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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Better Science: Random Chance

If you haven't read the background to this series please do so now.

Two posts got me thinking about this subject:

  1. Creation vs. Chance
  2. American's knowledge about creationism and evolution

Looking at these two posts--coming from opposite sides of the ring--it became clear to me that "Evolution" is rather unclear. Sadly, my own ignorance is all too evident the more I learn. But, I'd like to share what little I think I currently understand in the interest of better science...

I soaked up the rebuttals to evolution early in life. I really enjoyed the "Frog in a Blender" and "toss parts of an airplane into the air" thought experiments. Sadly, it wasn't until last year that I even heard that these two staples of my grasp of evolutionary theory are wrong.

Part of my ignorance is understandable. "Evolution" is a vague term that is rarely defined consistently enough to talk about it. Here are a few areas of "evolution":

  • Descent with modification. Mix this with genetic mutation and heredity, and we've got something everyone can agree on. ...mostly. The fact is: Living organisms change with reproduction. One main protested sticking point is...
  • Common descent. Can all living things trace back to some original source via speciation? And, if so, where did that life come from? That is the question considered from a naturalistic perspective in the study of...
  • Abiogenesis. An element connected with abiogenesis is the Big Bang, or the potential starting point that flung everything in the universe out there.
  • Notice, however, that none of these areas of study even begin to touch the question of "how did it all get here in the first place?"

If we are to get anywhere in a discussion about evolution, we must be aware of which aspect of evolution we are talking about. Modification is a fact. Common descent is a theory. Abiogenesis is a naturalistic necessity. And the origin of matter is an ignored reality. ...all for very good reasons.

Or so I'm told.

I have yet to learn what most those reasons are. They weren't covered in my Honors Biology class in high school. They aren't covered in any of the Usborne books Sonlight carries in our homeschool Science programs. In fact, much of what I know about evidence for evolution comes from Young Earth Creationists' materials. Which is problematic because those are the same resources which contain the frog-blender/airplane-toss examples...

Why is it wrong to compare evolution to a blended frog zapped with electricity?

Because the "random chance" of evolution is not nearly that random or chance-ish. Here's the best analogy I've come up with thus far:

Evolutionary speciation is not like tossing pieces in the air an expecting a plane. It's more like replacing a piece of your Lego set with another piece--grabbed without looking from your bucket--each time you build a plane. If you like the new look, you keep that design for next time.

This aspect of evolution requires life to already exist. In fact...

Something I've only just started to glance at is the idea of engineered evolution. Basically, if common descent is a part of how we all got here, life was designed to evolve us forward. That is a fascinating twist!

I've still got a lot to learn about this subject. But that's the joy (and frustration) of life-long learning <smile>.

Have you heard any evidence for evolution that didn't come from someone who opposes it? And if so, what?

What do you think of the random mutation generator? Pretty fun, eh?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

P.S. If I've misrepresented something here, please leave a comment so we can learn together!


Celee said...

I think there's more evidence for devolution than evolution. Random mutations do not confer beneficial changes overall, but detrimental ones. Makes me long for the new heavens and new earth.

Luke Holzmann said...

That is very true <smile>. Did you get a chance to look at Perry Marshall's bit on random mutations? Fascinating stuff.


Donna said...

Hi Luke,

My understanding is that the "frog in a blender" argument is a corruption of the "find a watch on a beach" analogy ( Which is not an argument against evolution, but against atheism.

A belief in evolution and a belief in God are not mutually exclusive (unless you believe that Genesis 1-3 was meant to be written as a scientific textbook).

I appreciate your observation that creation may have been designed to evolve. That sounds both reasonable and God honouring to me (who says that what God creates has to stay the same as we know it - isn't our God bigger than that?)


Luke Holzmann said...

Hmm... that's interesting, Donna. I never really heard the frog/blender thing described that way. Very interesting article, by the way! Thanks for sharing!

I do try to be both God honoring and reasonable <smile>. Thanks!



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