Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Evolution Is...True!

In addition to watching dozens (perhaps hundreds?) of youtube videos, from both sides of the evolution/creation debate, I also began to read books on the subject.  Several of them were pretty interesting (ie. "Why Darwin Matters", by Michael Shermer) but there was one, in particular, that sealed the deal for me...by the time I finished Jerry Coyne's "Why Evolution Is True" I was a full blown (gasp!) "evolutionist".  (I feel it's important to note, again, that only months earlier I had been a full blown, and lifelong, "young earth creationist".) 

I won't take the time to do a full scale review of the book, but what I will do is quote from three places and, in each case, I'd like to suggest you ponder a simple question (this is aimed squarely at the reader who still doubts and/or disbelieves in evolution, you know who you are)...here's the question, "if evolution is false, how would you explain this?". 

Sound fair enough?  Ok, remember, be honest with yourself.

Let's begin with a quote from chapter 2, "Written In The Rocks", where Jerry is discussing the discovery, in 2004, of a transitional form between fish and amphibians.  As you're reading the quote, keep my question in mind...

"How did early fish evolove to survive on land?  This was the question that interested--or rather obsessed--my University of Chicago colleague Neil Shubin.  Neil had spent years studying the evolution of limbs from fins, and was driven to understand the early stages of that evolution. 

This is where the prediction comes in.  If there were lobe-finned fishes but no terrestrial vertebrates 390 million years ago, where would you expect to find the transitional forms?  Somewhere in between.  Following this logic, Shubin predicted that if transitional forms existed, their fossils would be found in strata around 375 million years old.  Moreover, the rocks would have to be from freshwater rather than marine sediments, because the late lobe-finned fish and early amphibians both lived in fresh water.

Searching his college geology textbook for a map of exposed freshwater sediments of the right age, Shubin and his colleagues zeroed in on a paleontologically unexplored region of the Canadian Arctic: Ellesmere Island, which sits in the Arctic Ocean north of Canada.  And after five long years of fruitless and expensive searching, they finally hit pay dirt: a group of fossil skeletons stacked one atop another in sedimentary rock from an ancient stream...

...Tiktaalik has features that make it a direct link between the earlier lobe-finned fish and the later amphibians..."

So, getting back to my question, if evolution is false, how would you explain this?  (Any takers?)  In this case, one would not only have to explain the transitional form itself (is it a fish, or is it an amphibian?) but also, and perhaps even more significantly, how it is that Mr. Shubin knew exactly where to dig for such a fossil?  If evolution is really false, was it just a lucky coincidence?

On to my second quote...

"...where we find transitional forms, they occur in the fossil record precisely where they should.  The earliest birds appear after dinosaurs, but before modern birds.  We see ancestral whales spanning the gap between their own landlubber ancestor and fully modern whales.  If evolution were not true, fossils would not occur in an order that makes evolutionary sense.  Asked what observation could concievably disprove evolution, the curmudgenonly biologist J.B.S. Haldane reportedly growled, 'Fossil rabbits in the precambrian!'  (That's the geological period that ended 543 million years ago.)  Needless to say, no Precambrian rabbits, nor any other anachronistic fossils, have ever been found.

Again, if evolution is false, how would you explain this?  Why are exactly the "right" types of fossils found in exactly the "right" places, every single time?  (No exceptions...ever!)  Any takers on this one??

My third (and final) quote comes from chapter 3, "Remnants, Embryos, and Bad Design"...

"When he wrote The Origin, Darwin considered embryology his strongest evidence for evolution.  Today he'd probably give pride of place to the fossil record.  Nevertheless science continues to accumulate intriguing features about devolopment that support evolution.  Embryonic whales and dolphins form hindlimb buds--bulges of tissue that, in four-legged mammals, become the rear legs.  But in marine mammals the buds are reabsorbed soon after they're formed...

...One of my favorite cases of embryological evidence for evolution is the furry human fetus.  We are famously known as 'naked apes' because, unlike other primates, we don't have a thick coat of hair.  But in fact for one brief period we do--as embryos.  Around six months after conception, we become completely covered with a fine, downy coat of hair called lanugo.  Lanugo is usually shed about a month before birth, when it's replaced by the more sparsely distributed hair with which we're born.  (Premature infants, however, are sometimes born with lanugo, which soon falls off.)  Now, there's no need for a human embryo to have a transitory coat of hair.  After all, it's a cozy 98.6 degrees Farenheit in the womb.  Lanugo can be explained only as a remnant of our primate ancestry."

And, once again, I would pose to you my simple and straightforward question, if evolution is false, how would you explain this?

If I had more time there are several other areas I could get into, but I think you get my point.  (Personally, I found chapter 4, on the geographic distribution of animals, to be the single most convincing argument presented in the entire book.) 

(Creationist) believer, how much do you really know about evolution?  Have you ever read any "pro" evolution books?  Why not start with Jerry Coyne's "Why Evolution Is True?".  If it's really "the truth" you're after, what have you got to lose?


  1. Along the lines of your third quote, you could also add to the list of questions "Why did god give men nipples?" If evolution is false, how would you explain nipples on a man?

  2. Good for you, but you didn't need to become an atheist just because you decide you believe in evolution. Half the world's Christians are Roman Catholics, and they have no problem with evolution, nor do most Anglicans and Methodists.

    1. Haha yes, of course, I didn't become an atheist because of evolution in any way. To understand why I became an atheist you would need to read all of my posts, from the blog's beginning last year (I did my best to tell my story chronologically, as best I could remember it). Thanks for your thoughts.

    2. True. For a while I used to believe in evolution while I was a Christian, although if you read a lot of the Bible you will find evolution and theology just don't gel.