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Yet Another Shake-up In Evolutionary Theory

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Is the Theory of Evolution a fact? Is it silly to even ask such a question when, in most textbooks, we refer to Darwinian Evolution, and other branches of evolution, under the umbrella title of "Theory of Evolution"? Can a theory be a fact?

According to the late Stephen Jay Gould — Harvard professor and leading spokesperson for evolutionary theory right up until the time of his death in 2002 — Evolution, while still a theory, is also a fact. Is it me, or is this approach faintly reminiscent of former President Clinton parsing the meaning of the word "is" in front of a grand jury?

Gould goes on to assert that "'theory' often means 'imperfect fact'–part of a hierarchy of confidence running downhill from fact to theory to hypothesis to guess." Unfortunately, there are no dictionaries in existence today which would describe a theory as "imperfect fact." Rather, dictionaries describe theory as a "proposed explanation," or a "group of general propositions." And, as if the waters were not murky enough with this statement, Gould elaborates, saying that "facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world's data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts."

Gould believed that in the "fact" of evolution, and often asserted that the only unknown about evolution was the exact mechanism. While many have never heard this explanation by Gould, this line of reasoning has been widely quoted and used by proponents of evolution to support what they believe. But this is not a scientific argument, rather, it is a philosophical one. Which is why Gould then tries to offer a relevant example showing how something can be a fact while still having a theoretical component.

What relevant example does Gould offer? Gravity of course. As we well know, an object dropped from a building will drop at a rate, based on it's mass, that can be reproduced over and over, no matter how many times the object is dropped. Based on observation and applied mathematical principles, we know that gravity is predictable, even though we don't know exactly how or why it works the way it works.

As Gould rightly asserts, "Einstein's theory of gravitation replaced Newton's in this century, but apples didn't suspend themselves in midair, pending the outcome." That is a fact, but then Gould tries to borrow on this example to insist that "humans evolved from ape-like ancestors whether they did so by Darwin's proposed mechanism or by some other yet to be discovered." In other words, evolution is like gravity, we know it is real, we just don't know exactly how it works.

But this is a flawed example, mainly because Gould implies that we've observed evolution taking place over and over again, just as we see gravitational effects in action whenever we drop something. But have we?

Supporters of evolution would argue that we have indeed observed this phenomenon, but there's a bit of bait-and-switch going on here. We can see micro-evolution in action, also known as "adaptation," but macro-evolution, the shifting of one species to a new and entirely different species has never been observed.

The most famous example of micro-evolution, and the one used by Darwin himself when he first postulated the theory of evolution, is that of the Galapagos Finches who, during a long drought on the island, saw a surge in the size of their beaks (as the Finches with shorter beak died off). The Finches with larger beaks were able to more readily crack open seeds. Finches with shorter beaks could not.

In the mind of evolutionary proponents then, this is evolution in action. A species adapted to a climate change by weeding out the Finches with smaller beaks and conferring an advantage on those with larger beaks. If you postulate a million such changes over man thousands of years, you could, theoretically, get an entirely new species.

However, the vast majority of researchers ignore the fact that, after the drought subsided, the average beak size for Finches returned to pre-drought norms. This adaptation was temporary as are most adaptive behaviors.  This can be labeled "natural selection," as Finch beak sizes are "selected" based on rainfall conditions in the Galapagos, but, ultimately, this selection even is a zero sum game.  To then extrapolate that out and say, "this is how all life came to be" is not scientifically sound.

Evolution, then, seems to be correctly identified when we use the term "theory" rather than a law — as we do with gravity — because we see no direct evidence of micro-evolutionary changes leading to macro-evolutionary changes.

Please understand this essential fact; when evolutionary proponents talk of a missing link, they are understating the problem considerably. It's not just one link we're missing. Instead, there are billions of missing links.

Has anyone ever observed the transition of any species into an entirely different and distinct one? The answer to this is a resounding "no."

But proponents of evolution assume their theory is "fact," then work to piece archaeological, biological, and medical finds so as to prove it. So, for example, if two species look similar and show similar traits, but one seems slightly more advanced, it is often assumed that the simpler species is the precursor to the more complex one.

And some recently-released findings underscores this tactic. Last week, the Washington Times reported that "new research by famed paleontologist Maeve Leakey in Kenya shows our family tree is more like a wayward bush with stubby branches, calling into question the evolution of our ancestors."

Up until very recently, it was assumed that Homo Habilis evolved into Homo Erectus, which then evolved into Homo sapien. As the article goes on to point out, "those two earlier species lived side-by-side about 1.5 million years ago in parts of Kenya for at least half a million years, Leakey and colleagues report in a paper to be published in the journal Nature tomorrow."

Of course, proponents of evolutionist are quick to assert that this critically important find does not call into question the theory of evolution. Bill Kimbel, science director of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University, was quoted as saying that "All the changes to human evolutionary thought should not be considered a weakness in the theory of evolution. Rather, those are the predictable results of getting more evidence, asking smarter questions and forming better theories."

What questions are being asked, then? What new theories are researchers coming up with? Even researchers like Kimbel admit that, unfortunately, this makes their job more difficult. Rather than an evolutionary tree, now the thought is that perhaps there is an "evolutionary bush." But how does that work? The evidence to prove this may never be uncovered, yet researchers like Kimbel insist that evolution is still a fact.

At the very least, this shows how un-scientific scientists and researchers can be, insisting that something which has never been observed and whose mechanisms scientists have admitted they do not understand is real. And with additional discoveries, it appears that the job of proving this theory grows increasingly more difficult, not less.

"We know it's a fact," they say, "we just can't prove it yet." Fine, then call it a theory and stop trying to insist that evolution is a fact. Rather than searching for evidence so as to prove the theory, observe with an open mind. The current approach to evolutionary research is not only un-scientific, it is counter-intuitive.

How so? Well, what if a person was given a 500-piece puzzle and asked to assemble that puzzle with no clue as to what the puzzle would ultimately show them. Would it be best for that person to assume they know what the picture was, then go about assembling the puzzle to produce that exact picture? Not only would that approach likely produce an incredibly flawed picture, it would certainly take much longer to complete and would contain numerous inaccuracies.

As a matter of fact, my example can be scientifically tested. Set up two groups of randomly selected individuals, each with a 500-piece puzzle. With the first group, give them the box cover with the picture of the puzzle on it. Then allow them to assemble the puzzle and measure the average length of time it takes an individual in the group to complete the puzzle as well as the number of mistakes they make in assembling the puzzle.

Then take a second group of randomly selected individuals and give them the same puzzle, but with the WRONG picture on the box cover. Tell them to go ahead and use the picture as their guide while they assemble the puzzle. Again, measure the average time it takes for individuals in the group to complete the puzzle as well as the number of mistakes made while assembling the puzzle.

With the second group, it is likely that somewhere along the way participants will realize they have the wrong picture. But how any mistakes will they make along the way, and how long will they have delayed the completion of the puzzle because they thought they knew what they were assembling before they began?

Does that sound familiar to you? It sounds like the modern approach to evolutionary research to me. When pieces do not fit, they are ignored. When mismatched pieces fall out of place, the original set of assumptions is almost never questioned. Even worse, when some researchers do have the temerity to raise questions, they are shouted down by the group.

Even Gould admitted to this tendency. In an article written in 1981, he wrote "that some now wish to mute the healthy debate about theory that has brought new life to evolutionary biology." In a moment of frank honesty, Gould goes on to say that "if we ever begin to suppress our search to understand nature, to quench our own intellectual excitement in a misguided effort to present a united front where it does not and should not exist, then we are truly lost."

Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening today. Faced with an increasing recognition that evolution explains far less than originally believed, many evolutionists have instead reverted to a dogmatic insistence that evolution is science and anything else is "creationism." So, when faced with the concept of "irreducible complexity," close-minded evolutionists call it "creationism." If you disagree with any facet of evolution, you're a creationist. If you try to publish work that in any way challenges evolutionary theory, it is summarily rejected.

But this approach can't work forever. Eventually enough scientists will leave the dogma behind for the open road of research and discovery. As Gould underscores, the "intellectual excitement" of scientists and researchers should not be quenched just to avoid being critiqued.

So, let's go back to the original question; is evolution a fact? Well, if you're an evolutionist, I guess it depends on what the definition of "fact" is; right?

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About David

  • duane

    Thanks, Ruvy. Another mini-chapter in my Fractured History of Man (several others are residing in the BC archives). Not great, but not bad for 20 minutes of work, if I do say so myself. (Yes, sometimes I have too much time on my hands.) I do believe that the connection between pate and the extinction of Neanderthal has been overlooked by the experts.

    Australopissus. Haha. Good one.

    Right. Now, Diana (#35) comes along and attempts to shoot down the entire scientific enterprise. Her first sentence proclaims that we think we are dumb. Her second sentence refers to self-approval. An inauspicious start if ever there were. Then

    You must realize that there is more than we know….

    That self-evident fact is what keeps scientists employed. I hope that Diana can at least admit that we know a lot more than we did, say, in the Dark Ages.

    But my favorite quote from Diana is this:

    Do not be “locked” in, expand your mind to beyond science.

    I would like to know what Diana believes the human mind will find “beyond science.” It’s hard enough to expand one’s mind to get “to science.” Getting beyond might be a tall order. Do we have to first understand what we can through a scientific approach to reality or can we just circumvent science and go directly to whatever is beyond?

    Have you already accommodated in your expanded mind the wonders of the natural universe as exposed by those leading “scientific lives”? Are you conversant in wave-particle duality, and yet bothered by this fact? Are you troubled with thoughts of the cosmic void bubbling with short-lived virtual particle fluctuations permitted by the uncertainty principle? Do you understand the dilemma faced by Neils Bohr when trying to reconcile Maxwell’s Equations with the existence of atoms … the existence of us … and the intellectual courage required by his hypothesis? Do you know why the sky is blue? Are you comfortable with the coupling of space and time and that sequences of events appear differently to observers in different states of motion? Have you accommodated to your way of thinking that all the matter in the universe supposedly came from a quantum fluctuation 13.6 billion years ago? Do you nod knowingly when someone mentions dark energy in connection with Einstein’s cosmological constant and the fate of the universe? Do you appreciate that life on Earth depends on nuclear collisions in the solar core and the ability of a proton to turn into a neutron? Do you think nature finds a way to avoid singularities? Have you come to grips with the abandonment of determinism?

    And that’s the easy stuff, and it’s an ongoing study. Things get much harder when you start trying to explain complex systems, like a cell, and evolution. Those kinds of studies are in their infancy. The Golden Age of Biology lies in the future, unless we all decide that we don’t need to know these things, that all we need to know can be found in the pages of ancient texts with their ancient wisdom.

    So, I’m sure many scientists would love to move beyond their locked-in thinking as you have and see what’s on the other side. But how does one do this in a way that is intellectually honest?

  • stress33: Why not prepair for what’s next? If I’m wrong and there is no heaven then you would have lived a great life helping others and seving the lord only to find out nothing because you would no longer have thought. So what’s to loose? Just eternal life!

    Pascal’s Wager again. Not a very good bet and here’s why. Presumably, Stress, you’re a Christian. But what if you die and it turns out that God is Allah? You’re still screwed even though you played the odds and believed.

  • Diana, it’s no surprise to learn that you are a non-scientific person, as your thinking is so confused.

    You have no way of knowing if there will always be more to learn than we will ever know; Science is supposed to challenge theories; there is no watch maker; living a life of science is no more possible than living a life of custard, it’s just a silly phrase that someone, although probably not you, made up; it’s not necessary to prove there isn’t a creator, the burden of proof lies with the proponents of the theory and, after thousands of years of trying, they have still failed to do so; it doesn’t follow that evolutionists just live their lives as they please (although there is far more to commend about doing that than living a life proscribed by an entirely empty dogma).

    Why don’t you try and be a little bit more honest and say that you are living a life clinging to your belief system because it makes you feel better? Meanwhile, stop trying to act the part of an open-minded person…

  • Diana

    Even for a non-scientific person I can see that man is dumber than he thinks himself to be. Talk about self approval, what a swelled head evolutionists must live with. You must realize that there is more than we know and will probably ever know. Take a little trip away from self righteousnous and I am not talking about the religious here. The cutting edge of science is proving on a daily basis that the “theories” however you deem the word to mean, are being challenged. The watch maker had made the watch and we try to figure it out. How stupid are humans? Grow up and look at the big picture! Do not be “locked” in, expand your mind to beyond science. There is much you can’t explain and won’t in your lifetime. To live a life of science is very empty. My “theory” is you cannot prove there isn’t a creator while I cannot prove that there is one. Therefore,evolutionists will die and people will say, “They had a good time in life and lived their life as they pleased”. Creationists will die and people will say, “They were a good person, nearly a saint, even if they didn’t always do as they pleased”. The difference is simply if evolutionists are right, we all die it doesn’t matter because there is nothing after death. On the other hand, if creationists are right, they hope to go to another life, while evolutionists…well, hate to tell you the outcome if you lived your life as though there wasn’t more after death.

  • STM

    G’day Ruve,

    Well, I can’t speak for any of those other bastards, but I’m pretty sure that Australopissus shot up in height by learning to utilise all the nutrients in beer.

    However, to do this required drinking vast quantities of the stuff, which while making you tall, strong and big, also tends to combine with temperatures reaching into the 40Cs to make everyone a bit slow.

    That’s why the typical (slow) answer from an Australopissus will be: “Yeah, mate, no worries …”

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Nice job of leg pulling there, Duane. If I didn’t know better I’d have thought you had Stan and “mumbly peg” Dreadful thoroughly fooled. You’ve outdone Jean (I’m still awaiting her next book) Auel by several degrees of humor.

    Seriously, when looking at us humanoids and why we are what we are, you’re stuck with stones and bones.

    The problem with Darwin’s theories is not that they are so wrong as wrong headed as far as time goes. The stones and bones indicate that Man (and other animals as well) evolved in sudden bursts, fits and starts, so to speak. Australopithecus (the non beer drinking version of Australopissus) started out as a little twerp about three feet high – maybe a bit taller. A couple of million years later, his descendants come along having gained a couple of feet in height.

    These are not people who went to the penis extending folks – they shot up in height like rockets, when you consider how geologic time goes.


    And how did Australopithecus get to either Neanderthal or Cro-Magnon status so fast?

    Just something to chew on…..

  • stress33

    So far, I have not see anyone explain how or why we became advanced and the apes didn’t. If we did come from a common ancestor with the other Great Apes, what decided, we go this way you go that way. We would have been living in the same conditions. Adaptation should have occured the same or the weaker would have been weeded out. This is because there is no fact just guess work in the theory of evolution. The devil is in the details or should I say the twisting of thoughts about the unknown. What a waste of intelct searching for an answer that is in one book! No one will or has lived for ever. Why not prepair for what’s next? If I’m wrong and there is no heaven then you would have lived a great life helping others and seving the lord only to find out nothing because you would no longer have thought. So what’s to loose? Just eternal life!

  • STM

    Rosey: “Australopissus”.


  • STM

    Yeah, you’re right Doc … they do have shocking pegs. The Poms only come a distant second.

  • I’ll have you know I have the teeth of a god.

    And that theory doesn’t explain Japanese teeth.

  • STM

    That theory might also explain the teeth.

  • STM

    Duane: “The first encounters of Neanderthal with Cro-Magnon did not go well for the latter, who would often turn and run at the first sign of trouble”.

    Geez, whatever are you suggesting here Duane? That these are now some of the characteristics of the modern ancestors of the cro-magnons??

    If so, does that make the English more likely descended from neanderthals, since French surliness towards English speakers is in part related to 1000 years of military humiliation (coupled with an intrinsic belief that they are culturally superior)?

    Interesting stuff.

  • duane

    Yes, always happy to add my two cents when it comes to the evolution of modern man.

    I don’t have any comment on the English question (#20). This is a topic that is currently being debated by paleoanthropologists, psychologists, and social scientists. Good observation, STM.

    However, the French question (#21) is fairly well understood. The “theory” goes like this: Frenchman of the modern era are the descendants of interbreeding between Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal successors, such as Aurignacian man and Gravettian man. It should be stressed that there was no direct breeding between Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal, so the theory goes. Thus the story of French characteristics goes back to the Upper Paleolithic times when Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal were in direct competition for resources in what is now modern-day France. Cro-Magnon had developed a diverse omnivorous diet, having formed a relatively cooperative — almost agrarian — lifestyle.

    This cultural stability led to specialization, including a “priest” class, hunters, “farmers,” etc. Their rudimentary religion (or science) was accompanied by elaborate rituals, including the preparation of exotic meals and the donning of garish clothes. Specialized “guilds” were established, where the preparation of food for sacrifice to the evolving pantheon of gods, and the making of ornamental clothing for the practice of rituals, were honed.

    Enter Neanderthal, strictly nomadic, warlike. The first encounters of Neanderthal with Cro-Magnon did not go well for the latter, who would often turn and run at the first sign of trouble. Neanderthal began a seek-and-destroy campaign to annihilate Cro-Magnon. The more clever among the Neanderthal took captives from the Cro-Magnon tribes, recognizing the virtue of slave labor, which created upheaval within the ranks of the Neanderthal chiefs. Many saw no reason to keep Cro-Magnons around, since few of them could fight. However, perhaps in the interest of currying favor with their captors, Cro-Magnon guild members displayed their cooking prowess. The more powerful among the Neanderthal chiefs took to maintaining a staff of Cro-Magnons who were adept at cooking, while killing the rest. Many of the cooking guild were also familiar with the fashioning of garments, and the chiefs saw yet another way to display their wealth and prowess.

    Thus generations of selective breeding among the fashion and culinary adepts led to extreme specialization among the surviving Cro-Magnons. Neanderthal himself was apparently too dense to learn these skills and dispense with the Cro-Magnon contingent.

    Eventually, the love of a good meal and the burgeoning pre-occupation with fashion softened the once hearty Neanderthals. The decisive blow, however, came soon after the Cro-Magnons discovered truffles (Tuber melanosporum) and pate de foie gras. The Neanderthal nervous system was ill-prepared for these dishes. Indeed, a large serving of truffles induced behavior in the Neanderthal that had all the earmarks of intoxication. Trying to stand after such a meal, a Neanderthal chief would often stagger and tip over, unconscious. The clever Cro-Magnon cook would steal trinkets and weapons from the chief, and barter them away for basic necessities among lower clan members, where “mum” was the word. Thus evolved the phrase, “Did you get a good tip?” referring both to the degree of intoxication and the size of the loot thus acquired. More seriously, however, truffles and pate, while irresistible to the Neanderthal, led to irreversible impairment of his reproductive system. Over time, paleolithic French cooking decimated the Neanderthal population. Cro-Magnon, putting two and two together, interpreted their superior skills in cooking and fashion as a sign of general superiority, an attitude that has been passed down through the centuries, and survives in modern day France.

  • Stan, I’m working on answers to your 20 and 21, but I’m hoping that Duane may see this and come up with something. It’ll be far, far better than anything I could cook up.

  • Silver Surfer

    Nice to see you dropping in Rosey 🙂

    There’s another game tomorrow.

    I must say, it was good to see Tendulkar belting them around the park; if there was any saving grace, that was it. The man’s a genius and a gentleman.

  • Actually, I’ve just had the misfortune to read this article, the only thing that redeemed it at all was that it was labelled opinion.

  • Actually, there is an update on the evolutionary theory. It turns out that there are those people who have a megastrop when their national team is beaten at cricket and they are known as Australians, or more formally Australopissus Sulkius Maximus!

  • STM

    And perhaps they could also explain the micro-evolutionary theory regarding French waiters, and why they have become even ruder than the average Parisian. Does the donning of a white shirt and bow tie, in combination with a surly French accent, somehow have an immediate impact on how this strange evolutionary sub-branch interacts with its fellow earthlings.

    Could it be that working constantly in dim light shuts down 9/10ths of the brain?

    Any answers to both questions? Would love to hear the possible explanations regarding both these mysteries.

  • STM

    Macro-evolution has already taken place among humans on this planet.

    There are now two types: normal people and the English 🙂

    I blame their perpetual misery on the weather and the food. It must have had some kind of an evolutionary effect. At its most obvious, it can be seen in the English native’s dental well-being (or lack thereof).

    Scientists should examine this phenomenon properly and give us a real scientific explanation.

  • David Flanagan said: “Please understand this essential fact; when evolutionary proponents talk of a missing link, they are understating the problem considerably. It’s not just one link we’re missing. Instead, there are billions of missing links.”

    You obviously are ignorant of the very large number of fossils that have been found. One of the most famous examples is tiktaalik roseae. You also don’t understand that none of these fossils are required to show that all living species share a common ancestor. The DNA evidence alone is enough to call evolution, or what creationists call macroevolution, a fact. A proven beyond any doubt fact. I suggest, Mr. Flanagan, instead of spreading lies about science, you should spend some time educating yourself.

  • Biologists know all life evolved and all life is related. They know we share a common ancestor with the other Great Apes. They know we are most closely related to the chimpanzee apes. They know whales developed from land animals. These are all facts. Scientists know these are facts because they can see the entire history of life in DNA. They can see the history of life in amazing detail. Evolution is called a theory instead of a hypothesis because it has been successfully tested for more than a century. Evolution is a fact because the evidence for it is incredibly massive, powerful, and rapidly growing. Our development from other animals is as much as a fact as our planet’s orbit around the sun.

    Here’s the definition of a scientific theory from answers.com:

    theory: A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.

    The theory of evolution explains the facts of evolution. Creationists like to use the public’s misunderstanding of the word theory to confuse people into thinking evolution has problems. There will be healthy debates about the minor details of evolution forever. As new evidence solves these minor debates the theory of evolution becomes stronger. The basic facts of evolution have so much evidence, including extremely powerful DNA evidence, that an educated person would have to crazy to talk about “Yet Another Shake-up In Evolutionary Theory”. Only an uneducated creationist would say that because of some religious boundary he’s afraid to cross.

    Only the Muslims countries and America have a large percentage of flat-earthers who deny the facts of evolution. In more educated countries like all of Europe and Japan, virtually everyone accepts the obvious fact humans developed from ancient apes. The problem in America and the Muslim countries is religious fundamentalism. The Muslims and the Christians are afraid of evolution because it conflicts with their religious brainwashing. Their problem could be solved if they made an effort to educate themselves, but their fear of science is too great, so they avoid studying evolution. Instead they get all their information from Liars for Jesus or Liars for Mohammed so they can continue living in their childish fantasy world.

  • mike

    “Supporters of evolution would argue that we have indeed observed this phenomenon, but there’s a bit of bait-and-switch going on here. We can see micro-evolution in action, also known as ‘adaptation’, but macro-evolution, the shifting of one species to a new and entirely different species has never been observed.

    ” that is a lie. plants speciate all the time through genome duplication. a plant species that is diploid can in the wild undergo genome duplication ending up with a plant that is tetraploid- it can no longer interbreed with its parent species successfully.

    evolution is a fact as is gravity. We have large quantities of evidence for both [in fact I would argue that the evidence for evolution outnumbers that for gravity in general] the theory of evolution is an explanation for these facts that has been challenged numerous times by actual evidence. the theory of gravity is also an explanation for the facts of gravity that has been challenged numerous times and in the case of relativity, expanded upon newton’s explanations for gravity.

    a scientific theory is not something you just scribbled down on a cocktail napkin and assumed to be true, that would be a better description of intelligent design creationism. ID would be a conjecture, not a theory, not even a hypothesis as it does not posit any experiments that have the possibility of falsifying ID. evolutionary theory on the other hand, makes a series of predictions, one well known example is that if humans evolved from primate ancestors there must have been a mechanism for humans to end up with 46 chromosomes while the apes generally have 48. prediction: two pairs of chromosomes fused to form a single pair. this is testible and in fact was tested and confirmed. it turns out it is chromosome 2. human chromosome 2 is the result of a head to head fusion of two primate chromosomes. how do we know this? the human genome project. we sequenced the entire genome and compared sequences from chromosome 2 with primate chromosomes. with chromosome fusion events we’d expect 3 things: 1) that the fused chromosome is remarkably similar to two separate chromosomes [the chromosomes that fused] 2) rudimentary sub-telemeric repeats inside of the fused chromosome [normally at the ends but in fusion events the two ends are joined inside the chromosome] ecample: ACHROMOSOMEA and AFUSIONA fuse to form ACHROMOSOMEAAFUSIONA where the As are the sub-telemeric repeats. guess what we found? that’s right they’re sitting at bp 114455823-114455838 right down to the base pair we know where it happened. 3)a second rudimentary centromere which we also found in chromosome 2. here’s the paper from nature.

    just out of curiosity how does intelligent design creationism explain chromosome 2? god did it?? which reminds me, why is it that the human genome contains more viral and bacterial remnant DNA than DNA that actually codes for proteins? god did it? the catch all answer that answers absolutely nothing and leads nowhere but ignorance.

  • Leslie Bohn

    Glad we’re in total agreement, Vic. Two people united against the dissemination of a religious explanation for a clearly scientific question.

  • Vic


    Thank you for making my point.


  • It’s an ugly modern tendency to attack and break down fully-developed, well-understood, eminently productive disciplines like “science” in favor of personal worldviews. Talk to a scientist (or Duane) and you will find a person who is well-informed and who fully understands, to an absurd degree, the scope of their research. They know the difference between a theory and a fact… between data and interpretation… and between truth and consistency on a level that non-scientists are almost incapable of reaching.

    I’m an excellent example: I’m not a scientist, so I’m using a scientifically unsound one-person sample to prove the assertion I’ve cited above. That happens to be my mom, who’s the person I’ve talked to the most about this stuff.

    It’s an even worse problem that this kind of regressive logic is cloaked in the guise of social theory and secularism.

    Mr. Flanagan, you can really upset my secularist enlightenment “evolutionist” worldview if you can articulate a convincing response to this question: If you’re not proffering an alternative to evolution (such as creationism), what motivated you to write this essay? i.e. a 2000-word article that attacks the foundation of science, a discipline whose authority I trust vastly over yours?

  • RJ

    CR: Thank you. 🙂

    Vic: I’m sure there are any number of possible religion-based explanations for it, but none of them are testable in a controlled, scientific experiment. And if a claim is not testable, it is also not falsifiable, and so therefore it cannot be considered a credible scientific theory/hypothesis. It could still be true, of course, but the believers would be going solely on faith instead of evidence.

    And yes, I’m agnostic (but not an atheist).

  • Leslie Bohn

    Probably best, Vic.
    Religious explanations rarely hold up to any kind of actual scrutiny.

  • Vic

    RJ, there certainly is an answer to your eyesight question with the Christian ideology/worldview as you call it.

    Knowing the nature of commenters on this site, I won’t bother going into any detail.


  • Not for the first time, I find myself in complete agreement with RJ when he’s not writing about Politics. Well said, Sir!

  • RJ

    Well-written article, David. I almost completely disagree, of course, but I realize that there are millions of my fellow Americans (and others as well) who would fully agree with you. So I’m not going to be a dick and call you stupid or ignorant or make fun of your religious beliefs or anything.

    A couple points though, and then I’ll probably leave this controversial subject alone (at least until the next time…):

    – Micro-evolution is a fact It has been observed countless times, and we even mostly understand the mechanisms behind it (DNA + changing environmental conditions + occasional “beneficial” random genetic mutations = micro-evolution).

    – Macro-evolution is indeed a theory, and one that is occasionally modified as new evidence comes in that does not fully support the previously-held theory. It is not a “fact” in the same sense that gravity is a fact, however. And there is a reason for this. If you hold an apple in your hand at eye-level, and then let it go, it will drop to the ground/floor in a matter of seconds (or less). This happens in 100% of cases where there isn’t another force at work (say, an air vent directly below the apple pumping out wind at 150 MPH or something). Macro-evolution, however, has not been directly observable because it takes literally tens of thousands of years (or more) to occur. And scientific-minded human beings have not been around that long to observe and measure this phenomenon. So it’s still a “theory” even though most (but not all) of the available evidence (or “facts”) support it.

    – If an omnipotent God designed the human eye (as opposed to natural selection/evolution), why are there near-sighted, far-sighted, color-blind, and completely blind people around? Why did God curse these people with such a disability, when He was the One who created the Eye and could freely give them sight, if he so deemed? See, that’s an example of a question you probably cannot fully answer with your ideology/worldview, yet such a weakness in your argument is not likely to make you throw away all your deeply-held beliefs. So why should scientists throw away their science- and fact-based theory of evolution because of some unexplained questions?

  • Doug Hunter

    Ahh, the old physics. It would be great if the 1st or 2nd law of thermodynamics could be broken then we could quit relying on fossil fuels. The 2nd law always seemed a little suspect to me. I’d pump a few $million every year into those outside-the-box geniuses to try and find an exception just on the off chance. It be the greatest scientific achievement of all time and usher in an era of unprecedented wealth and prosperity.

  • duane

    My pleasure (sort of) B-Rad, and thanks Dr. D. I’m not a teacher (if I was a teacher, I would be more polite), and I don’t have a blog, but thanks for asking.

    Let me just add a couple of more comments before this thread peters out entirely:

    First, concerning dictionaries: there are hundreds, if not thousands of terms used in scientific communication that will not show up in your bookshelf dictionary. More to the point, there are scores of terms used as scientific terminology that do appear in dictionaries but that have colloquial counterparts. Examples: relaxation, stabilization, cross-section, scatter, conservation, mode, membrane, exclusion, naked, and on and on. To add to the mess, many terms used in different scientific subfields have entirely different meanings — plasma, inversion, accretion, nucleus, and so on. So, using the dictionary to interpret scientific dialog will often lead to confusion, as it has with Flanagan (or has it?.

    Second, re: hierarchy:

    Flanagan refers to “part of a hierarchy of confidence running downhill from fact to theory to hypothesis to guess.” I hope it’s clear that facts and theories are not linked in this hierarchy. The hierarchy is, from low to high:


    It’s not as formal as I’ve laid it out, obviously. Scientists don’t memorize such hierarchies. They don’t really care, except when the public starts taking potshots at them. There are no committees that decide such things. That’s just the way things have shaken out. There is nothing above a theory.

    The problem with language arises when scientists and non-scientists attempt to communicate with each other about science. If a scientist is asked whether such and such is a fact, he knows that the language is colloquial. Scientists, like anyone else, might respond to statements such as, “Biden will be our next president” with the colloquial, “Oh is that a fact?” The question can be translated as “Is that true?” or “Is that likely?” or “You’re crazy,” depending on the tone of voice and inflections. Obviously, an “experiment” whose outcome will be decided in the future does not constitute a proper “fact.” So, in a public setting, a scientist will often attempt to use colloquial speech in answering questions from non-scientists. This may or may not be a good idea. Clearly, it can lead to further confusion when a member of the public has some familiarity with scientific parlance. However ….

    mind the quote:

    A little learning is a dangerous thing
    Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring;
    There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain
    And drinking largely sobers us again.
    While from the bounded level of our mind
    Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind;
    But more advanced, behold with strange surprise
    New distant scenes of endless science rise!

    Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism, 1709

  • Leslie Bohn

    Does Mr. Flanagan actually believe that deliberately “misunderstanding” scientific terms he clearly understands is going to convince anyone of anything?

    This piece if shit essay is really just bald lie after lie.

    Oh, BTW, the “correct puzzle box cover” is Jesus, right? Jesus made all the people and the trees and the goldfish and the birdies, right? Did I get it? The puzzle’s Jesus!

  • Dr Dreadful

    Mr Flanagan operates on the “gotcha” principle so beloved of the anti-evolutionists. He thinks, like many fools before him, that he has found the brick which will bring the whole house crashing down. He fails to understand that some new piece of research, which appears to cast a question over one aspect of the evolutionary mechanism, does not invalidate the entire theory.

    Duane, excellent rebuttal. I’d be interested to read your blog, if such a thing you have. Are you a science teacher or professor by any chance?

  • This is the problem with the internet. Anyone can claim to be a “journalist”.

    Mr. Flanagan, writes an entire article around the meaning of the word “theory” in science. If he was a real journalist, he would have spoken to scientists to understand how they utilize the word correctly, as Duane before me has attempted to do (thank you, Duane).

    Since Mr. Flanagan has chosen to ignore normal journalistic ethics, that leaves him at a lower J-school ranking of Propagandist.

    Keep dishing the same old Discovery Institute crap, David. In the meantime, science will continue to add to the mountain of evidence for evolution. If direct observation is required to believe, then David’s own argument says that Intelligent Design, Creationism and God are all lies as well.

  • duane

    David: As we well know, an object dropped from a building will drop at a rate, based on it’s mass ….

    Really? You seem to know something that ain’t so. See Galileo for the latest developments.
    So, OK, I’m probably wasting my time with this, but I’ll give it a shot ….

    Is the Theory of Evolution a fact?

    No, a theory is a different thing from a fact.

    Example: Open your refrigerator door.

    Fact: After a while the temperature will start to approach room temperature.

    Hypothesis: Energy is being conserved and entropy increase drives the direction of the temperature change.

    Prediction: If I drop enough ice into boiling water, the boiling will stop, since energy has to be conserved and, if entropy has to increase, the ice will melt and the water will stop boiling.

    Experiment #1: I dropped two trays of ice cubes into a pot of boiling water, and the water stopped boiling.

    Conclusion: The experiment confirms the hypothesis.

    Theory: The First and Second Law of Thermodynamics

    More experiments: explain how steam power works, design nuclear power plants and hydroelectric dams, internal combustion engines, etc.

    Conclusion: The First and Second Law of Thermodynamics appear to hold up.
    Q: Are the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics facts?

    A: No, they are theories.

    Q: Just theories?

    A: They are very general statements of the way nature seems to behave. When they were stated, they were not derived, they were simply asserted, after centuries of head scratching and alternate hypotheses that didn’t make the cut. We don’t have anything in science that is “just” a theory. We call those hypotheses. Mathematicians call them conjectures.

    Q: is it possible that the First and Second Laws are wrong?

    A: Yes. It’s possible. But, to date, they have never been shown to be wrong.

    Q: So, I have a theory that has never been shown to be wrong — there are Martian civilizations under the surface of Mars, part of my Martian Directed Panspermia Theory. Shall I write a textbook?

    A: Haha. A scientific theory must be testable and it must be tested. Your theory is testable, but it has not been tested. Until it is, you are stuck with a mere hypothesis.

    Q: If the First and Second Laws might be wrong, then why are they called “Laws”?

    A: Scientists are entirely capable of employing sloppy vocabulary to their work. They’re only human. No one has ever bothered to correct this particular little oversight. It has never mattered whether you call it a Principle or a Law or a Theory. Scientists know what is meant by the Laws of Thermodynamics or the Universal Law of Gravitation. All so-called laws and principles, such as the Principle of Relativity, are theories. The General Theory of Relativity is properly named, for example.

    Q: Why aren’t the Laws of Thermodynamics facts?

    A: Aha, I think I see the problem. You equate the word “fact” with “truth.” You are asking whether or not the Laws of Thermodynamics are true, right?

    Q: Is it a fact that the Laws are true?

    A: Don’t confuse the issue.

    Q: OK, here’s an easy one. Is gravity a fact or a theory?

    A: The existence of gravity is a fact. The mathematical description of gravity is a theory, and the explanation of gravity is still in the works. There are hypotheses.

    Q: OK, but here’s an example where it is perfectly valid to say “just a theory” because nobody knows how gravity really works.

    A: Not quite. Both Newton’s version and Einstein’s more sophisticated version describe the behavior of matter under the influence of gravity. They are used to plot satellite orbits, and explain the positions of the planets. The “theory” in this case is a series of mathematical symbols relating acceleration to mass or spacetime curvature to mass-energy. They work extremely well in a predictive sense, so they have been given the status of full-fledged theories. The fact that both versions require the symbol G, which is the gravitational constant, and nobody can explain why G has the value that it does, is a deep question, and shows that a full understanding of gravity has yet to be achieved.

    Q: Is gravity true?

    A: Does not compute.

    Q: Is Einstein’s theory true? Is it a fact?

    A: No to both questions. Or “No” to one and the same question, if I know you. Science does not uncover “truths.” Science uncovers facts, then tries to describe, sometimes even explain, a large body of facts with theories. There is not a single Law, Principle, or Theory that any scientist worth his salt would claim to be true in a literal sense. “Truths” are for philosophers and theologians.

    Q: So, you’re saying that nothing in science is true? Can I quote you?

    A: Ummmm ….

    Q: So, logically, everything in science is false, if nothing is true.

    A: Look, it’s like this. Everything that constitutes a theory in science is possibly false. Every theory is falsifiable. Another prerequisite for theoryhood. A theory is our best attempt to describe Nature. If a theory makes a prediction that fails, the theory is either modified or scrapped. Galileo modified Aristotle. Einstein modified Newton. String theorists are modifying Einstein, and so it will go. But don’t let’s get carried away and say that everything in science is false. We maintain that facts are true — it is true that there are nine planets ….

    Q: Don’t you mean eight?

    A: Don’t start … It is true that the speed of light is finite. It is true that air is composed of nitrogen, oxygen, other stuff, and CFCs, etc.

    Q: OK, so is evolution a fact?

    A: Why do I waste my breath?

  • I think something I should have done with this article, and did not because it was already long and involved, was break down the three theories which are rarely explicity discussed. Of course, under the umbrella of Darwinism we have “Natural Selection,” “Common Descent,” and “Random Mutation.”

    Even Darwin often wrote about common descent and natural selection interchangeably, but really, he proposed common descent, which most biologists adhere to and which I myself believe is quite well supported, along with natural selection.

    Natural selection is readily observable in nature. You can look at the way Malaria seems to quickly become immune to various drugs developed, even when a number of drugs are mixed into “cocktails.” But, just as with the finches example above, once the drug ceases to be administered, the more common type of Malaria returns and the specialized type with the immunity goes away.

    Why? Because as often as not, selection works to take away a trait that confers a weakness to an organism. The human genomic response to Malaria in Africa was the appearance of the Sickle Trait, which conferred immunity to Malaria, but with the negative side-effect being that, if both parents carry Sickle Trait, then there is a 1 in 4 chance that their children will die of Sickle Cell Anemia.

    The long and short of my point here is that, while we can see evolution in action in some ways, there are major assumptions researchers make even now which have little basis in fact. And they like to offer broad-brush statements regarding evolution, making it seem as if this theory can account for the origin and development of all life.

    This is not the case, and even simple discoveries such as the one I mention in my article hurt their credibility.

    Enough said for now.


  • Tim

    Flanagan ludicrously misrepresents evolution. OF COURSE whether evolution is a fact and/or a theory “is not a scientific argument, rather, it is a philosophical one” — these questions fall within an area of Philosophy known as Epistemology. This in no way detracts from the legitimacy of the arguments.

    Macro-evolution, in the form of speciation (one species splitting into two) has been observed by modern science in the lab and in the field.