Date: Wed, 14 Jan 1998 02:19:21 -0500
To: David McDougall
From: Andrew Arensburger <arensb@cfar.umd.edu>
Subject: Re: Darwin Fish 


On Tue, 13 Jan 1998 16:42:29 PST, David McDougall wrote:
>         Remember, the premise of special creation, (the only alternative
> view to evolution),

	Okay, back up a bit, here.
	First of all, disproving evolution is *not* the same as
proving creation. If you prove conclusively that my shirt isn't white,
that doesn't automatically mean that it's red.
	For example, there's the theory that all of this is just the
hallucinations of my demented mind (solipsism), as well as Last
Tuesdayism, which says that the world appeared last Tuesday, exactly
as we remember it, with people and erosion and memories and such.
	Even if you say that evolution and creation are the only
theories that anyone talks about with any conviction these days, that
still doesn't get you very far: as far as I've been able to ascertain,
there is no single coherent "Theory of Creation." It is, at best, a
whole cluster of mutually-exclusive theories.
	Assuming that you have a particular theory in mind, however,
let me ask some questions about it:
	- What are its basic premises? What does it attempt to
explain?
	- When did creation start? When did it end? How do we know?
	- Who did the creating? How many creators are/were there?
	- Where did the creator(s) come from?
	- Are the creators intelligent?
	- What are the creators like? Where are they? What do they
look like?
	In fact, you may want to take a look at
http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/stumpers.html
which lists a bunch of common questions about creationism.

	Another slightly subtle point: evolution has nothing to do
with the origin of life. That is more properly the domain of
abiogenesis. The Theory of Evolution does not concern itself with
where life came from; it assumes that there already are living beings,
and talks about what happens to them.
	An analogy: modern theories of economics talk about how money
moves around. They do not ask where money came from in the first place
(except as an interesting historical sidebar), because it's
irrelevant.
	Similarly, no matter how life came about, you can have
evolution. It's a fascinating, but separate and irrelevant question.

> is that God created plants and pairs of creatures that
> could produce "after their own kind."

	What's a kind? I've heard this term used, but I've never seen
a good definition of it. This is strange, because the person who uses
it usually also claims that there is a finite number of immutable
"kinds." Presumably, it should be fairly easy to come up with a list
of kinds, and which species comprise each, but I've never seen such a
list, either. So I'll ask you: what's a kind? And if I showed you two
living beings, how would you determine whether they're of the same
kind or not?

	Also, you just mentioned God. Which god are you talking about?
One of the "traditional" gods (Agni, Frey, Apollo, etc.), or
something/someone else entirely? For that matter, what do you mean by
a god? What properties does he/she/it possess (e.g., location, size,
mass, color, electrical charge, breakfast food preference, etc.)?
	For that matter, you seem to be saying that God exists, and
that this fact is central to your theory. If so, could you please
provide evidence for this claim? (That is, how do you know that God
exists? If you don't, then how would you find out?).

>         There is no doubt that living organisms have the ability to adapt
> over time to the environments in which they live and to changes in such.
> Obviously, there are hereditary genetic implications of this.  None of that
> is under dispute.  What is in question is whether or not an organism has the
> ability to change from one kind to another.

	It seems as if you're saying the following:

	We observe a pack of wild dogs (or dog-like creatures).
	Then an ice age comes, and we go away.
	When we come back five or ten thousand years later, we find
that the dogs have much longer hair, on average, than they used to
have.

	If so, then you're saying that (little-e) evolution
happens/has happened. By "little-e evolution," I simply mean "change
in allele frequency over time," or, basically, "change."
	What I call "big-E Evolution," on the other hand, is a theory
that explains how and why the change occurred. There are several
possible explanations:

	a) The dogs that happened to have longer hair stopped dying of
heat prostration; at the same time, the dogs that happened to have
shorter hair started freezing to death, so that now there are only
long-haired dogs (and maybe a few short-haired freaks that die in
infancy).
	b) The dogs started growing longer hair; their offspring
inherited this, and each successive generation was born with longer
hair than the previous, having inherited the efforts of its parents
(Lamarckism).
	c) A meteor fell, and just happened to kill all the dogs with
short hair (genetic drift?).
	d) Someone came along and changed the genes of the dogs so
that they'd have longer hair.
	e) None of the above.

	Big-E Evolution, or The Theory of Evolution by Natural
Selection, says that a) happened.

>         Flowers of different "species" may be cross pollinated to form a
> third species, but they are all still flowers.  The same goes for dogs.  I
> would never argue that there aren't new species of dogs coming into being
> every day.  I would be quick to point out, however, that selective breeding
> or isolation to constant living conditions would be necessary to establish a
> new recognized breed or species and that breeding would have to be done with
> two of a like seed or kind., (ie., two dogs, a wolf and coyote, a dingo and
> a Cocker Spaniel - not a dog and a cat).

	You're saying that two species don't merge to make a third. No
one's arguing with that. (Well, I suppose someone might bring up
hinnies, or various plant grafts or something, but those are
exceptions, not the rule.)

> A writer of poetry, a cinematographer, a literary author, a painter, a
> sculpter, etc. are all examples of creators.  Those who study in these
> fields can often recognize the work of a given creator by means of a
> recognizable pattern unique to that creator.  Often, similar experiences,
> interests or materials are incorporated by an "artist" to the extent that,
> even in very diverse efforts, similarities in their creations can be
> detected.  God is apparently no different, although He is obviously far less
> limitted in experience, interest, material, intelligence, etc.

	Except that recognizing someone's "style" is a rather
subjective thing. I own several techno/rave albums, and it all sounds
alike to me. Does that mean that there's only one band producing
techno music?
	However, I was referring to similarities where you wouldn't
necessarily expect to find them if all life was created by one or more
intelligent, purposeful creators.
	For instance, all living beings use RNA. Most of them also use
DNA (which is basically two complementary strands of RNA, but with
uracil replaced by thymine). Of all the possible ways of encoding
genetic information (chickenwire meshes of benzene rings with
different radicals hanging off of them, or complex sugars or esthers,
for instance), why were none of them ever used?
	Furthermore, it is known that every codon (sequence of three
nucleotides in DNA) map to an amino acid (of which proteins are
composed). You can easily find a table that shows which codon maps to
which amino acid. This table is the same for just about all living
beings. Yet the table itself is fairly arbitrary (that is, a creator
could have chosen a number of other maps that worked equally well).
This looks like either gratuitous consistency (since there's no reason
for all species to have the same map), or gratuitous inconsistency
(since there _are_ a few oddball exceptions, but only a few).

	Or consider the fact that all mammals have the same number of
limbs. Couldn't cheetahs or rabbits have used an extra pair of legs?
Certainly insects seem to do well with six legs, why not mice?
	Getting more specific: all mammals have the same number of
vertebrae, in corresponding places, even. Do whales really need all
seven of their neck vertebrae? And couldn't giraffes use a few more?

	Similarly, there are differences one might not expect: in
humans, the eye is wired backwards. That is to say, the
light-sensitive part of the cones and rods are at the *far* end of the
eye (toward the head). This means that a photon enters the eye,
_traverses the entire length of the cell_, is detected and triggers a
nervous impulse; this impulse has to go back the entire length of the
cell, and into a nerve inside the eye. All of these nerves bunch up
where they leave the eye (think of a bundle of cables) and don't leave
any room for light-sensitive cells. This is why we have a blind spot.
	Octopi, on the other hand, don't have this problem. Their
nerves go out the back and never get in the way of sight. I would have
expected an intelligent designer to reuse the same good design.
	In fact, it appears that there are about forty different types
of eyes[1]. Presumably, an intelligent designer would have kept a
handful of good ones and thrown out the rest.

[1] Richard Dawkins, "Climbing Mount Improbable."

	For that matter, one can find any number of just plain stupid
design decisions and "gross hacks." Aside from the human eye mentioned
above, I'll mention the useless appendix and its tendency to flare up,
the fact that a human newborn's head is too big for the mother's
pelvis (or, conversely, that the pelvis is too narrow), which makes
labor painful and often fatal.
	Or take the fact that mitochondrial DNA is kept inside the
mitochondria (which themselves are inside the cell), instead of inside
the nucleus, with all the rest of the DNA.
	Or look at flounder eyes: flounder start out with one eye on
each side of the body. Then one of them migrates to the opposite side.
	Many deep-sea fishes have non-functional eyes. So do a lot of
bats.
	For more examples, see
http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/jury-rigged.html

> Archaeopterix is one of the most touted "proofs" of evolution I know of and
> yet his teeth are found in a variety of birds today,

	Such as? I'm not aware of any birds with teeth.

> as are his scales,
> claws, feathers, wings and virtually every feature of his structure.  He is
> unique in appearance in today's known environments, but not so in design.

	See
http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/archaeopteryx/info.html
Archaeopteryx also has a number of dinosaur features that are not
found in birds.

> Human blood antegen A is the same as that found in the butter bean.

	(I hope I'm misunderstanding, and that you're not saying that
beans have blood.)

> Did we
> evolve from a butter bean?  Many other chemical similarities are found such
> as this intermixed among plants, insects, animals and humans that no self
> respecting scientist would even begin to suggest were in the same family.
> Does this prove evolution?

	[NB: this is beside the point, since we're not talking about
evolution here.]
	My brother and I share a family resemblance. However, I am not
his son. We do, however, share a common ancestor (our father).
	This is just the sort of thing you would expect from common
descent. In addition, it is interesting to study the differences as
well. That is, hemoglobin comes in several variants, call them H1, H2
and H3. Let's say that the blood antigen you mentioned also comes in
several variants, call them A1, A2 and A3.
	Now take a bunch of species and sort them by which variants of
hemoglobin and antigen they have. Do the ones with H1 also all have
A1, or are the two more or less independent?

	Even more interesting is the study of "junk" DNA. Most of the
DNA that we carry is never used, and people have found fascinating
things out from studying it.
	For instance, there are similar stretches of junk DNA in many
species. That is, you can say that a dog's front left paw "corresponds
to" a cat's front left paw, and likewise you can say that
such-and-such junk DNA sequence in dogs "corresponds to" another
sequence in cats.
	Not only that, but the junk DNA sequences themselves are
strikingly similar. That is, if you look at corresponding junk DNA
sequences in humans and chimpanzees, you'll find that they're
virtually identical. And if you compare humans and cats, you'll find
that they're very similar, although not as close as chimps.

	Of course, the very existence of junk DNA is an argument
against design.

> All any of this proves to me is that a benevolent creator made us with the
> ability to adapt to our environment and left his signature on all of His
> creation.  It certainly is not a necessary conclusion that one thing came
> from another.

	Well, you've said above that (little-e) evolution happens, and
implied that natural selection does as well.
	Further discussion might center on whether or not common
descent is true (this is a separate issue from evolution). You seem to
say no, above, yet I've mentioned a few bits of evidence that point
towards "yes."
	Then there's the question of the origin of life (yet another
issue unrelated to evolution). Admittedly, conventional science has no
good explanation (but there's a number of fascinating hypotheses
floating about). If you have an explanation, and objective evidence to
support it, I'd love to see it.

-- 
Andrew Arensburger, Systems guy         Center for Automation Research
arensb@cfar.umd.edu                     University of Maryland
	  Railway crossing are *obviously* no parking zones.

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