Hey Everyone! You may have been out of campus today and seen that traveling preacher Tom Short was back, along with his many large signs and large volume of Mountain Dew. He had a new hair color but we had a new sign, so it was only fair. We got a quick tabling event going, and he’s coming by again on Thursday, during our regular Ask an Atheist time.
A lot of people coming by ask us why we set up across from traveling preachers. The answer is quite simply that it is one of our best times for recruitment in the club, and nothing fosters discussion between Christians and Atheists better than talking about a more extreme or conservative type of Christian, in to which category Mr. Short falls for most people. It’s also great for our image when we look for polite discussion opposite a veritable word-storm of harsh opinion.
During the event today, I decided to take up the challenge of responding to one of the posters Mr. Short travels with. When he sets up, I frequently think that many people have answers to the “Questions for the Evolutionist” poster. Unfortunately, due to the one sided nature of preaching, these answers probably don’t get through. For this reason, I wrote out my answers, giving each consideration as to the most useful approach to the question. I am quite certain that my responses will do nothing for Mr. Short, but I wish to make this exercise available to all you who come by the blog, from any perspective on the questions of your own, and put my thoughts out there so that perhaps someone will hear an explanation they may not have heard before.
I do wonder why anyone started using the term “Evolutionist”. I think it’s a bit silly, as those who accept evolution don’t really model their lives or beliefs around it as Creationists do. I think the term is a representation of a misunderstanding of what it means to accept evolution, which is just that, accepting the most plausible theory available. I have attempted to copy the questions down word for word from the poster, but the picture I took of it today was unfortunately a bit blurry and the top was cropped short, so I have done my best to get them right. Also here are my exact responses as I gave to Mr. Short, copied off pictures I took of the papers. There is a line in my last answer I lost in my picture taking, so I have replaced the lost words to the best of my memory in brackets.
Do you believe there is a source to the order in the Universe? If not, do you think Chaos+Time=Order?
No, I do not believe there is “a source” to the order in the universe, as far as any single source. I have an inclination that the attribution of the term “source” is somewhat faulted in that it implies a reason, which I do not think there is either. And no, chaos given time does not lead to order.
Interesting to consider, though, is that more ordered arrangements can arise from input of energy. Consider ATP synthesis, in which the high stored energy of a phosphate-phosphate bond can be produced, but only by pairing with an energetically favorable reaction (Na+ entering the cell, which has lower Na+ content than the surroundings. Diffusion requires no energy.
Consider also that the earth is not a closed system. Though a lot of the Sun’s radiation (a type of energy) is reflected off the earth, some of this is harnessed, inputting energy into the system to couple to the otherwise unfavorable production of sugars in chloroplasts.
Do you believe complex design in nature came about by chance?
I believe the understanding of natural selection as chance is mistaken. It is not chance, for example, that a flatworm with pigmented cells which absorb light energy senses the blocking of light as a potential threat and goes back to the light will avoid predation more often than a worm with less pigmented cells. You may be getting caught up in mutations. For that, perhaps consider that genetics are not purely Mendelian. Many genes affect traits, so a continuous range occurs in a population, not a much or none dichotomy. So a worm with 11 clustered pigmented cells does worse than one with 12, who does worse that the 13. This isn’t chance.
DNA is a language communicating information. Where did that information come from?
It may be worth noting for this question we need to understand what information means. DNA is composed of sequences of “codons” – 3 molecule sequences. Each codon can pair with a matching anticodon, which is attached to an amino acid. Chains of amino acids form proteins, which fold in certain ways based on chemical interactions between the acids. Proteins preform many functions in and between cells, and the compilation of these functions affect organisms.
How do you believe life began?
I think that life isn’t terribly different from “non-life”. Life is just a compilation of chemical reactions, so it arose from chemistry. I think that drawing a line between life and non-life would be very difficult, so beginning would be hard to pick out.
I realize that this answer isn’t very thorough, but many wonderful researchers are engaged in studies to give this very question better and better answers.
What is your evidence that one kind of life has evolved into another?
If by “kind of life” you mean species, I would start with investigating prokaryotes and looking at ‘in-our-lifetime’ speciation of the apple maggot fly.
For more evidence, you can study fossils. Particularly well defined lineages are in temnospondyls (fish–>amphibian) & therapods–>birds. In both lineages, predictions have been made of what trait mixes we expect at given times, & then a similar and fitting example, and even repeat specimens, have been found.
The diversification of bird life and tortoise life (just Galapagos) if Pacific Island chains is also a good place to study.
Mutations decrease useful genetic information. Do you believe that with enough time, this trend is reversed?
This is not true. Mutations are not inherently good or bad. Many are helpful, many are hurtful, many more are inconsequential.
How do you account for the formation of fossils?
Fossils are formed by a process called permineralization. Organic matter (usually with a strong structure) in an anoxic environment, such as buried in sand or mud, with water flow through the sediments’ pores, slowly have their porous space filled with the minerals dissolved in the water. The water can also preferentially dissolve Calcium rich molecules, such as in bone, creating new porosity which can be filled.
When do you think the “missing link” will finally be found?
I think you may be a bit confused. There is no single missing link, and every new species we discover is part of a continuous, branched sequence, the “tree of life”. No species is more important than any other, so calling any one “The missing link” is anthropocentric.
Why are evolutionists so determined to prevent young people from hearing this material?
People who accept evolution are not one united group. There are many Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, &c. persons who accept evolution and are eager to share their religious beliefs
A small group of atheists, some of whom, or I’d rather wager most, accept evolution, & are obtuse towards religious persons. I don’t know whether they would be opposed to their children being exposed to religion.
I’m an evolutionary biologist and a paleontologist. I’m also an agnostic atheist. I do not have children, but when I do someday I do not wish to shield them from any perspective on the world. I wish to let them know what as many varieties of people think about the world as possible. I did not like religion myself, and it was a wild agent in making me feel bad as a child. I do want to protect any children I may someday have from hurt. I do not want anyone to try to define my children as good or bad by any quality besides their choices and actions. It is possible that things [I believe to be good or bad, they may disagree with, and consider something different. I wish to do my best] to present, in all possible cases, my thoughts as far as reasons for a conclusion, but never push my conclusions. I wish for my some-day children to have the option to believe or reject any opinion, I wish for them to have the least biased possible background to work from when they decide to tackle questions we cannot answer without opinion.
So, I can not speak for everyone on this count, but I do not know anyone who, based on their acceptance of evolution, is set on influencing their children in any way towards or against religion.