Creating Information Naturally, Part 1: Snowflakes, Chess, and DNA

(Mervin Bitikofer) #21

I like reading Gould – yet another author who did a great job popularizing science at a lay level. His “punctuated equilibrium” has been latched onto by some creationists as a concession to the weakness of the fossil record on this. -Which is only partially true. Gould himself expressed frustration at being quoted by creationists in this way because they were only telling part of the story. Yes, fossils are hard to come by that showcase transitions in between species, but this in no way refutes the abundance of transitional fossils found between larger groups (and this is when Gould was still alive). In short, whenever a new transition fossil is claimed, anti-evolutionists will instead insist that it represents a new species --now with two smaller gaps to fill rather than the larger prior one. And in this way they can neatly avoid ever having to concede that any gaps are gone - because, indeed, they keep multiplying them (and the extant “species”).

But don’t take my word for it. There is much good reading on this (and from Christian authors – I shouldn’t have pushed Dawkins at you so hastily without knowing your situation). Here is a recent article by a Christian who is an expert in whale evolution. And if you follow the link he gives near the top, you can see another Biologos article giving details about known specifics of whale evolution that involve multiple transitional forms. Both articles are worth reading and helpful toward clearing away misconceptions.

It is true that the fossil record can only give us “snapshots” (albeit many of them now!). But it is not true that any evolutionist has ever thought or proposed that evolution works like this. There are saltational changes, yes. But the “hopeful monster” hypothesis (or the huge sudden leaps) are a caricature of how evolution is alleged to have worked according to some creationists, but they are attacking a non-existent “mechanism”, since no evolutionary scientists proposes that evolution works this way.

(Lynn Munter) #22

How much of the fossil evidence have you actually looked at? Because there are museums full of missing links. It’s true that Gould proposed punctuated equilibrium, but ‘drastically’ is hyperbolic—as is ‘in a few generations.’ It’s categorically false to say “we don’t have any evidence of the small jumps in between.”

(George Brooks) #23


Well, naturally, God left behind a robust trail of indicators that while “miraculously” selecting specific mutations and changes in ecosystems, God used evolution to actually prepare his array of life on Earth.

It would be analogous to God choosing the day for it to rain, and producing the miraculous circumstances that would invoke sufficient evaporation and condensation so that rain would happen.

(George Brooks) #24


It’s all about probability when you discuss things with an Atheist.

It’s not at all about probability when “God guides Evolution”. Some things God does by miraculous engagement… other things by natural law.

(Ashwin S) #25

Hi Mervin,

I am not a young earth creationist. Its interesting you mentioned whales.

Earlier scientists used to think that whales evolved from mammals living in the land 53 million years ago taking a time of 10 to 15 million years to get the first full fledged whale…
All this came crashing down when they found a whale fossils that was 49 million years old.Meaning the time required reduced by a third.

And of course, how do we know there isn’t an older fossil out there? Or that whales existed earlier… say 55 million years ago and the oldest fossils just happen to be 49 Mya?There is a higher chance for evolution to happen rapidly as opposed to slow, because the examples of a slow transition may be due to a result of older fossils not being preserved.

(Ashwin S) #26

Hi Lynn,

Thanks for the link. If you read the wiki article. You must have noticed the following disclaimer.

Almost all of the transitional forms in this list do not actually represent ancestors of any living group or other transitional forms. Darwin noted that transitional forms could be considered common ancestors, direct ancestors or collateral ancestors of living or extinct groups, but believed that finding actual common or direct ancestors linking different groups was unlikely.
Emphasis in bold is mine.
This leaves me with a weird picture that none(or at least most) of the extinct species really transitioned into anything that exists today… This is probably because there is still a lot of uncertainty with respect to the tree of life.
One example of a tree of life that got seriously messed up recently was that of the whale. It’s evolutionary “story” went something like below:
Pakicetids (fully terrestrial): ~50 mya
Ambulocetids (semi-aquatic): 49 mya
Remingtonocetids (semi-aquatic): 49 mya
Rodhocetus (a Protocetid, semi-aquatic): 47 mya
Basilosaurids (fully aquatic): 40 mya…

Only problem is that, a whale fossil dated 49 Mya was discovered recently… And all those semi-aquatic transitional fossil ancestors became… Cousins. And whales seem to have taken to the waters quite abruptly.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #27

Thanks for clarifying that. And sorry if you had laid out more about your views somewhere and I just didn’t see it.

This Biologos article on whales that I indirectly linked to above might be interesting to you. It was written in December of 2017, so that would probably be more recent than the problems you mention. In any case, the new data seems to be taken well into hand.


…though the article doesn’t give much detail about the picture it includes above, the dates shown would seem to confirm your observation about the current fossil dates such as they know. More to the point, though, may be these paragraphs from the same article. If you have a better explanation than the multiple converging lines of evidence (including the fossil record!) that are discussed in the article, please let us know. It is always a given that more fossils are expected to turn up, and hopefully refine the model. I’ll paste the paragraph below.

As we have seen, the strength of evolution as a scientific theory does not rest in any one piece of evidence, but rather in the numerous pieces from multiple disciplines that fit together in a cohesive way, mutually reinforcing one another. One aspect of Christian anti-evolutionary materials that I find frustrating is that the broad sweep of evidence for evolution is avoided in favor of focusing in on specific, isolated details in an attempt to refute them individually. This approach fosters the misleading impression that evolution, as a theory, stands or falls on the interpretation of small experimental details. In reality, evolution as a theory is supported by a vast array of data from many independent fields, and any attempt to refute evolution will fail scientifically unless it addresses that vast array. As such, Christian anti-evolutionary approaches do not offer a significant scientific challenge to evolution. Rather, they merely create an impression of evolution that does not do justice to its true strength.

(Lynn Munter) #28

Of course it is appropriate to use an abundance of caution when talking about transitional forms. For example, let’s say you know some of your ancestors lived in Scotland. You visit a random cemetery and see a tombstone with a name pretty similar to your ancestors’. It would be much more appropriate to say “this person may have been a close relative to my family tree” rather than “I am descended from this person” so long as you have no more information to go on.

Similarly, even if we did find a direct ancestor in the fossil record, it would be indistinguishable from a close relative, so best practice is to not say more than we are confident of and call them all close relatives. In some cases we can tell that a fossil is somewhat diverged from what we would expect from a direct ancestor; in some cases it isn’t at all clear.

Statistically, if we crunch the numbers of all the living things that have ever existed and how many of them have living descendants, we expect finding direct ancestors to be surprisingly rare. But ‘close cousins’ on the tree of life can still tell us an amazing amount about how evolution proceeded; it’s a mistake to dismiss them just because they’re not on a direct line of descent, because they’re probably a lot closer to that direct line of descent than anything else we have to look at.

I see @Mervin_Bitikofer has addressed your whale question already above me, does that answer your concerns about whales?

(Ashwin S) #29

Well Mervin,

The frustrating part is how evidence is ignored.
Many of those organisms mentioned as ancestors or intermediate forms are not… simply because a functional whale fossil has been found that is 49 Mya.
The same kind of interdisciplinary argument could be made that whales and bats share a common ancestor if we look at how the echo location systems of both species work . This is true ESP if we look at genetic similarities. So the question remains why cherry pick and make up stories…?
And why continue with the stories even decades after contradictory evidence turns up. Shouldn’t honest science involve discussing evidence that contradicts ones position as well?

(Ashwin S) #30

Hi Lynn,

I have replied to Mervin. You can refer to that answer.

Logically speaking, we should get actual ancestor species that are a perfect fit if evolution is true. Not a lot of “cousins” without the actual ancestor.
These are all real difficulties and we should not try to sweep them under the carpet.

(Ashwin S) #31

Hi Brooks,

I get your point. However, if I understand biologos correctly, the claim is that evolution happened by natural processes that God setup… and does not involve God doing anything supernatural outside the first act of setting up the universe in a particular way.
So, probabilities as seen in the natural world does play a part.

(George Brooks) #32


And so it is that you do NOT understand BioLogos, or its mission statements.

You seem to want to describe God-Guided-Evolution" as some kind of deism. This is dead wrong.

While there are some BioLogos supporters who think all miraculous events can ultimately be traced to their being a cryptic expression of God’s order… it is more usual to find supporters who believe God engages with the cosmos by means of natural processes…AND also by means of the miraculous.

For some, invoking a specific mutation would be expected of God if the natural methods for creating that mutation would take too long on its own (from 1 second too long to 1 million years too long … and so forth).

(Phil) #33

First, let me welcome you to the forum, @Ashwin_s. I see you joined 4 days ago and I have not had the opportunity to greet you. We appreciate your input and look forward to getting to know you better here on our little corner of the internet.

Regarding this statement, I think George expressed my thoughts well. I might add that Biologos is a “big tent” and some may have this deist bent who are here, but the majority here embrace the sustaining power and presence of God throughout all creation and nature. Just don’t ask how it happens, 'cause we don’t know. At least I do not pretend to do so. It is sort of an interesting world in Christian creationism, with a lot of variety.


Hopefully after George’s and Phil’s reply you have a better understanding of the BioLogos position, if you can call a big tent a position. I apply God’s Providence to evolution. Providence is a firmly established principle in scripture. It applies to evolution just as it does to other natural processes, such as rain. God causes, or not causes as the case may be, rain to fail as He desires. We understand the natural process of rainfall but I believe God is still in control. Even if I don’t know exactly how He does this.

(Ashwin S) #35

Hi JPM (Phil) @Bill_II, @gbrooks9
Thanks for the welcome.
To be honest, evolutionary creationism sounds like an oxymoron if it actually refers to a theistic God. (I believe the God of the Bible is clearly theistic).
Even a cursory check of what evolution means will tell us that it is talking about “random” processes. Why use the word evolution if the process is not random? Isn’t design more appropriate? After all non-random processes are designed processes. Part of my work involves designing manufacturing processes… and though I use the laws of nature through machines, the process itself is thoroughly designed and the changes achieved are based on my/the companies designated purposes.
Animal breeding is another example. No one calls the results of animal hybridisation, evolution. Even though biological processes are used, the use of non-random methods makes it impossible and misleading to call such a process evolution.
The existence of a mind and purpose behind a process means design… and obviously cannot mean evolution.
Hence my confusion.

(Lynn Munter) #36

Don’t dismiss quite so hastily; it can still be an intermediate form without being a direct ancestor, even if it dates to after a point of divergence. How? Because of punctuated equilibrium, we know sometimes a population changes relatively fast and sometimes hardly seems to change at all. A fossil might represent a later generation of a common ancestor, without having changed much from what we would expect that common ancestor to look like, so in that sense they can be extremely useful to study.

Well, first of all, we do get a few actual ancestor species. But hang on. Who decides what “a perfect fit” is? Based on how evolution works, we certainly wouldn’t expect to see every characteristic halfway between the measurements of the descendants. For example, in our own evolutionary past, our lower bodies evolved for bipedal walking significantly before our brains and diets changed much.

But we don’t just expect to see varying rates of change; we also expect occasional traits that are not passed down to descendant species because they are lost. Does this disqualify a species from being a “perfect fit?” No, of course not!

But how do we tell if traits that don’t seem to ‘fit’ were lost after being present in the direct line, or evolved in a side branch that never left descendants? Well…we just can’t really tell. Unless there are a lot of traits that would have been difficult to ‘lose,’ we just have to guess. So nobody calls anything a direct ancestor most of the time, because it’s so difficult to know for sure, not because we don’t have any good examples!

Additionally, have you ever looked at a really thorough family tree? Most of what you’ll find on it is actually cousins, assuming they haven’t been edited out.

(Phil) #37

I think that is fertile ground for discussion, and I can understand your confusion, as I do not think it is a clear separation myself. Biblically, we see God working through what we call random processes. Proverbs 16:33 We may throw the dice, but the LORD determines how they fall.
We see lots cast in a couple of New Testament writings, to determine Judas’ replacement, and to determine which path to take for Paul, if memory serves. Also, there is a post where N. T. Wright discusses the parable of the the casting of seed which seems a random process.
Anyway, it is sort of fuzzy how God works through a seemingly random process, but none the less, I believe he does.
I smile a bit about your example of how animal and plant breeding is not considered evolution. It is sort of interesting how we tend to place human endeavor outside of nature, rather than being a part of nature. I wonder how a an alien evolutionary scientist studying our solar system would view it.

(Ashwin S) #38

Hi Lynn,
this is a very interesting comment. If I remember correctly, rapid evolution in the punctuated equilibrium scenario usually involves bottlenecks and isolation of species… Allowing mutations to take hold and speciation to occur.
For a whale to appear 49mya and intermediate species to still be alive and kicking at say 45mya is a rather unexpected phenomenon.
Besides , if we are speculating. Why not speculate the other way? That whales existed 60mya and just left fossils after 10my?
I think a distant cousin is more feasible.

I agree with you here on the facts. It’s true that it’s very difficult to tell whether features were lost or are even examples of “convergent evolution”. My only complaint is that this kind of situation leaves a lot of room for making up stories and cherry picking facts.
There is so much room not just in family trees, but also in dating methods that “fitting” data to a narrative becomes very easy as well as tempting.


They are transitional forms because they have a mixture of modern whale features and earlier features from terrestrial mammals. Transitional does not mean ancestral, it simply denotes a mixture of characteristics.

“A transitional fossil is any fossilized remains of a life form that exhibits traits common to both an ancestral group and its derived descendant group.[1] This is especially important where the descendant group is sharply differentiated by gross anatomy and mode of living from the ancestral group. These fossils serve as a reminder that taxonomic divisions are human constructs that have been imposed in hindsight on a continuum of variation. Because of the incompleteness of the fossil record, there is usually no way to know exactly how close a transitional fossil is to the point of divergence. Therefore, it cannot be assumed that transitional fossils are direct ancestors of more recent groups, though they are frequently used as models for such ancestors.[2]”

“In looking for the gradations by which an organ in any species has been perfected, we ought to look exclusively to its lineal ancestors; but this is scarcely ever possible, and we are forced in each case to look to species of the same group, that is to the collateral descendants from the same original parent-form, in order to see what gradations are possible, and for the chance of some gradations having been transmitted from the earlier stages of descent, in an unaltered or little altered condition.”–Charles Darwin, “Origin of Species”

(Ashwin S) #40

Hi Phil,
I do believe that there is room for randomness or at least seeming randomness in the universe.
However, I doubt the lots cast in the NT were random. Peter did it under the direction of the holy Spirit and the result was controlled by God.
As to proverbs 16:33,
I take it to mean that God is in charge of all events on earth and nothing happens by chance. However I don’t go around throwing dies or flipping coins to make decisions :slight_smile:… because I don’t thinks that’s what the proverb is telling me to do. It’s not about randomness so much as God’s level of control/design.