Friday, August 07, 2015

Talk to the fossils and hear what they say back - Denyse O’Leary

Talk to the Fossils 3.jpg O’Leary for News’s new series here at Evolution News &Views:
A while back, I started a series here called "Science Fictions" that I began by asking a simple question: Why is the space alien understood as science but Bigfoot as mythology? The reason I asked is that, still lacking specimens of either entity, decade after decade, answers are likely to be revealing.
Those answers help us see how "science" is understood, allowing us to interpret claims about the origin of the universe, life, human life, and the human mind.
In general, naturalism (the idea that inanimate nature somehow created minds) seems to be the guiding principle of enterprises classed as science today, even though the evidence actually goes in the opposite direction.
In a new series, "Talk to the Fossils," I would like now to look at ways evolution might happen (or not).
Contrary to what we sometimes hear, few people doubt that evolution occurs in principle. The scientifically serious questions revolve around mechanisms, that is, around the question of -- as biochemist Michael Behe puts it in Darwin's Black Box --how exactly does it occur?
The point of Behe's critique is often missed: Anyone can come up with a "how" explanation -- that is, "how, according to my own grand theory."
Science is not about merely how. It is about how, exactly. More.
Talk to the Fossils 3.jpgAfter fifteen years of news coverage on issues of interest to the ID community, I finally got to say what seems evident to a news writer (who doesn’t wave pom poms for Darwin’s followers): First, the fossils speak, but hardly with one voice:
University of Chicago biochemist James Shapiro, not a design theorist, offers in one of his lectures four kinds of rapid, evolutionary change that Darwin "could not have imagined": horizontal DNA transfer, symbiogenesis, genome doubling, and built-in mechanisms of genome restructuring. His approach is in sharp contrast to the "defend Darwin" strategy usually championed in the academy. So it is no surprise that he is a controversial figure. But is he right in saying that many possible mechanisms of evolution owe little or nothing to Darwin's theory, the only concept of evolution most of us hear about?
It is reasonably estimated that there are 8.7 million species today (excluding bacteria), but that only about 14 percent have been identified -- and only 9 percent of ocean life forms. Our picture of Earth's life forms might change radically if we had more information about all the others. For example, an entire kingdom of life, the Archaea, was only identified in the 1970s.
How did all these life forms get to be where they are? As we examine some evidence-based mechanisms, we should keep in mind a critical question: How does a given mechanism fit our current picture of evolution? And how much change can it account for?
The welter of data coming back from paleontology, genome mapping, and other studies presents a challenging picture. With so much new information, the history of life begins increasingly to resemble the history of human civilizations. There is peril in that, principally to older ideas that depended on less information and more overarching theory.
Overarching theories often falter when evidence replaces speculation. Darwinian evolution is, despite legislative protection, certainly one of the victims. By contrast, discarded and ridiculed theories like Lamarck's (inheritance of characteristics acquired in life by the parents) may turn out to have some basis in epigenetics.
So, to start this series, instead of contemplating yet another picture derived from grand theories, let us assemble, under eight headings, some of what we have learned in past decades that we did not expect. That might help us evaluate theories, new and old. More.
Talk to the Fossils 3.jpgWhat is the true significance of convergent evolution? Here.
A century or so ago, British paleontologist St. George Mivart noted that Darwin's theory of evolution "does not harmonize with closely similar structures of diverse origin" (convergent evolution). There is more evidence for Mivart's doubts now than ever.
According to current Darwinian evolutionary theory, each gain in information is the result of a great many tiny, modest gains in fitness over millions or billions of years, due to natural selection acting on random mutations. The resulting solutions should then follow inheritance laws, in the sense that the more similar life forms are according to biological classifications, the more similar their genome map should be.
That just did not work out. Different species can have surprisingly similar genes. For example, kangaroos are marsupial mammals, not placentals. Yet their genes are close to humans. Researchers: "We thought they'd be completely scrambled, but they're not."
Kangaroos? Shark and human proteins, meanwhile, are also "stunningly similar." Indeed, sharks are genetically closer to humans than they are to aquarium zebrafish. Researchers: "We were very surprised... "
Sharks? But does all this not raise a serious question? The popular science literature claims that a near identity between the human and chimpanzee genome is irrefutable evidence of common descent. Why then do we hear so little about any of these findings, which muddy the waters? Why are science writers not even curious? More.
Denyse O’Leary is a Canadian journalist, author, and blogger.


Tracy Krauss said...

A very interesting discussion. Sometimes more questions are raised than answers, that's for sure. I'm glad that someday, if he chooses, God will reveal all. (Or maybe we just won't care by that time!)

Peter Black said...

Thank you for raising those necessary questions, Denyse, and providing such a great body of references for further consideration. This is a great work you're doing; may you be blessed in it. ~~+~~

Glynis said...

When I read works such as this, Denyse, I am in awe. First I am in awe of the immenseness of the world - seriously are there 8.7 milliion species with only 14 % defined? That (and a lot of other things) defy my logical brain. You do amazing work. Thanks for this post and the links for further consideration. And thanks be to the Creator God who knows it all and smiles at our weak attempts to figure it all out.

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