Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Well, I'll Be a Monkey's Uncle


Seeing as our lively debates have got us up on to our hind legs :)) and seeing also as this week the UK is going very big on the fact that it is 150 years since Darwin published his "Origin of Species", with the attendant airwaves and blogs, daily thick with comment from all sectors of the rainbow; creationists, ID, Evolutionists, Darwinists, I thought before we got back to some Beer Blogs...that I would pitch the subject into the KMSA and hopefully watch it bounce around for a while, possibly while drinking a nice ruby porter.

I received two comments recently from friends, both posing the same objection to Darwinian evolution:
*"you are a person of great faith to believe that everything exists at random."
*"Are you going to tell me that you actually believe that 'everything' came into being out of random molecules coming together in just the right way to make YOU? It takes lots more guts to believe that than it takes to believe in God."

This is a misconception. In a nutshell, it is not "Evolution by random chance", rather it is "Evolution by natural selection" - and natural selection is a completely non-random process. Darwin's named his book: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.

Let's take the small scale example of the flu virus. Every year we encounter a new strain of the flu virus that beats the flu vaccine. The misconception starts when we think that the flu virus evolves into new strains deliberately with the explicit purpose of beating the flu vaccines that its host (we humans) administer.

Now it is extremely dumb to think that the flu virus knows about the flu vaccine and is able to change its reproductory system to produce new vaccine-resistant offspring's. It doesn't -- the flu virus tries to reproduce in the only way it knows to (using DNA replication mechanism of the host to "replicate" itself into hundreds of different copies). During that process, minor errors in the DNA copying mechanism, rare and completely random, creates imperfect copies of the parent's DNA. These new slightly changed DNA's give rise to "new strains" of the flu virus. This part, "mutation", is the only random part of evolution.

After this, the virus's "nature" (the environment in which it thrives, i.e. the human body) kicks in with "natural selection". Viruses acquire "mutations" spontaneously or randomly. But all mutations are not favorable for survival, and hence those viruses that acquire unfavourable mutations are lost.

Only the virues that acquire favourable mutations are the "fittest" to survive (Darwin's "survival of the fittest"). Since generation time of viruses (hundreds can be produced simultaneously) are small and the populations large, they can fill up the lost pool in double quick time. Thus, natural selection is not random. The only "new strains" that *might* survive this natural selection are those that neither the body's inbuilt defences, nor the vaccine, could eliminate.

The two very important things to understand here are:
*Mutations are random, aimless, without any purpose, and without any control.
*Natural selection is completely non-random. It is the result of systematic application of non-random natural laws to filter out the incompatible mutations.
*If only random variations were responsible for evolution, the sheer amount of possibilities would be staggeringly large, thus making evolution statistically impossible -- the "tornado blowing through a junkyard could not assemble a 747 airliner" argument.

Not surprisingly this is used as a prominent critique of evolution by creationists. The problem here is the same as above, i.e. not understanding (or deliberately ignoring) the role of natural selection in evolution. Suppose our flu virus could mutate in 10 new variations. If all 10 of these mutate 10 times again, then we have 10 x 10 = 100 variations after the second step. But if natural selection chooses only 2 of the first 10 mutations for survival, and eliminates the rest, then the 2 selected variations would go on to produce only 2 x 10 = 20 variations after the second step, instead of 100 that would have been produced by randomness without natural selection.

Unfortunately, while natural selection provides an answer to why evolution is not a statistical impossibility, it produces the illusion of design, i.e. as if it is working towards a goal of achieving a final "fittest" form. That is not the case because to work towards a "fittest" form with advance knowledge of the final goal, the mutations would have to be controlled to supply the necessary "parts" that natural selection would "assemble" to form the "747 airliner". Mutations are however random, and natural selection simply keeps the fit mutations while eliminating the unfit mutations from what it gets to choose from, and the end result just turns up, completely unplanned.

Because it can be observed, not many people dispute that the flu virus evolves this way. It is also easy to comprehend that given a few years, perhaps a few decades or a century, the surviving "new strains" accumulate enough tiny changes to look substantially different from what the parent virus used to be.

But it is much harder to comprehend that fishes could accumulate enough small changes to evolve into dinosaurs and birds, or even the relatively shorter very unpalatable evolution of apes to human. It is a problem we have with scale. It is the same problem we face when we, used to seeing a few thousand dollars in our banks, try to imagine the amount of money Bill Gates has.

It is the same problem we face when we, used to walk a maximum of a few miles a day, try to imagine what it would be to walk across America, across the Atlantic, across all of Europe, all the way to Baghdad. It is the problem that we face when we, used to experience time in the scale of minutes, hours, days, years, and at best a lifetime, try to imagine just how much time 4.5 BILLION years is. Try to comprehend this: If one whole lifetime (100 years) is like walking a mile, then the amount of time that evolution had is not just like walking all the way from California to Baghdad -- it is like walking to the moon, and back, a hundred times over!

And again...... if a hundred years is like walking a mile, then evolution walked all the way to the moon and back a hundred times over!

Once we get a feel of the enormity of the amount of time involved in evolution, it is not as difficult to comprehend how small changes can accumulate through all that enormous length of time to produce elephants from the first self-replicating molecules.

No, it does not take a lot more guts to believe in evolution than it takes to believe in a God -- all it takes is a better understanding of how much time was involved. The understanding that the major half of the evolutionary process is actually non-random makes it even easier.

It is also very important to understand that if, at various stages of this stupendously long evolutionary process, the random mutations had been different, or if the earth's environmental history was different (resulting in different sieves of natural selection), things very different from elephants, birds, or humans would be roaming the world today, if at all.

Sir Dayvd ( you've all heard way too much from me, simply because the three big jobs i had this early week, all got delayed, so the rest of this week, i will be back to my taciturn self... as i try and catch up ) Of Oxfordshire

8 comments:

Sir Hook of Warrick aka "David K Wells" said...

Ah, the ultimate "Frying Pan"! Let's jump in, shall we!

Sir D, being the accomplished antagonist that he is, gives us a lot to chew on, much like his beloved McEwan's Number 1 Champion Ale.

The problem I have with creationist philosophy is the blatant ignorance of scientific fact. The problem I have with evolutionist philosophy is the blatant ignorance of the impact of spirituality on life.

You see, I'm a revolutionist...one who believes in the unlimited power and knowledge of the Divine, who then can accept creation and evolution as one and the same, as intended since the beginning of time to the end of time.

I find it hard to see why both parties can't be more open to each other. It's not black and white, life rarely is, it's the ultimate acceptance of Unity through Diversity!

Here's the facts as I see them:
1. Walking back and forth to the moon over a hundred times is "nothing but a move" for the Divine.
2. Survival of the fittest is a natural law that not only applies to evolution, but also to every aspect of life, whether animate or not.
3. We are all Mutant's with a purpose!

Today, God and Darwin are having one hell of a party and laughing their ass off at us mere mortals who are so self-assured of our positions on this subject. So with that, I'm off to apply the law of natural selection to my beer collection in my fridge downstairs and trash all the beers who didn't mutate enough to my satisfaction!

Sir Hook the Revolutionist of Warrick

Sir Bowie of Greenbriar (a.k.a. David A. Kuhn) said...

I believe that the REAL answer is that nothing is real -- except the matrix that is All That Is.

Sir Bowie "still wondering what Stem Cells are" of Greenbriar.

Anonymous said...

LOL.. :))

Well my Masters Degree in Microbiology that I took at Oxford University ( Linacre ) only got me as far as understanding the workings of the Natural Selection process, which is irrefutable...

What i didn't stay awake for was all the lectures on Quantum Physic, at school, which would have let me fully understand how every single atom that presently exists in the universe, was crammed into a space less than the size of an Atom, at the point of the Big Bang.

As for what was going on before the Big Bang, and how all those Atoms got to be suspended in a vacuum of literal nothingness...

well then i defer to the supernatural at that point. The rest i am catching up on by reading Bill Brysons stunning book "The Short History of Nearly Everything".. which should be the first Book they give to kids at school.

Stems Cells Bowster?? simple

Stem cells are cells found in most, if not all, multi-cellular organisms. They are characterized by the ability to renew themselves through mitotic cell division and differentiating into a diverse range of specialized cell types.

In other words.....normal cells are of a type, and can only divide as that type... Stems, can turn into any kind of cell they are biologically programmed to, Muscle, gut tissue, cartlige the whole works.

Half Dr / Sir Dayvd of Oxfordshire

Sir Hook of Warrick aka "David K Wells" said...

I knew Sir D was smart, but I didn't realize he's in the Oxford University range! He must complete the other half of that Dr! Perhaps when I write that book I've been talking about!

Stem Cells are the ultimate Mutant Machine! That's why so many people are afraid of the research associated with them. There's no doubt that they can do wonders for our quality of life. There's also no doubt that they would be subject to horrific abuse by unethical humans! I favor further exploration. That's another part of being a revolutionist. Nothing is sacred or evil unless we make it so!

I too couldn't comprehend Quantum Physics and the Big Bang Theory until I had this revolutionist revelation....it's the "Ultimate Cosmic Orgasm"! Who says God doesn't like sex! Just watch those cells divide!

Sir Hook Who's Putting the "R" Back Into Evolution of Warrick

Sir Bowie of Greenbriar (a.k.a. David A. Kuhn) said...

So, as Neale Donald Walsch writes,

"Could we call God simply Undifferentiated Life, from which al Individuated Life emerges? Would it be so far-fetched to imagine God as the Mother of All Stem Cells?"

Sir Bowie "a differentiation of the Undifferentiated Form that is God" of Greenbriar

Anonymous said...

Sounds as good a stab as anyone else Big D..

LOL I think we all need a drink after that....its one to discuss in the Turf Tavern when you are over in the summer... :))

lets face we'll never know will we.. considering we are all going to mulch down into atoms and spend the next hundred years or so growing as grass and buttercups...

My best guess is our universe is actually inside the vacumn of an empty thermus flask in the rucsac of a wandering Minsteral riding a Pink Unicorn.....and their universe is inside.....etc etc and so on..

Sir Dayvd ( I have as much authority as the Pope, I just don't
have as many people who believe it ) of Oxfordshire :))

Sir Hook of Warrick aka "David K Wells" said...

In response to Sir D and Sir Bowie, I quote Ed McMahn of "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" fame, "You're correct sir!"

We could write another bizarre novel like Alice in Wonderland, but instead we would call it "Knights in White Satin...Never Reaching the End"

It starts with when the spirits of the Founding Fathers encounter the "Mother of all Stem Cells"...God...who is actually riding a Pink Unicorn across the universe. The Big Bang it appears was just a mutation of a date in the back seat of Zeus' chariot with Venus while dragging the Sun and the Moon behind. Zeus and Venus tried protection, but it was too late...The Mother of All Cosmic Orgasm's wailed it's eternal love song after drinking too much from the flask of a wandering Minstrel!

I'll put the pipe down now!

Sir I Use a Hooky of Warrick

Sir Bowie of Greenbriar (a.k.a. David A. Kuhn) said...

I can see it now.

T-Shirt: "I slept with The Mother of All Cosmic Orgasms and all I got was this T-Shirt... and she made me sleep in the wet spot!"