Does evolutionary theory provide any useful scientific benefit?

(George Brooks) #480


Ah… you say: “they are simply principles of biology”. Excellent.

You should note in your book that one of the principles of molecular biology is that there is no “line in the sand” - - visible or invisible - - which prevents 2 or more separated populations (from an older common population) eventually becoming distinct and separate populations.

When enough genetic changes have been aggregated that prevents the production of fertile offspring … the game is up. And from that point on, each population can become increasingly different in appearance and behavior … so that a fish starts walking around on the land… so that a hippo starts looking like a whale… and so forth.

So when you say “simple principles of biology” … this would imply that you accept simple principles of biology. But you do not.


“Using phylogenetic shadowing, Rubin and his colleagues were able to identify the DNA sequences that regulate the activation or “expression” of a gene that is an important indicator of the risk for heart disease and is found only in primates.”

“The rationale for comparing the genomes of different animals to identify those sequences that are important is based on the understanding that today’s different animals arose from common ancestors tens of millions of years ago,” Rubin explains. “If segments of the genomes of two different organisms have been conserved (meaning the sequences are the same in both) over the millions of years since those organisms diverged, then the DNA sequences within those segments probably encode important biological functions.”

Applied phylogenetics is the next big step in studying human disease and validating animal data. You can’t do that without the theory of evolution.


That’s kind of like saying that arms are vestigial legs. Vestigial is not a characterization, but an assumption. The fact that cigarette lighters have become power outlets for twelve volt systems, and installed in cars or RVs even when it is unlikely that they will be used as cigarette lighters is similar, but does not make them vestigial. Vestigial was originally applied to organs, appendages, tissue that seemed to have no direct purpose. As soon as purpose is applied to it, it loses meaning to call it vestigial, since it has as much or more benefit in its present condition than it did previously. Thus it is not vestigial, but merely another useful appendage or organ.


Ah, so simply to infer that your opponent is a liar… And by denying your claim of course, one would have to conclude that you also are a mere liar, rather than simply mistaken. Or extrapolating illegitimately from the generalization to a single aspect, as if a single aspect invalidates the entire generalization. Which is an incredibly good, but invalid, debate tactic. Its a good tactic, because it often confuses others, but its a bad tactic, because it is logically and reasonably invalid.


Separate populations do not logically, nor necessarily, lead to a change in function or appearance of a population that is not already embedded in the previous combined population. In other words, two populations can derive from one, but that is much different from each of those two populations developing features that the parent population never had before. Differentiating white tigers from yellow tigers does not turn one of them into a cheetah, or into a bear.

(George Brooks) #485


Yes, I suppose that is unavoidably true.
But you seem to think mutations that lead to dramatic changes in phenotype are presented in Evolutionary Science as something inevitable.

Bacteria, per se, has been living on Earth than most everything else on the planet. It doesn’t mean bacteria failed to evolve. Evolution, which means any change in genetic representation at the level of the population (remember, individuals do not evolve, only populations)… has been occurring amongst bacteria for eons. And yes, they are still bacteria, not birds.

However, to get a 4 legged fish/tetrapod, it is almost certain that conditions in the oceans, or in the inter-coastal regions, must deteriorate to the extent that fish who are able to escape to new tidal pools survive better than those that cannot.

To get a mammal that becomes a whale, conditions land must become so stressful or dangerous, that the mammal that best adapts to hunting for fish, or eating seaweed, survives better than it would otherwise.

50,000 generations of a fruit fly is not likely to create something other than a fruit fly - - if the laboratory conditions of the fruit fly populations are kept constant.


Nor does it mean they have evolved. Length of time on earth neither fails evolution, nor causes evolution. and yes, I understand your thought that because a species remains unchanged, does not mean that other species have not developed from them. But, definitions of species aside, and extent of small changes a given, nevertheless, changes among bacteria do not prove or demonstrate the larger common descent type of evolution that is postulated. [quote=“gbrooks9, post:485, topic:548”]
And yes, they are still bacteria, not birds.

And this is the misguided thinking… because such conditions would affect not just one species but all. Thus all would need to change, and it would lead to a reduction in species, not an increase in species.


That depends on how one defines “the theory of evolution”, but it seems to me that there is no definitive definition - it can vary widely and from person to person. For example, Douglas Futuyma considers ToE to be the mechanisms that cause “evolution”, and by “evolution” he means microevolution - in which case, one could argue that there are scientifically useful benefits for “the theory of evolution” (a simple example - breeding a sheep dog from a wolf).

Conversely, the Berkeley Uni site says “The central idea of biological evolution is that all life on Earth shares a common ancestor”. This seems to imply that this “idea” is the theory of evolution in a nutshell - in which case, there is no useful scientific benefit for “the theory of evolution”.

Anyways, I agree with Dr. Marc Kirschner (quoted in the OP) - the evolutionary interpretation of the history of life on earth has no practical use in applied science.


What you are referring to is theory - which is nothing more than someone telling a story, really. Does story-telling provide a “useful scientific benefit”? Not in my book. The evolutionary story is no more useful or beneficial than the creationist story or any other story that explains the history of life on earth.


A untestable theory that claims to explain the history of life on earth is “knowledge”? How does that work? I equate knowledge with facts, and only facts.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #490

Even if those “facts” are wrong?

(Steve Schaffner) #491

It isn’t. Should someone suggest such a theory, by all means criticize them.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #492

A theory itself is not a ‘fact.’ But rather it is an explanation for a large number of facts, observations, phenomena, or laws.

For example the Big Bang Theory explains the following facts:

  • The redshift
  • The Cosmic Microwave Background
  • The distribution of elements in the universe
  • The evolution of galaxy, cluster, supercluster structure of the cosmos

It’s age is in agreement with the ages…

  • Of globular clusters which tell us the universe is at least 11.5 billion years old
  • Of white dwarf cooling curves which tell us the universe is at least 11 billion years old
  • Of the distribution of radioactive elements (parent vs. daughter ratios for many pairs of nuclear decay) - older than 11 billion years
  • Of the oldest stars we can date directly (~13.6 billion years old) using 5 different radiometric decay pairs or via a lack of iron in the oldest stars

And so on and so on and so on and so on.


Which is what many scientists are doing, with increasing confidence, and increasing effect.


I agree, but while facts, observation and phenomena or laws qualify as “knowledge”, a theory that attempts to explain them doesn’t, as that theory may well turn out to be wrong. As for a theory that can’t even be tested … well, it’s worthless.

While biological evolution is the only scientific explanation for the the fossil record, I don’t believe that explanation can be tested scientifically. Furthermore, it is an explanation that contains endless sub-theories that can’t be tested. For example, how does one test the theory that the inner-ear bones of a mammal evolved biologically from the jaw-bones of a reptile? Or that an avian heart evolved biologically from a reptilian heart? How does one test that such evolutions are even possible?

In my opinion, theories that can’t be tested are really just pointless stories that don’t qualify as either knowledge or as science (althought they can be interesting and thought-provoking). So I’m amazed that some scientists (Douglas Futuyma, for example) consider the explanation of biological evolution for the fossil record to be a “fact”.

Should anyone be surprised that there is no practical use in applied science for an explanation that doesn’t qualify as either knowledge or science?

(Steve Schaffner) #495

There is no qualitative difference between facts and theories. As far as I can tell, a fact is just a statement about reality that we have sufficient confidence in that we can treat it as true. Sometimes “facts” turn out to be wrong. A theory is an explanation for facts. But theories are themselves statements about the world, and if we develop sufficient confidence in them, they too become facts. It’s a theory that infectious disease is caused by microbes – in fact, it’s even called the germ theory of disease. It’s also a fact that disease is caused by microbes. Everything you know about the physical world, every fact beyond pure sensory input, is a model that has been constructed by humans, consciously or unconsciously.

By looking for fossils that have an intermediate state between the ancestral and derived condition. By sequencing the genomes of living mammals and reptiles and seeing how they’re related.

Every premise in your question is false. Evolution is most certainly science, much of it constitutes knowledge, and it has practical use in applied science.

(Matthew Pevarnik) #496

Pseudogenes can help:

And also predicting what kinds of intermediates we should find based upon present knowledge and then finding them!

It is as good as a fact and much more secure in knowledge than things like my memory of what I had for dinner last night. The only alternative really is that some deity spontaneously made such creature from scratch, yet only altered them slightly from everything before. In other words, such a deity made everything to look as if common descent is true.

(George Brooks) #497

You are in error here, @johnZ.

Once a niche becomes occupied… even by a partially adapted population of creatures … it is still better at filling that niche than a completely different population.

Horseshoe crabs have maintained their niche for millions and millions of years.

So, while I agree that ecological changes can influence multiple life forms simultaneously … it doesn’t necessarily mean there is going to be multiple rivals filling a single niche.

When there is a collision of rivals, it is usually due to two different ecosystems collapsing into a single one (a cold region becoming warmer, or a warm region becoming colder, etc.).

(George Brooks) #498


You do understand that multi-national corporations spend MILLIONS of dollars on the information gleaned from archaeology and from botany, using advanced modeling in evolutionary processes?

Energy firms use evolutionary science to help predict where fossil-fuel finds are most probable.

Pharamacology firms use evolutionary science to help predict what drug would be most useful, and what changes would be most profitable to try to engineer.

Millions of people live of the conclusions and interpretations that evolutionary science makes possible.


What happened between Fossil A and Fossil B is not something that can be tested - unless you have a time machine. Your idea of a “test” seems to be my idea of “evidence for a theory”.

The genomes of extant creatures can be used to test if biological evolution was responsible for morphological changes in creatures that lived millions of years ago? That sounds a tad far-fetched to me. For starters, how can any comparisons be drawn between the DNA of extant creatures and the DNA of long extinct creatures when you don’t have the DNA of the latter?

I agree 100% with your second sentence, as “evolution” can mean anything from “breeding a sheep dog from a wolf” to “all life on earth shares a common ancestor.” The former “evolution” is science and knowledge and useful; the latter “evolution” is an untestable theory - and is therefore neither science nor knowledge nor useful.