Posted: Feb 26, 2010 4:47 pm
by campermon
Part 3

Calilasseia wrote:

[23] The asinine "were you there?" canard.

This canard is particularly loathed here, not only because it is about as palsied and cretinous a canard as it's possible to erect, but because it is also manifestly dishonest. Dishonest because of the inherent double standard that supernaturalists in general, and creationists in particular, adopt when deploying this canard. Namely, that they think it is perfectly legitimate to hand-wave away massive amounts of hard evidence from observational reality using this duplicitous rhetorical device, yet expect the critical thinkers to accept without question the unsupported blind assertions of their mythology, which makes fantastic claims about the past history of the universe that by definition were not only unobserved, but impossible to verify empirically because those claims involve magic. If you think that this double standard is legitimate, be prepared to have your discoursive dishonesty subject to withering critical scrutiny.

Now, having dealt with the dishonesty at the heart of this canard, I'll deal with why it is asinine. This canard is beneath deserving of a point of view for one simple reason. Physical processes leave behind them physical evidence of their having taken place. This is a basic scientific fact, one that science has relied upon for 300 years in order to make sense of the real world, and denial of this basic fact once again merely demonstrates that you are more interested in propping up a doctrine than learning about the real world. Furthermore, physical evidence of the occurrence of particular processes is frequently persistent, which means that said evidence remains in place for a long period of time, including periods of time that are orders of magnitude greater than that asserted to have existed by your ideology. Once again, scientists, and those here who accept the results of the diligent labours of those scientists, aren't interested in doctrinal assertions, they are interested in reality, and if reality sticks the middle finger to doctrinal assertions, tough.

That physical processes leave behind them evidence of their having taken place, and that said evidence is persistent enough to await our attention, are basic principles that are relied upon by branches of science as diverse as geology and forensics, and if you want to assert that those principles are false, good luck with this, given the massive amount of evidence supporting those basic principles. As a corollary of this, if you erect the "were you there" nonsense in a thread, you will be in no position to complain when the critical thinkers subject the combination of scientific ignorance and discoursive mendacity inherent in this canard to withering attention.

Indeed, in order to deal with a particularly retarded variant of this argument, I'll state another elementary principle applicable to the refutation of this cretinous piece of creationist apologetic fabrication. Namely that physical phenomena exist independently of our observing or measuring them. And, since those independently existing physical phenomena leave behind them physical evidence of their having taken place, which we can alight upon at any time provided the evidence is persistent enough, this palsied, encephalitic canard should now be well and truly dead with a stake through its heart.

And now, it's time to erect a new post for Part 2 of this. Which you will find here

I think this will suffice for an introductory post to this thread. I shall be seeking to have the thread made a sticky once it is launched, and additional canards will be added to this as and when I have time to devote to them.

Welcome to Part 2. Which continues from here. And which continues to deal with assorted canards erected by creationists. Speaking of which, it's time to cover some points I omitted from the first part, due to more pressing concerns, but which now require attention.

[24] Inheritance basics (and the canards destroyed thereby).

Getting back on topic with respect to evolution, there is a basic concept that needs to be deal with here, and which at a stroke deals with several creationist canards, such as the farcical "I've never seen a cat give birth to a dog" nonsense, which, if it ever happened without laboratory intervention involving IVF and implantation, would constitute a refutation of evolutionary theory.

That concept is, quite simply, inheritance. Inheritance is a process, that even the mythology creationists claim to adhere to, accepts as valid. Though given the hard evidence from approximately four thousand years of agriculture prior to said mythology being written, not to mention the evidence of inheritance in humans that must have been visible even to pre-scientific man, said mythology would look even more ridiculous if it tried to deny the validity of inheritance. Well, guess what? Here's the simple point that every creationist fails to understand, and which lies at the root of many of the canards they give credence to, and to reinforce this point, I'll make it stand out:

Evolution is based upon inheritance.

That's right. Now this is so simple a notion, that many of the people writing about evolution have failed to reinforce this achingly simple fact, presumably on the basis that they assume that their readers understand this. The problem is, of course, that creationists manifestly don't understand this. If they did, they wouldn't erect some of the half-baked nonsense that they do. Where evolutionary theory differs from other ideas about the biosphere, is that it postulates that inheritance unifies the biosphere. Evolutionary theory postulates that ultimately, we and all the other living organisms on the planet are linked by inheritance. Which, as a corollary, leads to numerous testable ideas, ideas that have been tested, and which, as a result of passing those tests, have in turn given rise to a whole new scientific discipline called molecular phylogeny. This isn't magic, because inheritance isn't magic. Inheritance is a process that is so simple, it was amenable to systematic analysis by a monk. Which once again, demonstrates the utility value of paying attention to reality, and learning from empirical test, as Mendel did.

Now, since evolutionary theory postulates that inheritance is a key process in the development of the biosphere, this should deal at a stroke with the fatuous "I've never seen a cat give birth to a dog" drivel that creationists erect, because there is no way that a cat could pass on an entire, complete set of genes from an entirely different lineage to its offspring. An organism can only pass on whatever genes it dispenses in its gametes, and most of those it will have obtained from its parents, the odd mutation here or there contributing a small additional amount of variation. However, thanks to meiosis, which I briefly mentioned in [14] above, offspring are not exact copies of their parents (which would be hard to achieve anyway with a 50/50 split of genes inherited from each). Meiosis involves some interesting gene shuffling, so that different gametes contains different mixtures of the parental genetic material (for which, again, that nice Mendel fellow provided evidence in those pea plant crossing experiments). As a result, variation will be disseminated across generations. It is this variation that evolution works with. To reinforce this point, inheritance is a dynamic process across generations, and it is the outcome of that dynamic process that provides the raw material for evolutionary mechanisms to work upon.

Which means that it is now time to move on to:

[25] The static species fallacy.

This is a particularly stupid canard, which the above discourse on inheritance, and variation brought about by meiosis, should flush down the toilet at a stroke. But, in order to reinforce how stupid this canard is, it is necessary to cover rigorously what a species is.

A species is a population entity, and as a corollary thereof, a dynamic entity. A species is defined in rigorous biological work, as a population of living organisms, whose members can produce viable offspring with each other, but whose members can not produce viable offspring with a separate, distinct population. Actually, this is only one extant definition, but it is the one that matters with respect to evolution, because once again, it points to the central role of inheritance.

Of course, part of the problem arises because of taxonomy. Because scientists need a reference point from which to launch further investigation, they have alighted, courtesy of our old friend Linnaeus, upon the process of cataloguing organisms and providing them with a unique, unambiguous identity. This, of course, has been most helpful in furthering our understanding of the biosphere, and indeed, Linnaeus himself, on the basis of comparative anatomy alone, alighted upon the idea that organisms were related to each other a hundred years before Darwin, which is why he constructed his taxonomic scheme in the manner he did. Yes, that's right, a creationist (though he was only a creationist because no other option existed in 1758) alighted upon the idea of biological interrelatedness, as a result of paying attention to reality. But the very same taxonomic practices that have been useful to science, have also led to a popular misconception. This is because taxonomists base their classification upon individually sampled organisms, one of which is chosen as a 'type specimen' that is henceforth declared to be the reference standard against which all others are compared. Other specimens are maintained in order to provide a record of likely variation in characteristics from that reference standard. The trouble is, of course, basing the entire classification system upon such reference standards promotes the illusion that those standards remain in place for all time. Scientists, of course, recognise that this is not the case, but it takes diligent intellectual effort to recognise that the taxonomic standards are merely particular snapshots of the state of the species at a given point in its history, which scientists then choose as their reference benchmark for current work. The species itself, however, courtesy of all that dissemination of variation across generations, does not stay still. It is NOT static.

I cannot reinforce this strongly enough. A taxonomic classification is merely a historical snapshot of the state of a species, used as a reference point for further work, and does NOT constitute "the species" itself. The species itself, is the sum total of all the living organisms comprising that interfertile population, and with each new generation, that population undergoes change, because in the new generation, each of the organisms comprising that population are genetically different from those in the previous generation.

So, if anyone wishes to erect the ridiculous idea that a species is a static entity, the simple retort is this. Look at your family album. Are you identical to either of your parents? No? There's your evidence for the dynamic nature of a species. Now replicate that evidence across millions of humans, and picture what happens with each new generation, remembering that across generations, inheritance is a dynamic process. There goes the static species fallacy.

[26] Organisms don't evolve. Populations do.

And so, having dealt with the canards centred upon misguided caricatures of what constitutes a species, and canards related to inheritance, it's time to drive home the next salient point. Namely that evolution is a population phenomenon.

Evolution acts upon heritable variation of characteristics, and you can only have variation of this sort within a population. A single individual organism, at least if it's a multicellular eukaryote, has a fixed genome. It can't change what it has inherited. But a large number of organisms can all have different genomes, and can disseminate variation via inheritance to the next generation. It is upon the population as a whole that evolution acts, with various mechanisms coming into play to remove some variations from the population, and propel other variations to numerical dominance within the population. The organisms in question remain part of that population, and within a generation, those organisms don't change. But the moment a new generation is produced, dissemination of variation can result in the appearance of a new feature in one or more members of that population. If that new feature leads to greater reproductive success for the organism possessing it, that feature spreads through the population, as more and more future offspring inherit it. Over time, the population changes, and more and more organisms with new features appear within that population.

Taking everything from [24] and [25] together with the above, we have all that is needed for the appearance of cladogenesis events. Split a decent sized population of living organisms into two, and let's call these new, separate populations A and B. Now let a barrier be erected between population A and population B, so that individuals from one cannot reproduce with individuals from the other. This barrier can be an insurmountable physical obstacle, for example, but this need not be the only form such a barrier can take. Now, first of all, there is no reason whatsoever to think that population A and population B will start off in identical states to begin with. After all, those two populations were derived from an original population comprising lots of organisms with different genomes, and the likelihood of population A and population B being identical at the start of this process is vanishingly small. Then, once our barrier is erected, and our populations are allowed to reproduce separately from that point on, there is no reason to think that those populations will move in the same direction in the long term. Indeed, it is far more likely that they will be subject to different environmental and ecosystem influences, and those different environmental and ecosystem influences will shape the long term heredity of those populations. Indeed, that's all that natural selection IS - it's a single, concise term used to encapsulate all of those environmental and ecosystem influences succinctly, and additionally to encapsulate the fact that those influences affect the inheritance of characteristics within a population over the long term.

As a consequence, any two separated populations of living organisms, that originated from a single population, will diverge from each other. If the extant influences on those two populations are sufficiently different, that divergence will take place more rapidly. Eventually, we will arrive at a point where those two populations become sufficiently diverged from each other, that individuals from population A can no longer produce viable offspring with individuals from population B, and vice versa. When this happens, we have a speciation event. Indeed, this has been observed taking place in the wild AND in the laboratory, and has been documented in the relevant scientific papers. So, if anyone wishes to assert that there are 'magic barriers' to speciation or other cladogenesis events, then reality doesn't agree.

[27] Tiresome canards about evolution and the laws of thermodynamics.

And how tiresome these canards are. Not least because they've been debunked in the past, even without reference to relevant scientific literature, by people who pay attention to the scientific basics. Once the relevant scientific literature is consulted, these canards become visibly asinine.

I'll deal with the Second Law of Thermodynamics to start with, because that one is a creationist favourite, though when creationists parrot this specious nonsense, they merely demonstrate that they know nothing about the relevant physics, and certainly never paid attention to the actual words of Rudolf Clausius, who erected the Laws of Thermodynamics, and who was rigorous when doing so. Therefore, let us see what Clausius actually stated, shall we?

Rudolf Clausius erects this statement of the Second Law of Thermodynamics:

In an isolated system, a process can occur only if it increases the total entropy of the system.

Now Clausius defined rigorously what was meant by three different classes of thermodynamic system, and in his work, specified explicitly that the operation of the laws of thermodynamics differed subtly in each instance. The three classes of system Clausius defined were as follows:

[27a] An isolated system is a system that engages in no exchanges of energy or matter with the surroundings;

[27b] A closed system is a system that engages in exchanges of energy with the surroundings, but does not engage in exchange of matter with the surroundings;

[27c] An open system is a system that engages in exchanges of both matter and energy with the surroundings.

Now, Clausius' statement above clearly and explicitly refers to isolated systems, which, thus far, have been found to be an idealised abstraction, as no truly isolated system has ever been found. Indeed, in order to create even an approximation to an isolated system in order to perform precise calorimetric measurements, physicists have to resort to considerable ingenuity in order to minimise energy exchanges with the surroundings, particularly given the pervasive nature of heat. Even then, they cannot make the system completely isolated, because they need to have some means of obtaining measurement data from that system, which has to be conveyed to the surroundings, and this process itself requires energy. Physicists can only construct a closed system, in which, courtesy of much ingenuity, energy exchanges with the surroundings are minimised and precisely controlled, and to achieve this result in a manner that satisfies the demands of precise work is time consuming, expensive and requires a lot of prior analysis of possible sources of energy exchange that need to be minimised and controlled.

However, the Earth is manifestly an open system. It is in receipt not only of large amounts of energy from outside (here's a hint: see that big yellow thing in the sky?) but is also in receipt of about 1,000 tons of matter per year in the form of particles of meteoritic origin from outer space. Some of these 'particles' are, on occasions, large enough to leave craters in the ground, such as that nice large one in Arizona. That particular dent in the Earth's surface is 1,200 metres in diameter, 170 metres deep, and has a ridge of material around the edges that rises 45 metres above the immediate landscape, and was excavated when a meteorite impacted the Earth's surface, generating a blast equivalent to a 20 megaton nuclear bomb. Hardly a characteristic of an isolated system.

Indeed, physicists have known for a long time, that if a particular system is a net recipient of energy from outside, then that energy can be harnessed within that system to perform useful work. Which is precisely what living organisms do. Indeed, they only harness a small fraction of the available incoming energy, yet this is sufficient to power the entire diversity of the biosphere, and the development of organisms of increasing sophistication over time. Scientists have published numerous papers (twelve of which are known to me, and this is an incomplete inventory of the extant literature) in which calculations have been performed demonstrating that the utilisation of energy by the biosphere, and by evolution, is orders of magnitude too small to violate thermodynamic concerns. Relevant papers in question being:

Entropy And Evolution by Daniel F. Styer, American Journal of Physics, 78(11): 1031-1033 (November 2008) DOI: 10.1119/1.2973046

Natural Selection As A Physical Principle by Alfred J. Lotka, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 8: 151-154 (1922) [full paper downloadable from here]

Evolution Of Biological Complexity by Christoph Adami, Charles Ofria and Travis C. Collier, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 97(9): 4463-4468 (25th April 2000) [Full paper downloadable from here]

Order From Disorder: The Thermodynamics Of Complexity In Biology by Eric D. Schneider and James J. Kay, in Michael P. Murphy, Luke A.J. O'Neill (ed), What is Life: The Next Fifty Years. Reflections on the Future of Biology, Cambridge University Press, pp. 161-172 [Full paper downloadable from here]

Natural Selection For Least Action by Ville R. I. Kaila and Arto Annila, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Part A, 464: 3055-3070 (22nd july 2008) [Full paper downloadable from here]

Evolution And The Second Law Of Thermodynamics by Emory F. Bunn,, 0903.4603v1 (26th March 2009) [Download full paper from here]

All of these peer reviewed papers establish, courtesy of rigorous empirical and theoretical work, that evolution is perfectly consistent with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. I cover several of these in detail in this post, and it should be noted here that the notion that evolution was purportedly in "violation" of the Second Law of Thermodynamics was rejected in a paper written in 1922, which means that creationists who erect this canard are ignorant of scientific literature published over eighty years ago.

While covering this topic, it's also necessary to deal with the canard that entropy equals 'disorder'. This is a non-rigorous view of entropy that scientists engaged in precise work discarded some time ago. Not least because there are documented examples of systems that have a precisely calculated entropy increase after spontaneously self-organising into well-defined structures. Phospholipids are the classic example of such a system - a suspension of phospholipids in aqueous solution will spontaneously self-assemble into structures such as micelles, bilayer sheets and liposomes upon receiving an energy input consisting of nothing more than gentle agitation. In other words, just shake the bottle. Moreover, the following scientific paper discusses in some detail the fact that entropy can increase when a system becomes more ordered, a paper that was published in 1998, and hence, has been in circulation for over a decade now:

Gentle Force Of Entropy Bridges Disciplines by David Kestenbaum, Science, 279: 1849 (20th March 1998)
Kestenbaum, 1998 wrote:Normally, entropy is a force of disorder rather than organization. But physicists have recently explored the ways in which an increase in entropy in one part of a system can force another part into greater order. The findings have rekindled speculation that living cells might take advantage of this little-known trick of physics.

Entropy, as rigorously defined, has units of Joules per Kelvin, and is therefore a function of energy versus thermodynamic temperature. The simple fact of the matter is that if the thermodynamic temperature increases, then the total entropy of a given system decreases if no additional energy was input into the system in order to provide the increase in thermodynamic temperature. Star formation is an excellent example of this, because the thermodynamic temperature at the core of a gas cloud increases as the cloud coalesces under gravity. All that is required to increase the core temperature to the point where nuclear fusion is initiated is sufficient mass. No external energy is added to the system. Consequently, the entropy at the core decreases due to the influence of gravity driving up the thermodynamic temperature. Yet the highly compressed gas in the core is hardly "ordered".

STOP PRESS: as if to reinforce this point, my attention has just been drawn to this scientific paper:

Disordered, Quasicrystalline And Crystalline Phases Of Densely Packed Tetrahedra by Amir Haji-Akbari, Michael Engel, Aaron S. Keys, Xiaoyu Zheng, Rolfe G. Petschek, Peter Palffy-Muhoray and Sharon C. Glotzer, Nature, 462: 773-777 (10th December 2009)

The abstract is suitably informative here:
Haji-Akbari, 2009 wrote:
All hard, convex shapes are conjectured by Ulam to pack more densely than spheres1, which have a maximum packing fraction of φ = π/√18 ≈ 0.7405. Simple lattice packings of many shapes easily surpass this packing fraction2, 3. For regular tetrahedra, this conjecture was shown to be true only very recently; an ordered arrangement was obtained via geometric construction with φ = 0.7786 (ref. 4), which was subsequently compressed numerically to φ = 0.7820 (ref. 5), while compressing with different initial conditions led to φ = 0.8230 (ref. 6). Here we show that tetrahedra pack even more densely, and in a completely unexpected way. Following a conceptually different approach, using thermodynamic computer simulations that allow the system to evolve naturally towards high-density states, we observe that a fluid of hard tetrahedra undergoes a first-order phase transition to a dodecagonal quasicrystal7, 8, 9, 10, which can be compressed to a packing fraction of φ = 0.8324. By compressing a crystalline approximant of the quasicrystal, the highest packing fraction we obtain is φ = 0.8503. If quasicrystal formation is suppressed, the system remains disordered, jams and compresses to φ = 0.7858. Jamming and crystallization are both preceded by an entropy-driven transition from a simple fluid of independent tetrahedra to a complex fluid characterized by tetrahedra arranged in densely packed local motifs of pentagonal dipyramids that form a percolating network at the transition. The quasicrystal that we report represents the first example of a quasicrystal formed from hard or non-spherical particles. Our results demonstrate that particle shape and entropy can produce highly complex, ordered structures.

So as if the Kestenbaum paper on entropy driving ordered systems, and the empirical evidence from phospholipids were not enough, we now have this. Consequently, the message to creationists is simple: don't bother wasting your time posting the "evolution violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics" canard, because it is now well and truly busted.

Some creationists, however, erect a related, and in some respects, even more asinine canard, that evolution somehow violates the First Law of Thermodynamics. Guess who provided us with rigorous statements about this law? That's right, Rudolf Clausius again. Let's see what he actually stated with respect to this, shall we? The Clausius formulation of the First Law of Thermodynamics is this:

The increase in the internal energy of a system is equal to the amount of energy input into the system via heating, minus the energy lost as a result of the work done by the system upon its surroundings.

The mathematical expression of which is:

dU = δQ-δw

If the process is reversible, then this can be recast in terms of exact differentials by noting that δw is equal to P dV, where P is the internal pressure, and V the volume occupied, and that δQ is equal to T dS, where T is the thermodynamic temperature and S is the entropy of the system. Therefore this becomes dU = T dS - P dV.

Oh look. Clausius explicitly framed the First Law of Thermodynamics in terms of energy exchanges within a system. He did NOT assume constancy thereof. Indeed, the rigorous framing of the First Law of Thermodynamics explicitly takes into account the possibility of a system being a recipient of energy that can be used to perform useful work. Therefore creationist canards erected about the First Law of Thermodynamics are null and void for the same reasons as those erected about the Second Law of Thermodynamics - said canards not only ignore completely Clausius' original and rigorous formulations of those laws, and ignore completely that Clausius framed his formulations around energy exchanges between a system and its surroundings, but rely upon outright misrepresentations of those laws.

Indeed, Clausius had energy exchanges in mind with respect to the Second Law of Thermodynamics as well, which is why the statement on entropy was framed in terms of an isolated system, which engages in no such exchanges with the surroundings. When energy exchanges are taking place, the operation of the Second law of Thermodynamics within such systems is subtly different.

So, that drops another creationist canard into the toilet bowl of bad ideas and pulls the flush hard.