Skip to comments.In Six Days (A Biology PHD looks at Evolution)
Posted on 02/17/2005 3:10:32 PM PST by DannyTN
Timothy G. Standish, biology First published in In Six Days Science and origins testimony #9
Edited by John F. Ashton
Dr. Standish is associate professor of biology at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. He holds a B.S. in zoology from Andrews University, an M.S. in biology from Andrews University, and a Ph.D. in biology and public policy from George Mason University (University of Virginia), Charlottesville, Virginia. He teaches genetics at Andrews University and is currently researching the genetics of cricket (Achita domesticus) behavior.
Reading The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins was a pivotal experience for me. I had recently started my Ph.D. program at George Mason University and eagerly signed up for a class entitled Problems in Evolutionary Theory. The Blind Watchmaker was required reading, and with growing enthusiasm I noted glowing endorsements printed on the cover. According to The Economist, this book was as readable and vigorous a defense of Darwinism as has been published since 1859. Lee Dembart, writing for the Los Angeles Times, was even more effusive: Every page rings of truth. It is one of the best science booksof the best of any booksI have ever read. A book that was Winner of the Royal Society of Literatures Heinemann Prize, and the Los Angeles Times Book Award must contain nothing but undistilled brilliance. I felt smug with confidence as I paid for the book and left the store, brimming with ebullience to start reading.
After wading through all the hyperbole, I was stunned by the ideas put forward by Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker. Rhetoric burnished the arguments with a glittering sheen, briefly giving the impression that pebbles were gems. But once each metaphor was stripped aside, the core ideas did not support the idea that natural selection could account for the origin of life and the meaningful complexity of organisms. Most startling to me was the realization that, one of the books core theses, in fact, violated the principle of natural selection.
Dawkins wove two ideas together in supporting Darwinism. The first idea was that, given enough chances, the improbable becomes probable. For example, flipping a coin ten times in a row and getting heads each time is very unlikely; one would only expect it to happen about 1 in 1,024 tries. Most of us would not sit around flipping coins just to see it happen, but if we had a million people flipping coins, we would see it happen many times. This phenomenon is publicized in the newspapers when lottery winners are announced. Winning a million-dollar jackpot is unlikely, but with millions of people purchasing tickets, eventually someone wins.
Dawkins admits that the odds on life starting from a random collection of chemicals is very slim, but given an immense universe and the billions of years it has existed, the improbable becomes probable. In this is echoed the logic of Ernst Haeckel, who wrote in his book The Riddle of the Universe, published in 1900:
Many of the stars, the light of which has taken thousands of years to reach us, are certainly suns like our own mother-sun, and are girt about with planets and moons, just as in our solar system. We are justified in supposing that thousands of these planets are in a similar stage of development to that of our earth and that from its nitrogenous compounds, protoplasm has been evolvedthat wonderful substance which alone, as far as our knowledge goes, is the possessor of organic life.
Haeckel was optimistic about the presence of conditions that could support life on planets other than earth, and it is in this that one of the problems with Dawkins argument emerges. While the universe is immense, those places where life as we know it could survive, let alone come into being, seem to be few and far between. So far, only one place has been discovered where conditions for life are present, and we are already living on it. Thus, there is not much cause for optimism that the universe is teeming with planets bathed in a primordial soup from which life might evolve. Dawkins wrote glibly of the immensity of the universe and its age, but failed to provide one example, other than the earth, where the unlikely event of spontaneous generation of life might occur. Even if the universe were teeming with proto-earths, and the spans of time suggested by modern science were available, this is still not a great argument, as if something is impossiblein other words, the odds of it happening are zerothen it will never happen, not even in an infinite amount of time. For example, even if we had our million people flipping coins, each with ten flips in a row, the odds on any one of them flipping and getting 11 heads in ten tries is zero because the odds of getting 11 heads in ten tries with one person is zero. The bottom line is that the odds on life evolving from nonliving precursors is essentially zero. Ironically, this was the stronger of the two ideas, or arguments, presented by Dawkins.
The second argument was presented as an analogy: imagine a monkey typing on a typewriter with 27 keys, all the letters in the English alphabet and the space bar. How long would it take for the monkey to type something that made any sense? Dawkins suggests the sentence spoken by William Shakespeares Hamlet who, in describing a cloud, pronounces, Methinks it is like a weasel. It is not a long sentence and contains very little meaning, but it works for arguments sake. How many attempts at typing this sentence would it take a monkey, which would presumably be hitting keys randomly, to type the sentence?
As it turns out, the odds can be easily calculated as the probability of getting each letter or space correct raised to the power of the number of positions at which they have to be correct. In this case, the probability of the monkey typing m at the first position of the sentence is 1/27 (we wont worry about capitalization). The sentence has 28 characters in it, so the probability is (1/27)28 or 1.2 x 1040. That is about one chance in 12,000 million million million million million million! You would want a lot of monkeys typing very fast for a long time if you ever wanted to see this happen!
To overcome this problem with probability, Dawkins proposed that natural selection could help by fixing each letter in place once it was correct and thus lowering the odds massively. In other words, as a monkey types away, it is not unlikely that at least one of the characters it types will be in the correct position on the first try. If this letter was then kept and the monkey was only allowed to type in the remaining letters until it finally had the correct letter at each position, the odds fall to the point that the average diligent monkey could probably finish the task in an afternoon and still have time to gather bananas and peanuts from admiring observers. Dawkins got his computer to do it in between 40 and 70 tries.
Luckily I had taken biochemistry before reading The Blind Watchmaker. Organisms are made of cells, and those cells are composed of little protein machines that do the work of the cell. Proteins can be thought of as sentences like Methinks it is like a weasel, the difference being that proteins are made up of 20 different subunits called amino acids instead of the 27 different characters in our example. The evolution of a functional protein would presumably start out as a random series of amino acids one or two of which would be in the right position to do the function the protein is designed to do. According to Dawkins theory, those amino acids in the right location in the protein would be fixed by natural selection, while those that needed to be modified would continue to change until they were correct, and a functional protein was produced in relatively short order. Unfortunately, this ascribes an attribute to natural selection that even its most ardent proponents would question, the ability to select one nonfunctional protein from a pool of millions of other nonfunctional proteins.
Changing even one amino acid in a protein can alter its function dramatically. A famous example of this is the mutation that causes sickle cell anemia in humans. This disease causes a multitude of symptoms, ranging from liver failure to tower skull syndrome. It is caused by the replacement of an amino acid called glutamate, normally at position number six, with another amino acid called valine. This single change causes a massive difference in how the alpha globin subunit of hemoglobin works. The ultimate sad consequence of this seemingly insignificant mutation in the protein causes premature death in thousands of individuals each year. In other proteins, mutations to some, but not all, areas can result in a complete loss of function. This is particularly true if the protein is an enzyme, and the mutation is in its active site.
What Dawkins is suggesting is that a very large group of proteins, none of which is functional, can be acted on by natural selection to select out a few that, while they do not quite do the job yet, with some modification via mutation, can do the job in the future. This suggests that natural selection has some direction or goal in mind, a great heresy to those who believe evolutionary theory.
This idea of natural selection fixing amino acids as it constructs functional proteins is also unsupported by the data. Cells do not churn out large pools of random proteins on which natural selection can then act. If anything, precisely the opposite is true. Cells only produce the proteins they need to make at that time. Making other proteins, even unneeded functional ones, would be a wasteful thing for cells to do, and in many cases, could destroy the ability of the cell to function. Most cells only make about 10% of the proteins they are capable of producing. This is what makes liver cells different from those in the skin or brain. If all proteins were expressed all the time, all cells would be identical.
In reality, the problem of evolving life is much more complex than generation of a single functional protein. In fact, a single protein is just the tip of the iceberg. A living organism must have many functional proteins, all of which work together in a coordinated way. In the course of my research, I frequently physically disrupt cells by grinding them in liquid nitrogen. Sometimes I do this to obtain functional proteins, but more often to get the nucleic acids RNA or DNA. In any case, I have yet to find that the protein or nucleic acid I was working on was not functional after being removed from the cell, and yet, even though all the cell components were present and functional following disruption, I have never observed a single cell start to function again as a living organism, or even part of a living organism. For natural selection to occur, all proteins on which it is to act must be part of a living organism composed of a host of other functional protein machines. In other words, the entire system must exist prior to selection occurring, not just a single protein.
Problems in Evolutionary Theory was a class that made me realize the difficulties those who discount the possibility of a Creator have with their own theories. The problems with evolutionary theory were real, and there were no simple convincing resolutions.
Progressing in my studies, I slowly realized that evolution survives as a paradigm only as long as the evidence is picked and chosen and the great pool of data that is accumulating on life is ignored. As the depth and breadth of human knowledge increases, it washes over us a flood of evidence deep and wide, all pointing to the conclusion that life is the result of design. Only a small subset of evidence, chosen carefully, may be used to construct a story of life evolving from nonliving precursors. Science does not work on the basis of picking and choosing data to suit a treasured theory. I chose the path of science which also happens to be the path of faith in the Creator.
I believe God provides evidence of His creative power for all to experience personally in our lives. To know the Creator does not require an advanced degree in science or theology. Each one of us has the opportunity to experience His creative power in re-creating His character within us, step by step, day by day.
This chapter from the book In Six Days, published and graciously provided at no charge to Answers in Genesis by Master Books, a division of New Leaf Press (Green Forest, Arkansas).
Sad little know-nothing, you-can't-make-me-see science, theirs.
Apparently you are confused about the theory of radioactive decay. Each half-life, half of the remaining will decay away still leaving half. It will never totally decay away.
The common ancestors of humans and chimpanzees looked a lot more like chimps than they do humans, or than humans look like chimps. Yes, A is a modern chimp. B is an australopithecine. You are supposed to notice they look a lot alike.
Did you really not understand that? You just made a point of seemingly not understanding that. You're willing to play that dumb and then claim you have a superior science to the accumulated knowledge of the last 146 years. You'll thus excuse me if I check out another thread without giving the rest of your post the detailed going-over it doesn't deserve anyway.
NO!! This misrepresents Dawkins's evolutionary algorithm. Contrary to the author's claim, Dawkins's "weasel" example does *NOT* "lock in" any letter which happens to get "lucky". Instead, a "fitness function" merely grades each attempt on how *many* letters it happens to have right, PERIOD. It's like a game of "warmer, colder". Nonetheless, even without any direct feedback on which letters are correct in which positions, the evolutionary process *still* arrives at the target string in an incredibly short period of time. This models how evolution shapes proteins by merely "grading" (via natural selection) those organisms which are better or worse on a survival basis (imagine nature "saying", warmer, warmer, colder... as individuals vary in a population, where "warmer" means you survive and reproduce more effectively, and "colder" can mean you die early).
For a taste of just how *much* evolution can speed up things over purely random processes, here's an older post of mine:
Or are you one of those who insist that a room full of monkeys with keyboards can write the complete works of Shakespeare?
In theory? Yes they can, if you're willing to wait long enough (where "enough" is an amount of time that boggles the imagination). In practice (by simple random output)? No they can't.
But they can do it pretty quickly and easily if a replication and selection process is involved.
You wanted to see a calculation, so let's do one.
Consider the Shakespeare phrase, "If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak then unto me." That's 109 characters (including spaces and punctuation). Upper and lower case letters, plus digits and puntuaction, make up a pool of about 70 different characters. This means that the odds of producing the Shakespeare phrase in one random trial is 1 out of 70109, or 1 in 1,305,227,939,201,292,014, 528,313,176,276,968,928,001, 249,110,077,400,839,115,038, 451,821,150,802,274,449,576, 205,527,736,070,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000.
Needless to say, that's a big number. It's so huge that if every atom in the universe (about 1080 of them) were a computer capable of making a billion (1,000,000,000) random trials per second, the expected time required to produce the above line from Shakespeare would be 2,585,011,097,170,911,314,802,759,827,024,569,612,393, 783,728,161,759,843,736,212,615,624,189,581,658,716,078, 309,043,891,309 times the expected lifespan of the universe. That's close enough to "never" in my book.
But that's for *purely* random production process. How much do you think an evolutionary process could cut down that figure? Knock a few zeros off the end, maybe?
Well let's try it. Using an evolutionary process, which couples random variation with replication and selection and *nothing* else, the above Shakespeare phrase can be produced on a *single* computer (mine), using a breeding population of 1024 character strings in a whopping... 15 seconds (using this applet):Generation: 0Hmm, 15 seconds is a hell of a lot faster than zillions of times the lifespan of the universe, isn't it? Evolution sped things up (compared to a purely random process) by a factor of more than 10195 -- that's a "1" followed by a hundred and ninety-five zeros, or: 1, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000.
Tries <= 1024
Best Critter: "xSeOSEpc3Lm6rnRWnpFYL?QEDY7a67XlfRoJ0e8Len'X'1u'BhdrNqSNaXr7kVjondNozkf2CH9d96SaI?'f43M.CUGJ5XHbqfeR.UJP'tgNP"
Score (0 is best) 101
Tries <= 26624
Best Critter: "vf,ioV c3RKlooioifBFQXh, PeHTskof!oJ0e,Lrn'X'1u BhkchESNaXr kVjo dNozpanSI div1Qwi8h taQ,jswMkk,us1S'ugYtmm7."
Score (0 is best) 72
Tries <= 286464
Best Critter: "If you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak then unto me."
Score (0 is best) 0
Checked 286464 critters in 15 seconds == 19097 tries/sec.
Lesson: Even simple evolutionary processes are *incredibly* more efficient and effective than simple randomness alone. Evolution can *easily* accomplish things which would be *impossibly* improbable by purely random means.
It's represented as transitionals.
Putting up fossils that are known not to be ancestral to man, in hopes of showing a larger transitional list is intellectually dishonest.
Putting up fossils that are somewhat similar doesn't prove common descent. The same could be expected from common design.
I'll grant you that primate skeletons look a like. But that proves nothing. Show us the transitionals. Pull out the fossils from your slide that are known even by evolutionists not to be ancestral to man and lets see what you have left.
"Well let's try it. Using an evolutionary process, which couples random variation with replication and selection and *nothing* else, the above Shakespeare phrase can be produced on a *single* computer (mine), using a breeding population of 1024 character strings in a whopping... 15 seconds (using this applet): "
I LIKE THIS VERY MUCH. Can I download this so I can play with it?
Question: As far as evolution is concerned what natural mechanism would account for keeping the "Scorer" Happy?
I like the math example, thank you, but I wonder in the case of DNA, has a function been found that acts like the feedback in this numerical example? I mean if a correct enzyme needs 20-30 base pairs correct, what mechanism causes a replicating cell to proceed in the direction that eventually will synthesize the enzyme? that its mutation program is on the right track?
We know there's no DNA in 99.999 percent of fossils. We thus know we can never prove conclusively from fossil evidence alone that thing B is absolutely positively the perfectly direct descendant of thing A. No one has ever pretended to you any differently and this is explained to you anew on every thread.
The above doesn't mean it means nothing when you find a series of things morphing like perfectly designed movie frames from thing A to thing B and on through thing Z. Obviously, it's a clue to the overall direction of that branch of the tree of life. You have to be an idiot not to understand it, or a liar to claim you don't.
What is dishonest is to call for evidence, claiming it to be missing, when you're never going to accept any such thing and you've already thrown out a mountain of such in a pile behind you. You're lying about your intentions and what you're willing to see.
The quotes are accurate
What makes you so sure they're accurate? You cribbed them verbatim from this web page, along with the commentary. The only part of your post which originated from you was the last three words.
Question: As far as evolution is concerned what natural mechanism would account for keeping the "Scorer" Happy?
Actually I can think of one, but there must be more.
How about certain "tries" cause your construct to degrade or fall apart? There will be no "memory" of the error, however, unless Alamo-Girl can find one in there.
Then show up later remembering nothing.
To the lurkers, Taxonomy, Transitional Forms, and the Fossil Record. Says it all, and lots of nice examples. It has been posted to DannyTN times without number. Not one concept within informs his posts. Not one. Ever.
Creation Science is showing up tomorrow just as ignorant as you were ten years ago. Creation Science is an oxymoron.
Depletion is a common scientific term for radioactive elements. It means for all practical purposes it's gone.
In 90,000 years with a half life of 5700 for Carbon 14, You have 16 half lives so 0.5 raised to the 16th power results in 1/65000 of what you started with at the end of 90,000 years. However no fossil could be found that has as little as 1/1000 of the modern value.
One of the BIG ASSUMPTIONS for Carbon dating is that the modern value is only 1 out of every trillion or so carbon atoms is a Carbon 14. Therefore if the ratio was more or less in the past our dating can be way off. Say if the original ratio was 1 to ever 10 trillion atoms, then our assumption that the modern value was valid in the past, would give dates that are almost twice as old as real.
Carbon-14's half life is 5700 years. Based on current values 1 in a trillion carbon atoms are Carbon 14. BIG ASSUMPTION is that ratio was the same thousands of years ago.
If pigs had wings ...
You'd swear those wings evolved, without any proof at all.
Yet God knows the future of people who have free will. It is not a deterministic system, because we have a choice. It is not a choice that is forced on us. But rather it is a choice that we are held accountable for.
2)According to the laws of Quantum mechanics, the spin of a particle (to give one example) cannot be known before it is measured, not even by God. Therefore it is impossible for anyone, even God, to know the future.
Then we either don't understand the law completely or we are applying the law wrong. God can and has repeatedly demonstrated knowledge of the future.
It is entirely possible, even likely that the creator of the universe, understands what is possible and what is not possible in this universe, much better than we do.
If that is the same program I've seen before, it is invalid as it correlates a pseudo-random selection to the known content of a position and then fixes it and moves onward to the next position. That is not random by any definition or stretch of the imagination.
A much better test of "happenstance" in evolution would be to digitize Hamlet and then kick off a random number (string of numbers) generator and tally the iterations required to come up with Hamlet by happenstance.
Of course you could reduce Hamlet to a number from its digitization series of numbers and then compute the number of processor iterations required to arrive at that number on the same processor used above. This would be a baseline.
Or you could lay down the pure happenstance insistence and take up the information theory approach to computing the evolution of biological information: Evolution of Biological Information
There was a math teacher that was explaining that if you put all the boys on one side of the room and all the girls on the other, and every minute divided the distance between them by two, theoretically they'd never meet. But for all practical purposes the game would be over in less than 10 minutes.
The big point here is that we don't throw our math books out the window because we find a situation that one particular model doesnt' apply. I can give you lots of cases that everyone uses the evolutionary model, and others where we all use the creation model. Ultimate truth is known to our Creator. The rest of us have realize we don't know everything.
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