Freaks of Nature and Bridgeless Gaps

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Readers from waaaay back may recall an event I helped out with a few years ago, bringing together scientists, philosophers, and our resident IDist to discuss evolution and intelligent design. One of the speakers was University of Iowa professor Mark Blumberg, a colleague in the Department of Psychology. Dr. Blumberg also happens to be a prolific author, and has just released his third book in 4 years: “Freaks of Nature: What Anomalies Tell us About Development and Evolution.”

As if that wasn’t enough (and all of this while maintaining a very active laboratory, serving as Editor-in-Chief of Behavioral Neuroscience, and as President of the International Society for Developmental Psychobiology–and presumably sleeping at some point), he’s also now getting his feet wet as a blogger, discussing the legacy of Richard Goldschmidt, and the “bridgeless gaps” between species–and between evolutionary biologists. Stop by and welcome him to the author side of the blogosphere (he’s been a reader for awhile), and look for a review of “Freaks of Nature” here at some point in the future.

24 Comments

You say “presumably sleeping at some time”. The evolutionary need for sleep (at least for adults) is obscure.

Perhaps he don’t need sleep?

Darwin did not have the blessing of having electron microscopes that we have today. Darwin himself said “if it can be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possible have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down”. (Origin of Species) 1872 p. 154. What you see above is the nail in the coffin for the Darwinian evolutionary theory. A recent email from an evolutionist said “ I am asking you to not look around at all the different species now present, but for the fun of it go back to a time when a simple cell miscodes and starts a new direction.” There is a problem with this, you cannot back to when the cell was simple that time does not exist!! The cell from the very start has been complex and there simply is no evidence that ever shows a time when the cell was anything but complex! Life in all aspects of it, when properly studied reveals that there is simply nothing simple about life. From the tiniest cell (which by the way you are made up of billions of) to the complex galaxy and even further the universe in which we exist is absolutely, mind blowing, unfathomably complex!! How does this level of complexity arise by chance and left to itself. This the evolutionist simply do not have an answer for.

http://www.icr.org/wisdom-of-God/

Check out this website and realize that we are fearfully and wonderfully made… Psalm 139

Darwin did not have the blessing of having electron microscopes that we have today. Darwin himself said “if it can be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possible have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down”. (Origin of Species) 1872 p. 154. What you see above is the nail in the coffin for the Darwinian evolutionary theory. A recent email from an evolutionist said “ I am asking you to not look around at all the different species now present, but for the fun of it go back to a time when a simple cell miscodes and starts a new direction.” There is a problem with this, you cannot back to when the cell was simple that time does not exist!! The cell from the very start has been complex and there simply is no evidence that ever shows a time when the cell was anything but complex! Life in all aspects of it, when properly studied reveals that there is simply nothing simple about life. From the tiniest cell (which by the way you are made up of billions of) to the complex galaxy and even further the universe in which we exist is absolutely, mind blowing, unfathomably complex!! How does this level of complexity arise by chance and left to itself. This the evolutionist simply do not have an answer for.

http://www.icr.org/wisdom-of-God/

Check out this website and realize that we are fearfully and wonderfully made… Psalm 139

It is saddening to hear Christians be so misled by ‘Christian’ sources

For instance

The cell from the very start has been complex and there simply is no evidence that ever shows a time when the cell was anything but complex! Life in all aspects of it, when properly studied reveals that there is simply nothing simple about life. From the tiniest cell (which by the way you are made up of billions of) to the complex galaxy and even further the universe in which we exist is absolutely, mind blowing, unfathomably complex!! How does this level of complexity arise by chance and left to itself. This the evolutionist simply do not have an answer for.

And hear we read how the argument by Darwin, which resolved this question some 150 years ago, is ignored. The answer is that indeed chance alone is not sufficient, which is why the concept of selection is such an important factor as well. To call the cell ‘complex’ merely reflects a level of ignorance on our part as to the function and origins. So while even the poster who quoted ICR has to admit, the evidence for evolution is incredibly strong, he seems to find some gaps in our knowledge as to the origin(s) of life and calls it complex while providing no explanations.

Such is the vacuity of ID and ICR, whose focus on young earth creationism has caused much concern and confusion to Christians who are misled to believe in a myth.

Chris Sanford Wrote:

How does this level of complexity arise by chance and left to itself. This the evolutionist simply do not have an answer for.

If Chris would learn his science from legitimate sources instead of pseudo-science sources like the Institute for Creation “Research”, he would know that complexity arises routinely in Nature.

We know the processes all the way back to the quark/gluon plasma condensing into protons and neutrons, to the formations of atoms, to the formations of molecules, to the formations of solids and liquids, to the formations of complicated organic compounds, to the formations of the complicated amino acids and other precursors to life.

We don’t yet know how living organisms arose. But we know so much about how emergent phenomena appear from increasing complexity that we can see these processes taking place at all levels. There are no obstacles in chemistry and physics that prevent the emergence of the property we call life. We just have to find one or a few needles in a mountain of needles. Many people in the science community feel this will eventually happen.

Chris as acquired one of the most fundamental of misconceptions that was started by Henry Morris and Duane Gish at the ICR; namely, that nothing can form from “random elastic collisions among featureless particles. While that is true about random elastic collisions among featureless particles, this notion has little to do with the formation of complexity in the physical universe studied by science.

From a quote by Kevin Padian in an article recently appearing on the NCSE website.

Kevin Padian Wrote:

Creationists reject the notion of a rational universe because they believe that evolution depends upon the dominance of ‘random processes’ that allow no divine direction or teleological goal. This is the core of the resistance to evolution in America, and it will not go away anytime soon.

As Chris should be able to figure out, most scientists know about this misconception rampant among ID/Creationists.

Chris Sanford said:

Check out this website and realize that we are fearfully and wonderfully made… Psalm 139

I agree that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Creationists believe that we were made through Yahweh’s circus-like trick of gathering together a bunch of dirt and then suspending physical law. They don’t know why Yahweh reinstated physical law after having suspended it. Why can’t He make up His mind?

Scientists generally hold that we came to be made through natural laws like gravity and evolution. They hold that “from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”

For myself, I think that the second position is not only better supported by the evidence, it is also more wonderful, more in accord with the humble and gracious spirit of the Psalmist who you quote.

In this regard I like to remember a scene in the movie “Bruce Almighty,” when God (played by Morgan Freeman) tells the sit-in god Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) “Parting a soup is not a miracle, Bruce. It’s a magic trick. A single mom who’s working two jobs, and still finds time to take her son to soccer practice, that’s a miracle. A teenager who says “no” to drugs and “yes” to an education, that’s a miracle. People want me to do everything for them. What they don’t realize is they have the power. You want to see a miracle, son? Be the miracle.”

“Bridgeless gaps” appears to derive from some very fundamental misconceptions that are characteristic of and run throughout nearly all ID/Creationist arguments and pseudo-science. These ID/creationists misconceptions appear to have roots in specific sectarian dogma, and they appear to be sustained by characteristic psychological hooks.

Perhaps if we in the science community could get a clear grasp of the origins of these misconceptions, we might be able to do a better job of teaching science. Obviously that doesn’t entirely address the political nature of the problem.

Here is a tentative list of the four that I have catalogued, along with the probable sources and psychological hooks that seem to keep them in place. It may not be complete or as clearly stated as could eventually be done, but the list probably isn’t much longer than this.

First Fundamental Misconception of ID/Creationists (The purposeless processes axiom):

The interactions leading to complex living organisms are modeled by random elastic collisions among featureless particles.

Sectarian handbook source: “In the beginning …”

Psychological hook: Fear of chaos, darkness and hell.

Second Fundamental Misconception of ID/Creationists (The teleology axiom):

The complex features of interest to humans arose for a purpose.

Sectarian handbook source: Man (and woman) made in image of deity.

Psychological hook: We have a deity that is interested in us.

Third Fundamental Misconception of ID/Creationists (The improbability axiom):

The assembly of any complex molecule or organism is a specified permutation of independent random (purposeless) events.

Sectarian handbook source: “Wonderfully and fearfully made.”

Psychological hook: Only our deity could do something this improbable.

Fourth Fundamental Misconception of ID/Creationists (The entropy barrier axiom):

Life, and life arising from non-life, violates the “Law of Entropy.”

Sectarian handbook source: Entropy is a manifestation of sin and the fall of man.

Psychological hook: Only our deity can protect and sustain us and keep us from going to hell.

To see “bridgeless gaps” in discrete observations of a continuous process is like arguing that a movie can never be made since it will consist of a series of snap shots of an actual event, or that an increase in frame rate will not result in the same movie.

Happily, Hollywood doesn’t know that.

Chris Sanford said:

What you see above is the nail in the coffin for the Darwinian evolutionary theory. A recent email from an evolutionist said “ I am asking you to not look around at all the different species now present, but for the fun of it go back to a time when a simple cell miscodes and starts a new direction.” There is a problem with this, you cannot back to when the cell was simple that time does not exist!! The cell from the very start has been complex and there simply is no evidence that ever shows a time when the cell was anything but complex!

Besides the obvious problem with this, it suffices with any observation of evolutionary change to test the prediction of the theory (basically, that such change exist), there is the off topic problem - there is plenty of evidence for simpler beginnings of life. But since it is scientific evidence, creationists chose to dismiss it.

It is easy to see that Sanford’s image is simplistic, like parasites may evolve towards less functionality (in the presence of a host supplying the deficit) so cells may, say in our red blood cell losing its nucleus. I’m not a biologist, but it seems to me the putative or proved existence of a number of endosymbiotic events shows that the amount of cell functionality (evolutionary complexity) of even unicellular life varies over time.

It is unfortunate that the concept of a “bridgeless gaps” has become so closely associated with the ID position. In that sense, the ID crowd has distorted legitimate discussion among evolutionists.

One can be a committed evolutionist and not hold sacred the Neo-Darwinian commitment to (or fixation on) continuity. Historically, evolutionists who appreciated and studied development were less enamored of this aspect of Neo-Darwinism. However, in the end, the debate about continuity and discontinuity should be retired. Evolutionary change occurs though a variety of developmental mechanisms and across many timescales. Our challenge is to fully describe the details of change. And the zealous defenders of ID have no place in that scientific process.

It is unfortunate that the concept of a “bridgeless gap” has become so closely associated with the ID position. In that sense, the ID crowd has distorted legitimate discussion among evolutionists.

One can be a committed evolutionist and not hold sacred the Neo-Darwinian commitment to (or fixation on) continuity. Historically, evolutionists who appreciated and studied development were less enamored of this aspect of Neo-Darwinism. However, in the end, the debate about continuity and discontinuity should be retired. Evolutionary change occurs though a variety of developmental mechanisms and across many timescales. Our challenge is to fully describe the details of change. And the zealous defenders of ID have no place in that scientific process.

Mark Blumberg said:

It is unfortunate that the concept of a “bridgeless gaps” has become so closely associated with the ID position. In that sense, the ID crowd has distorted legitimate discussion among evolutionists.

Not to pick at you, but they always do. Sigh, I consider it an inevitability, to be expected, and the only thing to be done is for the advocates not to say things that don’t need to be misconstrued to sound bad. That is prudent regardless of what the Darwin-bashers do.

White Rabbit (Greg Goebel) http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

Okay, but why does the notion of a bridgeless gap “sound bad?” Concerns over discontinuity did not just concern William Goldschmidt, but many others as well, including William Bateson. After many decades of ridicule, Bateson’s insights about discontinuity have been embraced by the Evo Devo folks. Regardless, how would you describe the development of a fly’s leg where an antenna is typically found? Is this continuous or discontinuous change? is there a bridgeless gap between an antenna and a leg?

If you think that this or that term sounds bad, that’s fine. But please don’t let your concern with how things sound lead you to disregard the significant conceptual issues at play.

Mark Blumberg said:

Okay, but why does the notion of a bridgeless gap “sound bad?”

Chill. I never said it did, nor did it cross my mind to think it did. I was simply talking in general terms.

White Rabbit (Greg Goebel) http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

Regardless, how would you describe the development of a fly’s leg where an antenna is typically found? Is this continuous or discontinuous change? is there a bridgeless gap between an antenna and a leg?

My take on that is that it’s merely calling a different but already existing subroutine, at a different location in the anatomy than where it usually gets called. That’s not like the production of a new feature.

Henry

Henry J said:

My take on that is that it’s merely calling a different but already existing subroutine, at a different location in the anatomy than where it usually gets called. That’s not like the production of a new feature.

Henry

If only development was analogous to a computer program…

Oh,no, let’s not go down that path again, please?

If only development was analogous to a computer program…

Well, in this case the analogy isn’t too far off. Didn’t they just turn on a gene that’s normally off (or vice versa?) to get the leg vs. antenna switch?

Henry

Henry J quoted [Sorry, I couldn’t find the original quote]:

how would you describe the development of a fly’s leg where an antenna is typically found? Is this continuous or discontinuous change? is there a bridgeless gap between an antenna and a leg?

As a small, incremental change in genotype. These do not always lead to a small, incremental change in phenotype. But its still a small, incremental change. Genetically speaking there’s nothing saltational (to use the old word) or discontinuous about this.

Now, Darwin was far more right than wrong when he said that natural selection works through small, incremental changes in traits (i.e. phenotype). He correctly noted that large sudden changes in traits are too likely to be fatal to matter. But this case illustrates how the discovery of genetics and the modern synthesis differs from Darwin’s original idea.

I don’t know what it means to say that “genetically speaking there’s nothing saltational… or discontinuous about this.” Regardless, as I discuss at length in my book, “sudden changes in traits” need not be fatal. In fact, dramatic developmental changes are routinely accommodated (phenotypic accommodation) by developing animals. These phenomena have been discussed at length by Alberch, West-Eberhard, and others.

I meant that a small change in the genetic code is not discontinuous or bridgeless, regardless of how that change affects development, if and when we understand the mechanism for that change.

I’d argue that such a change is analogous to taking the w in ‘methinks it is like a weasel’ and changing it to a space. This mutation is small, its completely allowed and expected by Dawkin’s model process, yet it produces a large change in meaning (forgiving the improper use of the a/an article, a small furry animal is not anything like a large tray for holding paintings).

Mark Blumberg said:

I don’t know what it means to say that “genetically speaking there’s nothing saltational… or discontinuous about this.”

Thank you for the clarification. The continuity-discontinuity debate, Goldschmidt’s discussion of “bridgeless gaps,” was never about genotypes. Always phenotypes. And not all changes in phenotypes, whether small or large, require genetic change.

Mark,

Thank you for your reply. I read and enjoyed your first blog, and look forward to your next one. If it turns out that large one-step phenotypic changes play a significant role in evolution, well, the joy of science is that being wrong is often accompanied by the realization that the real answer is even more interesting than the one you had expected. :)

eric said:

the joy of science is that being wrong is often accompanied by the realization that the real answer is even more interesting than the one you had expected. :)

Thanks, Eric. Truer words were never said.

I should clarify: I had also been taught from grad school onward to consider dramatic phenotypic change as either fatal or maladaptive. But what was lacking from that perspective was an appreciation for the adaptability and malleability of the developing organism. Once developmental mechanisms are processes are fully appreciated, the notion that phenotypic change can happen relatively rapidly is no longer that surprising.

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This page contains a single entry by Tara Smith published on December 4, 2008 8:35 AM.

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