Disparities in evolutionary theory between molecular and morphological trees

Is There Any Scientific Controversy Over Darwinian Evolution? Part 2

From Tough Questions Answered: Posted: 20 Feb 2015 06:00 AM PST

evo2_2210436b.jpgAfter writing part 1 of this blog post almost 3 years ago, I received several comments along the lines of, “Just because one scientist, James Shapiro, disagrees with the idea that natural selection acting on random mutations is the main engine of evolutionary change, does not mean there is a controversy.”

My goal in quoting Shapiro was not to state merely that Shapiro diverges from evolutionary orthodoxy, but to encourage the reader to go off and do some more reading to see that there are many more dissenting scientists, just like him. To help along that process, I’ve quoted from an article below that lists several more examples of the controversy. This is obviously not an exhaustive list, but is meant to lead truly curious readers to do more reading themselves. For those of you who have already decided that there is no controversy, don’t waste your time reading any further. You’ll just get more upset.

Here is Casey Luskin in an article he wrote for the Christian Research Journal titled “The New Theistic Evolutionists.” Luskin notes that

highly credible scientists doubt the neo-Darwinian view that natural selection acting on random mutation was the driving force building the complexity of life. Lynn Margulis, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, explained that “neo-Darwinists say that new species emerge when mutations occur and modify an organism,” and admitted, “I believed it until I looked for evidence.”

In 2008, sixteen leading biologists convened in Altenberg, Austria, to discuss problems with the neo-Darwinian synthesis. When covering this conference, Nature quoted leading scientists saying things like “evolutionary theory has told us little about” important events like “the origin of wings and the invasion of the land.”

That same year, Cornell evolutionary biologist William Provine explained that “every assertion of the evolutionary synthesis below is false,” including: “natural selection was the primary mechanism at every level of the evolutionary process,” “macroevolution was a simple extension of microevolution,” and “evolution produces a tree of life.”

Luskin adds:

The following year, leading biologist Eugene Koonin wrote that breakdowns in core neo-Darwinian tenets such as the “traditional concept of the tree of life” or that “natural selection is the main driving force of evolution” indicate “the modem synthesis has crumbled, apparently, beyond repair.” . . . Koonin mentioned growing skepticism over the “tree of life,” and the technical literature contains numerous examples of conflicting evolutionary trees, challenging universal common ancestry.

An article in Nature reported that “disparities between molecular and morphological trees” lead to “evolution wars” because “evolutionary trees constructed by studying biological molecules often don’t resemble those drawn up from morphology.” Another Nature paper reported that newly discovered genes “are tearing apart traditional ideas about the animal family tree,” since they “give a totally different tree from what everyone else wants.”

A 2009 article in New Scientist observes that “many biologists now argue that the tree concept is obsolete and needs to be discarded.” So severe are problems that a 2012 paper in Annual Review of Genetics proposed “life might indeed have multiple origins.”

Again, if you want to argue that there is no controversy, you are simply ignorant of what’s going on. Instead of trying to shout down any one who says there is a controversy, your time would be better spent spend studying the differing views on evolution so that you can truly understand the issues involved.

Related Posts

1. Is There Any Scientific Controversy Over Darwinian Evolution? Part 1

2. Is Darwinian Evolution Falsifiable?

3. Is Junk DNA Evidence for Darwinian Evolution?

4. What Questions about Evolution Have Really Been Answered?

YARPP

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Why Can’t Science Explain Consciousness?

Why Can’t Science Explain Consciousness?

Posted: 16 Feb 2015 06:00 AM PST from TOUGH QUESTIONS ANSWERED

DirtRugBroom.jpg?mtime=1336685474It is not uncommon these days to hear something like the following: “Science has explained just about everything else in the world, so it is inevitable that science will explain the mind and consciousness.” This kind of comment always makes me roll my eyes because the people who make this comment are making a colossal error, but an error that can be hard to see.

Philosopher Ed Feser gives a brilliant analogy that makes the error more obvious. He calls it the “lump under the rug” fallacy.

Suppose the wood floors of your house are filthy and that the dirt is pretty evenly spread throughout the house. Suppose also that there is a rug in one of the hallways. You thoroughly sweep out one of the bedrooms and form a nice little pile of dirt at the doorway. It occurs to you that you could effectively “get rid” of this pile by sweeping it under the nearby rug in the hallway, so you do so. The lump under the rug thereby formed is barely noticeable, so you are pleased.

You proceed to sweep the rest of the bedrooms, the bathroom, the kitchen, etc., and in each case you sweep the resulting piles under the same rug. When you’re done, however, the lump under the rug has become quite large and something of an eyesore. Someone asks you how you are going to get rid of it. “Easy!” you answer. “The same way I got rid of the dirt everywhere else! After all, the ‘sweep it under the rug’ method has worked everywhere else in the house. How could this little rug in the hallway be the one place where it wouldn’t work? What are the odds of that?”

What is wrong with using the “sweep it under the rug” method to get rid of the dirt under the rug?

Naturally, the same method will not work in this case, and it is precisely because it worked everywhere else that it cannot work in this case. You can get rid of dirt outside the rug by sweeping it under the rug. You cannot get of the dirt under the rug by sweeping it under the rug. You will only make a fool of yourself if you try, especially if you confidently insist that the method must work here because it has worked so well elsewhere.

So what does the “sweep it under the rug” method have to do with the issue of whether science will explain the mind and consciousness some day?

Now, the “Science has explained everything else, so how could the human mind be the one exception?” move is, of course, standard scientistic and materialist shtick. But it is no less fallacious than our imagined “lump under the rug” argument.

Here’s why. Keep in mind that Descartes, Newton, and the other founders of modern science essentially stipulated that nothing that would not fit their exclusively quantitative or “mathematicized” conception of matter would be allowed to count as part of a “scientific” explanation. Now to common sense, the world is filled with irreducibly qualitative features — colors, sounds, odors, tastes, heat and cold — and with purposes and meanings. None of this can be analyzed in quantitative terms.

To be sure, you can re-define color in terms of a surface’s reflection of light of certain wavelengths, sound in terms of compression waves, heat and cold in terms of molecular motion, etc. But that doesn’t capture what common sense means by color, sound, heat, cold, etc. — the way red looks, the way an explosion sounds, the way heat feels, etc. So, Descartes and Co. decided to treat these irreducibly qualitative features as projections of the mind.

The redness we see in a “Stop” sign, as common sense understands redness, does not actually exist in the sign itself but only as the quale of our conscious visual experience of the sign; the heat we attribute to the bathwater, as common sense understands heat, does not exist in the water itself but only in the “raw feel” that the high mean molecular kinetic energy of the water causes us to experience; meanings and purposes do not exist in external material objects but only in our minds, and we project these onto the world; and so forth. Objectively there are only colorless, odorless, soundless, tasteless, meaningless particles in fields of force.

In short, the scientific method “explains everything else” in the world in something like the way the “sweep it under the rug” method gets rid of dirt — by taking the irreducibly qualitative and teleological features of the world, which don’t fit the quantitative methods of science, and sweeping them under the rug of the mind. And just as the literal “sweep it under the rug” method generates under the rug a bigger and bigger pile of dirt which cannot in principle be gotten rid of using the “sweep it under the rug” method, so too does modern science’s method of treating irreducibly qualitative, semantic, and teleological features as mere projections of the mind generate in the mind a bigger and bigger “pile” of features which cannot be explained using the same method.

And there you have it. The very way science does its work is to exclude the qualitative features of reality as experienced by human consciousness. To lump the phenomena of consciousness in with the phenomena of gravity, cellular division, and star formation, is to try to get rid of the dirt under the rug by sweeping the dirt under the rug! It won’t work, ever.

Related Posts

1. Why Is There a Mind-Body Problem? Part 2

2. What Are Four Things Science Will Never Explain? – #1 Post of 2011

3. Is Science Dependent on Other Disciplines?

4. Is There a War Between Religion and Science?

YARPP

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What Are the Limits of Physics?

What Are the Limits of Physics? Posted: 06 Feb 2015 06:00 AM PST

Reprinted from Tough Questions Answered

Contrary to the disciples of scientism, physics has limits. Philosopher Ed Feser gives a quick run-down which is worth passing along. Feser writes,

As I have emphasized many times, what physics gives us is a description of the mathematical structure of physical reality. It abstracts from any aspect of reality which cannot be captured via its exclusively quantitative methods. (emphasis added)

Let’s stop here because this is important. What Feser is saying is that when the methods of physics are applied to any object, any event, any piece of the world around us, the method only addresses the parts of that object, event, or piece of the world that can be mathematically quantified. Physics ignores any parts of the world that cannot be mathematically quantified.

One reason that this is crucial to keep in mind is that from the fact that something doesn’t show up in the description physics gives us, it doesn’t follow that it isn’t there in the physical world. This is like concluding from the fact that colour doesn’t show up in a black and white pen and ink drawing of a banana that bananas must not really be yellow.

In both cases the absence is an artefact of the method employed, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the reality the method is being used to represent. The method of representing an object using black ink on white paper will necessarily leave out colour even if it is there, and the method of representing physical reality using exclusively mathematical language will necessarily leave out any aspect of physical reality which is not reducible to the quantitative, even if such aspects are there.

But maybe all of reality is just composed of mathematical structure. Feser argues that this cannot be the case, that other aspects of reality must be there.

The quantitative description physics gives us is essentially a description of mathematical structure. But mathematical structure by itself is a mere abstraction. It cannot be all there is, because structure presupposes something concrete which has the structure. Indeed, physics itself tells us that the abstraction cannot be all there is, since it tells us that some abstract mathematical structures do not fit the actual, concrete material world.

For example, Einstein is commonly taken to have shown that our world is not really Euclidean. This could only be true if there is some concrete reality that instantiates a non-Euclidean abstract structure rather than a Euclidean abstract structure. So, physics itself implies that there must be more to the world than the abstract structure it captures in its purely mathematical description, but it does not and cannot tell us exactly what this concrete reality is like.

Physics is one tool, a powerful one certainly, in our toolbox for describing reality. But to think that it is the only tool in the toolbox is just silly.

Related Posts

1. Can the Mind Be Explained by Physics?

2. Why Is “Scientism” False? Part 1

3. Why Is There a Mind-Body Problem? Part 1

4. Why Is There a Mind-Body Problem? Part 2