Darwin Day 2015 Questions: #2 Is Evolution a Fact?

Mar 10, 2015

Richard Dawkins answers your questions about evolution in honor of Darwin Day 2015.

“…it isn’t a theory that the earth moves around the sun it’s a fact we can observe, evolution is not”

Edited by Stephanie Renee Guttormson

Copyright 2015 Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science

57 comments on “Darwin Day 2015 Questions: #2 Is Evolution a Fact?

  • 1
    ldn_sw11 says:

    The question suggests a fact must be observable or is not comparable to those that are, this would be a perverse proposition. But there is hope as the question also exhibits a need for evidence which is a healthy mindset, so Prof Dawkins could recommend his book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution or books by Jerry Coyne.

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  • Evolution is indirectly observable via genetics, fossils, observations of diversity within gene-pools, and experiments with rapidly breeding organisms making adaptations.
    As empirical for observations that evolution is happening these are facts, in the same way that empirical astronomical observations are facts on which we base our models of movements in the Solar System.
    It is the fine detail of deductions and calculations, which are hypotheses or theories.

    As the main limitation on observations is the time-scale of evolutionary processes in relation to the length of a human life-span, the evidence, can only be cumulative over time as scientific records are kept.

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  • Evolution is a fact in even a more direct way.

    In his book Evolving: The Human Effect and Why It Matters ISBN:9781616145651 Dr. Daniel J. Fairbanks quotes a study of fish in Mexican streams that over a period of decades evolved a new species, while researchers watched.

    I got HIV in 1985. Over the decades my HIV viruses have evolved immunity to drug after drug. I am taking a drug not released yet. They want to replace one of the other drugs, but there are no replacements. HIV are clever little beasts, managing to defeat even cocktails of multiple drugs. It is not as though I caught new strains. They evolved in my own body.

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  • The Lenski E Coli experiment that ran for 20 years provided proof of evolution.


    Evolution of aerobic citrate usage in one population

    Under this heading, it is revealed that tank of the strain of E Coli, **the bacteria evolved the ability to grow on citrate under the oxygen-rich conditions of the experiment. ** This is not possible for native E Coli. They evolved this ability right in front of the scientists.

    Roedy’s example is correct. Evolution while under observation. I endorse Alan4D’s post. And further to that post, proof of a thing can be inferred by non direct evidence. Circumstantial evidence can, and often convicts criminals of serious crimes. All animal DNA is proof of evolution. The fossil record is proof of evolution. Observation of the natural world is proof of evolution. Taken together, evolution is proved beyond all doubt.

    The European house sparrow was imported to Australia, and South America. On a recent trip to South America, I noticed that the resident European male house sparrows sport a small crest of feathers on their head, while Australia sparrows do not. To quote Spock. “Fascinating”. Divergence through natural selection in action.

    In Australia, there are three subspecies of Gouldian finches. The males each have a separate head colour. They come from the Kimberleys, Arnhem Land and Cape York. Check out a map of Australia. Females of each sub species will now only bread with a male with the head colour from their location. However, if you artificially change the colour of the head feathers, a female will now breed with that male.

    Look at the map of Australia again. Under a different climate, all three sub species were one unique species. As climate changed, the resident birds were driven north in Australia. This meant they became separated and isolated for a long time. They are on the way to speciation. That is, they can’t breed with each other.

    There are voluminous proofs to evolution. You only need to swab the inside of your cheek to find one. But to view these proofs, requires your eyes to open, not blinkered and shackled by dogma.

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  • What might be a good idea is for RD or NDeGT to commission a video of evolution happening. A 20-minute video could condense the timeline to a watchable series of events. It would be interesting to see how we moved from single cell organisms to multi-cell ones and how it was possible for those larger cells to diverge into plants (which then evolved separately) and animals, which then evolved in a different way. For myself, as a committed evolutionist, empirical scientist and atheist, I have always been puzzled by the split from plants to animals, unless it was a different set of multi-cell organisms that created the different species’ lines. Maybe a well-devised video can reveal the answer.

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  • I am glad he has clarified his previous statement. I think it is important to keep the distinction between fact and inference. While many facts support evolution, keeping the distinction reminds us to leave the window open slightly to allow for new facts that might challenge the Theory. I think Dr. Irving J. Lee explains the distinction very well in the video below. Dr. Lee was a proponent of General Semantics and includes some of the basic ideas of GS in a series of six videos of which the following “Do You Know How to Make a Statment of Fact” is one.


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  • I think that the claim he refers to, concerning his own statement, that evolution is a fact in the same sense, as it is a fact that the earth orbits around the sun, is based on the typical confusion of the term theory in the field of science and in the everyday use. But even in the everyday use the theory of evolution should already be seen as a fact and not as an idea without proof! School seems not to make a good job here!

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  • I can see why the climate change deniers try to throw spanners into the findings of science, because there is big oil and coal money behind them. But it seems the only objectors to evolution are religious and mainly Christian, (for now I’ll leave out the Islamic cavemen like that Turkish guy Harun,with the fishook, ) and most of these Christians are of the Protestant variety, running churches as businesses and thriving on ignorance. Need I say mostly from the USA. Don’t let the facts get in the way of a nice income !

    Bloody liars for Jesus, as Richard so aptly termed such behaviour.

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  • I would agree that it can be observed two points in time (ta&tb) relative to an objekt and his context. The objekt at tb varies from the objekt at ta (appearance, behaviour etc) Perhaps “we” cannot observe the processes itself( because of the complexity, phylogenetic evolve etc.etc) but “we” can still produce “causal” links, which are more or less linear(?). I think a big Problem ist the relation between the objekt and the context. But I think this can be better explained by Prof. Dawkins.
    Perhaps here an example with the “context-variable”


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  • I’m sorry about your HIV infection, Roedy.

    What would you suggest a response would be to the oft-heard creatard response, “That’s not evolution, that’s adaptation.”?

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  • Evolution is a fact. i.e. Over Earth’s 4.6 billion years or so history, life has changed from microbial through various stages, with humans/hominids only appearing in the last few million years. This is as much an “observable” fact as any other, and can’t be disputed without also challenging swathes of non-biological sciences from cosmology to geophysics to nuclear physics.

    The Theory of Natural Selection seeks to explain the facts. It not only explains the facts, but provides a paradigm “organises” our scientific knowledge in a comprehensive fashion – hence the Theory-with-a-capital-T.

    Anyone who’s accepted evolution as a fact will have no problem accepting natural selection as an explanation, notwithstanding the IDiots who seek to introduce ad hoc science fantasy explanations.

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  • Have you ever seen a gene? Even if we look at our finger, we are still only having the perception of a finger. We are not seeing the finger but the light that bounces from the finger to our eyes. The finger is indirectly observable through the light that sends signals through our neural network and registers in our cortex as a finger.

    Facts do not need to be observable. They exist independent of what we may think of them. They just are. Facts are the bits and pieces and the wholes of the universe. We collect data and describe phenomena to represent fact. Fact and truth are not the same words either. Theories are neither worse, nor are they better than fact – they are just a different tool we use in the logic of inference. Dawkin’s is confusing the terms. He is using fact in the sense that it means true. However, we use theories to gain insight into truth.

    Facts tell us nothing about truth – they are just there in reality and can be received by our sense perception and communicated thus. Evolution is true, but it is not a fact – it is a theory depending on how you view it. Natural selection might be considered a fact, because it is a process and facts are things or a process in a thing.

    If you want to say that evolution is a process, then what process are we referring to? What segment in the line of descent – or are we saying the whole of creation on earth? If that is true, then we are saying that common ancestry and descent with modification are facts and I have no problem with this. However, is that all that evolution is? Where does genetic drift fit into this? Even genes are part of theory. Are we talking a segment of DNA or a codex of information? Is it physical or is it a fleeting manifestation of bits of DNA, RNA, and protein coming together to serve some function at the time of need? We use the word gene, but not all genes are alike and not all scientists agree on the same definition of gene. This is why it is genetics theory – but for shorthand we just say genetics.

    Evolutionary theory or evolution, is this semantics? Can evolution be both a theory and a fact? If so, then what purpose do the two terms of theory and fact serve? When is a fact a theory and a theory a fact? If there is ever certainty in scientific theory, then have we resolved the problem of induction? Can we put our experiment to rest and be dammed with the likelihood of it!? All things in science must remain in the field of endless inquiry, which is why we use theory. Theory is the tool we use to learn about truth. Theory is not to be despised while we praise fact – let’s be objective here. Theory is to be refined, sharpened, and utilized to explain the facts – which can only exist as phenomena in our existential reality. A material realist (I am) can understand theory to be true of reality. Facts can also be the nerve pathways that are set into place through the induced observation of a fact – but they are not the same fact, because one is an interpretation or reflection of the other.

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  • 16
    rocket888 says:

    I think the difference, if any, between evolution and adaptation is one of degree, not one of kind.

    Sometimes I hear an argument that animals can change somewhat, like dogs, but that one species cannot change into another.

    My response to that argument is to describe a ring species.

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  • I am a firm supporter of evolution. The only criticism I have is with your terminology.

    In high school, over 50 years ago, I was taught the scientific method as follows.

    When you observe something you first see if it fits into an existing theory. If it does, you have further verification, not proof, of that theory and no more propositions are required. If it doesn’t, or if it contradicts an existing theory, you propose a hypothesis to explain the observation that fits in with all previous and verified observations.

    You then test your hypothesis by finding further verification. If your hypothesis fits all observations, it becomes a theory. All it requires is one single counter example to disprove the theory requiring a new hypothesis. Looking for counter examples and not finding them is a valid verification method. There are theories where the lack of counter examples is the only evidence. This can happen where direct observation is not possible.

    Science doesn’t deal in facts or proof. It deals in disproof and verifiable ideas that amount to evidence. None of those examples you mention prove anything except the breeding habits of particular species of birds. All of your examples verify the theory.

    (Sorry Wendy, but saying “evolution is just a theory” puts it a class or two above “god must have done it”, a hypothesis with no verification whatsoever.)

    You then test your hypothesis by finding further verification.

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  • After reading John Sanford’s book, ‘Genetic Entropy, and the mystery of the genome’, I am more convinced than ever that evolution is a seriously flawed theory.
    Sanford writes;
    Most DNA sequences are poly-functional and so must also be poly-constrained. This means that DNA sequences have meaning on several different levels(poly-functional) and each level of meaning limits possible future change(poly-constrained) For example imagine a sentence which has a very specific message in its normal form but with an equally coherent message when read backward. Now let’s suppose that it also has a third message when reading every other letter, and a fourth message when a simple encryption program is used to translate it. Such a message  would be poly-functional and poly-constrained. We know that misspellings in a normal sentence will not normally improve the message, but at least this would be possible. However, a poly-constrained sentence is fascinating in that it cannot be improved. It can only degenerate(See Figure 12, p. 142). Any misspellings which might possibly improve the normal sentence form will be disruptive to the other levels of information. Any change at all will diminish total information with absolute certainty.

    There is abundant evidence that most DNA sequences are poly-functional, and are, therefore, poly-constrained.                   See pp. 131-133. for more levels of constraint.

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  • The main problem is the ambiguity of terms such as evolution, adaptation, and theory. Biological evolution means change of several sorts: a change in the relative frequency of alleles in a gene pool,a change in the adaptation norm of a population, or a change in the genetic diversity of populations resulting in the origin of new species (speciation). What creationists mean by adaptation is a rebuttal to the idea of speciation.That is no rebuttal, it is nonsense. Adaptation can be one of several forms of evolution of organisms. One form of evolution is speciation, that is the origin of a new species from an ancestral one and that is what creationists think is false.

    A theory in science is a hypothesis that is solidly supported by the evidence, and that evidence can be direct or indirect. Any biologist who clearly demonstrates that speciation is fundamentally flawed would probably win the nobel prize and become a millionaire overnight. However any biologist attempting this better have considerable evidence or risk becoming a laughing stock.

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  • Evolution is occurring all the time still, it is just very slow.

    I have no Wisdom teeth, none in my head to come in. When they were finally able to prove it, with a “new” 40 years ago, x-ray machine that circled the entire head, the doctor said that I was an example of evolution. We haven’t needed those nawing teeth since we discovered fire, so gradually, they will cease to be.

    My children only had 2 each, because their father had all his? Will their children have any?
    Dr. Dawkins is right again though, there is tons of evidence to prove its not a theory.

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  • The process of Evolution can be “observed” in a laboratory setting with some patience, unless of course you believe the theists which will tell you that their sky-god is intentionally creating variants that prove to be non-viable and which die off as part of his microscopic master plan for that petri-dish.

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  • 24
    maria melo says:

    I wonder why saying “evolution is a theory” rather than “evolution is a fact” makes a point (of course, because people don´t really think evolution occurs).
    Why than to assume that God exists as far as it is not observable and why can´t atheists be atheists rather than agnostics, why aren´t they agnostics of the theory of evolution too, as far as they cannot disprove it?

    (Of course my words don´t make any sense, don´t bother to answer)

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  • The differences between evolution and adaptation are not simply of degree. You, as an individual, can adapt. You cannot evolve. Only populations can evolve. If it is cold outside, you can adjust to the cold by putting on a coat. You may even increase your caloric intake and put on more fat. These are adaptations. These are not genetic changes. Evolution requires genetic changes. A population might evolve to deal with a cold environment by selecting for darker hair, more hair, fatty eyelids, etc.

    Evolution and adaptation are not the same.

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  • Can you share some of the “abundant evidence that most DNA sequences are poly-functional”? I am a bacterial geneticist by trade and I am aware of very few examples of DNA having function on both strands. Nearly all of the DNA I look at is of the one gene, one function variety. I’d love to learn what all of those other functions are. I’ve been manipulating DNA for many years, quite successfully. I’m surprised to find out I can’t do it.

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  • Echo Mar 11, 2015 at 8:25 pm

    After reading John Sanford’s book, ‘Genetic Entropy, and the mystery of the genome’, I am more convinced than ever that evolution is a seriously flawed theory.

    People are easily misled by pseudo-science quackology from people who have scientific training, but have wandered outside their fields of expertise, or become irrational and senile.

    Sanford writes;
    Most DNA sequences are poly-functional and so must also be poly-constrained.

    This is nonsense! MOST DNA sequences are neutral and inactive.

    This means that DNA sequences have meaning on several different levels(poly-functional) and each level of meaning limits possible future change(poly-constrained) For example imagine a sentence which has a very specific message in its normal form but with an equally coherent message when read backward.

    Someone who has a background in plant genetics should also be aware that many sequences are polyploid duplicates which are back-up systems.


    Sanford graduated in 1976 from the University of Minnesota with a BSc in horticulture. He went to the University of Wisconsin–Madison where he received an MSc in 1978 and a PhD in 1980 in plant breeding/plant genetics. Between 1980 and 1986 Sanford was an assistant professor of Horticultural Sciences at Cornell University, and from 1986 to 1998 he was an associate professor of Horticultural Science. Although retiring in 1998, Sanford continues at Cornell as a courtesy associate professor.

    He is basically an expert in gardening, with some studies from the distant past, when the modern understanding of genetics was in its infancy.
    He has simply lost touch with modern science!

    Formerly an atheist[10] since the mid-1980s, Sanford has looked into theistic evolution (1985–late 1990s), Old Earth creationism (late 1990s), and Young Earth creationism (2000–present). According to his own words, he did not fully reject Darwinian evolution until the year 2000. An advocate of intelligent design, in 2005 Sanford testified in the Kansas evolution hearings on behalf of intelligent design, during which he denied the principle of common descent and “humbly offered… that we were created by a special creation, by God.”

    This was just a political creationist kangaroo court which was boycotted by mainstream scientists who disputed its legitimacy. Basically a political panel of elected scientific illiterates!
    Sanford is just another AIG Hamster pseudo-biologist, who lost the plot years ago, and is now making a living selling pseudo-science books to the gullible creationists.

    In 1999, Kansas gained worldwide notoriety when the state Board of Education (BOE) passed creationist-influenced science standards. These standards were replaced by solid science standards in 2001 when pro-science moderates regained the Board majority from the creationist conservatives.

    He stated that he believed the age of the Earth was “less than 100,000” years.[11]

    So he is totally incompetent in the field on nuclear physics and radiometric dating”, but is self-deluded into making pseudo-science statements on the subject.

    An analogy Sanford uses to illustrate evidence of design is that of a car versus a junkyard:

    Argument by analogy is not science – and in any case that lame old argument from personal incredulity, has been debunked many times.

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  • Regrettably, Sanford’s book is not to hand it the moment, and I am not a geneticist. However, it seems logical to me, and a staggering blow to the possibility of evolution, if even one strand of DNA is discovered with the properties which Sanford claims to have discovered. I’ll have a rummage for his book.

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  • evolution is adaptation.. adaptation is not necessarily evolution.. adaptation by acquiring new abilities (to eliminate drugs more quickly in the case of HIV) or losing abilities: like seeing animals losing their sight when they live only in the dark. If no adaptation would occur, i.e. no change in the genetic make-up of an organism, there would be no evolution.. we usually choose evolution for the longer running thing we cannot readily observe, but it certainly can occur on a smaller time-scale as does happen with a lot of (if not every) living thing on the planet.. that zebras do not change their stripes and stay zebras, does not mean they have not undergone some evolutionary change in the past fifty or so years.. perhaps they are now more susceptible (hope I haven misspelled that) to a certain disease, or less so.. that too is evolution.. but doesn alter tha fact we still talk about zebras..

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  • we are talking about DNA, not words (although we use letters to represent them..). I am not a geneticist, but have dabbled a bit in genetics during university while studying to become a medicine-man.. and I remember that a load of DNA is not used (there are introns and exons, for instance) and that a load of DNA is no longer in use/ back-up material.. we have one set of DNA from our mothers and one set from our fathers. one of the strands of this doubl-helix is used to make proteins (triplets are read and the corresponding amino-acid for this triplet (some amino-acids have more than one triplet) and the other strand is actually just there to make DNA and protect it from being broken down (if it were not this double strand, it would be RNA).
    it is read from one end to the other and not the other way round, as far as I can remember from uni: there is a triplet which signals the beginning of proof-reading and there is a triplet for telling the ribosome to end the proof-reading.. you cannot start at the end.. we may think it can happen, but ribosomes don work that way..
    as said, there are introns and exons: introns do not code for proteins and the exons do code.. the exons are read and the corresponding amino-acids / proteins parts are put together to form a hopefully functional protein/ enzyme.. one false triplet can cause a complete protein to become as useless as a fart in a hurricane..

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  • Given that we have a limited series I am a little disappointed in the choice of question. Evolution has gone from the unknown to a theory, possible probable to observably reliable explanation, no more no less. If some people are determined to hope that Elvis Presley is alive and well and living on the moon and know this because the have communed with him or someone told them then so be it. But let’s move on to a more productive debate. That one has been done to death.
    If you want a question that considers what can’t be observed then how about the implications on our understanding of life of the conclusion of Darwins theory that all life is interconnected, that it can be traced back to a single point. The implications of modern life for human evolution . The consequences of reduction in diversity, GM crops Cloning and so on. Or we can just keep staring at the moon to try and prove that we are right.

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  • Well put. I was disappointed by the video. RD responds to ignorant criticism to confirm that science says there is no such thing as fact. Life lets us use what we can reasonably assume to be correct but it is never absolute. If it were it wouldn’t be a scientific approach it would be faith, dogma ideology. In that context it is reasonable to use the term fact to argue in human terms that evolution is as reliable as the planets turning.

    As you point out we learn this at school RD could have picked a more thought provoking topic

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  • No. One strand of DNA matching your claims means nothing. You have implied that such traits (which don’t really exist) absolutely prevent evolution (a doubtful claim). If one strand is found that meets some trait that you have claimed (without understanding the claim), it doesn’t necessarily prevent that piece of DNA from evolving. Even if it does prevent it from evolving, it doesn’t prevent all of the other pieces of DNA from evolving. Even if every piece of DNA in existence were to somehow became incapable of being changed (that can never happen, for various reasons), it doesn’t prove that evolution didn’t happen to get to the current state of things.

    You have zero evidence of your claim that DNA can’t be mutated, while there is a loads of evidence that DNA has always changed and continues to change today. I see new mutations on a nearly weekly basis.

    It is not impossible for mutations to happen.

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  • @Echo.

    Noting his CV, it would be a waste of several days of my life, that I could never get back. I’ve got more important things to do. You, however, should ask for your money back because you got scammed.

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  • 39
    aroundtown says:

    I believe the old expression “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink” is generally applicable to those who deny evolution. There are great stores of knowledge in educational institutions and libraries containing enlightening subject matter but those afflicted by religion choose to reject them. The dedicated efforts of many a scientific paper proposing reasonable propositions are ignored and replaced by ancient superstitious postulation. A great banquet of knowledge rejected in favor of ancient fables.

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  • @John

    I am aware that my observations aren’t proof. I am also aware that there is no such thing as a fact in the universe, only probabilities. I am also aware of the science hierarchy of hypothesis through to theory etc. That’s why I frequent this blog. I know my examples don’t prove evolution. I cite them just as examples of change over time, which given enough time, can become proof of evolution. If everyone walked around with their eyes up, instead of eyes down in a religious book, you could see examples of small variations over time and geography, as Darwin did on the Galapagos Islands. The inspiration for the final crystallization of his theory of evolution.

    Another example in Australia. If you drive from Sydney to Adelaide in Australia, around 1,600kms, two days if your good, you will see that the magpies gradually change from white backed magpies to black backed magpies. Same species. Able to interbreed. But change over distance.

    Change does happen. Toss in a few billion years and you’ve got evolution.

    The Burgess Shales are another brilliant example of evolution. The book I read indicated that there were 36 different families of animals. I don’t know if this is the correct terminology, but in the modern world there are only 7 families?? (Long time since I read the book, but I know some more literate science type will correct me) The point being, entire families of animals have gone extinct and a few have survived, including the tiny worm the Pikaia, our earliest ancestor. More here.


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  • Echo Mar 12, 2015 at 9:02 am

    Have you read his book?

    Why would I want read a book about the delusions of someone (if your quotes are correct), who is utterly clueless about DNA, who also thinks he has shown all the world’s nuclear physicists to be wrong about radioactive decay, and is so dim that he fails to see that if that was so, none the world’s nuclear power-stations would work?

    I have looked at claims from some of these Young Earth “experts” before. On average I can refute their ludicrous claims (which demonstrate their personal ignorance), in under five minutes!

    Perhaps Sanford should stick to topics such as managing glasshouse environments and crop rotation, which are more in keeping with his experience and capabilities!

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  • No it is not really. If you can grasp the analogy of the palindrome below, and search for any correspondence with a gene sequence you will have grasped what Sanford is trying to say.
    ‘Like puns, palindromes, and other word puzzles, DNA contains poly-functional letters, words, and phrases. Such sequences can only arise by very careful design. Once hey are created they cannot be “mutated” to make them better. An excellent example is the painstakingly crafted poly-functional Latin phrase shown above (see Ohno and Yomo, 1991). This ancient puzzle (dating back to 79AD) has a translation something like, “THE SOWER NAMED AREPO HOLDS THE WORKING OF THE WHEELS.” It reads the same, four different ways, left to right, up to down, and starting at the lower right, down to up, right to left. Any single letter change in this system destroys all four messages simultaneously (all four of which happen to be the same in this example). Similarly, a simple sentence palindrome would be: ABLE WAS I ERE I SAW ELBA, which reads the same forward or backwards. Any letter change destroys both messages. A simple example of a poly-functional word would be LIVE which backwards is EVIL. To change LIVE to HIVE might be desirable, but it turns EVIL which has meaning, to EVIH, which is meaningless. So this dual-meaning word, like the other examples above, is poly-constrained, precisely because it is poly-functional.’
    Go compare.

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  • Echo Mar 13, 2015 at 6:28 am

    No it is not really. If you can grasp the analogy of the palindrome below, and search for any correspondence with a gene sequence you will have grasped what Sanford is trying to say.

    I know what Sanford is trying to say but his analolgy has nothing to do with DNA sequences.

    ‘Like puns, palindromes, and other word puzzles, DNA contains poly-functional letters, words, and phrases.

    I cannot eliminate the possibility that some strand somewhere may have some unusual features, but the vast majority of DNA strands have nothing of the kind, and even if they did have some unusual bits that would have no bearing on evolution in general.
    In any case changes in single genes may or may not affect the life of organisms. In many cases, they don’t

    Such sequences can only arise by very careful

    We know that palindromes, and other word puzzles, are carefully designed.
    Making a false analogy which will impress the uneducated, will simply be laughed at by biologists and geneticists!

    Once hey are created they cannot be “mutated” to make them better.

    This is simply wrong! Plant breeders often use chemicals to induce mutations.
    Mutations when they affect phenotypes, are readily observable. I have observed effects of mutations in plants on many occasions.

    They make things different. They may make an organism more competitive, less competitive, have no effect, disable it, or kill it. This is VERY basic biology.

    Mutations are a matter of chance. Interactions with the environment are Natural Selection from the range of mutations produced.

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  • I’m not quite sure about that.. If a microbe, or a multicellular organism, can adapt to its environment without procreating (in the case of, lets say, a bacteria, gaing the ability to expell a harmfull substance better), is this then merely an adaptation or should this be seen as evolution..
    In some sense you may be right.. the bacterium has evolved, has gained an ability it did not have before.. but is that evolution as we use the term? it’s all semantics, but that’s where the problem lies..

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  • 46
    maria melo says:

    “Observation” of facts in science is not the same as common observation through naked eye (and empty mind). Anyway, the Earth moves so slowly that it cannot be observable by naked eyes, there is no point (again).

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  • Echo Mar 12, 2015 at 8:43 am

    Regrettably, Sanford’s book is not to hand it the moment, and I am not a geneticist.

    .. and apparently not a biologist either.

    However, it seems logical to me,

    Logic is a process of reasoning – and in science – starting for testable evidence. It is not a badge to stick onto wild guesses about what people choose to believe.

    How plausible fairy-tales look to amateurs, is of no consequence to how reality works or how science demonstrates how it works.

    and a staggering blow to the possibility of evolution,

    Evolution carries on working in nature, in animal and plant breeding, and in damaging situations such as accumulating anti-biotic resistance in pathogens.
    Denial of evolution has no more effect on nature or science, than the denial of a global Earth by Flat-Earthists.

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  • I would like to clarify the meaning of “adaptation.” There are two very different definitions. The firsts is the adaptation of a single individual to environmental stresses. That is homeostasis. We sweat when ambient temperatures become to warm and shiver when it becomes too cold. As a result we adapt and our body temperature remains close to 98 degrees F. That of course is not evolution as I understand it.

    The second meaning is the change in the relative frequency of the gene pool of an entire population that results in adaptation to long term environmental changes, that I call evolution. To have evolution, speciation is not a requirement.

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  • Proof comes from Latin roots – “to test”. In colloquial terms people think that proof means that it is incontestable. However, everything in science remains within the purview of endless inquiry. We can hold mathematical proof – 1+1=2. I proved it! However, it doesn’t mean that I can’t prove it again. We keep going through the proof and building on the math. Sometimes, the sum of the parts do not add up to the whole. Proof is to demonstrate to others that you have used adequate method to be confident in your claims. Robert Boyle used to hold public displays of his experiment to create what he would call a “matter of fact”. When everyone could come together and see his experiment and reach the same conclusion that he held, then he established a matter of fact. He was able to prove the premise that he forwarded.

    What everyone is arguing about here is the semantics. Fact in colloquial terms means true. In scientific terms, a fact is a piece of the world, it is a thing or a process. We gather facts and represent them in our data. Our perception of the fact is a phenomena. The conceptualization of direct versus indirect experience is being confused by others in this thread as well. When the telescope was first invented it was thought to be a distortion of reality, so you could not interpret the heavens in the same way. When Galileo gathered academics to look through his telescope he was disappointed to learn that they all had a different interpretation on what they saw. They thought it could only give a real image of things that were close, but there was something in the atmosphere would distort the reality of the stars and moon. When we look at something with our own eyes, we are getting light signals that transmit through our retina inverted that is represented as an image of the thing. That image is a distortion, because we only see a narrow bandwidth of the full spectrum and we don’t see gravitational waves, dark matter, or the scale of things on a quantum level. It is all indirect inference.

    Evolution is not a fact in the scientific sense, because what would that fact even be? Is it referencing the whole of creation or a single lineage? If it is a fact, then why do we research it as theory? Is punctuated equilibrium a fact? Genetic drift? Niche construction? Natural selection? Which part is the fact? It is all part of a theory that is true, because we use the tools of inference to reveal truth about reality.

    Evolution cannot be both a fact and a theory – what would be the sense in that? Facts need direct referencing – the toe of a lizard, the cytochome b gene in Ambystoma macrodactylum, the tooth of a dinosaur, the biogeography of Darwin’s finches – those are the facts that are used in data matrix tables of systematics and taxonomic studies that reveal the truth of evolution. Dawkin’s is saying that evolution is true and using the colloquial semantics of the word fact in this sense. It is unfortunate, because it adds confusion in the same way that people think that theory is akin to a simple guess. Scientific terminology and semantics don’t line up with the way that the general public views things.

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  • Re-Echo

    Sanford cuts a sad figure. His testimony to the Kansas Evolution Hearings was hilariously poor. The metaphor he tries to work up into a theory is hugely underpowered to do its job and fails to note that polyfunctionality even on those occasions when it does occur, mostly occurs, not as a strong Mendelian phenotype driver, but as one amongst many contributors to the attribute. The argument is then one of slight loss of attribute set against large potential gain. The net, net may quite often be virtuous. Many such arguments exist.

    Science is a bitch for people like Sanford trying to retreat into dogma. The arguments made against Sanford here are quite good enough as is, but along comes Andreas Wagner and his big Zurich team and simply blows all this YEC nonsense cleanly out of the water. I have currently found time to read his “Arrival of the Fittest”. It is a a tremendous account of why evolved attributes are, in fact, robust and why innovability of attributes happens with the alacrity they do, similar attributes often again and again.

    Here is an excellent summary of his key points. I will post a further link to his Royal Institution lecture. His book needs to be on your bookshelf/e-book folder.

    (Don’t be put off by his neo-platonist spin. Its not needed in his account. It is just him waxing a little too lyrical about the profundity of his group’s work. Not quite as bad as Einstein or Hawking on the mind or intentions of god.)

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  • It is a a tremendous account of why evolved attributes are, in fact, robust and why innovability of attributes happens with the alacrity they do, similar attributes often again and again.

    It is a a tremendous account of why evolved attributes are, in fact, robust and why novel attributes happen with the alacrity they do, and often resulting in similar attributes again and again.

    Sorry. Screwed up sentence was bugging me.

    Let me add, the book itself is alo a great summary of much current thinking on abiogenesis.

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  • Alot of people, including most scientists, believe that evolution is a biological theory which describes factual truths about our world. Others – – mostly dumb religious people — believe that evolution is a false theory, usually because they believe that life forms were created by a God and are immutable. Yet, some others — mostly philosophers — believe that evolution is a tautology which maintains the truth of the doctrine of “survival of the fittest” only because, in the final analysis, the term fit is defined as that which survives. In reality, however, all three of these positions are wrong: The fact is that evolution is an organizing principle which cannot be dispensed with because events cannot be sensibly interpreted without it.

    For those unfamiliar with the term wikipedia describes it as :

    “An organizing principle is a core assumption from which everything else by proximity can derive a classification or a value. It is like a central reference point that allows all other objects to be located, often used in a conceptual framework. Having an organizing principle might help one simplify and get a handle on a particularly complicated domain. On the other hand, it might create a deceptive prism that colors one’s judgment.”

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  • 56
    William says:

    I really do wish we would stop referring to evolution as a fact. Yes, there is an extreme amount of evidence that supports the theory, but it can as well, with extreme low probability, be a coincidental misconception. I completely understand Dawkins’s point. But to approach doubters in a more humble way, we should refer it as a theory. Then show it’s evidence.

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  • John, I disagree with a couple of things you said.
    QUOTE: “You then test your hypothesis by finding further verification. If your hypothesis fits all observations, it becomes a theory. All it requires is one single counter example to disprove the theory requiring a new hypothesis”.

    It takes more than one single observation to call a hypothesis or theory to be incorrect.

    Evolutionary biology contains a number of theories, not just one grand theory. Some of those theories have been shown to be incorrect such as 1. inheritance of acquired characteristics, 2. orthogenesis, 3. mutationism, and 4. finalism to name a few. But others have been supported by considerable evidence: 1. natural selection, 2. variation within a species, 3. punctuated equilibrium, and 4. speciation by means of hybridization. They are all theories, and JUST theories. However a theory in science to be a theory must have considerable supporting evidence by many scientists. Calling a theory a “fact” makes it too absolute.All theories must be testable always to be in the realm of science.

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