Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Detailed Evolutionary Myths vs God Did It

6. It is possible to come up with convoluted explanations for how bats use sonar to find their way around in caves by natural evolution, even though it strains credulity to imagine why they would start creating the sounds needed when their ears weren't evolved to respond, or why their ears would evolve to respond prior to their "voice" being able to create the sound. Then it gets more difficult yet to figure out how both of these things evolved to the point of usefulness prior to some bat trying to use it in a cave. It isn't that one can't create a story line to solve this mystery. It is just that the story line wouldn't pass muster in Hollywood.

This is only one such mystery that needs such a workaround. Some, like the eye, are much discussed, but truly there are mysteries concerning almost every organ and organism which beg to explain how one thing developed before the other, even though there was no need for the second thing until the first came about. And that is only one kind of such mystery.

Bernardo's Response to #6. Yes, good old Irreducible Complexity. It's really not that irreducible, though. Half a mousetrap may indeed not work half as well as a whole mousetrap, but if it works 1% as well, and better than no mousetrap at all (maybe the mouse is impaled on it accidentally a small percentage of times) then it might be good enough to be selected into the next generation. Regarding your specific examples: You don't need an exceptionally good ear to use it to judge distance (and other properties) via echo sounds: Some humans can do it (see http://www.people.com/people/ art...68_1,00_pf.html and http://www.slate.com/id/2154696/fr/rss/ ). Once bats started relying on this technique for navigation and hunting, you can imagine that any improvements on their sound-making parts and/or their sound-sensing parts would lead to more effective hunting and navigating, and would be preserved. The thing is, if an animal has any sound-making parts at all (like parts they can slap together), and an ear that is only as developed as the most basic mammalian ear, then they can use eco-location to some limited extent. It's not an all-or-nothing thing; it can start in a primitive form using parts so non-specialized, they could have mutated by accident or evolved for doing something else. Like the eye: some species (like sea stars) only have light-sensitive patches of skin that they point in different directions to see which way is lighter and darker. Cover that up by a refractive material (like some kinds of almost-transparent skin or mucus secretions or membranes) and you have a focusing lens that can provide some directional information about the origin of the light given the patterns of light it refracts onto the sensitive patch. Or, if the sensitive patch is on a convex surface, light will illuminate it more powerfully in the spots perpendicular to the light source. Etc. In other words, complex structures can evolve from very crude structures, since very crude structures can do the same thing, just not quite as well. As if you think these explanations (the ones that show why no complexity is truly irreducible) are too convoluted, then please be sure I still prefer them to some unexplained supernatural intelligence that miraculously makes an animal give birth to offspring so genetically different, it could not mate with members of its parents' species.

Randy's response: While I do think that irreducible complexity is an important reason to embrace God as creator and not aided randomness, it is more than that. It is the narrative myths that are created to explain these things. There is almost never any actual science driving these ideas of how this became that, merely speculation that could have been dreamed up by a bunch of friends over a latte'. How does a lizard learn to fly is hard enough. How does a lizard who learns to fly learn to turn and land without killing himself? This is a harder question. And we CAN'T possibly ever know. The way these things happened is unknowable, because there is no record of how they happened. Thus it will always be speculation on the order of "it could have happened this way." Yep! And it could have happened, because some early intelligent being taught that lizard to fly, turn, and land.

12 comments:

Rick Moore said...

Interesting blog, Randy. I'll put a link over here at HolyCoast.com. Keep it up!

Russet Shadows said...

Again, the rebuttal is not convincing. 1) Speculation about how bats *could* have done this or that is nice, but it's speculation. It's not evidence. If you're asking me to believe in "could have" or the eye-witness accounts of say, John, I'll take the eye-witness any time. 2) Saying that complex structures can evolve from simpler structures, because complex structures *are* simply smaller structures -- only bigger and better is false. That whole view is based on a distinctly simple view of science that was decimated by the arrival of the microscope. Complex systems are comprised of smaller systems which are not miniature copies of the larger system. It's only by the working together of many different systems can you walk, talk, and so forth. That's the basis of "irreducible complexity" because once you start peeling away sub-systems, the overarching system fails. It doesn't work "less well", it plain doesn't work.

bernardo said...

Do you really believe that the Gospels are eye-witness accounts? Really?

"Saying that complex structures can evolve from simpler structures, because complex structures *are* simply smaller structures -- only bigger and better is false".

I did not say that. I said that simpler structures can have some of the function of more complex structures. It is not ONLY by the working together of many complex systems that we can walk and see. Well, in OUR case it is, but what I'm saying is, a simpler creature could achieve cruder forms of these functions by structures/systems that are simpler than the ones we use, so they do not appear irreducibly complex. And so it makes sense that the systems we use evolved from those simpler ones.

"...once you start peeling away sub-systems, the overarching system fails. It doesn't work "less well", it plain doesn't work".

But this is not evidence that the system was not simpler once. A system so complex, it fails when any element is removed, can evolve from a simpler, more robust system. It's not like each component of the complex systems we see today evolved one after the other - because, indeed, just one component (as we see them today) would not work. But the more ancient form of some of these components COULD work without the other components, that's all I'm saying. I mean, look at sea stars' eyes, amphibians' hearts and lungs, and any system in an insect's body, and you'll be amazed at the simplicity of those systems when compared to their analogues in the human body. But insects still walk around, sea stars still "see" (crudely), and frogs still pump blood and breathe. It is that hard to imagine "starting out" with simple systems that, over time, mutate new structures and systems on top of themselves to the point they are more complicated and less robust?

And if this sounds far-fetched, remember that what you are proposing as an alternative are miracles. MIRACLES. Those will ALWAYS be more far-fetched, almost by definition, than any naturalistic explanation.

Randy Kirk said...

The universe is a miracle, no matter how you get there. Naturalism can never be proved at first cause any more than God can.

With regard to miracles in the gaps, so to speak, I propose a third way.

If not intelligence and not Darwin, we need to find out how in the world complex things have happened.

Behe has shown again and again that Darwin comes up short in trying to show how the steps in developing even a reltively simple new element can come about without direction. There are just too many options available for failure, and too few mechanisms to explain how simple living things choose to employ partial changes that provide no advantage on the way to advantageous changes. (Even Behe's critics suggest there may have to be one or more neutral steps)

Randy Kirk said...

Yes. I believe that the gospels are eye-witness accounts. There really is no reason to think otherwise. Do you question the contemperaneous accounts of others living in that time? Do you question the contemperaneous accounts of those writing last week? Use the same standards of proof for all historocity.

bernardo said...

"...partial changes that provide NO advantage on the way to advantageous changes..."

How do you know they provided NO advantages? You can't know that.

"Even Behe's critics suggest there may have to be one or more neutral steps."

Yes, I suppose not EVERY preserved change must necessarily have been helpful. But why would a change be preserved if it was not helpful? Keep in mind that something that may at first seem to be a hindrance can end up being helpful. (Sickle-cell anemia helps to prevent malaria).

And I will admit something: I dislike Behe to unreasonable levels, so I have to work pretty hard to seriously listen to any point that is supported by a mention of his name. I went to hear Behe talk once. I wince at the memory of it. His points stretched the truth so much, his "evidence" was so flimsy and so easily refuted, I cringe whenever I see his name. Yes, he is right in that evolution does not explain everything, it has some holes in it. But this does not justify a supernatural alternative. Especially when he spends so much time trying to make the holes look bigger than they really are.

Duck said...

Do you question the contemperaneous accounts of those writing last week?

Yes, especially these people.

Use the same standards of proof for all historocity.

I do. I think all claims of divine birth, or supernatural intervention or inspiration are wrong. These things happen all the time, back then and now. If you did as you claimed, then you would have to accept the claims of Joseph Smith, wouldn't you? Do you accept the divine claims of Reverend Moon?

Randy Kirk said...

I was referring to the historocity, not to the reportage on supernatural events. There are some close questions like empty tomb, where's the body, why didn't any in the group ever tell the "truth" if it was other than reported. But for the purposes of this thread, I'm talking historical events.

Duck, are you actually Scientologist or was that tongue in cheek. Hard to tell in the blogosphere.

Duck said...

No, I am definitely not a Scientologist. I call myself an athiest, but by most people's definition I'm and agnostic.

The only reason that I bring up Tom Cruise is to show that it doesn't take much for people to start believing in messiahs. It's not like you have to prove it to people scientifically beyond a shadow of a doubt. Many people seem to be primed for messianism, it doesn't take a big push. Why was it seemingly so easy for Joseph Smith to create a new religion out of whole cloth?

AS far as historicism, I have no doubt that Jesus was a real person who preached in Israel, was brought up on charges by the Sanhedrin, was crucified by the Romans, died, and was buried. None of that stretches credulity. Its just the rising from the dead part that does.

AS far as the empty tomb and the body, that's hardly a noggin scratcher. Where's Jimmy Hoffa's body? A lot could have happened between Jesus' death and when the secondhand stories of his death were put to ink decades later. Even in our sophisticated age with instant communication, scientific investigative techniques and ubiquitous journalists we fall for urban legends and myths. Some people believe in Bigfoot. Some people believe Elvis is still alive. Some people believe that they've been abducted by space aliens.Myths happen. We are a myth-generating species.

Randy Kirk said...

Would you suspect that in 100 years anyone will care about Hoffa or Elvis. No one will be looking for them or believing them to be alive. We definitely like our myths. However, when an historical character generates more art, science, literature, law, cultural change, and followers than all the other historical characters combined, it seems like we better understand whether the "myth" actually happened.

bernardo said...

"when an historical character generates more art, science, literature, law, cultural change, and followers than all the other historical characters combined..."

...then it seems like we better explore the social, historical, political, and psychological reasons that might have made Christianity so massively contagious in Europe (and then in the Americas and Africa) over the past 2000 years.

There is no way to prove that the success of Christianity was caused by the truth of its central myth. I find it much more likely that what I call Christianity's "aggressive marketing" is responsible, as well as the way Christianity was shaped to be compatible with most Mediterranean religions and (in some ways) to maximize the central authority of the church.

As Duck said, there is little reason to doubt "that Jesus was a real person who preached in Israel, was brought up on charges by the Sanhedrin, was crucified by the Romans, died, and was buried. None of that stretches credulity. Its just the rising from the dead part that does". Indeed.

Randy Kirk said...

As a marketer my entire life (since starting to sell Christmas cards door to door in a Jewish neighborhood at 5 years of age), I would be compelled to ask: what was it about Christianity that was so marketable, and that caused it to crush so absolutely all competitors?

What then about it gave rise to such passionate involvement that people gave their lives in so many different ways to illustrate it and to distribute it. In most cases there was no earthly financial reward, and in many cases there was the potential for a pretty horrible confinement or death.

To add to the difficulty of the marketing job, you couldn't force the other person to become full of faith, (you could force them in some cases to say they believed) but only had the tool of offering them a different "way." The good news.

As a salesman, I have found it pretty hard to sell this product. Generally those I've seen come to faith do so for reasons other than being "sold."