New Study Claims Environment Does Not Affect Evolution

According to a study by evolutionary biologists discussed at Io9 at http://io9.com/5317283/species-diversity-not-caused-by-natural-selection, a study by the New England Complex Systems group published in Nature suggests that evolution can occur without any major influence from the environment. Instead, the origin of speciation is viewed simply as creatures having offspring and the effects of sexual selection. The authors don’t claim that environmental factors don’t affect evolutionary process, but they believe from their computer simulations that it is not the major cause. This seems to attack the very basis of Darwinism in that Darwin considered that it was competition for resources in the environment that drove evolution.

Now this study clearly does not support Creationism or Intelligent Design, as it seems to assume that naturalistic, materialist processes are the only forces involved in the emergence of new species and the process of evolution itself. Nevertheless, it does attack one of the most fundamental tenets of Darwinian evolutionary theory, that of Natural Selection itself. It also supports the observations of other critics of evolutionary theory, who were not Creationists or supporters of ID, such as the British science journalist and former producer of the BBC science series, Horizon, Gordon Rattray Taylor. In his The Great Evolution Mystery, Taylor considered the various cases of different species who shared the same environment, such as the various species of cichlid fish in the Great Lakes in Africa as part of his general argument that Natural Selection was unable to explain the development and emergence of different species. That, however, does not necessarily mean that the new theory is correct, and that all that is required for evolutionary process is sexual selection. It will, however, be interesting to see how this new study is accepted by scientists.

Tags: , , , ,

32 Responses to “New Study Claims Environment Does Not Affect Evolution”

  1. Malcolm Says:

    I think you’re making this into a bigger deal than is justified.

    You said “… it does attack one of the most fundamental tenets of Darwinian evolutionary theory, that of Natural Selection itself”

    Well not really – the article specifically states :”The study authors are not claiming that enviroment [sic] is unimportant. They are simply saying that ” ….. it is not a necessary ingredient for evolutionary transformation.”

    the study does show is that even in a stable environment evolution (change in gene frequency) does occur, and that over time it can cause speciation. Well – We’ve known about genetic drift for years, and whether it causes speciation or not would depend on the phenotypic effects of the changes, and the speed at which they spread through the population. Both of those factors are variables within the computer model – so whether the model shows speciation or not depends on the researchers choice of values for those variables.

    My (admittedly limited) understanding of the conclusions are that it may change the emphasis given to genetic drift and natural selection as causes of speciation slightly – but it’s hardly a revolution in outr overal understanding of the evolutionaryprocess.

  2. beastrabban Says:

    Interesting point, Malcolm. Yeah, you’re right that genetic drift has been known for a very long time – I’ve got a feeling Darwin himself considered that neutral traits could emerge and result in speciation, which seems to me to prefigure the notion of genetic drift. However, as you point out, the emphasis has been on Natural Selection as the agent of evolution. Even if this study has merely shifted the emphasis, it has nevertheless cast doubt on it as the major force for evolutionary change.

  3. bobxxxx Says:

    “suggests that evolution can occur without any major influence from the environment.”

    Your title of this article “New Study Claims Environment Does Not Affect Evolution”

    You’re not too bright mister. Read the above two sentences very slowly and carefully please. You will notice they are not the same.

    “Evolution can occur without influence from the environment” is NOT the same as “Environment does not influence evolution”.

    In other words, evolution can be influenced by the environment, AND evolution can occur without being influenced from the environment.

    Both are true, and also most educated people already knew that.

    You also wrote “Now this study clearly does not support Creationism or Intelligent Design” which is correct but is also ridiculously obvious. NOTHING supports magical creation and magical intelligent design creation. Nothing. Because it’s insane childish nonsense.

  4. bobxxxx Says:

    “Even if this study has merely shifted the emphasis, it has nevertheless cast doubt on it as the major force for evolutionary change.”

    Wrong. You’re just plain wrong. You’re obviously an uneducated cowardly creationist hick.

  5. bobxxxx Says:

    So many people writing about what they know nothing about.

  6. beastrabban Says:

    Hi Bobxxxx – firstly, while I accept comments on my blog, I won’t accept insults. If you want to comment here, then don’t call me ‘ an uneducated cowardly creationist hick., or tell me I’m writing about something I know nothing about. As I pointed out, I’m aware that genetic occurs. However, as I understand, the main force in evolution according to the modern synthesis has always been Natural Selection. This study may suggest that the role of Natural Selection in promoting evolution has been less than previously considered.

  7. Malcolm Says:

    BeastR – don’t get too upset by bobxxxx – he appears on a lot of the pages I read and has obviously got fed up with repeatedly answering the same misguided arguments. While his position (re science/religion) is similar to mine, his default attitude is confrontation/insult which gets boring very quickly. I tend to tune him out…

    As for you – I see a change in emphasis from:
    “it has nevertheless cast doubt on it as the major force for evolutionary change.”
    to
    “This study may suggest that the role of Natural Selection in promoting evolution has been less than previously considered.”

    You’re going in the right direction!

    If you think it through further what this study seems to say is that evolution will continue to happen even in the absence of environmental pressure in any particular direction. However it seems fairly obvious that such stable environments (over thousands ofgenerations as in the study) will be uncommon in the real world. Even if the physical environment is very stable the fact that predators/prey will also be changing over time means that natural selection will still act on the population.

    Natural Selection, like evolution, is real, present and active throughout the whole living world

  8. David Gillaspie Says:

    Older men fathering children provide the most likely case for genetic mutation and diversity. It doesn’t sound like a good thing until the old guy’s kids are the only ones lined up for ‘natural selection.’ It puts Larry King in a new light.

    http://deegeesbb.wordpress.com/2009/07/19/working-darwin/

  9. Ilíon Says:

    All the talk about ‘speciation’ is but a charade and a distraction.

    The problem for “evolution” is not speciation, but rather explaining novel information; and the only answer they have (especially when they’re Darwinists) is “Magick did it!

  10. Malcolm Says:

    Er, no.
    “Magick did it!“ is the default response of religionists when challenged about any of the myths and fables they cling to (Talking snakes? Human parthenogenesis? Crackers changing to human flesh? reanimated corpses? flying horses? etc…)

    Evolutionary theory uses observation and evidence to understand and explain the increase of information in a species’ genome .

    There are various mechanisms – eg
    Gene duplication – a mutation creates two copies of a particular gene – this is a fairly common event. There are now two copies of the gene – if a further mutation alters copy to have a slightly different effect (say to produce a different protein or enzyme) you now have the original, and a new one – new information.

    Or Frame shift mutation – These are drastic and hence rarely beneficial, but one great example involves a bacterium that suffered a frame shift mutation that just happened to allow it to metabolize nylon. The new enzymes are very inefficient (having only 2% of the efficiency of the regular enzymes), but they do afford the bacteria a whole new ecological niche with no competition.

    If you are serious about understanding how evolutionary theory explains the creation of new information you could also look up “transposons” and “polyploidy”.

    Rather than being a problem for evolutionary theory the addition of new information to a genome is one of the keystones to understanding the great variation of life we see around us.

  11. Ilíon Says:

    Isn’t it amusing how these ignorant “Darwinists” *always* react as Malcolm has.

  12. Malcolm Says:

    Hmmm.

    You join the thread with unsupported assertions, viz:
    1 “talk about ’speciation’ is but a charade and a distraction”
    2 “The problem for “evolution” is … explaining novel information
    3 ‘ the only answer they have … is “Magick did it!“ ‘

    I responded by pointing out that resorting to magical/supernatural explanations is more commonly a feature of religious explanations than scientific ones.

    I also explained that what you describe as ‘the problem’ is not a problem – but easily understood by anyone willing to do a little reading and thinking.

    And you? support you position? provide evidence? coherent argument?
    No. All you can offer is insult and false generalisation.

    Childish. But not really surprising.

  13. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    No. All you can offer is insult and false generalisation.

    Thanks for that, Malcolm. Good show.

    So NOW, Malcolm, you’ve taken the SO scientific path of accusing Ilion of acting like PZ Myers?

    Naughty naughty.

    You’ve described frame shifts and chemical changes that do some enabling to survive in a hostile environment of nylon garments lying around waiting to be eaten, but this is not what Ilion had in mind for new NET information, or new structures.

    Many things are easy to shift around. Gasoline can be turned into deadly Napalm quite easily, but it still generally requires a good troublemaking firebug to think it through.

    Unless by new information and such, you mean a reconfiguration of how tiny critters eat things. But that’s already known and has been for some time.

    That is not on par with how hitherto non-extant organs come into being.

    As to the other stuff:

    Talking snakes? We don’t really know what this creature was, as it was analagous to the Devil, so even if Hebrew was limited to the literal translation of “beast of the field” that is not necessarily indicative of a snake as we understand the world. Hebrew is limited.

    Human parthenogenesis? Aphids can do this, and when it comes to zygote splitting (natural cloning), we don’t say that a twin is THE same peson as the copy–the are in fact different. If something is God ordained, I’m quite sure He can beat ESC researchers on such matters of the flesh.

    Crackers changing to human flesh? While the Church has dickered over this in the past, the general recognition is one of analogy to the body of Christ as a rememberence of His deed.

    reanimated corpses? See above on parthenogenisis.

    In the middle ages if you merely stopped breathing and turned blue you were all but dead. In fact, less than that might get you buried. Today people have survived skeletal level virtual decapitations. One assumes God is even better than the Mayo Clinic and Harvard Medical School, though I bless them in any case…

    flying horses? Not sure where this is in the Canonical Scriptures. You’re thinking of the Greeks, or perhaps President Obama?

  14. Malcolm Says:

    We’re getting a little off topic here Wakefield. to recap –

    – Ilion claimed evolutionary theory had a problem explaining novel information
    – I pointed out some well known mechanisms that can explain it – hence he’s wrong.

    He came back with ‘a one-liner that I accurately characterised as ‘insult and false generalisation’. (Insult :ignorant “Darwinists” ‘ and False generalisation : ‘*always* react’) .

    Now you leap in.

    Your first couple of paragraphs are just insults.

    Then you claim to know Ilion’s mind better than he did himself. He claimed “The problem for “evolution” is … explaining novel information”
    I showed that such explanations do exist. Now you want to change the goalposts by saying “this is not what Ilion had in mind for new NET information, or new structures”. How do you know?

    … “That is not on par with how hitherto non-extant organs come into being” You are correct – but with him I was discussing ‘novel information’, not new structures or organs.

    As for the other stuff –
    Talking snake, talking ‘beast of the field’ – whatever. It just depends on your frame of reference. If your default position is that the supernatural is real then you can explain anything with god/devil did it. If your position is that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” then the best explanation for the garden of Eden story is that it’s myth or allegory

    The same goes for the other ‘miracles’. Think how you’d react if you heard on the news a pregnant teen girl claiming to be a virgin. That’s how i react to the bible’s “virgin birth” story.

    And so on. You may choose to believe the Eucharist is only an analogy – but there are a billion or two catholics (and many protestants) who profess to believe that the flesh of JC is “truly, really, and substantially contained” in the wafer.

    The flying horse was a reference to the story of Mohammed’s ascent to heaven.

    I was just making a point than I’m an equal opportunity infidel. I doubt the literal truth of the Muslim, Hindu and all other religious stories as much as those of the various Christian sects. i could have made a reference to say Ganesh (also born of a mother with no father involved, also killed, and then re-animated) but I picked ones that i thought would be understood by most people visiting this thread.

    And where does Obama come in? I’m not from the US, so the mix of political/social/religious attitudes that is taken for granted there is confusing to me.

  15. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Hi Malcolm.

    Whether or not you are from the US, the imagery of the New Messiah is hard to miss in this new land of dancing horses and sugarplum fairies of Changy Change. But I’ll freely admit that was more me having fun that many people catching on to the lurid imagery of a man whose time has not come. I see that fell flat. Oh well.

    I was not aware of that Koranic image, so a flying horse either from Greek legend or the ascension of a community activist was all I had in mind for that kind of miracle. There is, after all, more belief in the miraculous than meets the eye–and I promise you, as Ilion did, it is NOT all about the ancients, and at that it’s not all about theology.

    We have our own Fish-n-Loaves tricksters these days, it’s just that the latter types are politicians and generally can’t make good on the promise.

    But enough of that.

    So touche.

    As far as insults taking up entire paragraphs, I’ll refrain this time in mentioning most of the rest, which is the direction you had going with all the foregoing about snakes and bread.

    BR is more than capable and the real theologian and historian here, so he can take on that one if he feels the necessity for this thread. If not, then maybe the magical bacteria will find that the thread is made of nylon and dispose of it forthwith. Who knows.

    Now then:

    I never claimed to know the mind of Ilion better than Ilion, but it seems to me that by novel information, he was not asking about Grandma’s spare nylon sweaters that desperately called for innovative chemical interactions and hopeful accidents that yielded something other than the dumpster to dispose of such. Rather, he was asking about novel information of the variety that encodes new structures. This whole slop about changes in chemistry from extant organs as being analogous to, say, some chap using a wheelbarrow to haul bricks, whereas another chap uses it to haul morter, I would assume is well-known to him. It does not explain, however, the wheelbarrows replacement by a forklift or a lourie, as you Brits call them. A chemical change that allows bacteria to haul nylon in its gut (and dispose of forthwith) rather than the usual ground-based goodies allows the poor creature to remain, ya guess it, a bacteria with a gut.

    If I’m wrong, Ilion is an adult and can and will make the requisite correction to my assumption and scold me thusly for chomping at the bit for mixing things up here.

    I have time to only move to one of the other snide comments on the core theology:

    As to virgins and pregnancy, that only adds credibility, in a way. That issue has been answered before, as CS Lewis did when he said of course that everyone knows that no human female is pregnant in the regular sense of the word without lying with a man. These days there are ways around that with medical grade turkey basters if your erotic or medical needs run in those directions, etc, but in those olden days the people of the earth knew that you had to do the horizontal worm nasty dance to get pregnant, and knew this situation of virginal pregnancy to be highly unlikely, which is why Mary almost got stoned in a pit for violating Mosaic law.

    However, Lewis also pointed out that it was exactly this break that allowed God’s intervention from the mundane and usual, while allowing Christ to be born of man and become flesh while not having all the attributes of such, etc.

    Now, granted, I can’t force anyone to take that kind of thing at face value. And THAT would be a little off topic, actually, as much as the to-and-fro snowball fight with Ilion about snakes and miracles, etc.

    This is not an attempt to convince you of anything about this one way or another, but merely to point out the reasoning behind (in this circumstance) why canonical Christianity holds to such as it does.
    It is not, as in some faiths, a hash of the lurid tales in order to show off and impress, etc. Unlike most miracle tales these lack the usual flamboyance of most.

    Nor am I here to spell out the vital differences here in this story vs. those of what are really another nature as put on by the ancients about Ganesh, Horus, and other alleged forebears to this or reanimations, etc.

    BR has talked about that elsewhere as well on this very site. It might not be what you anticipate.

    Sorry we got onto the wrong foot here for me trying to be funny and add some levity.

  16. Malcolm Says:

    Hi, sorry for the delayed reply – but if you’re still around….

    I’m not going to answer all your points – the thread is long enough already… but a few of them.

    My comment re Obama/Not being from the US ; Your politics/culture is strange to me in the way that an opinion on one subject (eg evolution) is often assumed to define my views on a range of other topics (eg politics, abortion, guns, health care, homosexuality etc). I wasn’t sure how to interpret your reference to BO…

    Ilion: He said the problem for Evolutionary theory is to explain new information – I showed that such explanations already exist (viz nylonase). You now think he actually meant explaining new structures, rather than information. That’s a much more complex subject – and probably well beyond my ability to explain. One thing to bear in mind is that Evolution rarely comes up with completely new complex structures (the 747 in a junkyard problem). But it has a great history of re-purposing existing features into something new. that’s why the basic air breathing vertebrate body plan has remained fixed for so many millions of years. From dinosaurs to mammals to reptiles – we have 4 limbs, bilateral symmetry, 5 digits (or the remains of them) etc .

    For the theological aspects – i go with the numbers. There are no documented cases (since reliable records began whenever that was) of a woman becoming pregnant without the introduction of male sperm.
    There are however various stories of that having happened in the past – the Jesus story being one of them – I treat all the stories as myths.

    Anyway – here’s some food for thought. It’s what put me on the path to questioning the religion I was raised in.

    The overwhelming majority of people who have a religion follow the same one as their parents. Which means that the fact that you are a Christian is purely an accident of birth. Had you been born to Hindus, or Buddhists you’d almost certainly have grown up as convinced of that religion’s truth as you are of the Bible’s today.

  17. Beastrabban Says:

    Hi Malcolm – I’m sorry I haven’t been around for a little while to answer some of the questions here, as I’ve been a bit busy with other things, though I’ve been following the discussion with interest. Here are my responses to some of your comments.

    Firstly, I think you’re right in that I probably did make too much of the article as an attack on current evolutionary theory. However, as I understand, Natural Selection remains the cornerstone of the modern Neo-Darwinian synthesis. It is selection that is considered to work on the random mutations that are believed to provide the raw material for evolution and so create different species. This study suggests that only mutation is needed for speciation, not Natural Selection, which, as I said, seems to diminish the importance of Natural Selection for evolution. Perhaps all this particular model does is stress the importance of mutation rather more than other views of the relationship between selection and evolution.

    As for genetic drift, as I recall from some of the material I’ve read, it’s importance in evolution was unclear, though it was considered that it would be important in small populations that suddenly became larger. Now this might support Stephen Jay Gould’s idea of Punctuated Equilibrium , where evolution acts extremely quickly on small groups in tens or hundreds of thousands of years, rather than millennia. This was Gould’s attempt to explain the lack of transitional fossils.

    Regarding the two mutations you mentioned that are known to be involved in evolution, gene duplication is, I understand, a feature of plant, rather than animal evolution, although polyploidy has been observed to an extent in certain insects. The problem with this is whether it applies to animals. It also involves the loss of an allele, which means that it can be viewed as involving the loss of information, as well as the emergence of new. There’s also the problem of the origin of the genes, which are doubled, and so there’s the problem of regress there, which the Christian philosopher Van Inwagen discusses in his criticism of Carl Sagan’s view of evolution.

    I have a feeling that Mike Behe admitted that frame shift mutation may add information to genetic material in his Edge of Evolution , but that its potential to do so is very limited. In either case, I’m not sure that they go much beyond the observation of medieval, Christian philosophers of the emergence of new strains of organism and the transmutation of species.

  18. Beastrabban Says:

    Okay, now let’s deal with the idea that belief in a God somehow undermines science, because one can always claim that God was responsible for some observed phenomena. In fact, science has its origin in the Judaeo-Christian view of God creating a lawful universe, which was intelligible to humans as they participated in the divine Wisdom which created and ordered the universe. This was the view of the great medieval philosophers and the pioneers of modern experimental science in the Renaissance, like Francis Bacon and Galileo. 39 years before the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species , the authors of the Bridgewater Treatises in the 1820s stated that God worked through the laws of the cosmos. Indeed, such theological views had a role in the acceptance of Darwin’s theories, and in evolution generally. Michael Ruse in his book on the development of evolutionary thought, Mystery of Mysteries , notes that in 1840s a number of Anglican theologians, such as the Savilian Professor of Geometry at Oxford, Baden-Powell, argued for evolution as God’s creative mechanism for the emergence of new species, as it appeared to them that the gradual development of species was like the separate processes that occur in the operation of an industrial machine, and so like the machine, evolution argued for the existence of an intelligent creator. Similarly, later in the 19th century, some clergymen also used the sequences of fossils, which they believed demonstrated the evolution of a particular creature, to argue that they were created not by chance, but by God’s guiding intelligence.

  19. Beastrabban Says:

    Now let’s deal with the existence of miracles. Hume’s argument against them has been strongly critiqued and attacked. Part of the problem is the problem of induction , that merely because something is repeatedly observed, doesn’t mean that it will always be the case. For example, just because the sun has always risen in the past, does not mean that it will rise tomorrow. In practice, however, it does mean that people are justified in expecting it to rise tomorrow. However, miracles are ‘special acts of God’, and as God is the author of the laws of the universe, He can suspend them when He wishes. Part of Hume’s argument against miracles was that no reasonable people believed in them, which was then used to argue that only irrational people believed in them. But this simply attacks the existence of miracles by deliberately excluding them from rationality. The John Earman, a philosopher of science who, I believe, certainly isn’t a Christian, has written an entire piece attacking Hume’s argument against miracles entitled The Complete and Utter Failure of Hume’s Argument against Miracles .

    There’s also the problem in that even if some supernatural entities or phenomena don’t exist, that does not mean that all are nonexistent. You also have to take the separate history and culture of the societies in which they may have occurred into account. James Fraser’s theory, expressed in his book, The Golden Bough , in which he attempted to demonstrate similarities between Christianity and ancient pagan religions, have been rejected by philosophers and anthropologists because the alleged similarities actually don’t exist. For example, there’s the question of the Virgin Birth. While the pagan religions certainly had gods who had been born from the union of a god and mortal woman, these unions were explicitly sexual, very similar to human sex. It is very different from the Bible’s description of Jesus’ conception by the Holy Spirit, and the power of God which overshadowed Our Lady.

    Regarding Wakefield’s comments about Barack Obama in this regard, I have a feeling that he’s remarking on Obama’s appearance to some Americans as a highly charismatic individual who can personally solve all the country’s social and economic problems, like a modern messiah. Now I’m British, and you’re right in that American political culture is quite different from ours. However, it seems to me that over the past two decades the emphasis on politics has increasingly been on the personal charisma of the party leader on both sides of the Atlantic, rather than on their policies. I’ve got a feeling that part of this has been the rise of celebrity culture and the increasing importance of the broadcast media. Politicians have to project the right image, look right in public and be able to make short, memorable comments. Now those qualities have always been important, but, as I said, the importance of politicians’ image and charisma has been increasingly accentuated. I can remember someone commenting on the impact television and entertainment has made on the political process – possibly the author of the book, Amusing Ourselves To Death , which is a strong criticism of these trends, that many of the great American politicians of the past probably wouldn’t be elected in today’s media culture because they were too overweight, or otherwise lacking in the ideal image for TV.

    I have to say I don’t think these trends are confined to any single political party. I think all of the parties have been affected by it, and you can see the stress on the personal appearance of the leader’s of the various parties over here in Britain as well. Both Tony Blair for Labour and then David Cameron for the Tories are young and good at using the media, while other senior politicians are much less media-friendly in that they’re older, and so have less appeal to the youth vote. I believe that one of the reasons Menghis Campbell was replaced as leader of the Lib-Dems was because he appeared older, and less dynamic than the leaders of the other parties, even though he was about the same age as some of them. Regardless of religious or political beliefs, I do feel that the concentration on media image is a real problem for modern democracy.

  20. Beastrabban Says:

    As for the existence of other religions being a problem for the truth of a particular religion, I don’t think that’s actually the case. Merely because other religions exist, does not mean that one religion isn’t true. Indeed, it could be used to argue against atheism or religious scepticism. One of the arguments for religion is that every culture until very recently has believed in the existence of various gods, and so, for theologians such a Jean Calvin, who developed the idea from St. Paul, humans have an innate sensus divinitatis or sense of the Divine. Even if individual religions may be wrong, nevertheless the presence of such a sense suggests that nevertheless there indeed is an underlying supernatural reality to existence, and the existence of a God or gods.

    Furthermore, if the existence of other religions suggests that Christianity is not necessarily true, it also suggests that atheism or agnosticism aren’t either, because they are also the products of distinct cultures, rather than universally accepted truths. Rather than attacking Christianity, the existence of other religions also argue against atheism and agnosticism.

  21. flippertie Says:

    Wow! There’s a lot in your replies – and far more than I can reply to adequately. That’s the problem with this sort of discussion – typing is slow and there are too many interesting lines of thought to have a hope of following them all.

    We both seem to agree that the study (of a computer model) that started this thread suggests only a possible change in emphasis rather than a revolution in evolutionary theory. Good 🙂

    You said gene duplication is, … a feature of plant, rather than animal evolution, .
    Though it happens more often in plants, gene duplication is still very common in animals. e.g. each case of Downs syndrome in humans is another independent case of chromosome duplication.

    It also involves the loss of an allele I don’t understand this
    There’s also the problem of the origin of the genes, which are doubled or this…

    … frame shift mutation may add information … its potential to do so is very limited That may be so – but in the example I gave it resulted in the creation of a new enzyme that allowed bacteria in a toxic swamp outside a Japanese Du Pont factory to exploit a food source that had existed on this planet for less than 50 years.
    ** Oops – seems that new info invalidates that. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nylonase – but it links to other info about documented FS mutations. And the creation of the new enzymes is still a great example of evolution working fast.

    the idea that belief in a God somehow undermines science I don’t think that religious belief by itself undermines science. I do believe that belief in an *interventionist* god can undermine the desire to advance science.
    ID obviously springs to mind. Behe’s concept of irreducible complexity effectively says “I can’t imagine any way X could possibly have evolved – so some external agent must have done it” (with most believers mentally adding ‘hence my god exists’). Someone without that fallback explanation is more likely to say “We don’t *yet* have a good explanation of how X could have evolved – but we’re working on it. Bear with us”.

    science has its origin in the Judaeo-Christian view of God creating a lawful universe
    That’s completely irrelevant. It doesn’t matter why science and the scientific method arose – the fact that we have and can use them is enough. I’d say that both science and religion spring from the same source; the evolved human drive to explain and understand our surroundings. Such understanding would have been a huge aid in our early ancestors’ survival. Religions and science both represent cultures’ best attempt to explain the universe with the knowledge available to them. All early proto-scientists were also products of their cultures, and most would have been religious because for most of recorded history religions have been the repository of a cultures knowledge. Judaeo-Christian explanations happen to have their origins in the knowledge available to Middle Eastern nomads 3 or 4 thousand years ago. Science also has deep roots. The crucial difference is that scientists drop ideas that are falsified by later observations (viz nylonase above) rather than trying to fit the observations into predetermined framework.

    Next! I’m whipping through your posts and just picking out a few points that leap out at me – excuse the ones I skip over….

    Now let’s deal with the existence of miracles You have obviously made more study of this than I. You are correct that it is possible that a supernatural being exists and that such a being could perform miracles. However, lacking credible evidence of such I remain skeptical. If a god exists it could easily provide incontrovertible evidence of its existence and identity. Without such conclusive evidence I treat all religious/miraculous claims equally: probability small, effectively indistinguishable from zero.

    I took Wakefield’s ref to Obama as being a little snarky – as was my response. Bad flippertie! I agree entirely with your comments about politicians and image. Wheelchair bound FDR would be inelectable today.

    Merely because other religions exist, does not mean that one religion isn’t true. Nor does it in any way imply that any one of them is true. At least we agree that the first 99 or 999 or however many gods worshiped by humans humans are false.

    One of the arguments for religion is that every culture until very recently has believed in the existence of various gods
    They also believed the earth was flat, and the sun went around it and diseases were caused by demons, evil spirits or magic. Those beliefs were widely held long as they reflected the best available explanations. New evidence gave us germ theory and heliocentrism (and thence modern astronomy). I believe the the same process is slowly removing our culture’s belief in gods. Key word being ‘slowly’…

    It is true that religion of some sort is common across all human cultures. So are language, and a sense of fairness. These facts are more likely to tell us something about fundamental human traits than the existence or otherwise of a supernatural being. As I mentioned above – I subscribe to the belief that humans created gods in their efforts to explain the world around them. If a god does exist I’d be delighted to have her prove me wrong 🙂

    if the existence of other religions suggests that Christianity is not necessarily true, it also suggests that atheism or agnosticism aren’t either, because they are also the products of distinct cultures, rather than universally accepted truths.

    No. Absolutely not. Unbelief is not a product of any culture or society – it is the the default human position. Take any god you care to name. Every single human being was born without belief in the existence or divinity of that particular god. As children grow they absorb the beliefs of their culture including religious ones. But not all people absorb all beliefs equally, and some challenge and reject those cultural beliefs after they achieve independent thought. There have been unbelievers in most cultures that have left us written records (eg Roman, Greek, Classical Chinese, Indian/Vedic).

    We’re social animals – it’s very hard to defy your peers. That’s one reason why there are so few historical figures who were openly atheist. I guess the penalties for apostasy and hereticism (my spell checker doesn’t like that) also kept people in the closet.

    Even today when polls suggest at least 10% of the US population are non-believers there’s only one or two congressmen/senators who are openly without religion. That suggests at least a couple of dozen are hiding…. Don’t know the equivalent position in the UK – but I’d guess it’s only slightly more honest.

    Enough! I have to stop…

  22. flippertie Says:

    Had a few problems with the italics above – but I’m sure you’ll work it out…

  23. beastrabban Says:

    Thanks for the replies, Flippertie. Before we go any further, I’d just like to clear up what we understand by ‘evolution’. I am not rejecting contemporary theories of microevolution, or the appearance of new strains of organism, such as new varieties of crops, or the emergence of new strains of viruses, including those that consume nylon. As I tried to explain, the medieval natural philosophers, such as Herman of Carinthia, certainly recognised the emergence of new strains and varieties of organism, and had various theories of the transmutation of species, while adhering to a literal interpretation of Genesis. My point is that while the Neo-Darwinian synthesis seems to accurately describe evolution in the limited sense of the emergence of new strains, I don’t think its unreasonable to doubt its ability to account for speciation.

    Now for the rest of your points. You query my comment about plant evolution. Perhaps I should I have made myself rather clearer in this regard, as I was discussing the emergence of new plant species here. Oliver Rackham in his History of the Countryside discusses polyploidy as the origin of new plant species, particularly some elm varieties, one of which arose in the 19th century. However, he contrasts this with the normal Darwinian evolutionary process in animals. The mutation that produces Down’s Syndrome doesn’t produce new human species, but tragically only handicapped humans. The entry for polyploidy in Anna Hodson’s Essential Genetics (London, Bloomsbury 1992) states ‘Polyploidy is common in higher plants and occurs in some lower animals, but is rare in vertebrates … This process has been important in the evolution of plants, being a short-cut to new species (the tetraploid plants cannot make fertile crosses with the original diploid variety).’ pp. 208-9.

  24. beastrabban Says:

    Now let’s deal with your comments about belief in an interventionist God undermining or hindering science, because you could always claim that ‘God did it’. As I pointed out, this is not necessarily case. The historian of Science, James Hannam, in his book on the rise of science in the Middle Ages, God’s Philosophers , points out that to the medieval natural philosophers, everything ultimately was caused by God. However, beginning with William of Conches they distinguished between primary and secondary causes, between the direct action of God Himself and God’s action through natural law. Furthermore, as an orderly universe pointed to the existence of a divine Creator, the medieval philiosophers and theologians such as Thomas Aquinas actively encouraged the study of nature. The second chapter of the volume on Creation in Aquinas’ Summa Theologica is entitled ‘That the consideration of creatures is useful for instruction of faith’. The Third is ‘that knowledge of the nature of creatures serves to destroy errors concerning God’, while the fourth is an explicit statement ‘That the philosopher and the theologian consider creatures in different ways’. Furthermore, William of Conches stated that to have an idea that something was supernatural, you should first have an idea what the operation of natural law was.

    Now the origin of the scientific enterprise in Judaeo-Christian culture is certainly not irrelevant. No other culture developed science, despite some immense initial attempts and achievements in China and the Islamic world. Indeed, Christianity in the Middle Ages encouraged the study of Nature through the doctrine of the Two Books. According to the Bible, the orderly nature of the cosmos pointed to the existence of God, though you also need Scripture to understand the Deity Himself. Moreover, it was believed that Adam and Eve in Eden had posssessed and practiced all the lawful sciences and arts, and so the pursuit of knowledge and science was regarded by many theologians as something to be encouraged as it was an attempt by humanity to recover part of the original, lost, blessedness of Eden.

    Now let’s deal with your statement that Someone without that fallback explanation is more likely to say “We don’t *yet* have a good explanation of how X could have evolved – but we’re working on it. Bear with us”.

    There are a number of problems with this statement. Firstly, it supposes that there is a materialistic cause for all phenomena in the cosmos. However, this is a presupposition that does not necessarily correspond to reality. It is effectively a statement of faith. This doesn’t mean that it’s wrong, but it doesn’t mean that it’s right either. There are other problems with it as well: it assumes that even if there is a naturalistic cause, that cause must be intelligible to humans and will eventually be discovered. But there is no guarantee of this. Darwin himself recognised that if human brains evolved for survival, then it didn’t necessarily follow that they could produce a true picture of reality ‘for who would trust a monkey’s brain?’ Atheism thus gives no guarantee that the universe is intelligible, a belief that is fundamental to the scientific project. The Abrahamic religions, on the other, consider that the universe is comprehensible because it was created through the divine Wisdom in which humans, as rational creatures, participate. See the passages on Wisdom in Proverbs and the Wisdom of Solomon in the Apocrypha. Furthermore some philosophers have pointed out that a belief in design is fundamental to the scientific projection. One academic philosopher, in the book World Without Design critiques the notion that science can be meaningfully conducted without a belief in design. If design doesn’t exist, then the universe becomes unintelligible and the paradigms and research programmes that are its heart cannot be reliably produced or tested.

  25. beastrabban Says:

    They also believed the earth was flat, and the sun went around it and diseases were caused by demons, evil spirits or magic. Those beliefs were widely held long as they reflected the best available explanations. New evidence gave us germ theory and heliocentrism (and thence modern astronomy). I believe the the same process is slowly removing our culture’s belief in gods. Key word being ’slowly’…

    This is the standard 19th century Positivist account of the origin of religion, of which Sir James Fraser’s The Golden Bough is the best known example, though there were many others. Such explanations have been rejected by contemporary anthropologists and philosophers of religion. Religions aren’t a pre-scientific attempt to explain the cosmos, as I can remember Carl Sagan claiming in his TV series, Cosmos . They’re based on an experience of the universe and its constituent forces and objects as intelligent beings – a ‘thou’ to one’s ‘I’, as expressed in Martin Buber’s philosophy of ‘I and Thou’.

    No. Absolutely not. Unbelief is not a product of any culture or society – it is the the default human position. Take any god you care to name. Every single human being was born without belief in the existence or divinity of that particular god. As children grow they absorb the beliefs of their culture including religious ones. But not all people absorb all beliefs equally, and some challenge and reject those cultural beliefs after they achieve independent thought. There have been unbelievers in most cultures that have left us written records (eg Roman, Greek, Classical Chinese, Indian/Vedic).

    Firstly, I agree with you in that atheists have occurred in every culture. It’s actually one of the reasons why the Positivist view of religion you articulated above has been rejected. Far from being extremely superstitious, as many Positivist anthropologists believed, the great Anglo-Polish anthropologist Boleslaw Malinowski found that technologically primitive, tribal peoples, such as the Trobriand Islanders, were no more superstitious than Westerners and their socieities included atheists and religious sceptics.

    However, modern, Western atheism is the product of a distinct intellectual culture and a series of philosophical assumptions that have been particularly expressed in the West. For example, you stated that humans created gods in their image. This is basically the view of the German Left Hegelian Ludwig Feuerbach. He viewed God as the alienated projection of humanity. Along with Hegel, Feuerbach was strongly influenced by the French Enlightenment philosophes . Atheism seems to be the default position only because it is so widely accepted in Western society that it isn’t at all obvious how different Western secular society is from the societies that historically preceded it.

    As for children not believing in any particular god – there is a body of evidence from psychologists that children do possess an inherent sense of a transcendent self, which atheist psychologists such as Nicholas Humhpries consider to be the essence of religious belief. Humphries wrote a piece about in an edition of the on-line science magazine, The Edge and was extremely unhappy about the existence of such a sense, as it meant humans would never eradicate religion. Thus, while the individual conception of a transcendent supernatural force may differ from culture to culture, the sensus divinitatis that produces such conceptions remains.

  26. beastrabban Says:

    Now let’s deal with your comments about miracles. There are some extremely reliable accounts of miracles. In Roman Catholicism, before a saint can be canonised, at least three miracles have to have occurred that can be reliably credited to the saint’s intervention. These miracles are rigorously investigated by the responsible Vatican department following the the procedure laid out by one of the 18th century Popes, who, as Cardinal Prosper Lambertini, was in charge of such investigations. The Vatican panel investigating miracles includes medical doctors and scientists, and the process is conducted like a conventional court case.

    There is also a considerable amount of evidence from parapsychology to suggest that phenomena conventionally associated with the supernatural does indeed occur. If you want to look into this further, have a look at the Public Parapsychology website. This links to properly accredited scientists conducting psychical research. I’m not saying it’s convincing, only that there’s some extremely interesting stuff there.

  27. beastrabban Says:

    Now let’s deal with your comment that if God exists, then He would create a world that would incontrovertibly demonstrate His existence. This doesn’t necessarily follow. In Christian theology, the ordered nature of the universe does indeed point to the existence of God. However, the corruption of the Fall means that humans lack the ability to come to God solely by their own efforts, hence the necessity of revelation. God also granted humans freedom. Making His existence obvious, God would remove both the necessity of special revelation and for humans to make an individual choice. Thus, while the Bible states that ‘the heavens proclaim the glory of God’, people still need special revelation to come to the Almighty, and still need to make that choice for themselves.

  28. beastrabban Says:

    Regarding my comments about Peter Van Inwagen’s remarks about Carl Sagan’s idea of evolution. This comes from Van Inwagen’s paper, Genesis and Evolution , in which he critiques Sagan’s view that humans are able to do advanced physics because there exist a special set of characteristics, which were selected by evolution early in our hominid prehistory. In it, Van Inwagen states:

    Quite possibly the first person to have the idea of the bow and arrow or to conceive the idea of making fire from the heat produced by friction would have to have had the qualities that would make a good physicist. Nevertheless, the intellectual conception of the great prehistoric inventions must have been a pretty rare occurrence; I can’t see the great, but very rarely operative, advantages to a population of having in its gene pool the capacities for making such inventions as exerting much selection pressure on the population’s gene pool. But let us concede that a population of modern human beings transported to some vastly ancient time (and divested of modern knowledge) would have had a distinct reproductive edge on otherwise similar populations that lacked the bilogical basis of physical intuition, owing to its capacity to invent the bow and arrow and fire-by-friction. This concession simply raises a further question: How did the gene frequencies that groudn this capacity get established before-it must have been before-there was a relatively advanced technology to confer on them the opportunity to be advantageous? (Peter Van Inwagen, ‘Genesis and Evolution’ in Paul Helm, ed, Faith and Reason (Oxford, OUP 1999), pp. 269-70.

    I hope this clears the matter up there.

    As for gene duplication involving the loss of an allele, in trying to find the reference for that it seems that I made a mistake and got it garbled.

  29. Malcolm Says:

    First let me point out that Malcolm and Flippertie are one and the same. I didn’t notice that I’d used different ID’s for my comments.

    We both know that neither of us is likely to change our points of view based on an exchange like this – but continuing much further seems unlikely to be of much benefit to either of us.

    Brief replies to some of your six (!) posts

    Post 1)You said I’d just like to clear up what we understand by ‘evolution’. You then invoke the (artificial) distinction between microevolution and macroevolution, and conclude “I don’t think its unreasonable to doubt its [evolution’s] ability to account for speciation”

    The definition of evolution accepted by most biologists is something equivalent to “the change in gene (or allele) frequency in a population over time”. You accept that this happens, at least to the point of ‘microevolution’ – creating new ‘strains’.

    But then you balk at the idea it can create new species. Why? The definition of a species is fairly artificial – but is generally accepted as referring to a group of organisms that breeds successfully but but cannot, (or does not naturally) interbreed with other similar groups.

    Given separate populations of a species subject to different selection pressures these microevolutionary changes will change the gene frequencies in the populations in different ways. What logical, or biological reason is there to conclude that the genetic changes will not change the physical characteristics of the two populations to the point that if they re-encounter each other they will not interbreed? Once that happens you have two separate species. Obviously they will at first be very similar and closely related, but given enough time and generations (which evolution has aplenty) the differences become greater. This has been observed many times, as you must know (look up ‘speciation events, or ‘ring species’) – so why profess doubt that it happens?

    Then you continue:
    You query my comment about plant evolution. Perhaps I should I have made myself .. clearer .. I was discussing the emergence of new plant species here..

    Well, no you weren’t.
    You said : “gene duplication is, I understand, a feature of plant, rather than animal evolution, although polyploidy has been observed to an extent in certain insects. The problem with this is whether it applies to animals

    You specifically refer to gene duplication in animals as the problem. I replied and gave Downs Syndrome as an example off the top of my head. Point made – gene duplication happens in animals too. Your response is to change the topic from gene duplication in animals to the emergence of new plant species.

    In a similar way, after I mentioned Down’s Syndrome (only in the context of gene duplication) you responded “The mutation that produces Down’s Syndrome doesn’t produce new human species, but tragically only handicapped humans“. A true statement – but another complete change of topic.

    Post 2)Belief in god hindering science – or not.
    You:
    “Okay, now let’s deal with the idea that belief in a God somehow undermines science, because one can always claim that God was responsible for some observed phenomena. In fact, science has its origin in the Judaeo-Christian view of God creating a lawful universe…”

    Taking the second point first: When I said it’s completely irrelevant I meant the *origin* of science and the scientific method is not relevant to the sort of discussion we are having on this page.
    Whatever the history may be, the position today is obvious. There is a conflict between the predominantly materialistic scientific approach to knowledge, and the truth claims of fundamentalist religious believers.

    And the idea “that belief in a God somehow undermines science”. You took issue with my claim than a non-believer is more likely to say “We don’t *yet* have a good explanation of how X could have evolved – but we’re working on it”

    You said “it supposes that there is a materialistic cause for all phenomena in the cosmos. However, this is a presupposition that does not necessarily correspond to reality …. it assumes that even if there is a naturalistic cause, that cause must be intelligible to humans and will eventually be discovered
    There is no pre-supposition involved. Simply an acknowledgment that some problems are difficult and take time to resolve. As you say – it is possible, even likely, that some things are beyond human explanation. But it’s also obvious that there are many things we don’t yet understand, that *are* within our grasp. And way to tell the difference is to keep trying.

    Anyway – that’s enough. I could spend my life on pages and thoughts like this, and there are other calls on my time. Thank you for encouraging me to think…

    Malcolm

  30. beastrabban Says:

    Thanks for the reply, Malcolm/Flippertie – I guessed you were the same person, though as I wasn’t sure I replied to you as Flippertie. Thanks for clearing that up anyway. I got the impression that a lot of people have different names for various websites, so it’s easy to get them mixed up.

    As for neither of us changing the other’s viewpoint, that’s true, and I’m sure you have a lot of other very pressing matters demanding your time and attention. However, I’d still like to reply to some of the comments here. 🙂

    Firstly, you seem to have understood me as talking about evolution in the very technical sense in the definition you gave above. Thanks for the compliment, but I was simply talking about it in the ordinary, everyday sense that most people who aren’t evolutionary biologists talk about it. For example, Everyman’s English Dictionary, by D.C. Browning (London, J.M. Dent & Sons 1956) defines evolution as

    unfolding, devellopment, evolving; planned movement, manoeuvre, of troops etc; origination of species by development from earlier form; theory of this’ . It was in the last sense of speciation that I was talking about evolution.

    Now let’s deal with remark about my comments about evolution and Down’s Syndrome. You stated:

    You said gene duplication is, … a feature of plant, rather than animal evolution, .
    Though it happens more often in plants, gene duplication is still very common in animals. e.g. each case of Downs syndrome in humans is another independent case of chromosome duplication.

    In your last post you state:

    You specifically refer to gene duplication in animals as the problem. I replied and gave Downs Syndrome as an example off the top of my head. Point made – gene duplication happens in animals too. Your response is to change the topic from gene duplication in animals to the emergence of new plant species.

    Now remember, I really was talking about evolution in the very strict sense of speciation. As I said, as far as I can recall from Oliver Rackham, speciation has been observed in some plant species, such as the elms through polyploidy and gene duplication. Now I’ll admit that I wasn’t aware that it also occurred in humans, but having looked it up I agree that you’re right. However, my original point still stands – the existence of gene duplication in animals and humans does not automatically lead to speciation.

    Now let’s deal with your comments about evolution occurring through gradual, incremental changes:

    But then you balk at the idea it can create new species. Why? The definition of a species is fairly artificial – but is generally accepted as referring to a group of organisms that breeds successfully but but cannot, (or does not naturally) interbreed with other similar groups.

    Given separate populations of a species subject to different selection pressures these microevolutionary changes will change the gene frequencies in the populations in different ways. What logical, or biological reason is there to conclude that the genetic changes will not change the physical characteristics of the two populations to the point that if they re-encounter each other they will not interbreed? Once that happens you have two separate species. Obviously they will at first be very similar and closely related, but given enough time and generations (which evolution has aplenty) the differences become greater. This has been observed many times, as you must know (look up ’speciation events, or ‘ring species’) – so why profess doubt that it happens?

    Critics of conventional Neo-Darwinian evolutionary theories have attacked it on the grounds that there are problems with the mathematics involved. For example, the late Fred Hoyle, in his book Evolution from Space argued that the mutation rate in humans was too low to account for the divergence of humans from gorillas. His calculations have been attacked in their turn, but others have maintained that there are still problems in reconciling the mutation rate with the appearance of new features. The late Gordon Rattray Taylor, a former producer of BBC’s Horizon programme also took this view.

    Now let’s deal with your comment
    Simply an acknowledgment that some problems are difficult and take time to resolve. As you say – it is possible, even likely, that some things are beyond human explanation. But it’s also obvious that there are many things we don’t yet understand, that *are* within our grasp. And way to tell the difference is to keep trying.

    Now some of the ID theorists actually agree with you on this point. Mike Behe has said that although he feels that there is a boundary to the ability of naturalistic evolution to create new characteristics, nevertheless research should continue to explore this boundary and test it, as new discoveries are indeed being made, some of which have challenged his original ideas. So although he is a critic of the ability of Neo-Darwinian processes to explain the emergence of new species, he doesn’t want research to stop.

  31. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Hi Dave!

    Thanks for the update!

    (The return emailing got popped back to me and apparently the server was down or somesuch, but did not work. So to let you know I got your missive, I’ll just post here.)

    Yes, Coast-to-Coast of course is one of those semi tongue-cheek type venues, mostly for fun. But it does have a really wide audience and probably more people than we might suspect who actually are taken in by Crypto-zoology (Bigfoot, giant birds the size of trash trucks, wild cougars in Britain, as some claim), the paranormal, and other apparitional spook stuff. Of course–that sorta thing) their mainstay is the continuing persistence of conspiracy theory and the alleged international withholding of vital info on UFOs.

    I too was surprised to find out that guys like Ian Punnit (sp?) who seems
    very orthodox (small ‘o’!) and doctrinaire protestant (I think), was part of the lineup for the main hosts.

    But perhaps he’s just an easy-going guy who likes to have fun.

    I’ve been very busy myself of late, and tying up some odds and ends.

    Even though my line of work is slowing down, due no doubt to the frowsy
    American economy, I’ve been busy with other things like some coursework of my own dealing with real estate appraisal.

    I realize from casual glances that much is going on. I’ve not been able to attend to very much blogging or anything else. Many odd, confusing (to
    American culture at least) and relatively new and troubling things are
    happening. There is the attack on Fox News, but to some people that’s just droll and surrealistic for an administration to do, and then we now have in American apparent Islamist “honor” killings and Islamist shootouts with the FBI.

    Astonishing.

    Later on (I don’t know when) I’ll have some more interesting input that,
    this time, you might like to comment on and even publish. Some of your
    readership might find it interesting!

    Take care!

    –Wake

  32. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    PS–once you get this missive, just delete it right away.

    As I realize it has nothing to do with the main thread!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: