Thursday, January 01, 2009

Evolution and me: a personal story (part 9)

Part 9: The unbelievability of change

Take a look at the diagram below and ask yourself the question: can something so small as a fertilized egg transform itself into something as incredibly large and complex as a fully functional human being? Well, of course – you might say – we have observed, within our lifetimes, people being born, growing up, and changing as they age.

But just for a moment, imagine that you have never observed birth or growth, and know nothing about how humans are conceived. Wouldn't the above diagram seem outlandishly incredible to you? You might scoff at it with incredulity, finding it unbelievable that such a small and simple object can transform itself into something so radically different.

I once scoffed at macroevolution for the same reason. It was difficult for me to imagine how birds evolved from dinosaurs, or how humans evolved from small, hairy mammals. But at the time I didn't consider an important fact: that in nature, small changes (micro-changes) often result in large changes (macro-changes) over a period of time.

Look again at the diagram above. It seems to represent an incredible macro-change (i.e., zygote to human), but this only seems incredible because the diagram doesn't show all the millions of tiny changes that take place in between. After conception, hundreds of cellular and genetic changes take place over a period of nine months to transform this little pack of cells into a human baby. And after birth thousands of changes occur to eventually transform the baby into an adult. In other words, the macro-change in the diagram is simply a result of a whole lot of micro-changes taking place over a period of time.

Richard Dawkins, in the preface of his book The Blind Watchmaker, argues that we battle to grasp macroevolution because our brains are built to deal with changes that occur in time-scales represented by days, months and years – not millions of years. Large macroevolutionary changes seem incredible, but if we consider thousands upon thousands of natural micro-changes guided by natural selection, then macroevolution doesn't seem that unbelievable at all. In fact, it seems perfectly logical.

I know, as Lui mentioned in an earlier post, that I have to do more than simply show that macroevolution is logical. So in the remaining posts I will argue that there are observable facts in nature that suggest that macroevolution has indeed occurred.

And I will start by exploring the layers of my mom's trifle . . .

Next post: Layers in a trifle
Return to the table of contents for 'Evolution and Me'

10 comments:

CyberKitten said...

kevin said: So in the remaining posts I will argue that there are observable facts in nature that suggest that macroevolution has indeed occurred.

...and is still occuring....

Nikeyo said...

Good illustration, and good point, but not quite the same. In a large argument, it is a good point, but on it's own understandably doesn't give too much credence to macro-evolution. The variables are quite different when it comes to a baby being produced. For one it occurs because two sex cells specifically designed for that purpose come together to make a human and only a human.

The wonder is really in that "ghost in the machine" as they call it. Why some are born without one at all, and why it occurs. Although we can make cells coming together plausible, we can't quite understand, yet, what would spark what we call "life."

CyberKitten said...

nikeyo said: The wonder is really in that "ghost in the machine" as they call it. Why some are born without one at all, and why it occurs.

Ok... That confused me... Anyone else? I mean... Huh?

Kevin Parry said...

Hi Nikeyo

Thanks for the comment. I agree with you that my analogy is not perfect, and should not be used to explain the process of evolution. Rather, I was using it to argue that in nature, small changes result in large changes over time, and that there can be no reason to think that small evolutionary changes cannot add up to large evolutionary changes. If a creationist believes that microevolution cannot result in macroevolution, the burden of proof is on them to provide a reason (maybe some mechanism) why small changes cannot become large ones.

Nikeyo said...

Sorry CyberKitten, "the ghost in the machine" is the common phrase used to describe the "soul" or life itself, that thing that differentiates us from the inanimate.

I'm not too sure Kevin that the burden is on a Creationist to disprove Evolution or the mechanism. Their burden is to prove Creation. Evolutionists is to prove theirs. In the end, their both theories anyway and I doubt either can be completely considered a fact without an eye-witness. If Evolution can be given credence to the fullest extent, it still doesn't completely rule out a Creator. It usually takes more, it seems, to destroy humanity's faith in a God.

CyberKitten said...

nikeyo said: Sorry CyberKitten, "the ghost in the machine" is the common phrase used to describe the "soul" or life itself, that thing that differentiates us from the inanimate.

Yes I know of 'the ghost'. I was confused by your comment that "some are born without one at all, and why it occurs"

Oh, and actually *lots* of things diferentiate us from the inanimate. But as I don't believe in souls that wouldn't be one of them!

nikeyo said: In the end, their both theories anyway and I doubt either can be completely considered a fact without an eye-witness.

Evolution is pretty much as close to a fact as you can get in science. There is an avalance of evidence to support it - unlike Creationism.

nikeyo said: If Evolution can be given credence to the fullest extent, it still doesn't completely rule out a Creator. It usually takes more, it seems, to destroy humanity's faith in a God.

Evolution has nothing to say about the existence of God. You could posit an intial Act of Creation that started Evolution off. I understand that many Christians actually believe this. It is normally Bible Literalists who have such a huge problem with Darwinian Evolution.

Nikeyo said...

"I don't believe in souls that wouldn't be one of them!"

I understand not everyone believes in a "soul." Just explaining what can be an issue to some. :)

Some are born without life, still born. The general question is why? We don't know yet how to put "life" into something without it. I can't explain it well though, cause it's not my argument.

As for your last statement, yes, that's generally what I said. But even the Bible literalist should have problems with reading the Bible creation account literally when it says "the earth gave forth vegetation" rather than "God made vegetation with his hands." But your point is still valid in that they still find a way to not believe it could be.

Amigo Televidente said...

Hello, mi name is Raymer Díaz and I'm from the Dominican Republic. I accidentally found this blog a few months ago and have been reading it for some time now. Although I don't consider myself an atheist, I used to be a very religious person as you were (Catholic, actually) until a few years ago.

About the topic itself, I found a really good and plausible argument in favor of atheists or people in general who don't want the guidance of a superior being for any given reason. It has to do with evolution and I thought about it right in the aftermath of Darwin's would-have-been 200th birthday.

Let's suppose a world were both evolution and the existence of a Supreme Creator both exist. Now, I don't know much about evolution (Biology is not my career after all), but what I do know tells me that this process is a random and chaotic one, where organisms transform according to certain circumstances, like weather and other stuff. This process is permanent, which means we as human beings keep evolving (hell, I read once that children in Japan were being born with slight alterations on their thumbs, because of their elders's usage of computers). Reading about this some weeks ago made me wonder: if evolution is such a changing process among living organisms it means, in a world where a Creator exists, this Creator has no control of the process itself. Therefore this being is not all-knowing, because this being can't control those factors that trigger mutations and (hence) the evolution of living organs. So, if this being is not all-knowing, should we as humans give control of the future of this Supreme Being, whom we attribute this all-knowing attribute without actually having such attribute ?

This is the topic I would like to discuss about in the future.

PS: English is not my first language, so pardon for my mistakes.

Brad said...

Amigo,
It sounds like you are really thinking out some questions here concerning your faith or the absence of. Just a real quick thought for you. Being a Catholic, as you stated, to my knowledge (and I could be wrong and please forgive me if I am) do not or most do not encourage reading the Bible and getting to know Jesus Christ. That would be a mistake because in being a Christian one needs to ask questions, study, learn, and then apply to their own life. One must take for granted the lessons or teachings from someone else, but should study first. Concerning God being omnipotent, if the Bible is true, which it has been proven over and over again to be, then God must be all knowing. I want to encourage you to keep searching for the truth. What is the truth? Jesus Christ. Through a personal relationship with Him you can go to heaven one day and you even get to live for Him on earth.

CRL said...

Brad:

"Being a Catholic, as you stated, to my knowledge (and I could be wrong and please forgive me if I am) do not or most do not encourage reading the Bible and getting to know Jesus Christ"

Although official Catholic doctrine does not take the bible literally, Catholics are encouraged (and often forced) to read and study the bible."Getting to know Jesus Christ," is encouraged, although never in those words, but there is more emphasis on God than Jesus.

"One must take for granted the lessons or teachings from someone else, but should study first."

From whom? Should our studies affect the extent to which we take things for granted? Why do we follow these somebodies as opposed to the other somebodies?