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Thread: Falsifiability of the theory of evolution

  1. #1 Falsifiability of the theory of evolution 
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    A theory that does not take the risk of being wrong is not falsifiable. I emphasize the word "risk". Whenever I ask what would falsify the theory of evolution I am given responses that do not pose any potential threat to the theory; I am given examples of observations that we all know will never happen. For instance, finding a fossil of the rabbit in the pre-Cambrian, or a 3 billion year-old human fossil, are some examples that pose no risk the the theory of evolution. This is on par with saying that the way to falsify Intelligent Design is to die, and if you don't see God in the after life then that is evidence against ID.

    Are there any decent examples of risks to the theory of evolution?


     

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    Forum Cosmic Wizard paralith's Avatar
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    Before we can answer that question, we need to make sure we are on the same page on the definition of evolution. And the most basic definition is: organisms change over time. That's it. And we see this happening every day in front of our very own eyes. That's why people often say evolution is more of a fact than a theory; many IDers and creationists these days cannot help but give in, at the very least, to "micro" evolution of species, because these observations are simply undeniable.

    What most people have issues with is natural selection, and in particular natural selection at the "macro" evolution level of generating new species etc. To be perfectly honest I'm not aware of any serious risks to natural selection right now, save perhaps for the fact that we have yet to observe and record a significant macroevolutionary event as it is occurring, because it takes so long for such a process to happen. But, we have lots of evidence of it happening in the past.

    However, natural selection has been studied and researched for 150 years now, and countless people have done their darndest to topple it. And when it was first proposed, there were a lot of "risks" as you put it. For example, Darwin knew that you need variation in order for natural selection to work - not all the animals in the population can be exactly the same for a given a trait. But when natural selection happens, it reduces variation! Given the finch example, if natural selection selects for EVERYBODY to have a big beak then crap - variation is gone, natural selection stops. It was a serious issue - until we learned more about the mechanics of inheritance a.k.a. genetics, and learned about mutation and recombination (for sexual reproducers) and how these things continuously re-introduce variation even after natural selection has done its job.

    There were several similar issues that put the hypothesis of natural selection into serious jeopardy, but they have all since been resolved after so long a time of continuous research and continuous attempts to falsify it. Long story short, it has stood up to all the tests and passed. It's not as though scientists just said "a-yup, sounds good!" and ran with it. Just because today it is so firmly and pervasively accepted doesn't mean that it was never tested, that there were never problems. We had 150 years of intense interest in it to take care of that.


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    The rabbit fossil in a Cambrian formation would be the precise way to falsify evolution. Or something very much like it. The "rabbit/Cambrian" analogy is an oversimplification but it illustrates a method of falsifying evolution quite well.

    The problem at this point is that there is such an abundance of evidence for evolution, that if we were to find a 'rabbit in the Cambrian' we'd first need to rule out other explanations: hoax, natural/artificial intrusion, etc.

    If we were just beginning to investigate evolution and running into 'rabbits in Cambrian' formations, then we would be right to question the gradual changes over time.

    But there are other things that could falsify the conclusions of evolution as well. Genetic sequences out of order; geologic column problems; astronomical problems; etc. All of these and more converge to give us evidence of evolution without any showing us unexplainable problems in sediment deposition, a universe too young to allow for a 4.6 billion year old Earth, or genomes inconsistent with common ancestry.

    Evolution is potentially falsifiable. But the likelihood of falsification gets more and more improbable with each day.
     

  5. #4 Re: Falsifiability of the theory of evolution 
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    Quote Originally Posted by ufcarazy
    A theory that does not take the risk of being wrong is not falsifiable. I emphasize the word "risk". Whenever I ask what would falsify the theory of evolution I am given responses that do not pose any potential threat to the theory; I am given examples of observations that we all know will never happen. For instance, finding a fossil of the rabbit in the pre-Cambrian, or a 3 billion year-old human fossil, are some examples that pose no risk the the theory of evolution. This is on par with saying that the way to falsify Intelligent Design is to die, and if you don't see God in the after life then that is evidence against ID.

    Are there any decent examples of risks to the theory of evolution?
    Why do you think that finding a rabbit fossil dated to the precambrian would not falsify the modern synthesis theory of evolution? Are you under the impression that we could simply re-jig the tree of life to insert a terrestrial tetrapodal vertebrate with a skull and full skeleton into a point on the tree where there are no land animals at all and not even marine vertebrates, let alone fully formed tetrapods?

    If that's how you're thinking then I'm afraid you've not grasped how we go about working out the relatedness between species, nor how nested tree structures work. They have limited flexibility. The gaps in our knowledge might allow a species here or there to be placed back a million years, or connected by descent in a slightly different manner. But there are limits. A land vertebrate cannot be placed in the tree before the appearance of multicellular life, nervous systems, notocords etc. That would break the tree. It would no longer be nested, bifurcating. It would no longer be a tree at all, but a web. Similarly, a rabbit in the precambrian would break the tree. It would basically tell us that evolution the phenomenon (that is the observed change in species over time) does not work as claimed by Darwin, Mendel and those who followed them.
     

  6. #5 Re: Falsifiability of the theory of evolution 
    Forum Masters Degree Golkarian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ufcarazy
    A theory that does not take the risk of being wrong is not falsifiable. I emphasize the word "risk". Whenever I ask what would falsify the theory of evolution I am given responses that do not pose any potential threat to the theory; I am given examples of observations that we all know will never happen. For instance, finding a fossil of the rabbit in the pre-Cambrian, or a 3 billion year-old human fossil, are some examples that pose no risk the the theory of evolution. This is on par with saying that the way to falsify Intelligent Design is to die, and if you don't see God in the after life then that is evidence against ID.

    Are there any decent examples of risks to the theory of evolution?
    Why would it be impossible to find a rabbit fossil in the precambrian? Unless of course your assuming evolution is true.

    Thing is, evolution seems unfalsifiable because it's assumptions (which are the objects of a theory generally tested) are so thoroughly engrained into common sense (living things vary, children look like but not exactly like their parents, mammals come after simpler organisms, etc.). This is different than say quantum mechanics which throughs common sense out the window, which at least shows that a theory based on common sense can still be disproven by experimentation.
     

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    Here is an example of evolutionists' logic.

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/09...unct.html#more
     

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    Quote Originally Posted by ufcarazy
    Here is an example of evolutionists' logic.

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/09...unct.html#more
    1: ideas in science change all the time when new evidence arises.

    2: the concept of vestigial organs in general remains secure, as there are many others that we know of that certainly have no functional use, such as tiny remnants of a pelvis and leg bones buried deep under the flesh in whales and snakes.

    3: independent evolution of similar traits is less common but by no means impossible. Just look at bird wings and bat wings, seal flippes and fish flippers.

    4. I had hopes, ufcarazy, that you were not blindly set in your ideas and had come here to discuss and potentially learn more about evolution. Since that does not seem to be the case, I would like to direct you to this sticky on my moderation standards in this forum, and will in particular quote a section of that sticky here:

    [*]Science Only

    Pseudoscientific topics are not acceptable in this subforum. Anything involving the supernatural, involving urban legends and/or myths that have never been substantiated by empirical evidence, or involving ideas that are simply inaccurate according to well established knowledge will be removed from this subforum. There are other places on this forum where these topics can be discussed; this subforum is simply not one of them.

    To address intelligent design/creationism specifically: these ideas involve a supernatural guiding intelligence. Therefore these ideas are not science. This is the Talk Origins Archive Index to Creationist Claims. The Talk Origins response to any of these claims is as good as my own. None of these claims will be sufficient to change my mind when it comes to the removal of ID/creationist posts.
    As the evolutionnews.org website is an ID website, any further attempts to use articles from this website as legitimate claims against evolution will be removed.
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    the defence of Darwin and his theory of natural selection is not "closing ranks", as your link seems to imply
    rather the reason why darwinism is still relevant today is because it was right in stating that what is important for evolution is the interplay between variation and selection to drive it - in the end it didn't matter that Darwin was abysmally wrong about the mechanisms behind this variation, the fact that heritable variation exists is what matters
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  10. #9 Re: Falsifiability of the theory of evolution 
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    Quote Originally Posted by ufcarazy
    A theory that does not take the risk of being wrong is not falsifiable. I emphasize the word "risk". Whenever I ask what would falsify the theory of evolution I am given responses that do not pose any potential threat to the theory; I am given examples of observations that we all know will never happen. For instance, finding a fossil of the rabbit in the pre-Cambrian, or a 3 billion year-old human fossil, are some examples that pose no risk the the theory of evolution. This is on par with saying that the way to falsify Intelligent Design is to die, and if you don't see God in the after life then that is evidence against ID.

    Are there any decent examples of risks to the theory of evolution?
    The falsification is never going to be from any one object or find. A falsifiable theory is one that is only believed as long as the evidence makes it appear overwhelmingly probable that it is right, not one that is proven to be infinity certain to be right.

    If evidence ever emerges in sufficient quantities and/or qualities that make it no longer appear to be overwhelmingly probable, it will be abandoned. Using Golkarian's example, a rabbit fossil found in the pre-cambrian layer could still be held as a fluke until a large number of such flukes start emerging. (By definition a fluke ceases to be a fluke if it becomes a common occurrence.)

    What you're asking for is for science to consider everything else to be a fluke, and look only at that one fossil. So, you want us to believe that this one find is the rule, and everything else is the exception?
     

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    Scientifically, evolution is treated the same as any theory. The reason it is constantly under attack, is because a number of individuals think the theory attacks their beliefs, and are effectively using their beliefs to try to change the facts, rather than adapt their beliefs so the facts fit in.

    I see no reason why you can't be christian and accept evolution, for example.
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    Quote Originally Posted by ufcarazy
    Here is an example of evolutionists' logic.

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/09...unct.html#more
    The appendix having a use does not invalidate evolution. It not being a vesitgial organ would simply reduce the evidence for evolution. But is still evidence because the use is different in us than in other animals (because evolution uses what's there, even if what's there has a different function). Plus the appendix is still evidence of bad design, since its disadvantages far outweigh its advantages.

    Other claims like heirarchy and fossils can invalidate evolution.

    And why is marsupials and placentals having an appendix a problem, under evolutionary theory they evolved from a common ancestor with an appendix?
     

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    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/09...unct.html#more
    Reading links such as that one always leave me with an unpleasant aftertaste. To write what he has written the author must either be unashamedly manipulative and cynical, or stunningly foolish and ill educated. While the latter deserves some sympathy the former merits only the utmost contempt.
     

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    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
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    a classic example of "i don't understand X, so X must be wrong"
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    Quote Originally Posted by marnixR
    a classic example of "i don't understand X, so X must be wrong"
    Kind of like "I don't understand how an all-good and all-powerful God could allow evil, therefore God cannot be both all-good and all-powerful"?

    There is nothing illogical about withholding acceptance of a claim until one perceives it as logically justified. I fail to see how any real scientific theory can explain an observation that contradicts its own prediction. Imagine if I told you I was psychic, and I predict that you will talk to a good friend of yours this week. The week ends and you never talked to your good friend. You then tell me I am not psychic. I tell you that the reason my prediction failed is because at certain times of the year the Sun emits electromagnetic waves that affect only psychics. Since these waves affected me I must be a psychic. You would rightly reason that I am dogmatically attached to this belief.
     

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    Quote Originally Posted by ufcarazy
    Quote Originally Posted by marnixR
    a classic example of "i don't understand X, so X must be wrong"
    Kind of like "I don't understand how an all-good and all-powerful God could allow evil, therefore God cannot be both all-good and all-powerful"?

    There is nothing illogical about withholding acceptance of a claim until one perceives it as logically justified. I fail to see how any real scientific theory can explain an observation that contradicts its own prediction. Imagine if I told you I was psychic, and I predict that you will talk to a good friend of yours this week. The week ends and you never talked to your good friend. You then tell me I am not psychic. I tell you that the reason my prediction failed is because at certain times of the year the Sun emits electromagnetic waves that affect only psychics. Since these waves affected me I must be a psychic. You would rightly reason that I am dogmatically attached to this belief.
    ufcarazy, if you can provide us with a legitimate example of a documented phenomenon that directly contradicts the predictions made by evolutionary theory, then this thread can continue. If you're going to go on making and posting about claims about evolution that are completely unsubstantiated, then I will close this thread.
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    Quote Originally Posted by ufcarazy
    Here is an example of evolutionists' logic.

    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2009/09...unct.html#more
    So what? Where's your response to our arguments about the pre-Cambrian rabbit? Are you conceding that point?
     

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    Quote Originally Posted by ufcarazy
    Quote Originally Posted by marnixR
    a classic example of "i don't understand X, so X must be wrong"
    Kind of like "I don't understand how an all-good and all-powerful God could allow evil, therefore God cannot be both all-good and all-powerful"?
    Your analogy and what you seemingly hoped to achieve with it reflect a fundamental fallacy that should be corrected right off the bat. Accepting evolution is not an acceptance of atheism. Not quite sure about global statistics, but in the US most people who believe in God also accept evolution and vice-versa.

    So yes, stick to the evidence and provide us with something that contradicts evolution and common decent.
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  19. #18 Re: Falsifiability of the theory of evolution 
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    Quote Originally Posted by ufcarazy
    I am given examples of observations that we all know will never happen. For instance, finding a fossil of the rabbit in the pre-Cambrian, or a 3 billion year-old human fossil, are some examples that pose no risk the the theory of evolution.
    ah - but how do you know that this prediction does not pose any risk ? why would it appear ridiculous to you to expect precambrian rabbits ? presumably because you've already absorbed the main prediction of evolution, that the history of life does not contain anachronisms ?
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    Quote Originally Posted by ufcarazy
    There is nothing illogical about withholding acceptance of a claim until one perceives it as logically justified.
    One difficulty here is that many people, perhaps most people, have almost no understanding of formal logic. When they say something is illogical they generally mean it fits their preconceptions, or is 'common sense', or does not flagrantly violate their 'normal' expectations. Clearly none of these things have very much to do with logic, so when you make your statement justifying your view on evolution on 'logical' grounds I am left with the uneasy feeling that you are using these casual meanings of logic.
    You could readily show that I am mistaken by detailing a single issue wherein evolutionary theoory currently fails any test of formal logic.
    Quote Originally Posted by ufcarazy
    I fail to see how any real scientific theory can explain an observation that contradicts its own prediction.
    You have yet to provide an example of this. I, and others, wait with great anticipation.
    Quote Originally Posted by ufcarazy
    You would rightly reason that I am dogmatically attached to this belief.
    There certainly seems to be a lot of dogma here, but it isn't in the camp of the evolutionists. Put up, or shut up.
     

  21. #20 Re: Falsifiability of the theory of evolution 
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    Quote Originally Posted by ufcarazy
    A theory that does not take the risk of being wrong is not falsifiable. I emphasize the word "risk". Whenever I ask what would falsify the theory of evolution I am given responses that do not pose any potential threat to the theory; I am given examples of observations that we all know will never happen. For instance, finding a fossil of the rabbit in the pre-Cambrian, or a 3 billion year-old human fossil, are some examples that pose no risk the the theory of evolution. This is on par with saying that the way to falsify Intelligent Design is to die, and if you don't see God in the after life then that is evidence against ID.

    Are there any decent examples of risks to the theory of evolution?

    The discovery of a precambrian mammal such as a rabbit might put sequential common descent in jeopardy, but would likely not falsify evolution outright (the idea that species up through genus came about by non-goal driven mutation and natural selection). Also,the general order of fossils from simple to complex is not a very good prediction for evolutionary theory because it doesn't make evolution stand out over the traditional alternative explanations. Observation of known design processes shows that designers also progress from simple to complex. This is particularly true with interdependent systems that involve complex cycles (life is a complex cycle that requires a multitude of chemical cycles). So the general fossil progression is consistent with both design and evolution, neither is favored over the other. For this reason it is not very useful to debate the notion that a precambrian rabbit might falsify evolutionary theory.

    A decent example of something that would put evolutionary theory at severe risk might be the discovery that the search space over which natural selection is postulated to act contains insufficient successful molecular pathways from which to mutate required genes, molecular structures, and developmental control systems needed to generate new functional forms.

    It is also possible that the gaps between successful modifications are significantly greater than the steps that mutation and recombination actually make.

    Another challenge would be that the rate of mutation is found out of step with the actual time that biodiversity occurred.

    Finally, evolutionary theory presupposes that life developed naturally from non-life. If it is determined that chemic processes alone are incapable of generating the minimal components required for self-replicating bio systems, then evolution by unguided processes is likely falsified.
     

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    So correct me if I am wrong but there is a fairly substantial gap right now in scientific understanding of how we actually went from inorganic matter to simple life forms, its not that it isnt possible, it but the mechanism hasnt been figured out yet, while there are some theories that are being tossed around and tested I think RNA is the most hopeful canditate yet. So this 'whole in the picture' doesnt disprove the theory, obviously, but for now its there.

    So one question I wonder is what is so unscientific about ID, in that you could view it in the same way as the incomplete picture of evolution - the design part of it is a huge gap that isnt explained within the theory itself, and most people who promote the theory attribute that part to a divine creator. But does it suddenly become invalid because of that? There are many people who fill God in the gaps of evolution right?

    I guess my point is its entirely scientific to propose that life as we see it now originated not necessarily from a simple common ancestor and descendants that exibit generally increasing complexity, but maybe from a bunch of complex ancestors, or somehow a complex gene pool that contains every bit of genetic information that exists today and perhaps even more....without explaining the origins of such a gene pool. Is that unscientific? I'm sure its disprovable, but is it pseudoscience?
     

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    Quote Originally Posted by shekenahglory
    So correct me if I am wrong but there is a fairly substantial gap right now in scientific understanding of how we actually went from inorganic matter to simple life forms, its not that it isnt possible, it but the mechanism hasnt been figured out yet, while there are some theories that are being tossed around and tested I think RNA is the most hopeful canditate yet. So this 'whole in the picture' doesnt disprove the theory, obviously, but for now its there.
    Abiogenesis has nothing to do with evolution. Evolution assumes that life already exists. Abiogenesis is an unsolved question to be sure, but the fact that it does so is no mark against the fact that life has descends with modification.

    So one question I wonder is what is so unscientific about ID, in that you could view it in the same way as the incomplete picture of evolution - the design part of it is a huge gap that isnt explained within the theory itself, and most people who promote the theory attribute that part to a divine creator. But does it suddenly become invalid because of that? There are many people who fill God in the gaps of evolution right?
    The "god of the gaps" idea is a scientific fallacy; just because you do not know what happened yet is not any justification whatsoever that we should assume a supernatural entity is involved. And there is no "design part" gap in evolution. The "designer" is the environment, and the "design" process is the differential functionality in reproduction produced by the copying errors that arise every time an organism reproduces.

    I guess my point is its entirely scientific to propose that life as we see it now originated not necessarily from a simple common ancestor and descendants that exibit generally increasing complexity, but maybe from a bunch of complex ancestors, or somehow a complex gene pool that contains every bit of genetic information that exists today and perhaps even more....without explaining the origins of such a gene pool. Is that unscientific? I'm sure its disprovable, but is it pseudoscience?
    Our one good reason to suggest that all life that exists today came from a common ancestor is the fact that we all use the same molecule for our heritable material: DNA. There are many imaginable potential molecules that could have arisen that serve a similar purpose as DNA, and if there were organisms alive today that used something different then we would have good reason to suspect multiple origins of life. But we have no such evidence. Nor do we have one iota of evidence suggesting multiple complex organisms existing at the time life began on earth; as the OP himself said, we don't see fossilized rabbits amongst Cambrian era deposits.

    And I have to ask, how would we disprove the sudden and magical appearance of a pool of genes on earth several billion years ago? I don't see how that could be falsifiable, in which case it certainly isn't scientific.

    moderator mode
    I am giving the OP one last chance to present a legitimate challenge against evolution. If he fails to do so, this thread will be closed. Any other posts discussing ID will no longer be allowed in this thread. I have strict policies against these discussions and I have probably already allowed this one to go farther than I should have. If you wish to discuss the topic further, please take it to pseudoscience.
    /moderator mode
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    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    Our one good reason to suggest that all life that exists today came from a common ancestor is the fact that we all use the same molecule for our heritable material: DNA.
    I'm not sure this is such a good assumption. Random processes are far more likely to produce a multitude of structures if there are truly a multitude of workable systems. Should we instead conclude there is only one good way to store biological information? It is odd that all life has only one mechanism for storing body plans and developmental instructions and that should cause us to consider alternatives. This is particularly true when we observe that modern complex systems use common processes, common materials and common structures.


    There are many imaginable potential molecules that could have arisen that serve a similar purpose as DNA, and if there were organisms alive today that used something different then we would have good reason to suspect multiple origins of life.
    I'm not sure this is true either. Can you describe one of these imaginable molecules that would actually function? I can't. I do agree that this is good reason to think that a common ancestor is a better assumption than multiple early organisms.


    moderator mode
    I am giving the OP one last chance to present a legitimate challenge against evolution. If he fails to do so, this thread will be closed. Any other posts discussing ID will no longer be allowed in this thread. I have strict policies against these discussions and I have probably already allowed this one to go farther than I should have. If you wish to discuss the topic further, please take it to pseudoscience.
    /moderator mode
    I realize I am not the OP but I have offered three. I have also not mentioned some undetectable supernatural causes either. I have made some references to known processes that are observable and in operation today.
     

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    Quote Originally Posted by cypress
    Quote Originally Posted by paralith
    Our one good reason to suggest that all life that exists today came from a common ancestor is the fact that we all use the same molecule for our heritable material: DNA.
    I'm not sure this is such a good assumption. Random processes are far more likely to produce a multitude of structures if there are truly a multitude of workable systems. Should we instead conclude there is only one good way to store biological information? It is odd that all life has only one mechanism for storing body plans and developmental instructions and that should cause us to consider alternatives. This is particularly true when we observe that modern complex systems use common processes, common materials and common structures.
    it's not just that all known organisms use DNA for their genetic make-up - it's also that very disparate organisms share large portions of their genome which appear to be the conservative building blocks for making a multi-cellular organism from a fertilised egg
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    Quote Originally Posted by cypress
    I'm not sure this is such a good assumption. Random processes are far more likely to produce a multitude of structures if there are truly a multitude of workable systems. Should we instead conclude there is only one good way to store biological information? It is odd that all life has only one mechanism for storing body plans and developmental instructions and that should cause us to consider alternatives. This is particularly true when we observe that modern complex systems use common processes, common materials and common structures.

    ...

    I'm not sure this is true either. Can you describe one of these imaginable molecules that would actually function? I can't. I do agree that this is good reason to think that a common ancestor is a better assumption than multiple early organisms.
    Any molecule which can contain an ordered sequence of segments could potentially be used, even proteins themselves. And I'm not saying there is no conceivable reason why we all use DNA instead of something else - I don't doubt that DNA may have certain structural properties that make it more stable or accessible or something along those lines. And yes, I'm sure there were many lineages of complex molecules sort of fighting for space at the time when life was first beginning, and it's the lineage containing DNA that most likely won out. But the existence of multiple lineages of complex molecules or proto-life several billion years ago versus the existence of multiple complete, complex organisms that all contributed to life that exists today is a different story.


    I realize I am not the OP but I have offered three. I have also not mentioned some undetectable supernatural causes either. I have made some references to known processes that are observable and in operation today.
    You listed some ways in which evolution could potentially be falsified, but to my knowledge none of them have been empirically born out. You have offered no evidence that they are in fact contradictions to evolution. If you have such evidence to offer, then by all means do so. ufcarazy's statement was that scientists are dogmatic for persisting in the use of an idea for which there exists contradictory evidence.
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
    ~Jean-Paul Sartre
     

  27. #26  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard paralith's Avatar
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    The evolution deniers seem to be crawling out of the woodwork these days. I am closing the relevant threads in order to send a strong message of discouragement. For those of you who wish to continue the scientifically legitimate discussions you have begun in these threads, please feel free to start a new one dedicated to your subject.
    /moderator mode
    Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.
    ~Jean-Paul Sartre
     

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