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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Mailvox: an alternative mechanism

Stephen J. takes a logical approach in arguing for evolution by natural selection:
While this question is going to sound snarky, I can only ask our host to believe it is meant as a genuine inquiry and hope it is answered.

1) Let us take as evidentially established the fact that species which existed in the past now exist no longer and are extinct.

2) Let us take as evidentially established the fact that not all species now extant existed at all times throughout the history of organic life; if nothing else, we know for a fact Homo sapiens did not.

3) Therefore, it must be possible for species which did not exist to come into existence by some mechanism, just as species which do exist can go extinct by any variety of mechanisms.

4) If it is a fact that new species can come into existence while others go extinct, by what mechanism other than evolution through natural selection are these species proposed to arise, and does that proposed mechanism explain more of the observed evidence than TeNS?
I don't think it sounds snarky at all.  In fact, this is one of the first rationally competent attempts to defend evolution that I've ever seen presented on this blog.  Let's look at his postulates and his logic and see where it leads us.

1)  I concur.  We know from historical documentary evidence that there are species that previously existed and are now extinct.  We can also infer from fossil evidence that there were a number of other species that previously existed and went extinct prior to the historical record.

2) I tend to agree and am willing to concur here for the sake of argument and on the basis of Occam's Razor.  We certainly believe that homo sapiens sapiens did not exist from the beginning of the history of organic life on the basis of our current understanding of the geological and fossil records, but we cannot say that with the same degree of confidence that it is a fact in the sense that we say the Dodo is now extinct.  The problem is that there appear to be an increasing number of indications that the current geological and biological timelines are not going to hold up to future evidence, the claimed 521-year half-life of DNA being one of them.

3)  I concur, assuming (2) holds true.

4) Intelligent Genetic Manipulation is the mechanism that I propose.  And yes, I believe that explains more of the observed evidence than TENS, since IGM is a scientific proposition, a readily observed action, and a successful predictive model, whereas TENS is a philosophical proposition, an unobserved process, and an unsuccessful predictive model.

Now, this does not provide any basis for assuming the existence of a Creator God, or even declaring that TENS did not actually take place.  The logical fact of the matter is that even if TENS can be conclusively demonstrated to have taken place in various species, which has not happened despite more than 150 years of trying, that doesn't necessarily mean the process was sufficient to produce Man.  If one contemplates the biological differences between ape and man, the vast leap in cognitive capacity taking place in a relatively small sum of generational cycles from the proposed common ancestor in comparison with the timelines supposedly required for other, less complicated evolutionary changes, the logic suggests - though it does not prove - that some degree of purposeful genetic manipulation has likely taken place at various points in the origin of the species and the development of homo sapiens sapiens.

I'm not talking about Intelligent Design, but rather intelligent editing.  And the interesting thing is that IGM should be an increasingly falsifiable concept as genetic science continues to improve.  Only recently have we learned that junk DNA serves a purpose; even though we have sequenced various genomes, we haven't yet understood how the code works or fully comprehended the various ways it can be manipulated.  As our understanding grows, we should be able to develop an ability to recognize patterns that indicate purposeful alterations in the code have been made.

Now, I realize how crazy this probably sounds, especially in light of my argument that Man cannot easily distinguish between God, god, demon, and alien.  But that is where Stephen's reasonably sound logic takes us. 

Labels: ,

57 Comments:

Anonymous Cryan Ryan October 14, 2012 8:55 AM  

That was perhaps the best post I've ever read on your blog.

Thanks to Stephen for laying out your case in a crisp and concise manner. And to Vox for offering a way out for those of us stuck on the fence. Intelligent editing.

I like it.

Anonymous Anonymous October 14, 2012 8:56 AM  

Vox,

Good post. Have you read any of the material Hugh Ross has written on God and science? I've been reading his book Creation as Science and he makes some interesting points. Your point that we should be able to test these ideas as genetic science continues to improve is similar to what he argues.

Blogger The Original Hermit October 14, 2012 9:15 AM  

"I realize how crazy this probably sounds"

After reading extensively at Koanic, Vault-Co and GKS, this is one of the least crazy revolutionary ideas I've seen in months.

Blogger Shimshon October 14, 2012 9:17 AM  

Vox, since you say that IGM is testable, can you clarify? Do you mean it is testable in nature (implying that the intelligence is at the least not human and likely divine) or in the laboratory and that we can be an intelligence engaged in such?

Anonymous Anonymous October 14, 2012 9:17 AM  

For clarification, are you arguing that IGM is somewhat equivalent to Lamarckism and adaptation is a function of biological or intelligent feedback rather than random evolution?

Blogger Baloo October 14, 2012 9:28 AM  

Then, evolution by natural selection does take place, but is insufficient to account for _all_ evolution?

Blogger Brad Andrews October 14, 2012 9:41 AM  

The non-existence of man over the time span assumes millions of years.

I would argue that was only true for a few days, but make sure you note the additional assumptions being made.

Anonymous jack October 14, 2012 9:43 AM  

I have read with interest recently concerning the cutting edge research being done by the geneticists using totally artificially constructed dna. Now this, I think, was on the raiders news site which may or may not be the average Ilk's most comfortable reference point. But, they link to many other places with their collecting of info. If this is true, that complex dna can be, essentially, planned on a computer then executed in the lab without any need of existing, viable dna then the implications are staggering and ominous. That is, if this research is on the up and up and not some fabrication of a grant hunting group of junk scientists.

I keep thinking of the passages in the Bible that talk about how, as the end times approach, knowledge keeps increasing.

Anonymous TheExpat October 14, 2012 10:00 AM  

Inherit the Stars...

Anonymous VD October 14, 2012 10:04 AM  

Vox, since you say that IGM is testable, can you clarify? Do you mean it is testable in nature (implying that the intelligence is at the least not human and likely divine) or in the laboratory and that we can be an intelligence engaged in such?

Yes. Yes, testable in nature, but note that does not imply divinity, only non-humanity. We are already engaging in such genetic manipulation, and it seems unlikely that we are the first beings in the universe to do so.

For clarification, are you arguing that IGM is somewhat equivalent to Lamarckism and adaptation is a function of biological or intelligent feedback rather than random evolution?

No, not in the slightest. It's more akin to biological robotics.

Then, evolution by natural selection does take place, but is insufficient to account for _all_ evolution?

No, only that even IF evolution by natural selection or other natural processes takes place, that MAY be insufficient to account for all evolution, including the evolution of Man and consciousness. Even if we can prove that pigs evolved naturally, that means that Men and cats COULD have evolved, but doesn't necessarily mean that they did.

In fact, I would not be surprised if the very genetic research meant to imitate the evolutionary process will eventually cause it to become clear that it could not have happened that way, but rather came about through the very artificial and intentional means being used to imitate what didn't happen.

Blogger Markku October 14, 2012 10:28 AM  

Sounds like Progressive Creationism, without claiming that it was necessarily Yahweh who did it.

Anonymous paradox October 14, 2012 10:44 AM  

The Prometheus Hypothesis...

Anonymous Weak October 14, 2012 10:44 AM  

Thanks Steven and Vox, that was the best writing or discussion I have ever encountered on the subject. Well reasoned on both sides and makes me rethink my position on the issue. In the past I have dismissed ID because "Jesus did it" is not a rigorous viewpoint. This brought out the merits of both cases.

Anonymous TICO October 14, 2012 11:20 AM  

The problem is that there appear to be an increasing number of indications that the current geological and biological timelines are not going to hold up to future evidence, the claimed 521-year half-life of DNA being one of them.

Doesn't the possible 521-year half-life of DNA only indicate problems with the current geological and biological timelines IF someone successfully clones a dinosaur or sequences their DNA? Neither of which has happened as far as I know.

Anonymous Aeoli Pera October 14, 2012 12:21 PM  

Let's not forget that IGM is biblical. The god of the Israelites (whom we take to be God with a capital G) was very concerned with breeding his chosen people. He told them specifically from which of the surrounding peoples they could take wives or not. (The latter was more common.)

Anonymous Aeoli Pera October 14, 2012 12:22 PM  

And that doesn't even account for his seeming obsession with sexuality (and sexual behaviors) in general.

Anonymous Aeoli Pera October 14, 2012 12:24 PM  

"That" being the process of breeding, not IGM.

Sorry folks, I'll shut up now. Communicating properly isn't in the cards today.

Anonymous Starbuck October 14, 2012 12:28 PM  

I have many problems believing TENS is boiled down to one major problem. If everything is random and evolving, why only one species that has intelligence? Why "primates"? Why hasn't there been reptile intelligent creatures? Or Fowl? Or Canine? Or?

If evolution is true, then why aren't there other intelligent creatures that aren't human? Why only one?

Sorry, there are no other creatures that can compete with man when it comes to intelligence. Dolphins don't come close to mans abilities to invent, communicate, socialize. Animals can't communicate around the globe. Man has been able to do that feat for centuries. Animals can't change the landscape to their benefit. Man can, it is called farming, cities, etc..

No other "animal" even comes close the intelligence of man.
So I ask one more time... Why man? Why not others? They were sharing the same enviormental stresses as mankind. Why not others?

This predicament cannot be answered.


If someone could answer that question, then perhaps TENS could be believeable on my part.

Blogger Ilíon October 14, 2012 12:32 PM  

"I don't think it sounds snarky at all. In fact, this is one of the first rationally competent attempts to defend evolution that I've ever seen presented on this blog. ..."

While it is not snarky, at least overtly, it is NOT "rationally competent"; it is, in fact, just another instance of DarwinDefender question begging.

Anonymous Daniel October 14, 2012 12:35 PM  

Vox, you are nuts.

...but not wrong. Those assumptions are sound. The longer TENS+ research goes on, the more they directly prove the nner function of intelligent genetic modification, and its likelihood.

Of course, this is why the die-hard atheists work so hard to prove that man is not an intelligence. As long as he's unintelligent, he can't be the model outside force (the "I") in an IGM model.

They've resorted to exchanging the definition for Intelligent for that of Random.

Anonymous MeMyselfI October 14, 2012 1:08 PM  

Micro-evolution: Sure.

Macro-evolution: not so much.

Getting it all started required *information*.

Source of that information - unknown.

But, even if we found source of *our* information... what was the source of "their" information?

Blogger IM2L844 October 14, 2012 1:08 PM  

it seems unlikely that we are the first beings in the universe to do so.

It seems likely that we are the only temporally constrained beings in the universe to do so on this planet.

Anonymous LuxLibertas October 14, 2012 1:18 PM  

Ah, now I get it. Vox is a senior member of the global elite, laying the groundwork for Project Bluebeam among the Ilk.

Anonymous Shawshank October 14, 2012 1:24 PM  

Assuming that intelligent tweaking of genetic code is currently a better fit to explain the available evidence, wouldn't this mechanism indicate that it is more likely to be the work of finite beings rather than God? Why would a being capable of Creation make subtle changes to the DNA, and let Man slowly find fire and tools and language, rather than poof, let him come out fully formed. Seems like DNA adjustment would more likely be the realm of aliens, more advanced than us, but still limited by the laws of physics.

Perhaps, when one's choice is between a supernatural or extraterrestrial explanation, the most rational position to take is: I don't know.

Blogger Campion October 14, 2012 1:37 PM  

the vast leap in cognitive capacity taking place in a relatively small sum of generational cycles

This could be accounted for by a predator/prey arms race which produces rapid evolution among other species, cheetahs and gazelles for instance. Man is a wolf to Man. Competition between proto-human groups based on intelligence might lead to rapid evolution. We see this in the historical record, better organised groups defeating less advanced groups. Chimps are more aggressive toward each other than other apes and perhaps not coincidentally more intelligent. If our early ancestors were a bit more aggressive than modern chimps it might lead to such an arms race.

Blogger Taylor Kessinger October 14, 2012 1:42 PM  

And yes, I believe that explains more of the observed evidence than TENS, since IGM is a scientific proposition, a readily observed action, and a successful predictive model, whereas TENS is a philosophical proposition, an unobserved process, and an unsuccessful predictive model.

1. In what way is IGM scientific and TENS unscientific?
2. IGM is readily observed, but it has only been observed when performed by humans. Surely you are not trying to suggest that time-traveling humans are responsible for the appearance of new species.
3. How is TENS unobserved? There are many, many observed instances of speciation in the wild and in the lab.
4. In what way is IGM successful as a predictive model? Wouldn't you expect to see, say, true chimeras, or lots of horizontal gene transfer?

If one contemplates the biological differences between ape and man, the vast leap in cognitive capacity taking place in a relatively small sum of generational cycles from the proposed common ancestor in comparison with the timelines supposedly required for other, less complicated evolutionary changes, the logic suggests - though it does not prove - that some degree of purposeful genetic manipulation has likely taken place at various points in the origin of the species and the development of homo sapiens sapiens.

Doesn't this seem remarkably ad hoc?

Only recently have we learned that junk DNA serves a purpose

This never happened. The recent ENCODE project showed that much of the genome has a function (where "function" is extremely broadly defined). That's not the same as saying it has a "purpose" (which might be approximated to mean "useful function" or "function that can be shown to be optimal").

Anonymous Stephen J. October 14, 2012 1:46 PM  

Thanks for taking the question seriously enough to answer! Especially in light of my occasional forceful disagreement on other topics, any undue aggravation from which I should apologize for in passing. I'm glad it was of some use to the community here.

I should pause here to explain my own stance, which is that as a Catholic I do believe in a transcendent Creator Intelligence who has actively intervened to bring about intelligent ensouled life. I myself suspect, however, that the mechanism by which He acted and continues to act is likely to be so subtle -- most likely built into the very laws of the universe made for us, in fact -- that I would not be at all surprised to find it observationally indistinguishable in practice from what appears to be TENS.

I also have to note the legitimate objection many people make to the "this does not presuppose divinity, only nonhumanity" caveat for IGM, which is that this only moves the question without answering it. Either it is possible for intelligence to arise from nonintelligence spontaneously, or life to arise from nonliving matter spontaneously, or it is not. If it is, then it doesn't matter whether humanity was the first example of it or not, and if it is not, then explaining our existence requires the purposeful intervention of an entity which has neither a biological source nor a temporal beginning for its intelligence -- i.e., God, or as close as makes no nevermind.

For myself, I think it unlikely to ever settle the question; as long as it can always be asserted that the chance of spontaneous generation of life from nonlife, or intelligence from nonintelligence, is not absolute zero -- and I see no way you could plausibly assert the opposite -- then it is always possible TENS is true, which is all you need if you are absolutely unwilling to consider any other possibility. But that's where you get into faith, on both sides of the question.

Anonymous Noah B. October 14, 2012 1:48 PM  

"No other "animal" even comes close the intelligence of man.
So I ask one more time... Why man? Why not others? They were sharing the same enviormental stresses as mankind. Why not others?"

Starbuck, my own thought on that is that under the right circumstances, there is a point in a species' development at which intelligence can increase quite suddenly. For humans, the combination of a large brain, vocal cords that allow for detailed communication, and opposable thumbs to allow toolmaking seem to have been key factors. For example, primitive verbal communication and toolmaking would have given early humans some key advantages when hunting, as they could have actually made and implemented a plan of some kind. Individuals who were better at communicating would have been able to make more detailed plans and would have had a key selective advantage. (And yes, I do hold out the possibility, even likelihood, that there are evolutionary mechanisms at work other than just natural selection.)

Detailed communication is probably a key first enabler of explosive growth in a species' intelligence, since it provides an individual with a mechanism for gaining knowledge from others, and to gain knowledge far more quickly than he could have in isolation. At the point that humans had developed enough toolmaking abilities to allow for a significant amount of writing to occur, the growth of human intelligence probably accelerated yet again. Now humans had access to knowledge from those they had never even met.

As the availability of communication has continued to increase, from telegraphs to phones to computers to smartphones, we may be at a point in which our collective intelligence is increasing faster than many appreciate. Reflect on this, especially if you're over the age of about 35 -- how often do you now routinely find information that would have been extremely difficult or impossible to find when you were in high school?

Also ask yourself, if humans were suddenly cast into a world without any of these communication tools, and not given any kind of education from their parents or anyone else who possessed part of the modern collective knowledge of humanity, what might those people look like? Would they more resemble modern humans, or apes?

Blogger Taylor Kessinger October 14, 2012 1:52 PM  

This predicament cannot be answered.

There are plenty of possible answers, none of them particularly testable. Here are two:

1) We just happened to "get there first".
2) The development of high levels of intelligence can only occur alongside the development of reliable tools for manipulating matter (like hands). This would explain why only a brachiating species was able to develop very high intelligence.

Anonymous Stephen J. October 14, 2012 2:04 PM  

@Ilion: "...it is, in fact, just another instance of DarwinDefender question begging."

Can I ask in what way you mean this? I do not myself attribute all species turnover or emergence solely to TENS, but I wasn't aware of trying to beg the question in how I phrased it. Boiled down, I was simply saying, "We know new species emerge, and can be shown to have biological commonalities with species that have existed before they did; if this doesn't happen by TENS, how do you believe it happens?"

If simply using the term "emerge" is begging the question in that it presupposes emerging *from* something, I grant the point, but it seems to me saying "appear" is begging the question in the other direction, if we're going to get into that level of deconstruction -- which strikes me as counterproductive, at the very least.

Anonymous Log October 14, 2012 2:09 PM  

IGM = ID. Vox needs to read more of the relevant literature.

Anonymous Kriston October 14, 2012 2:16 PM  

Starbuck October 14, 2012 12:28 PM


Sorry, there are no other creatures that can compete with man when it comes to intelligence. Dolphins don't come close to mans abilities to invent, communicate, socialize.

But Dolphins do come very close to man in the area of sexual perversion.

Anonymous zen0 October 14, 2012 3:31 PM  

2) The development of high levels of intelligence can only occur alongside the development of reliable tools for manipulating matter (like hands).

On the other hand (heh), I know many intelligent people that are klutzes.

Blogger Duke of Earl October 14, 2012 4:02 PM  

As the case of Coelacanth has demonstrated, we cannot assume that "absence from the fossil record" equals "absence from existence." We are told numerous times (particularly in response to claims of gaps in the fossil records) that fossilization is a rare and unusual process and we should not expect a clearly delineated history to be found there. (Contrarily a set of flood geology assumptions would suggest we would find a lot of organisms buried rapidly in conditions suitable for fossilization)

If so, then assuming that the lowest point where we find said fossil is the beginning of its existence, and the highest point its ending of existence is an error. The organism may have existed for countless years beforehand, but simply not left remains.

Consequently point 2 cannot be established beyond reasonable doubt.

If point 2 cannot be sustained, then neither can point 3.

A creation perspective would say in regards to 4, that an alternative option is that groups of animals were created that contained within themselves the genetic variety necessary to produce every variant within that family. We witness that most readily in our best friend, the dog. That organism has possibly the greatest amount of variation in any species that we know of in size, shape, colour, hairiness yet all variants were achieved through selective breeding from an original pool. Some features, like hairlessness, are probably the result of deleterious mutations, but breaking previously extant genetic options is not an example of creating new options de novo.

Blogger tz October 14, 2012 4:16 PM  

The great leaps show design, as Behe termed it, "Irreducible Complexity", things like the first cell (yes, I know Abiogenesis is technically different), the eye, blood clotting, nervous systems can't "evolve" because you need all parts.

I've proposed (in the gone co-comment) there may be a DIFFERENT mechanism that can produce intelligence. Say some of those nebulae Hubble peers at. Such may take a millennium to utter a single syllable - consider how CPU chips running at 3GHz would see us. We can't "see" them. But they may be sending cosmic care packages. And may be amoral.

I've also noted Angels (non-physical beings) might be involved. Man is the faulty prototype, fast and powerful but breaks down easily. Woman is the thrifted production model, but that milk thingy works.

And I think "designed or natural/random?" is a legitimate question. If you find a body crushed at the base of a tall building, it is reasonable to ask, accident, suicide, or homicide? Darwinians say any such has to be an accident.

Blogger Ilíon October 14, 2012 4:20 PM  

Ilíon: "...it is, in fact, just another instance of DarwinDefender question begging."

Stephen J: "Can I ask in what way you mean this? I do not myself attribute all species turnover or emergence solely to TENS, but I wasn't aware of trying to beg the question in how I phrased it."

The question-begging nature of your question doesn't require that you yourself be a hard-boiled (which is to say, anti-reasonable) DarwinDefender -- only that you have been so well-trained during your incarceration in the public indoctrination centers that you cannot *see* such question-begging when others, or you, engage in it.

Look at point 4) -- "4) If it is a fact that new species can come into existence while others go extinct, by what mechanism other than evolution through natural selection are these species proposed to arise, and does that proposed mechanism explain more of the observed evidence than TeNS?"

Implicit in that is the false (and illogical) assertion that Vox Day has the obligation to come up with a "better" (*) 'modern evolutionary theory' before he can trash the current one, which, admittedly, self-trashes.

'Modern evolutionary theory' (I put quote marks around this phrase (**), because it is neither particularly modern, nor evolutionary, nor a scientific theory), aka "Darwinism", is illogical; which is to say, it is self-contradictory; ergo, it is, necessarily, false. ALL that it has going for it is that it, or something so very like it as to be indistinguishable, is compatible with, and indeed logically required by, atheism.

Because it is necessarily false, NO ONE has the obligation to offer a "better" (*) 'modern evolutionary theory' before rejecting "Darwinism" or before advocating that others do likewise.

(*) And, of course, "better" is to be judged by the criterion of materialistic atheism. Thus, any "better" (*) 'modern evolutionary theory' is going to be indistinguishable from current (*) 'modern evolutionary theory'.

Stephen J: "I was simply saying, "We know new species emerge, and can be shown to have biological commonalities with species that have existed before they did; if this doesn't happen by TENS, how do you believe it happens?""

Question begging, again -- "We know new species emerge, and can be shown to have biological commonalities with species that have existed before they did" -- we *know* no such thing; we can *show* no such thing. You are presuming what may be called 'universal common descent' AND what may be called 'non-interventionism' -- which are the very things 'modern evolutionary theory' supposedly proves.

(**) And, in fact, it was I began to mockingly refer to "Darwinism" as 'modern evolutionary theory' -- when I wanted to refer to it as neutrally as I could -- before the DarwinDefenders themselves began to use that term.

Blogger Ilíon October 14, 2012 5:18 PM  

Speciation is itself a hed herring.

The problem to be explained isn't the 'emergence' or 'arrival' of novel species, but rather of novel biological structures and processes, of novel "information" in the genomes of existing species. To put it another way, the problem isn't to explain increasing diversity of species, but rather increasing complexity of biology.

As De Vries pointed out over a century ago, "'The survival of the fittest' cannot not explain 'the arrival of the fittest'."

Darwin claimed to be offering a naturalistic "explanation" for "the arrival of the fittest" ... and his "explanation" was nothing more than to assert that the survival of the fittest "explained" their arrival. In the more than 150 years since, his acolytes have done no better than that, and indeed have thrown temper tantrums whenever it is pointed out that they have offered no explanation, that their "explanation" is nothing more than to assert that "it just happened, for no particualr reason; now shut up!"

Anonymous scoobius dubious October 14, 2012 5:41 PM  

My own slightly zany, unscientific speculation about this has been for some time that there is a "life force", similar or analagous to gravitational force, that permeates all living matter, that transcends individual organisms, and that pushes and pulls organisms and life-systems in directions that it "wants". It might or might not be intelligent, or it might have a nature we can't fathom where the word "intelligent" is basically meaningless.

In any event think of gravity. In other possible universes, there's no particular reason why there would have to be a law that bodies of mass are always drawn towards one another; for us, that's just the way it is. Something similar could be going on with life -- viz., that the mutations and changes aren't random, but they also aren't designed by a cosmic toymaker in a cosmic toy shop. It could be that the "life force" pushes things in certain directions because it's trying to "get" a certain this or that. (Or may just be trying _everything_ at least once!)

This wouldn't rule out God, in the same way that gravity doesn't rule out God. God may have simply created certain processes that set things in motion that result in Man, the same way He doesn't zap a solar system into instant existence, but lets His processes produce one.

But like I say, it's just idle layman's speculation.

Anonymous Anonymous October 14, 2012 6:12 PM  

Kudos to Stephen J for articulating the concept so clearly; however, I'm sure many a TE supporter here meant exactly that when they've said "evidence in the fossil record." That's certainly what I meant, and TE is the best explanation for it.

Thank you VD for finally clarifying your thoughts on the matter.

~Cumquat

Anonymous Stephen J. October 14, 2012 10:09 PM  

Duke of Earl: "...point 2 cannot be established beyond reasonable doubt. ...[A]n alternative option is that groups of animals were created that contained within themselves the genetic variety necessary to produce every variant within that family."

Ilion: "...we *know* no such thing;" [that new species emerge which are genetically distinct from but indicatively genetically similar to extant species] "we can *show* no such thing."

Is it then your contention that every species now alive has existed, in its core genetic form if not in any individual group of phenotypes or genotypes, since the beginning of organic life? That all genetically distinct primate species, for example, all have separate and distinct proto-ancestors who are essentially genetically (if not phenotypically) identical to their modern inheritors, and who have never been genetically similar enough to interbreed? (That in itself has been scientifically disproven by the discovery of Neanderthal DNA in the Homo sapiens genetic template.)

The only alternative I can see to admitting that new species have appeared is to claim that all species have existed simultaneously in a consistent genetically distinct form from Day 1 -- and this just seems like too much of a stretch to me. Given that, if new species have appeared, the explanation seems to me to fall into one of three categories:

1) Speciation from predecessor stock by random drift, genetic mutation and natural selection;
2) Direct creation as a new entity group by forces outside the biosphere via direct molecular DNA engineering; or
3) A combination of #1 and #2, engineered alteration from existing stock, cf. breeding the domestic dog from its wolf-variant ancestor. (The subtlest such engineers would bring about these species purely by prognosticatory alteration of the environment, causing an effect that appears to be TENS.)

However, if as Ilion notes, "speciation is a red herring" and the problem is the emergence of irreducibly complex new functional structures, then again we are confronted with limited possibilities. Either the known mechanisms of natural genetic variation are capable of accounting for observed biological complexity with a non-zero probability, or they are not. If they are, then TENS may be correct; if they are not, then one of two alternatives must be the case: either there is an as-yet-undiscovered natural mechanism by which genetic variation occurs, perhaps one that permits much more rapid change or much lower lethal mutation rate, or the successful and rapid genetic variation required is attributable only to purposeful intervention by a prior intelligence. Neither can yet be proven -- but which one you think likelier says a lot more about your convictions going in than coming out.

I think, sometimes, that people are divided on this topic not so much by faith or logic as by imagination. The IGM advocate says to the evolutionary materialist, "You don't really grasp just how complicated life is, do you? Or how many things would have to happen just so to produce an eye where one wasn't before? You really think random chance produced all this?" Whereas the EM can say to the IGMer, "You don't really grasp just how long ten million years is, do you? Or how much genetic variation is always occurring, everywhere, and how rapidly it can spread? You really think the only possible explanation is God? -- or aliens, who'd need aliens or a God of their own?" And both to themselves seem like a rational person arguing with a wild-eyed fanatic.

However, because as noted I am being more Devil's Advocate than sincere opponent, and being more interested in broadening perspectives than convincing anyone, I will let this be my last word on the topic.

Anonymous zen0 October 14, 2012 10:17 PM  

My own slightly zany, unscientific speculation about this has been for some time that there is a "life force", similar or analagous to gravitational force, that permeates all living matter, that transcends individual organisms,

Consciousness is like water, in that it takes the shape of the vessel within which it is contained.

Ants and people share the same consciousness, but express it through the limitations of their given bodies.

Blogger thimscool October 14, 2012 10:35 PM  

Vox, a question: Have you long thought as you expressed in this post, or did Stephen inspire you to a fresh understanding?

And a follow up: Assuming that you already thought this was so (it's pretty obvious), then why have you not troubled to express it explicitly before now?

Apologies if you already did and I missed it.

Blogger thimscool October 14, 2012 10:45 PM  

Is it then your contention that every species now alive has existed, in its core genetic form if not in any individual group of phenotypes or genotypes, since the beginning of organic life?

No, it happened day by day, just like God said in the King James bible.

Or maybe those days were actually a thousand years.

Or maybe God actually decided to communicate using metaphor and parables. No wait. That's just stupid.

Anonymous Johnny Caustic October 15, 2012 12:17 AM  

I'm surprised you haven't laid out these thoughts on this blog before; they're so straightforward and sensible.

I suggest that intelligent editing is not limited to genetics. I think people overstate the role of genetics as sole shaper of an organism. If Rupert Sheldrake is right about morphic fields, I would guess God's influence is exerted even more strongly through morphic fields (in particular, in shaping the process of development) than in gene editing.

Anonymous L.W. Dickel October 15, 2012 2:28 AM  

And then Jesus came upon his disciples and said, "Brethren, truly I say unto you, Die for your own fucking sins!!, you bunch of goddamn deluded Stone Age lunatics!!"--Jesus Christ, as told to Kirk Cameron.

Blogger TheoConfidor October 15, 2012 4:39 AM  

Stephen J wrote: Is it then your contention that every species now alive has existed, in its core genetic form if not in any individual group of phenotypes or genotypes, since the beginning of organic life? That all genetically distinct primate species, for example, all have separate and distinct proto-ancestors who are essentially genetically (if not phenotypically) identical to their modern inheritors, and who have never been genetically similar enough to interbreed? (That in itself has been scientifically disproven by the discovery of Neanderthal DNA in the Homo sapiens genetic template.)

This does seem to be a distinctive and viable possibility.

The concept of speciation is a useless concept, because it remains nebulously defined. Even biologists cannot agree upon what can properly be classified as a species.

Along those lines I have an inquiry. Do you have any data that supports your contention that human Neanderthals are dissimilar enough from other varieties of humans so as to prevent interbreeding? Is there any evidence that "neanderthal" DNA is radically different from other sorts of human DNA?


Stephen J writes: I think, sometimes, that people are divided on this topic not so much by faith or logic as by imagination. The IGM advocate says to the evolutionary materialist, "You don't really grasp just how complicated life is, do you? Or how many things would have to happen just so to produce an eye where one wasn't before? You really think random chance produced all this?" Whereas the EM can say to the IGMer, "You don't really grasp just how long ten million years is, do you? Or how much genetic variation is always occurring, everywhere, and how rapidly it can spread? You really think the only possible explanation is God? -- or aliens, who'd need aliens or a God of their own?" And both to themselves seem like a rational person arguing with a wild-eyed fanatic.

There is an important difference between possibility and plausibility. Sometimes can be accepted as possible without being considered plausible. For example, no sane mathematician would deny that it is possible for a poker player to be naturally dealt 20 successive royal flushes. The odds of such a thing are calculable, and it, definitionally, is possible. However, such an event is also sufficiently unlikely that it can reasonably be construed as implausible. A more plausible explanation is that the poker player or an accomplice is cheating.

Anonymous Anonymous October 15, 2012 8:55 AM  

@Stephen J: "The only alternative I can see to admitting that new species have appeared is to claim that all species have existed simultaneously in a consistent genetically distinct form from Day 1 -- and this just seems like too much of a stretch to me."

There's two reasons why this is unlikely other than, of course, the disappearance and appearance of "species" in the fossil record:

1) If all the fossil creatures found in some of our most massive fossil beds had been alive at the same time, they would have literally been walking on each other's backs.

2) The fossils of many apex predators have been found in the same locale. The idea that all these apex predators were alive at the same time is not consistent with what we see today. In other words, in a given epoch and locale, one apex predator reigns supreme.

Given these three things, the most logical explanation is that new "species" emerged over time throughout history. Moreover, fossil and genetic analysis indicates that these creatures were decent from those proceeding them, though this hasn't been proven.

The best explanation for all the above is the diversification of DNA over time, also known as TE.

~Cumquat

Blogger Taylor Kessinger October 15, 2012 9:26 AM  

The concept of speciation is a useless concept, because it remains nebulously defined. Even biologists cannot agree upon what can properly be classified as a species.

There are several pretty well-defined species concepts. You just have to choose the right one for the situation and avoid comparing apples and oranges.

Blogger Ilíon October 15, 2012 12:19 PM  

Ilíon: "Speciation is itself a hed herring. [short explanation of *why* focusing on 'speciation' is a hed herring]"

TheoConfidor: "The concept of speciation is a useless concept, because it remains nebulously defined. Even biologists cannot agree upon what can properly be classified as a species."

Taylor Kessinger: "There are several pretty well-defined species concepts. You just have to choose the right one for the situation and avoid comparing apples and oranges."

How interesting!

Are domestic cattle and American bison the same or different species? Are European domestic cattle and the domestic cattle of sub-Sahara Africa and/or India the same or different species? Are the domestic cattle and water buffalo of India and South-east Asia and the various wild water buffalo "species" of the same areas the same or different species?

Are Great Danes and Chihuahuas and grey wolves and coyotes and red wolves the same or different species? If the only evidence of them were fossilized bones, would they be the same or different species?

Are persons of historically Dutch ancestry (the Dutch being among the largest population in the world) and Pygmies (being among the smallest) the same or different species?

As TheoConfidor rightly said, there is no objective definition of the concept of "species"; there is no objective means of differentiating one "species" from another.

To put it another way, there is no scientific definition for the term; nor likely ever will be.

Anonymous Anonymous October 15, 2012 2:29 PM  

@Ilíon

I think the fact that there is not one single objective definition of "species" that fits all cases supports TE.

What the current state of "species" in the Earth biome at any given moment in time indicates is that evolution/adaption (the diversification of DNA) is a continuous, non-static process.

On the other hand, if all species/kinds were created at one point in time by an intelligent agent, we would expect to see neat categories (species) into which all organisms could be placed.

Again, the best explanation for what is observed in nature is divergence and diversification of DNA over time.

~Cumquat

Blogger TheoConfidor October 15, 2012 4:23 PM  

Taylor Kessinger wrote: There are several pretty well-defined species concepts. You just have to choose the right one for the situation and avoid comparing apples and oranges.

So, are you saying that there is a scientific definition of the biological term "species" that is universally applicable?

If so, I would be much obliged if you would point me to it. I have long been searching for such an objective and universally accepted definition.

Cumquat wrote: On the other hand, if all species/kinds were created at one point in time by an intelligent agent, we would expect to see neat categories (species) into which all organisms could be placed.

Why should we expect there to be neat categories, if we supposed one or more intelligent agents were involved in the emergence of species/kinds? Even in the realms of things created by intelligent agents, there are often no clear cut categories into which thing can be placed. Music, for example.

Cumquat wrote: Again, the best explanation for what is observed in nature is divergence and diversification of DNA over time.

That point is rather irrelevent, since there is no disagreement from either side that there is biological divergence and diversification in our world. TE, however postulates far more than mere divergence, suggesting that simple creatures evolved into more complex creatures, and indeed, all creatures ultimately descended from something such as a primordial soup, by random chance. That is the part that seems entirely unsupported and implausible.

Blogger Earl October 15, 2012 4:34 PM  

"I think the fact that there is not one single objective definition of "species" that fits all cases supports TE."

Oh yeah? Well I say that would completely destroy biology, and the rot would necessarily extend into chemistry and physics, and would eventually render all types of logic or categorical thinking completely delusional, thereby destroying science all together.

Blogger Earl October 15, 2012 4:36 PM  

The theory of evolution states that the irrational just keeps being irrational.

Anonymous Anonymous October 15, 2012 4:43 PM  

@Earl

The failure to reduce all living organisms into a man-made construct such as "species" would not cause science to crumble. It might instead cause us to learn more about nature and reality.

~Cumquat

Blogger Taylor Kessinger October 15, 2012 5:11 PM  

How interesting!

Are domestic cattle and American bison the same or different species? Are European domestic cattle and the domestic cattle of sub-Sahara Africa and/or India the same or different species? Are the domestic cattle and water buffalo of India and South-east Asia and the various wild water buffalo "species" of the same areas the same or different species?


Did you just discover nominalism or something? Of course natural "kinds" are often blurry. This doesn't mean the concept itself is incoherent, or unscientific, or undefined.

Anonymous Rollory October 16, 2012 10:43 AM  

"The problem is that there appear to be an increasing number of indications that the current geological and biological timelines are not going to hold up to future evidence, the claimed 521-year half-life of DNA being one of them."

No, it is not, because there are not any dinosaur clones to point to as evidence. This is so stunningly obvious a fact it would surpass belief that a self-described superintelligence could attempt to simply wish it out of existence, were it not that this is exactly what has been done.

"This doesn't mean the concept itself [of speciation] is incoherent, or unscientific, or undefined."

Yes it is. You assert that, but you don't yourself provide a definition. Because you can't.

Given a Chihuahua, a St. Bernard, a German shepherd, an Alaskan husky, and a gray wolf, where is/are the speciation line(s)?

Traditionally species have been defined by 1) ability to reproduce with each other - a rule honored in the breach as often in the observance, as seen by coyote/wolf crossbreeds and any number of mixtures of the big cats, as well as the previously mentioned varieties of the cow/bison type - and 2) "it just looks that way to me". There is nothing scientific about this.

If we applied the same speciation definitions to humans that we do to some animal populations, we'd identify four or five different human species on the planet right now.

Blogger Earl October 16, 2012 10:43 AM  

Yes, that is exactly what it means. Hello? Are you listening to what you said? I didnt know biology came under qantum theory. Blurry = UNDEFINED

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