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Education Science

Correcting Misperceptions About Evolution 838

Beagle writes "The science of evolution is often misunderstood by the public and a session at the recent AAAS meeting in Boston covered three frequently misapprehended topics in evolutionary history, the Cambrian explosion, origin of tetrapods, and evolution of human ancestors, as well as the origin of life. The final speaker, Martin Storksdieck of the Institute for Learning Innovation, covered how to communicate the data to a public that 'has such a hard time accepting what science is discovering.' His view: 'while most of the attention has focused on childhood education, we really should be going after the parents. Everyone is a lifelong learner, Storksdieck said, but once people leave school, that learning becomes a voluntary matter that's largely driven by individual taste.'"
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Correcting Misperceptions About Evolution

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  • Origin of life ?! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bytesex ( 112972 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @02:18AM (#22584846) Homepage
    Is the origin of life really a part of the theory of evolution ? I thought it was the origin of species. The origin of life, to me, seems more like a discrete (soapy, fatty) chemical process that doesn't have a lot in common with the process of evolution. Why convolute the two ?
    • RTFA (Score:5, Informative)

      by evanbd ( 210358 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @02:23AM (#22584892)

      (Yeah, yeah, I know... no one RTFAs on /..)

      They discuss that, and agree with you. The reason is that in the eyes of the public, the two are regularly conflated, especially by religious hacks trying to dispute evolution. So, they discuss the relationship and lack thereof (they're not completely unrelated, actually), and also discuss why they're talking about both.

      The short answer is that they were trying to summarize the current state of scientific knowledge as relates to a particular political and religious debate, and both evolution and the origin of life are part of that debate.

      • by Tatarize ( 682683 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @05:43AM (#22585954) Homepage
        PZ Myers put it pretty distinctly:

        "'Evolution is a theory about the origin of life' is presented as false. It is not. I know many people like to recite the mantra that "abiogenesis is not evolution," but it's a cop-out. Evolution is about a plurality of natural mechanisms that generate diversity. It includes molecular biases towards certain solutions and chance events that set up potential change as well as selection that refines existing variation. Abiogenesis research proposes similar principles that led to early chemical evolution. Tossing that work into a special-case ghetto that exempts you from explaining it is cheating, and ignores the fact that life is chemistry. That creationists don't understand that either is not a reason for us to avoid it." []
        • Define "Alive" (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 28, 2008 @06:17AM (#22586122)
          There are self-replicating objects that do not seem to be alive, but they do grow and expand to fill their niche.

          That's the problem with abiogenesis: we need to define what counts as alive before we can say what started life.

          Mind you, that's a problem religions avoid quite assiduously too: where does the soul get put in? Too early and the infant dies with a soul (natural termination). Too late and we have premature babies without a soul. So where does "life" begin? Why do humans get one but not Apes? How different from a human does a human have to be before it doesn't get a soul? E.g. did "Lucy" have a soul?

          PS your PZ Meyers quote means nothing. It just states a position and doesn't actually bring anything to the table.

          Abiogenesis is chemistry, correct. But chemistry doesn't define what "life" or "alive" is. And that definition IS what Abiogenesis is. As I said, we already have self-organised non alive collections that exhibit many of the characteristics of life. We have a line which is "definitely alive" and a line that is "definitely not alive" but these lines DO NOT MEET.

          Abiogenesis is how to bridge the gap between to show how "Not alive" and "alive" are part of a spectrum and something "not alive" can gain the characteristics we assign to the "alive" side. If we never find how that happens, maybe THAT is the "irreducible complexity". But the IDers aren't looking for it. They take on faith that anything they don't understand NOW is irreducibly complex. And that isn't how to learn. It's just dogma.

          Does PZ Meyers' discourse help in that goal?
          • Re:Define "Alive" (Score:5, Insightful)

            by lukesl ( 555535 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @03:02PM (#22591186)
            Abiogenesis is chemistry, correct. But chemistry doesn't define what "life" or "alive" is. And that definition IS what Abiogenesis is.

            Speaking as a biologist, I think this statement is exactly incorrect. It's true, life is chemistry. The reason why chemistry does not define what "life" is is because anyone who really understands biochemistry understands that there is no meaningful distinction between "living" chemical systems and "nonliving" ones. The belief that there is some fundamental distinction between the two is called vitalism, and it was discredited a long time ago. Theories of abiogenesis attempt to explain how the chemical reactions we observe in "living" systems arose. Whether you or anyone else considers those chemical reactions to be "living" or not is totally irrelevant. Debating whether something is "alive" or not is similar to debating whether Greenland is a continent or not. It's a pointless, simplistic distinction applied post hoc for the purpose of justifying some sort of nonrigorous internal prejudices.
        • by smilindog2000 ( 907665 ) <> on Thursday February 28, 2008 @06:45AM (#22586264) Homepage
          The process of evolution is a highly confirmed theory, to the point that most of us just go ahead and refer to it as a fact. To say it's only a theory at this point requires an esoteric discussion of the definition of theory vs fact, and the only rational people I know who have any lingering doubts about it are deeply religious and take the Bible quite literally.

          However, exactly what happened in the past, and when, gets murkier as we go back in time. By the time we get to the actual origin of the self-replicating life form from which we all evolved, we have very little insight. Some scientists even suspect that Earth's initial life form may have come from an asteroid, and evolved initially outside the Solar System. Others, more religious than me, suspect God had a hand in it, and I have trouble rationally arguing against that theory.

          I think it's best to focus on more recent evolution in discussions with less educated parents, and those who purposely avoid learning about it. I find few people who believe God made the Earth in seven days have any clue how massive the body of evidence for evolution is. To respect their point of view, I generally concede that a "day" could have been a very long time back then, or perhaps God has reasons for trying to fool us. We don't even need to settle the "fact" vs "theory" dispute. Simply educating people about why we believe evolution is happening would be a great step forward. Arguing about what happened billions of years ago to create life in the first place just gives fud-slingers an opening to refute the entire body of evidence for evolution.
          • by ricegf ( 1059658 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @07:32AM (#22586458) Journal

            The process of evolution is a highly confirmed theory

            Actually, if your goal is to convince parents to allow evolution to be taught to their children, this isn't the best point to make. How about, "The process of evolution is a highly useful theory" instead? Even if God created the world 6,000 years ago exactly as it was 6,000 years ago, and let evolutionary processes take it from there, would it really matter? Evolutionary science would still be just as useful in understanding life - well, whatever life is...

            Just $0.02 from a real, live evangelical Christian in the wild... ;-)

            • by skiman1979 ( 725635 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @08:14AM (#22586658)
              As a Christian, the way I see it, why can't evolution be the process that God has used (and is still using) to create the universe? The Bible says that God created the world in 7 days (rested on the 7th), but does not define what a day is. A day to an eternal diety could be billions of years. The Bible also does not go into details of how he created things. If I remember correctly, it simply says that he 'said let there be and there was and he saw that it was good.' Evolution could just be what happened behind the scenes. The Bible also refers to creating the "heavens and the earth". It seems a bit confusing there. Is "earth" the 3rd planet from the sun in this solar system in the milky way galaxy, or is "earth" simply planets? God created a firmament between "the waters", and called the firmament Heaven, and then he created land in the waters below Heaven to separate the waters into seas. To me, that sounds like he created our planet Earth, and Heaven is all of the stuff outside Earth (the universe?). So what about the waters above the firmament (Heaven)?
              • by samkass ( 174571 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @10:09AM (#22587494) Homepage Journal
                As a Christian, the way I see it, why can't evolution be the process that God has used (and is still using) to create the universe?

                Although that is, in fact, my opinion, I think religious scholars balk at this concept because it pigeonholes God into a smaller player in the universe. If God has to play by His own rules (and I'm not sure we have any documented proof that He has violated them), then it comes down to the opposite of what Einstein said about quantum mechanics: God ONLY plays dice with the universe. If the only effect God can have is to change the rolls of the dice, it limits God in a way that many highly religious folks don't believe He should be limited.

                The fact that we can trace most species back through DNA and how it's expressed physiologically in the fossil record means that God doesn't appear to be Creating much new life these days-- just letting the process run its course. And if you include humans in that tree and assert that there were billions of years of pre-human life that later formed humans, it again diminishes God's direct role as our immediate creator, and relegates Him to an indirect force that set things in motion a long time ago.

                Anyway, I think that's the objection.

              • by BlortHorc ( 305555 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @10:19AM (#22587598)
                Repeat after me.

                There is. No. God.

                Once you get over the initial discomfort you will realise that a great many kludges you unconsciously apply to your day to day living can be done away with altogether, and indeed the entirety of your world view can be refactored into a far more consistent state to which a genuinely ethical basis can be applied if you only reject the nonsense you have been taught by the church and embrace the simple (and obvious) truth encompassed by the phrase:

                There is. No. God.

                No, really.
              • by Eivind ( 15695 ) <> on Thursday February 28, 2008 @10:21AM (#22587616) Homepage
                Because of Occams Razor: Entities should not be multiplied needlessly.

                If you can explain the development from single-cell organism to homo sapiens to satisfaction without ever mentioning God, and then you add, as sort of an afterthought; this all happened because God wanted it so.

                Then "God" in your theory is superfluos: your theory *with* god doesn't explain or predict anything that your theory *without* God doesn't do equally well, so there's no reason to include him in the theory in the first place.

                Given equal explanatory powers, the simplest theory is the superior one. If you have 10 points from a data-set that happen to lie on a straigth line, there is guaranteed to be a 10th-degree equation that matches all the 10 points, but that's not the theory you should choose, given that data you should instead suggest the relationship may be linear.

                (in general k1*x^0 + k2*x^1 ... kn*x^n-1 can always be made to fit for any 10 points)
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Snorklefish ( 639711 )
              Would it matter? Absolutely. Evolution works on far grander time scales. Few are the species that have emerged over the course of 10,000 years. The climb from the ooze to land too hundreds of millions of years. The rise of the mammals, the emergence of primates, the appearance of immediate human predecessors - none could have occurred via evolution if you constrain the world to 6,000 years old. Changes would occur, but not the glorious diversity of life as we know it.
              • by ricegf ( 1059658 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @09:26AM (#22587082) Journal

                You missed a rather large point (God could create diversity, too), but forget that for the moment. Focus on the main point for a moment, and try to empathize.

                If your goal is to convince parents that their children need to understand evolutionary theory, is it better to say, "Your most deeply held beliefs are wrong, wrong, wrong, and we're going to teach them a different view because we're smarter than you and know it's right, right, right!", or is it better to say, "Regardless of whether history played out as you believe or as we believe, the evolutionary model is the best tool that we have for understanding the biological world as it exists today, and if your children don't understand or actually misunderstand it, they will be at a serious disadvantage in the competitive marketplace of ideas and jobs!"?

                If you answer the first because it better fits your world view, then be prepared to continue to fight a losing battle. Evangelicals are extremely focused on children, and will perceive the first approach as an attack on their children and their own right to raise them in accordance with their culture and beliefs. As with bears, you mess with the cubs at your peril. It's not a recipe for success; it's a recipe for irrelevance. If you don't believe me, look where it's gotten you today.

                Sometimes it's the science geeks who can't see the forest for the trees...

            • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @09:20AM (#22587042) Homepage Journal
              Actually, Martin Gardner in one of his books discusses a nineteenth century minister who thought he had successfully resolved the creationism/evolution debate.

              He speculated that when God made the universe, he made it as an ongoing affair with a prewritten history for the bits before the moment of creation. When Adam awoke, he didn't faint from hunger because he had the remains of meals in his blood and digestive tract, meals that he never actually ate. Likewise, he had a belly button for an umbilical cord that never, in fact, existed.

              The world (according to this theory) is littered with fossils (not to mention descendants of the natural variations that Darwin observed in the Galapagos) of animals that never, in fact, lived. However, every trace that an actual animal living millions of years ago would have left is there.

              This is a profoundly un-scientific theory, in that it is completely un-falsifiable by any observation. You really can't disprove that the universe wasn't created in this fashion, whether it was six thousand years ago or in the last millisecond. However, this notion gives science full rein to explore where it will; it even arguably puts science on par with Bible as a means to discover the mind of God. The problem is that this didn't satisfy the creationists, who weren't going after "old time religion" so much as pursuing new and rather muddled version of modernism in which science and scripture are awkwardly yoked to each other.
              • by hoggoth ( 414195 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @11:40AM (#22588598) Journal
                That nineteenth century minister had it almost right. The world wasn't created 6,000 years ago with a fully fleshed out history planted. It was created this instant with a fully fleshed out history planted, including the half-formed thought in your head "could that really be true?". Now you are thinking that instant has passed and the world was created 5 seconds ago, but no, that would be wrong. The world was in fact created this very instant with the memory of thinking you read the world was created this instant, 8 seconds ago.

                Tomorrow, when you think of this, you will wonder if the world was created yesterday... but in fact that would be incorrect. Your memory of reading this yesterday is an embedded false memory. The world was just created this instant.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by pla ( 258480 )
              Even if God created the world 6,000 years ago exactly as it was 6,000 years ago, and let evolutionary processes take it from there, would it really matter?

              Yes - For precisely the reason evolution feels counterintuitive in the first place.

              When you consider evolution as something like a set of totally random genetic experiments, you invite comparisons to other statistical phenomena, such as coin-tossing. Evolution amounts to saying "we tossed the coin 10,000[*] times and came up heads each time".

              In or
              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by AGMW ( 594303 )
                For precisely the reason evolution feels counterintuitive in the first place.

                Say what now? I like the concept of "evolution" for exactly the opposite reason - the simplicity of it. A specimen which is better adapted to the environment will more likely survive to pass on its genes. How, in the name of all that is (or isn't!) holy is that counterintuitive? A truely simple concept that provides for the complexity of live on Earth. In truth, it's staggeringly beautiful!

                For much the same reason, I'm uncomfor

              • by Eivind ( 15695 ) <> on Thursday February 28, 2008 @10:29AM (#22587706) Homepage
                The distinction is silly anyways.

                If you can observe and test that a certain process works for 1, 10, 100 and 1000 generations, then the most reasonable assumption is that it'll work the same way with a 100 thousand or a 100 million generations too. Atleast absent some reasonable explanation for why it would not.

                "macro-evolution" is a cop-out from Creationists that have a hard time ignoring the fact that any high-school that cares to can run evolution as an experiment (with artificial evolutionary pressure) and see clear results inside of 5-10 generations of the choosen organism. (this need not take that long, yeast-cells divide on a time-scale of an hour/generation or thereabouts, even with something larger like mice the experiment will run inside of a single school-year)

                In essence, it says: "Yeah, sure it works for a day, a week, a month, a year, a decade, but it somehow WONT work for a millenium or a million years. I refuse to give a coherent argument as to why not, but will now stick my fingers in my ears, sing lalalala and pretend I won the argument."
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Bombula ( 670389 )
            the only rational people I know who have any lingering doubts about it are deeply religious and take the Bible quite literally.

            Conflating terms and ideas seems to be a theme of this thread, and of the evolution debate in general, and so I'll take the opportunity to point out another instance highlighted by your comment: articulateness and rationality should not be conflated.

            People who are deeply religious and who hold fundamental beliefs without any basis of evidence are not rational. And while it might

            • by inviolet ( 797804 ) <> on Thursday February 28, 2008 @12:08PM (#22588930) Journal

              People who are deeply religious and who hold fundamental beliefs without any basis of evidence are not rational. And while it might be fair to say they are irrational in this one sphere of discourse, that is basically the same as saying they are functionally schizophrenic. It would be more accurate simply to say that people can be articulate without being rational. Just because a person is intelligent enough to coherently express their thoughts, as your deeply religious friends no doubt are, that says nothing about the quality or rationality of those thoughts. It is quite possible to thoroughly and eloquently articulate extremely poor, utterly irrational ideas - just ask Hitler or Bin Laden.

              Well said.

              Let me add another car to your train of thought:

              People who renounce rationality, are stuck with only one method to judge the truth of others' ideas: by judging the speaker's articulateness.

              That is why scientists need not (and usually are not) articulate: in the rational realm, it is a secondary skill. It is certainly useful, but it isn't a requirement. Not so with the irrational realm: preachers et. al. need eloquence as a primary skill, because that is how their audiences judge the truth of their words.

          • The process of evolution is a highly confirmed theory, to the point that most of us just go ahead and refer to it as a fact. To say it's only a theory at this point requires an esoteric discussion of the definition of theory vs fact, and the only rational people I know who have any lingering doubts about it are deeply religious and take the Bible quite literally.
            ... or have a bad habit of believing everything they're taught instead of researching it for themselves. People who doubt evolution make better scientists than those who believe it because its well accepted. Doubt is good. Doubt is a healthy part of critical thinking. Combined with research and possibly experimentation (although mostly research in evolution's case), this makes for good science.

            The facts of it are that we have an extremely limited knowledge of the process of evolution. The scientific community is pretty good with the effects as observed, but not the process, although there are some good sub-theories about that.

            How and Why are good questions. Ask them more, explain your answers if you think you have them, and don't put down people who doubt if they're willing to listen and make good counter-arguments; those things will just help you refine your own thinking.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward
            For being such a "confirmed theory", it still has some rather large defects.
            I know that adaptation is an absolute fact, and I have personally seen this happen in the wild, evolution on the other hand, changing from one species to another, I simply cannot accept due to several areas of dispute. The biggest of all these, is the undisputable non-existence of transitional forms. If species evolved from one species to another, they would of had to die some time in the middle of the evolution. If this was the cas
          • by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @10:41AM (#22587848) Homepage Journal
            Others, more religious than me, suspect God had a hand in it, and I have trouble rationally arguing against that theory. - I don't. We have never observed the laws of physics/math/chemistry to change from day to day, we have not observed causality not to work. Indeed in a Universe where causality would not work in 100% of cases, long term organization wouldn't be achievable. Universes have to be very long lived in order to organize themselves enough to produce stars, to burn stars to produce heavy elements, to create other stars with these heavy elements, to spread the elements around the Universe, to form Solar systems with those elements, to create planets from the dust with those elements. Universes have to be so big, as to allow chance to take place to create 'livable' Solar systems and to allow at least some of those Solar systems to produce life and for life to become intelligent enough to start asking such questions as how did we get here?

            If at any step of this sequence it was necessary for a god to get involved, then why wouldn't he/she/it just shortcut and really actually produce a universe in 6 days with the solar system and the people and be done with it? Why wait so long? Unless we discard every shred of evidence that this Universe, the Solar system, this planet and live on it exist for very very long periods of time, then we cannot seriously claim that everything was created in a very short period of time. Why should a god wait if he is omnipotent and only after some long period of time break causality of natural order of this Universe and introduce an outside influence? There is no reason, were I god and had I wanted to make a Universe to put life into it I would just go ahead and do so immediately and without waiting (of-course I am assuming that I would be an impatient god, but why shouldn't I? If I was a patient god I would setup the Universe to deliver me something unexpected, something I wouldn't be making directly, I would want a surprise and then I wouldn't break causality of the new Universe anyway.)

            It is however imperative that a Universe is not meddled with by introducing events that do break causality, if causality is broken even in small number of cases, given the time it takes to organize events it would make it impossible to achieve any real amount of organization leading to life appearance. Causality that is broken would leave trace behind that would be detectable and we would not be able to create a scientific theory to explain such a phenomena with any degree of usefulness.

            1. Either there is a god and he set up the laws for this Universe and let it develop by itself without meddling.
            2. There is no god.
            3. God compensates for every time causality is broken in a way that is extremely extensive and reorganizes the Universe, making the Universe extremely unstable in principle but not allowing us to observe the effects of his/her/its meddling. So he goes into great length to convince us that he doesn't exist.
            4. God has only done this once to introduce life into the Universe. Then why did he bother waiting such a long time for the Universe to develop itself into something that could support life? - this implies god is stupid.

            In either case it is actually irrelevant whether god exists or not, so there is no reason to introduce him into this equation, it doesn't change anything from our perspective. Thus reducing the complexity of this equation makes most sense.

          • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @11:56AM (#22588784) Journal
            the only rational people I know who have any lingering doubts about it are deeply religious and take the Bible quite literally.

            If you take the bible literally, you are not a rational person.
        • by professionalfurryele ( 877225 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @07:12AM (#22586376)
          I don't think that is really true. Biogenesis and biological evolution are really just sub-branches of statistical mechanics. Of course the two fields have the same features, they both apply the same principles, look for allowed changes of a system that would reduce the energy of the aforementioned system, those are the changes that occur. The problem as you have put it isn't that we don't lump evolution in with biogenesis. The problem is that we don't lump biogenesis, evolution and most of the rest of basic biology and chemistry as sub-branches of concrete well established physics.
          This is why the suggestion that evolution is wrong is so absurd. Statistical Mechanics is one of the most well established branch of physics and questioning evolution amounts to questioning Statistical Mechanics well within it's established domain of applicability. The statements "the Earth is flat" and "evolution is wrong" are both equally ridiculous because the first can only be interpretted as suggesting that we cant apply Euclidean geometry to the Earth and the second because it assumes you can apply statistical mechanics to creepy crawlies.
        • (And you'll notice that plenty of the commentariat over at his place does as well, though I suspect the difference isn't a deep one.)

          While I can see how evolutionary theory provides insight into abiogenesis (Spiegelman's Monster, anyone?), the fact remains that what we know about life on earth would work exactly the same whether a small initial population of prokaryotes arose by an as-yet-unknown abiogenic process, was placed here by aliens, or was zapped into place by His Noodle Appendage. Of course, what
    • Re:Origin of life ?! (Score:5, Informative)

      by Nasajin ( 967925 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @02:28AM (#22584918)
      The article does actually detail that Darwin's theory of evolution doesn't cover the origin of life. What the article details is that DNA's survival can be explained through natural selection.

      He started by noting that simply defining life is as much of a philosophical question as a biological one. He settled on the following: "a self replicating system capable of Darwinian evolution," and focused on getting from naturally forming chemicals to that point. To do so, Ellington developed three different themes.
      • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @04:04AM (#22585440)

        The article does actually detail that Darwin's theory of evolution doesn't cover the origin of life.
        What's interesting is that the fact that evolution is happening doesn't depend on whether the first life forms were created by abiogenesis, aliens, or even God.
    • Re:Origin of life ?! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by wizardforce ( 1005805 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @02:48AM (#22585038) Journal
      correct. abiogenesis deals with the origin of life its self, evolution governs everything thereafter.

      Why convolute the two ?
      through ignorance or through malice. In the latter case it's used as the wedge [wedge document that is] to try to confuse the layman into thinking that evolution is by definition atheistic in nature. it doesn't in of its self explicitly exclude the idea of a god, it has nothng to say on the matter, it merely allows for disbelief, that is to say that the watchmaker is not required to form new species including humans and that is enough reason for people to outright ignore/willfully misunderstand the evidence in favor of evolutionary theory.
    • by presidenteloco ( 659168 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @03:00AM (#22585106)
      Life must have originated by a generalized and initially weaker version of the evolutionary process.

      Essentially, in

      a. certain intermediate-free-energy thermodynamic regimes (regimes in which common
      elements and molecules can co-exist in all three of solid,liquid, and gaseous phases so that rigid and semi-rigid
      structure can be combined with constrained energy flows),
      and with

      b. the right soup of lots of different common and chemically combinable elements trapped together in a gravity well,

      you get the preconditions for randomly occurring structural and process experiments.

      Some of these randomly occurring but probable-due-to-the-regime-and-the-ingredients experiments
      end up making structural and process fragments that alter/interact with/use their environment in such a way as to
      incrementally, or in some cases dramatically, increase the probability of a similar structure or process
      fragment recurring nearby in time and space to the first one. This is already a positive feedback loop.
      Eventually, by chance, some cluster of these self-probability-improving structure+processes, a cluster
      most likely made of smaller self-made-more-probable structure-process fragments, reaches a threshold
      at which its robustness leads to a probability of 1 of structure and process like that existing in the general
      Pattern self-preserving functionality transcends pattern occurrence improbability.

      Call it stochastic evolution transforming into classical evolution.

      Call it the origin of life if you like.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jandersen ( 462034 )
      The theory of evolution is a theory that offers an explanation of how the observed fact of evolution has happened. This is like gravity: we have known its existence for thousands of years, but Newton created a theory of gravity, and Einstein improved on it. But the proposed mechanisms of evolution are not limited in scope to living organisms, they are just as valid for non-living chemistry, and perhaps it is artificial to distinguish sharply between life and dead matter.

      Apart from that, the origin of life i
  • by shanen ( 462549 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @02:36AM (#22584970) Homepage Journal
    From the summary there's no sign that the article says anything about what I regard as the largest misperception--but that might just be simple par for the /. course. On the other hand, if you take the time to read and consider the article carefully, then anything you post about it will be moot, because the EAS (Effective Attention Span) of /. is around 40 minutes. Ergo...

    Ma Nature just doesn't care about the waste. Of course the anthropomorphism just obscures things more, but the basic thing about natural evolution is that anything goes--but almost all of the changes lead directly to death. Ma Nature's approach results in vast numbers of tiny variations of the same basic forms that are all scrabbling for survival in a tiny niche. She isn't betting on the existence of a benevolent mutation. She just doesn't care.

    Lately I was thinking that one of the weirdest aspects is that things worked out so that every one of us humans is a unique permutation. It would be 2^46 possibilities if you just started with one set of distinct genes from the chromosomes of a single mother and father, but there are so many variations for each of the genes that the actual number of potential human beings is vastly larger than that. Insofar as our genes contribute anything to the situation, each of us could be uniquely suited for some niche on earth. Talk about over-engineering?

    Of course the likelihood that we'd ever find such perfect niches is pretty much negligible--but again Ma Nature doesn't care. If we wipe ourselves out in our frustration, she'll just start over again with the surviving cockroaches. So have a nice day.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 28, 2008 @02:59AM (#22585102)
      I'm no biologist, but it's funny that by "not caring", nature can potentially evolve new and useful stuff.

      Take by analogy a genetic algorithm to find some solution to a problem. Combining only the best solutions will make you fall into a local minimum and stay there. You have to keep some of the worse solutions in your set of candidates to break out of it. Similarly in real life, creatures with undesirable traits still survive and breed -- and I'm sure that that, even if simply by sheer coincidence and only in a small number of cases, leads to ultimately desirable traits in some circumstances.
  • by skavenger ( 1219006 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @02:41AM (#22585002)
    He demanded that I support the relationship of Neanderthals with other homo genus members (not even arguing the sapien angle) with fossil evidence of Neanderthals in Africa and only conceded error so far as to say that Neanderthals are as related to homo sapiens as snakes are related to worms. This is an otherwise intelligent person who believes he understands evolution and science fairly well. Apparently he attended a lecture a few years ago on the Lucy find and somehow mutated that lecture into his current understanding. How can you engage with people like this in a productive way without being insulting? TFA addresses the basic misunderstanding and urges for consistently rejecting these sorts of positions, but is that even my priority at this point? Everything about the thought process he's using to arrive at his conclusions is flawed, but his insistence that he knows what he's talking about makes it impossible to discuss anything he might disagree with meaningfully.

    Plus, he's an aspiring breeder.
  • by ilikepi314 ( 1217898 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @02:51AM (#22585050)
    Seriously. I went to a lecture series on evolution, and was rather disappointed upon leaving.

    The speakers spent most of their time discussing why Intelligent Design is wrong, and getting into semi-religion-bashing. I heard nothing about any of the things that the summary to this article mentions, for instance, which was actually something I wanted to know more about. I'm not very familiar with all of the specific evidence myself (I'm not a biologist).

    Now look -- as a scientist, I can completely respect and agree with the fact that ID is not science, for a multitude of reasons. But look at it from the point of view of someone "new" to science that was curious -- they showed up to an event, hoping to learn more about what evolution is and understand the "debate", and all they heard was how Creationism is wrong and how we need to fight religious groups and educate the people about the truth. "Educate with what?", that person will ask. "They haven't given any proof yet, and just seem to talk about how much they hate religion when they get together.". THAT is what the average person sees, and it doesn't really make scientists look good, and gives ammunition to the people that spread misinformation about evolution. Will that person ever go back to an evolution talk in order for us to clear up misconceptions? Probably not; forever, that person will now think "Wow, Evolutionists are crazy, I'm not going to that again.".

    There's other issues of course, but the public image of an evolution scientist right now needs to be cleaned up before many will even bother to listen.
    • by wizardforce ( 1005805 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @03:32AM (#22585286) Journal
      You have a point, the actual science behind evolution isn't reaching people who are interested as well as it should be. thee's a lot of very interesting things being done that just don't make it into lectures very often outside of the occasional college lecture in the biology dept. like how chromosome 2 was formed from the fusion of two chromosomes which we found vestigial telomeres, which telomeres are normally found on the ends of chromosomes, in this case we found them buried in the chromosome as well as a second although vestigial centromere which is found only in chromosome fusion events. the subtelomeric duplications are located at base pairs 114,455,823-114,455,838 from the article in nature. which is located here: [] as well as the wikipedia article on chromosome 2: [] this explains why humans have 46 chromosome while the primates in general have 48. the chromosomes were not lost, two chomosomes fused into one, since each chromosome is paired, it went from 4=>2 [48-4+2=46]
    • Try to learn more. When i learned about evolution, i heard nothing about intelligent design (neither pro nor contra).
      It isn't the scientists fault that ID reared its head in the USA and they got to 'defend' their theory.
    • by tempest69 ( 572798 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @04:04AM (#22585442) Journal
      The initial concept was that man was able to change the traits of livestock and pets through selective breeding, or manual selection.. and that the forces of nature may be doing the same, creating multiple species of iguana, as we do dogs.

      This has some big consequences.. that recursion would mean that whatever was a common ancestor would need a common ancestor,, all the way down. and perhaps plants and animals are fundamentally different arising from different organisms, and a few trunks might appear for bugs, fungus, and bacteria..

      By choosing traits carefully, a phylogeny was developed, which related animals to each-other.. strangely this worked really well.

      Anyway, evolution predicts that there is a tree structure, and that endpoints dont cross over.. so mammals dont get 4 chambered lungs like birds, but might still have some egg laying abilities like reptiles. Not should we see the octopus eye structure in humans. or bug armor on birds. Armadillos will have armor from keratin like a rhino horn, or fingernails.

      Anyway, once molecular biology and sequencing came out, it solidly backed the theory.. Phylogeny people have been re-mapping the tree, bacteria took some serious adjustment, larger organism less so.

      Now there is a push to generate "ancestral genomes" so that we have an idea of what the predecessor organisms were capable of... and where some of the novel enzymes popped into being. So enzymes which appear to be adaptation from our last ice age might be related in some way to survival of the cold, or eating rodents without GI distress. But with some timing, and some idea of the climate, the flora, and fauna some good guesses can be made as to why a subtle change might have happened.

      So evolution theory may help in figuring out why humans stopped making vitamin C, and rats never need a vitamin C pill or fruit in their lifetime.

      Or it can confirm things that we might already have guessed.. that humans make less stomach acid during pregnancy might be an evolutionary adaption to morning sickness.. because most pregnant women don't seem to have chronic bulimia problems, ie rotten teeth, esophagus ulcers, which would occur at higher acid concentrations. anyway, once they find the control mechanism I'm betting that it'll point to roughly the time when we started bipedalism.

      Yes evolution is science, it does matter, knowing the history of automobiles lets us understand why tempered glass isnt appropriate for a windshield. Knowing the path that our ancestors evolved with lets us know what we should watch out for when we start tinkering.

      Storm Storm

    • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @04:23AM (#22585532)

      The speakers spent most of their time discussing why Intelligent Design is wrong, and getting into semi-religion-bashing.
      Unfortunately, science his come under a concerted religious/political attack, and scientists can't just sit back and ignore it anymore.

      (Not that that invalidates your points. Scientists need to find a middle ground.)
  • by syousef ( 465911 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @02:58AM (#22585096) Journal
    Three reasons:

    - No, not everyone is a lifelong learner. That's the ideal not the reality. Just look at how hard it is for some older people to pick up computers after 40.

    - The religion that's indoctrinated them has done so since birth. You're going to ear bash them for an hour or two and expect them to change their lifelong beliefs? You'll only create resentment.

    - You have a much better chance at reaching the parents through the children. However if you only reach the children, it simply won't be an issue in 40 years.

    Limit going after the parents to insisting that science is taught in science classes and religion is not.
  • Pluto (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PMuse ( 320639 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @03:05AM (#22585130)
    Getting people to change their opinions, beliefs, or conclusions is just difficult all over. For example, a group of smart -- really smart (I mean two-plus-standard-deviations-out-of-the-global-mean and scientifically-trained smart) -- people recently debated [] how to define a planet.

    They and their fathers had grown up thinking that Pluto was a planet because of mankind's relative inexperience at astronomy. Recently, mankind learned facts [] that required rethinking of what "planet" meant so that when the term was used, everyone knew what it did and didn't mean.

    Remember how easy and sensible that debate was? When it was "over", the definition had as many footnotes [] as principles.

    And those were scientists. Heaven help us when we have to reteach anything to the general public.
    • Re: Pluto (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @04:10AM (#22585468)

      Getting people to change their opinions, beliefs, or conclusions is just difficult all over.
      To a big extent it's a Catch-22 situation. The vast majority of anti-evolution arguments are based on misconceptions of what the facts are and/or what the theory says. But you can't educate the deniers on these matters, because they believe those flawed arguments prove the whole thing is wrong, and won't listen long enough to be corrected. (And try to prevent the next generation from listening, too.)
  • A modest proposal (Score:3, Insightful)

    by FarHat ( 96381 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @04:28AM (#22585566)
    I suggest that we make a rule that if you do not believe in evolution you cannot be prescribed any of the newer antibiotics in case you get a bacterial illness since the earlier ones should be just as effective. If creationists are right, they will save some money, and if they are wrong we will exert a gentle evolutionary force toward people with better critical thinking skills.
  • No More Obligation (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jekler ( 626699 ) on Thursday February 28, 2008 @05:22AM (#22585806)
    I previously felt an obligation to inform the misinformed about a variety of topics. I've decided that the average person cannot be informed, they outright reject facts, evidence, and are almost incapable of critical thought. How the hell are you supposed to inform someone who rebuts with "yes, but the bible says..." or they start telling you about how they feel or what they "believe", when you thought you were discussing facts.

    I became disenchanted over the last 8 years or so, as we were able to watch videos side-by-side of a politician stating "I stabbed a dog in the heart." and then a second video stating "I've never stabbed a dog." and then some member of the public is questioned about what they saw and they don't even recognize that conflicting statements were made. Then an "expert" begins discussing the two statements and is somehow able to reconcile completely contradictory statements into a seamless truth. It's like we're not observing the same reality. Of course since reality is a mental construct, it's true in some respect that we're not observing the same reality. And if we're not even in the same reality, how the hell can I possibly inform them of the laws and theories that govern the reality I'm in? I live in a world with gravity, evolution, electro-magnetism, chemical reactions, thermodynamics... they live in a world of magic, "truth", and gravity pulls down because that's how it feels today, and universes that pop-up out of nowhere because we live in a world designed like a video game.

    And what's so weird is that I'm not even a skeptic. I like to believe I'm pretty open-minded. If any of my knowledge comes into question, I'm ready at the drop of a hat to re-examine things and see where I stand.

    I guess I'm at the point now where I don't care if people like Bush ever acquire something approaching intellect. They can stay stupid for the rest of their stupid lives.
    • Skepticism (Score:3, Informative)

      by cyborg_zx ( 893396 )

      And what's so weird is that I'm not even a skeptic. I like to believe I'm pretty open-minded. If any of my knowledge comes into question, I'm ready at the drop of a hat to re-examine things and see where I stand.

      That is skepticism.

      It is a common meme that skeptics are "closed-minded," when the reality, as you have explored, is that it is the closed-minded who will proclaim, "BE OPEN MINDED!" to those who will not accept their chosen beliefs because they are unable to actually support them with little th

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