27. penguinfactory says:

    To be accurate, my position is that every human being has presuppositions that govern what their conclusions are, scientists are no different.

    Well sure, but how do you know that evolution being true is one of those presuppositions?

  28. Eric Kemp says:

    Penguinfactory

    I wouldn’t call the truth of evolution a presupposition, but I WOULD call it an assumption. Considering that molecules-to-man evolution cannot be directly observed (must be inferred from directly observed phenomena), cannot be tested directly (inferred from testing of observable phenomena) and therefore can’t be proven wrong, the truth of evolution is definetly an assumptions. I would also argue that molecules-to-man evolution takes a good amount of faith to subscribe to, as much as Christianity takes if not more so.

    But what I would call a presupposition that all naturalistic scientists share is that God CANNOT be an explanation for anything, no matter what the evidence says. In fact, they preassume, a priori mind you, that there cannot be any evidence for God in the natural world. This is a basic requirement for being accepted in popular academia.

  29. […] topic was brought up with a discussion I was having with Forknowledge and Penguin Factory on Forknowledge’s blog.  In the […]

  30. forknowledge says:

    But what I would call a presupposition that all naturalistic scientists share is that God CANNOT be an explanation for anything, no matter what the evidence says. In fact, they preassume, a priori mind you, that there cannot be any evidence for God in the natural world. This is a basic requirement for being accepted in popular academia.

    No it’s not. A basic requirement is that you don’t invoke God or any supernatural explanation – for very good reasons, science deals only with the natural and never with the supernatural. Any scientist is perfectly free to believe that God is really acting behind the scenes to produce life or to differentiate that life into the myriad forms we see today, but their colleagues will not accept them saying that such a supernatural explanation should supercede the naturalistic one – that scientific evidence should be ignored in favour of religion. There are plenty of what you would call ‘theistic evolutionists’, people who believe in God and believe that the natural world is testament to his existence, without throwing out all of the strict precepts of their field and subscribing to psuedo-science.

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