Evolution Is As Evolution Does (Update)(x2)

From Mother Jones and their columnist, Kevin Drum, a note that evolution is gaining ground slightly as a belief among the unwashed; a strict, God-creation view is slightly declining; and the mixed view is pretty much holding steady over the last few decades.

“I’ll take it.”, says Drum, who evidently approves of the modest gains in evolution belief.

Now, personally I don’t know what to think about the whole cosmological thing, but I have had a few questions about it all, the answers to which seem to me to rule out the usual pro-evolution arguments.

I’ll cut to the chase.  Evolution, as a cosmological theory, depends upon positing very long expanses of time.  Unimaginably long.  I mean, we can’t really imagine 1 million years, it’s just beyond us.  Yet far larger figures are bandied about as if there were no way to question whether such postulates are even plausible.

And they are not plausible.  The reason we can’t really imagine such long expanses of time is that they are inconsistent with observable rates of change.  Think about it this way:  I can imagine the earth being around in something like its present form a thousand years from now.  Maybe 10,000 years from now.  It gets a little dicey when you get up to 100,000 years.  A million years?  I suppose it’s possible, but that’s many, many times the period between now and the pyramids, which are really old and largely decayed.

The earth is so dynamic and so prone to convulsive events, like earth quakes and volcanoes and powerful storms and all kinds of other forces that tend to deteriorate it, that projecting far, far into the future seems ridiculous.  The observable rates of change suggest that the life span of the planet will be measured in tens of thousands of years, maybe a couple hundred thousand, and that’s it.  That in turn suggests an earth that is much, much younger than it would have to be in order for the theory of evolution, the cosmological theory, to be true.

Now throw in that all the methods of “dating” objects, such as radiometric dating, are questionable.  When they tell you something is 65 million years old or 4.5 billion years old, they could be talking out their ass.  Many claim they aren’t, of course.  But for present purposes, it’s enough to say that the evidence is not conclusive.

So what that means is this:  you see a dinosaur fossil, an intact skeleton, at the museum.  They dug it up and pieced it together.  They tell you it’s 65 million years old.  Not 1 million.  Not even 10 million.  65 million.

But based on observable rates of change, there is no such thing as a physical object that will be anything like what it is now in even 65 thousand years, to say nothing of 1 million; and 65 million is just laughable.  You can’t even think it.  It’s impossible.  It’s just like taking one great big mysterious grand “unknown” that explains everything – God – and replacing it with another:  unimaginable expanses of time.

So for that reason I reject evolution as a cosmological theory; it may have its other uses and truths to offer, but the origins of the universe are not among them.

Update:  They’re dating a human tooth they found in Israel at 400,000 years.  The basis?  X-rays, CT scans and “…according to the layers of the earth where they were found.”  Notice how the article uses the phrase “accepted scientific theories” without indicating who, exactly, accepts them.  If true it “…changes the whole picture of evolution.”  I’ll say.  One more time, too.

Update 2:  Here’s what they (scientists, computer models, the usual suspects) say will happen to the earth in a mere 1,000 years.  Significant shrinking of land mass, arctic ice, and so on.  Yet when it comes to the theory of evolution, they turn around and talk about billions of years behind us, and assume billions of years ahead of us.  What nonsense.

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “Evolution Is As Evolution Does (Update)(x2)

  1. Rob

    I think evolution always entails positing long periods of time. This is true regardless of whether we are talking about a cosmological theory or the evolution of a person. That’s my understanding anyway.

    At any rate, it’s important to me that people believe in evolution. My opinion is that a disbelief in evolution is a symptom of irrationality and prejudice. Conversely, I don’t much care how people believe earth was created. No one knows and I don’t believe anyone can posit an even tenable position.

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    • Also, my impression – I’d be open to being persuaded otherwise, but remain skeptical – is that cosmology is not a proper subject for science, which deals with observable phenomena. The question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” is traditionally a philosophical one, not a scientific one. Since primal generation ex nihilo is inherently not observable and cannot be analogized from anything that is observable, I don’t see how science can answer such a question.

      It may not be a proper question. There’s a tradition of philosophical thought that maintains that, like, oh, Wittgenstein. But that doesn’t mean that science’s speculations, like evolution, have any merit.

      Then people say that quantum physics explores all these things and more, so science is “getting there”. Maybe it is, but a million years is 10,000 centuries, which is still not even thinkable, and 1 million years is a tiny fraction of the kinds of numbers that get tossed around.

      The idea that adaptive mutations can occur and result in big changes over time is plausible, by itself. But if “over time” must translate into millions and even billions of years then you’re running up against observable reality – not extrapolating from it, or going “beyond” it, but contradicting it. And that has to be wrong.

      That doesn’t mean anything else is right. I am not a subscriber to “creation science” either. I don’t think science is the proper discipline to deal with the question.

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  2. Is it always a symptom of irrationality or prejudice?

    When someone shows me a physical object and tells me it’s 65 million years old, I just think that’s empirically ridiculous. No physical object could endure 65 million years of decay and exposure to elements, fossilization or not. Mountains couldn’t have been there that long. It’s just contrary to the rates of change we observe every day. I don’t know how it’s being irrational to notice.

    And you’re right that that’s the whole ball game. Darwin himself begins his alternative explanations of various geologic features by imagining a huge expanse of time over which they could take place. It was like a pre-condition to the whole theory.

    But thinking in these terms is an historical anomaly. Prior to the 20th century, people did not habitually think of the cosmos as being that ancient; vast, yes, but not unimaginably old. That is a very recent development, one in need of a lot of demonstration that doesn’t seem to be there.

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    • Rob

      I didn’t say “always”. I’ll say right now more often then not.

      I don’t find the first point in your response persuasive. You, me and everyone else have limited intellectual capacities. The fact that you or I can’t look at an object and think it’s 65 million years old isn’t relevant to the age of the object. Our disbelief is only relevant to our limited capacity to perceive. I can’t go to Badlands National Park, look at the clay, and easily believe an ocean was there millions of years ago. But an ocean was there millions of years ago. My opinion is meaningless regarding the ocean’s existence.

      Also, the rate of change of something fossilized, or something trapped and frozen in deep layers of ice, is going to be fundamentally different from the rate of change of anything we can observe. Part and parcel of the fossilization record is that people don’t regular come across fossils. They are fossils precisely because they don’t undergo the regular rate of change of anything else.

      Also, and goodness knows I’m guilty of doing the same when its convenient, you posted to two links on radiometric dating. One supports your opinion and one does not. Many laypersons and scientists rely on the accuracy of dating. But you say it’s ridiculous. That’s a strong characterization. But you also say the evidence isn’t conclusive. That I agree with. Evolution is a theory. Not a theory like you or I have about the future of silver, but a scientific theory. It’s subject to the scientific method. If it is repeatable over and over, then it becomes a theory. Not a fact, but a theory.

      If I’m making a decision, I gather the best available information. I try to find information that’s been tested and tried. I don’t believe evolution is Truth. I think evolution is the best available theory for understanding the world. When a better theory comes along, that’s the day evolution won’t count for me.

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      • You make a good objection to my first point. I think I can fix that by making a comparison, so I’m grateful for the comment and the opportunity.

        I would also have difficulty imagining extreme magnitudes of other measures, like tonnage for example. Somebody tells me a ship weighs 100,000 tons, and I really have no tangible, empirical concept of 100,000 tons. I have an empirical concept of one or two tons, maybe 10, but after that it becomes somewhat meaningless.

        But here’s the difference. I can go look at the 100,000 ton ship, and sure enough it’s a mammoth object. In other words, observation confirms and substantiates an otherwise elusive concept.

        Not only is that NOT true with 65 million year old skeletons, the opposite is true. Observation of rates of change in physical objects tends to undermine, rather dramatically, claims that any physical thing could be that old.

        Moreover, I could grant you that fossilization slows the rate of decay 10 fold or even 100 fold, but that’s not what we are asked to do; we are asked to discard everything we can observe about the change and decay in physical objects and agree that fossilization can slow it 10,000 fold or a million fold – in practical terms, eliminate it.

        So whereas other extreme magnitudes can become intelligible because they are confirmed through observation, evolution’s extreme time magnitudes are not only not confirmed by observation but are contradicted by it.

        It is also true that time, like space, is a different sort of thing to be measuring, but that’s a very long discussion (no irony intended) and prally unnecessary in this context.

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      • OT, I was going to suggest to Mike over at C&F the same “Art of Manliness” site that you suggested.

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  3. Malky

    This whole article is one long argument from ignorance – i.e. I can’t imagine this so it can’t be true. You should read up on the discovery of deep time by the Victorian Geologists most of whom were very religious. Regardless of your belief the scientific evidence for the age of the Earth is overwhelming and to say because you can’t imagine it it can’t be true is ridiculous.

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    • It’s not quite so simple an idea as saying “I can’t imagine it”. Fairly read – which is something you evolution people should learn a little about, that is, giving other ideas a fair reading and hearing – the contention is that the extreme ages are “inconsistent with observable rates of change”, which is an empirical statement. Like any other empirical statement, it is subject to scientific testing and might be wrong. But wrong is not the same as “ridiculous”. And moreover, your overly partisan error in characterizing the post as “one long argument from ignorance” should prompt a little humility in the future. Or at least some manners.

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  4. Dan L.

    JMRJ,

    Your problem is that you’re demanding people “fairly read” your blog post here when it is clear that you did not “fairly read” all the thousands of pages that have been written about fossilization, erosion, radiometric dating, relative chronologies, geology, etc. You are simply not in a position to judge because you have such limited information on these topics. I understand what you are trying to say, but it really is an argument from personal incredulity — it seems ridiculous to YOU personally that something could last 65 million years and therefore it is impossible. Unfortunately, that’s not really how logic works — you thinking that something is impossible does not imply that it is actually impossible.

    In the case of fossils, typically what happens is that the actual organic matter that composed the original organism is gradually replaced by minerals, meaning that fossils are sort of “plaster casts” of the original organism made of stone rather than organic material. However, there are examples of intact dinosaur bones from many millions of years ago — they survived because they were safely buried far away from the wind and water that would have eroded them or the microscopic organisms that would have caused them to decay.

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    • Dan L.

      The other thing I’d point out is how few fossils we’ve found compared to the many billions of organisms that have actually lived on the planet. You are absolutely right that fossils would usually be destroyed before anyone could find them if they were really millions of years old. The key word is “usually.” Almost none of the billions (probably trillions) of macroscopic organisms that have ever lived have left us fossil remains. However, even if there’s only a 0.001 % chance of fossilization (one thousandth of one percent) that would mean we’d expect a billion animals to leave 10,000 fossils. Realistically, the odds are probably even poorer than 0.001% but there have been so many organisms that even with those dismal odds many fossils do get left behind.

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    • >>In the case of fossils, typically what happens is that the actual organic matter that composed the original organism is gradually replaced by minerals, meaning that fossils are sort of “plaster casts” of the original organism made of stone rather than organic material. However, there are examples of intact dinosaur bones from many millions of years ago — they survived because they were safely buried far away from the wind and water that would have eroded them or the microscopic organisms that would have caused them to decay.<<

      So, it is possible for these objects to be "safely buried" such that not only wind and water but even microscopic organisms would have no access to them whatsoever? If that were true, why would they be only bones? Why wouldn't the flesh and fur still be present?

      I admit I have no data or studies on this. I was hoping someone else did or knew of some.

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      • Dan L.

        There is plenty of information available free online about paleontology. Scientists are the sorts of people who bubble over with enthusiasm at the prospect of explaining to people what they do. It’s really not difficult to find educational material on these subjects. You can always start with wikipedia. A quick google search for “fossilization” turns up any number of promising links. I don’t reproduce the links here because it would be easier for you to do your own search.

        The answer to your specific question is that there is usually a lag between the death of the organism and its burial by sedimentation or other natural forces. This provides ample time for the flesh to decompose. As you probably already know, bones long outlast flesh — bones themselves are largely composed of calcium compounds that cannot be metabolized by microorganisms, or at least not by MOST microorganisms. So we’re left with a skeleton that is usually very slowly buried. Fossil remains are quite often scattered and missing parts; whole skeletons are the rare exception in paleontology, the more common findings are the individual teeth of organisms (dentin is even tougher than bone).

        Soft tissue fossilization is not impossible, however. Check out this amazing fossil of a presumed octopus ancestor — still with a vestigial clamshell inherited from it’s clam-like ancestors (at the top of the “head”)! here

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  5. Dan L.

    A question:
    the contention is that the extreme ages are “inconsistent with observable rates of change”, which is an empirical statement.
    What ARE the “observed rates of change”? If it’s an empirical statement about “rates of change” then it must be quantifiable. So quantify. What are the precise rates of change you’re talking about?

    In reality, as it seems to me, rates of change differ for different phenomenon. A small ice cube will melt within a matter of many minutes at room temperature but a large block of ice will take hours or even days. A small piece of metal can be filed down to dust rather quickly but a large piece of metal would take quite a long time to file into dust. When I look around, I don’t see everything decaying and degrading at the same rate, I see many different phenomena occurring at different rates. Wooden structures decay quite quickly in wet environments but last quite a long time in dry environments. The pyramids of Egypt have been degraded by wind and sand, but many stone structures built have held up much better, for instance some Chinese tombs and Mayan ruins.

    So for your argument to make sense you need to make it more precise. What is the slowest possible rate of change and why?

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    • Well, unfortunately I have no ability at present to be precise, and am forced to paint with a very broad brush. It’s fair to say that at some point the pyramids will be reduced to dust, and will no longer be in any sense intact. The erosion that has taken place in a few thousand years implies that this would happen in tens of thousands of years at most. So, using 100,000 years as the extreme, with an object that is exposed to all the elements, it’s fair to ask how much difference would burying them, or even fossilizing them, make? A factor of 10, so that in that case they might remain somewhat intact for a million years?

      Granted, let’s say. But then physical objects are produced and we are told that they are not 1 million years old, but 65 million years old. A factor not of 10, but of 650. Or a rock is produced and it is claimed that the rock is 4.5 billion years old. A factor not of 10 or 650 but 80 or 90 times 650, somewhere north of a factor of 50,000.

      Can fossilization, or anything else, increase the longevity of a physical object such that it remains recognizable 50,000 times longer than it would remain otherwise? That’s a question I hoped you science guys could help me with.

      But let’s continue to be fair. We put a telescope up in space and see objects 12 billion light years away. Since the light would by definition take 12 billion years to get here so we could observe it, contentions of extreme age are plausible for that reason alone. There are some assumptions at work there, but nothing I’m prepared to address right now.

      I appreciate the comment.

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      • Dan L.

        Consider this: when erosion eats away at something designed, such as the pyramids, it is easy to see that the form of the physical object no longer matches the original design. This is the intuition at the core of your arguments. But think about it as applied to a natural, non-designed object such as a mountain. If erosion scrapes away a little tiny bit of mountain each year, does the result look any less like a mountain? The slowness with which wind and water can eat away at rock entails that after a year no human being could hope to see any difference excepting avalanches removing prominent features. Ultimately, even after thousands (or millions) of years of painfully slow erosion a mountain would look like…a smaller mountain. Mountains, rocks, and other natural kinds are not strictly comparable to artifacts of human production for artifacts of human production are so often defined in terms of FORM. A table made of stone will wear more slowly than a table made of wood, but they are nonetheless both tables (as would one made of plastic, glass, or any other solid substrate).

        Now consider not the surface of the mountain which is subject to the actions of wind and water, but to the middle of the mountain which is buried under hundreds of feet of solid rock. One can maintain a sort of Pyrrhonic skepticism regarding the actual existence of the interior of the mountain as rock, but I think we can both agree that the mountain is rock all the way down. Now, the interior of the mountain is not subject to erosion, so by what action do you expect the interior of the mountain to be degraded? You mention earthquakes but earthquakes do not completely change affected regions — they may open or close faults, dislodge rocks, but for the most part they will slightly deform the earth’s surface without appreciably rearranging the surface itself, except in highly localized ways. We can imagine a particular quartz crystal buried in a chunk of granite in Mount Washington. Mt. Washington is not near any particularly active volcanic faults so we can’t blame earthquakes, and the crystal is deeply buried so we’re not worried about wind or rain. By what action does the quartz crystal degrade, or alternately, does it just sit there awaiting the long-distant day in which Mt. Washington will be eroded to the point of exposing the crystal, still pristine, but now subject to the same weathering forces that had exposed it?

        You said yourself how difficult it is to grasp a number like a million; nonetheless, there are six billion people on the surface of the planet. And yet all these six billion people could be crowded into an area probably significantly smaller than the size of Alaska (it would be unpleasant, but possible). From space, the gigantic mountains that erode ever-so-slowly register not even as bumps but perhaps slight texture on the surface of the earth. The phenomena we’re discussing are far beyond the scale of everyday experience, and unfortunately human intuition seems particularly well suited to everyday experience — but is often wanting in other situations. This is a long comment so I will end it here, but thanks for engaging and I hope you can get some useful insights (or perhaps “outsights” since we’re discussing the world beyond intuition) from what I’ve said.

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        • This is a very thoughtful comment and I appreciate it.

          The point of considering very old man-made objects was that they would have observable decay, but also an age known independently of radiometric dating, so that you could eliminate any controversy about the accuracy of that dating method.

          The only thing I can find out about the dating of fossils is that carbon 14 dating can be used but only to determine ages of a maximum of 50,000 years. The extreme ages of other fossils are calculated by dating the rock layer in which they are found, which of course is determined by….radiometric dating.

          I agree that the “rate of decay” observations I am citing with respect to the man made objects are sloppy. “Intuitive” is a polite word. This is the reason I figured someone might have some data, or had considered this kind of question. But then the reason I put it out there was that it seemed no one had thought of it. I hadn’t seen any creationists advancing it, and I hadn’t seen any evolutionists addressing it.

          I don’t know what to make of mountains, intuitively. Sometimes I look at them and the idea that they just slowly built up over long expanses of time seems fine. Other times it seems quite plausible that they are the product of some sudden upheaval in the earth. Even if it’s the former, though, if you run out the clock far enough the slowest of processes becomes dynamic, relatively speaking; and the problem I’ve been wrestling with here and elsewhere is that “far enough” would easily be met by a few million years. Quite a bit less, really.

          So then, figures that are orders of magnitude greater are not necessary to explain what you are looking at. Which is not to say that they aren’t true, just that they require proof. And if radiometric dating is insufficient, as some people seem to think it is, and anything not involving radiometric dating seems to contradict such large figures, I would say that poses quite a challenge to those figures.

          Maybe this question of origins is all just very mysterious and has no scientific or conventional answer.

          Have you ever heard of the ancestor paradox? It’s like Malthus in reverse. You have two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents, and so on. Five generations per century, go back 10 centuries. What number do you come up with for your ancestors living at that time?

          Thanks again for the comment and the time.

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