How Much Explanatory Power Does Accidents Have?

If scientists were trying to explain certain phenomenon as a freak of nature or a freak of natural law, how sufficient is this particular explanation? In TalkOrigins it tries to refute the idea in response to intelligent design proponents in particular (Michael Behe’s Black Box) who refer to evolution that way…

“…the recurring attacks on evolution comes from those who find the notion of random change distasteful…Genetic changes do not anticipate a species’ needs, and those changes may be unrelated to selection pressures on the species. Nevertheless, evolution is not fundamentally a random process.”

One wonders if talkorigns thinks it’s “distasteful” for proponents of evolution to do the same thing? New Scientist has been running a series called, “Cosmic Accidents” which says

“The countless simple cells living in many different environments on Earth have had over 3 billion years to evolve complexity.  It could have happened repeatedly – and yet it appears to have happened just once, perhaps 2 billion years ago.  All complex life is descended from a single common ancestor.”

“Why is that so?  Because, says Nick Lane of University College London, natural selection normally favours fast replication, keeping simple cells simple.  Then a freak event occurred: an archaeon engulfed a bacterium and the two cells formed a symbiotic relationship. That transformed the dynamics of evolution, leading to a period of rapid change that produced innovations such as sex.  The incorporated bacterium eventually evolved into mitochondria, the energy generators of complex cells.”

Le Page then added, “it seems there was nothing inevitable about the rise of the complex cells from which we evolved.” At the very core of Le Page’s explanation is pure chance because in his opinion, prokaryotes were trying to evolve complexity for a billion years, but were unable to do so. TalkOrigins statement was meant to minimize intelligent design which means a “freak accident” is ruled out. Which also means, the big bang is ruled out, the origin of consciousness is ruled out, the origin of language is ruled out. For example, if an environment itself was able to create language, every organism in the environment would end up talking!

TalkOrigins seems to suggest exploratory power in accidents lacks greatly, rather it’s core argument has to do with experience rather than accidents or anticipation of needed mutations to enhance life as some intelligent design proponents would suggest. In other words, an experience of a animal trying to catch fast prey is transmitted to create mutations that natural selection can then choose which would eventually make future generations fast enough to catch that particular prey in order to survive.

But as such things as the fruit fly experiment demonstrates by showing after so many generations the fruit flies start to degrade instead of showing promise of improving through mutations. So this explanation also lacks explanatory power as well as “freak” accidents.

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13 thoughts on “How Much Explanatory Power Does Accidents Have?

  1. You really outdid yourself this time, Michael. It only remains for you to tell us your qualifications, by academic background or autodidactic effort, to discuss any aspect of science. We really wish to know, in order to decide whether you are lying or merely willfully ignorant.

    I think the main problem with creationists in general is that they have carved a rut so deep that they no longer can see over the edges into the real world. Denialism has become a way of life—not just evolution and cosmology, but global warming, Holocaust, UFOs, JFK, and other subjects as well.

    So, where to start?

    One of the main problems is that creationists cannot seem to understand that evolution is not teleological—that it has no direction or purpose or goal.[1]

    In other words, an experience of a animal trying to catch fast prey is transmitted to create mutations that natural selection can then choose which would eventually make future generations fast enough to catch that particular prey in order to survive.

    See, Michael, an animal does not create mutations by trying to catch fast prey. That’s not even good Lamarckism. That’s just ridiculous. And, of course, natural selection doesn’t “choose” mutations for running fast. The animals that have those mutations can run faster, so they catch the zebra and eat well enough to reproduce. Finally, mutations never operate for the benefit of “future generations.” If they don’t make the current generation fast enough, there will not be any future generations. It’s that simple.

    So there you have it. Three major misunderstandings as to the operation of evolution in a single sentence.[2] Perhaps a record, even for Michael.

    ================
    [1] Except, of course, the immediate goal of reproduction in the current generation.

    [2] Granted, it is no ordinary sentence, but one of Michael’s compound train wrecks. He should really let his anonymous source do more of the writing.

    [3] By the way, Michael, how about that promised review of Signature in the Cell? Another month passed—that makes 14 months now. And we should mention the readership numbers for Eelco, shouldn’t we? He’s been so patient.

  2. TalkOrigins statement was to meant to minimize intelligent design which means a “freak accident” is ruled out. Which also means, the big bang is ruled out, the origin of consciousness is ruled out, the origin of language is ruled out.

    Let’s consider another freak accident. If Michael’s mother had been born 20 years earlier, or if his father had lived over in the next town, then Michael would never have been born.

    Talk about your freak accidents! That one takes the turnip-greens cake!

  3. “The countless simple cells living in many different environments on Earth have had over 3 billion years to evolve complexity. It could have happened repeatedly – and yet it appears to have happened just once, perhaps 2 billion years ago. All complex life is descended from a single common ancestor.”

    Michael should not keep his copies of New Scientist between two Bibles. New Scientist is not holy writ. And their authors are not always the sharpest lasers in the lab, either.

    Of course it is absolutely false that complexity evolved only once. The first DNA cells were more complex thatn their RNA precursors. Eukaryotes were more complex than their prokaryote precursors. Sponges were more complex than their single-cell forebears. Trilobites were more complex than their soft-bodied ancestors. Terabytes were more complex than their Trilobyte ancestors. And every single one of them evolved from something simpler.

    But let’s take one example—probably the one Michael had in mind (if any) when making his risible claim that “complexity” evolved only once: namely, the evolution of eukaryotes from prokaryotes. According to actual science, this invention occurred by accident when one primitive cell swallowed another. This was serendipitous in that the genes were sufficiently compatible that the swallowee could produce something that enhanced the fitness of the swallower—but yet different enough to resist its digestive enzymes. A fortuitous accident.

    So why did this accident not happen again and again over two billion years, and down into our own time?

    The first reason is that it was an accident. We call them that because they don’t happen very often. If they did, we’d call them habits. Or same-old, or something.

    The second reason can be illustrated with a parable. T. A. Edison invented the incandescent light bulb in 1879. After thousands of tries, he found—by accident—a way to keep one burning 100 hours, long enough to sell them for a reasonable price. Since their light was superior to candles, his business grew. Soon, millions of light bulbs were lighting up dark alleys all over the country.

    Now, suppose a lone creationist inventor in 2010 comes up with Edison’s 1879 version of a light bulb. How many do you think he could sell at hardware stores and groceries and lighting outlets? NONE. He would have to compete against bulbs that have been evolving for 130 years—that, by now, burn 20 times as long, that use half the energy, that cost only a small fraction of the Edison model to manufacture (in China, of course).

    And that, Michael, is why we don’t have new eukaryotes lighting up in the 21st Century.

  4. This post has so many errors. Offers so many opportunities. But three are enough for tonight.

  5. Olorin,

    One of the main problems is that creationists cannot seem to understand that evolution is not teleological—that it has no direction or purpose or goal.

    It really buggs me that Creationists always talk about “more” or “less” evolved, and how they evoke “survival of the fittest” to say that evolution is about things getting bigger and better.

    I keep explaining it to Michael whenever he talks about such things, but he contantly ignores (or doesn’t read my correction.)

    Now, I know, he doesn’t have to take me seriously since I am not a scientist….but then again, he doesn’t even take the scientists that comment here seriously. But surely, since he knows that all the scientists are wrong, he certainly must have some kind of insight and evidence as to how virtually 100% of scientists have skrewed up in their analisis of the scientific evidence….

    —-So since Michael knows that evolutionary theory is wrong, he can certainly give us his qualifications, dagrees, show his diploma he got when he graduated with his science dagree…or whatever he has to show he has his qualifications to have an authoratative opinion on ANY scientific subject.

  6. Now, I know, he doesn’t have to take me seriously since I am not a scientist….but then again, he doesn’t even take the scientists that comment here seriously.

    Perhaps he should take scientists who comment here like Olorin seriously since he is a microbiologist, astronomer and physicist. Or perhaps he has no scientific credentials, like you.

    So since Michael knows that evolutionary theory is wrong, he can certainly give us his qualifications, dagrees, show his diploma he got when he graduated with his science dagree…

    I think the argument here, which has been relentless and continual on every post is “scientists said it, therefore you have to believe it”. That’s the blind-faith approach. So, the non-scientists here like Orolin can’t produce an opinion either. They just have to claim that “scientists said it” and that supposedly proves the point.

    Let’s see how that works …

    New Scientist is not holy writ. And their authors are not always the sharpest lasers in the lab, either.

    Oops! The scientists writing in that journal are “not always the sharpest”.
    So, we need to rely on Orolin and Kris to correct them.

    how virtually 100% of scientists have skrewed up in their analisis of the scientific evidence….

    Well, 100% of the scientists except those who are “not the sharpest lasers in the lab”, right?

    See, if you guys want to play the argument-by-authority game, you’re going to run into some major problems. If you want to pretend that scientsts don’t radically change their views, sometimes only years after they were proven wrong, then you’ll give the impression that scientist speak from some kind of sacred oracle of infallible knowledge. But as Orolin points out, the New Scientist is not sacred writ, and this is true even of peer-reviewed papers.

    The fact is, scientific laymen like yourselves are free to offer your opinions. You can choose a minority view among scientists if you want also.

    Scientists argue with each other about many things. They can’t all be right and there’s no expectation that scientific conclusions have unanimous support.

    So, with that in mind, if you removed the smug condesension from your comments, you might have something interesting to contribute.

  7. CbD

    think the argument here, which has been relentless and continual on every post is “scientists said it, therefore you have to believe it”. That’s the blind-faith approach. So, the non-scientists here like Orolin can’t produce an opinion either. They just have to claim that “scientists said it” and that supposedly proves the point.

    No one is saying “scientists say so, therefore it is true.” My point was to press Michael into giving his qualifications…. Point missed, as usual.

    Oops! The scientists writing in that journal are “not always the sharpest”.
    So, we need to rely on Orolin and Kris to correct them.

    –and:

    Well, 100% of the scientists except those who are “not the sharpest lasers in the lab”, right?

    Scientists are not writing in New Scientist, it is written by Science Writers,…huge difference. It’s like Science Daily, which is basically a news site, not a peer reviewed journal, and therefore doesn’t carry the weight.

    See, if you guys want to play the argument-by-authority game, . . .

    STOP RIGHT THERE!!!

    You obviously have never taken a debating class. There is a difference between an “argument BY authority,” and an “APPEAL to Authority.” — An Argument from authority is valid since it ACTUALLY gives the evidence from a researcher…. An “APPEAL to authority” is invalid BECAUSE it says “These people say this, therefore it is true.” You are getting your “logical fallacies” mixed up.

    If you want to pretend that scientsts don’t radically change their views, sometimes only years after they were proven wrong, then you’ll give the impression that scientist speak from some kind of sacred oracle of infallible knowledge.

    Again, a moot point, since Science advocates are not worried about “infallible knowledge.” Science advances and changes, and therefore is not held as infallible.

    It is Creationists that are concerned with “infallible knowledge,” since their understanding is dependent on an understanding that a certain book is infallible.

  8. Great points! They attempt to build a “strawman” but with no avail. It was eleco who started that…lol…One can sight John Lennox and Richard Dawkins as an example on how their strawman’s argument is wrong. Lennox who is a creationist has had 70 peer-reviewed articles published on mathematics and has PHDs. So when debating the fine-tuning of the Universe and it’s origin, it’s Lennox’s field by far over Dawkins. Where as Dawkins is a ethologist and evolutionary biologist. So both scientists cross their fields to debate each other as well as debate within their fields.

  9. Scientists are not writing in New Scientist …

    Apparently, we have to depend on Kris to tell us who a true scientist is or not. The author of the article quoted here …

    Stephen Battersby has a PhD in astrophysics from Imperial College …

    So, supposedly, Orolin and Kris have more scientific credentials than a PhD in astrophysics does? Orolin can claim that this PhD is “not the sharpest laser in the lab”?

    You guys have no authority on this question at all. You have no business asking people to supply credentials that you, yourselves lack.

    “These people say this, therefore it is true.”

    This is your argument. You ask how someone could express an opinion that goes against the majority view.

    Then you reverse the same point also.

    “This person says it, he is not a scientist, and therefore it is false.”

    Why else do you continually ask for credentials? That has no meaning on the content of the discussion at all.

    You refuse to accept findings supporting ID, for example, from scientists who have far more scientific credentials than you do.

  10. My point was to press Michael into giving his qualifications…. Point missed, as usual.</blockquote.

    By the way, pressing someone to give credentials is not a point.

  11. CbD

    Apparently, we have to depend on Kris to tell us who a true scientist is or not. The author of the article quoted here …

    I should have worded myself better. For the most part, they are science writer journalists, and not scientists.

    So, supposedly, Orolin and Kris have more scientific credentials than a PhD in astrophysics does? Orolin can claim that this PhD is “not the sharpest laser in the lab”?

    I already said that I was not a scientist. I never made the claim that i was, and you quoted me earlier as saying that i wasn’t. So again, you are making moot points. Olorin however, is a different case.

    You guys have no authority on this question at all.

    I never claimed I had. Olorin, however, does.

    You have no business asking people to supply credentials that you, yourselves lack.

    I already have given my professional qualifications: None.–Michael, however, has seemingly implied that he does. Ask Eelco and Olorin. And Michael refuses to give them…. Just ask Eelco and Olorin. I am pressing him to give us info on what he implied he has. So my pressing here is perfectly valid.

    And you just misquoted me again in your comment, like you have on other occasions.–You quoted me as saying ““These people say this, therefore it is true.” ” then said,

    This is your argument. You ask how someone could express an opinion that goes against the majority view.

    No, you took me out of context. I was not saying a mojority says it, therefore it is true. I was explaining how you were confusing “logical fallacies.

    My real wording: “An Argument from authority is valid since it ACTUALLY gives the evidence from a researcher…. An “APPEAL to authority” is invalid BECAUSE it says “These people say this, therefore it is true.” You are getting your “logical fallacies” mixed up.” –You took how i defined an appeal to authority, and applied it to me, which is dishonest. And you have done this to me before as i have shown in one of my blog posts where I show that you quoted me out of context. Either you have bad reading comprehension, or you are a godless liar.

    Then you reverse the same point also.

    “This person says it, he is not a scientist, and therefore it is false.”

    No, I am not saying that. When have I said that? NEVER!!

    Why else do you continually ask for credentials? That has no meaning on the content of the discussion at all.

    Hmm, Why not? Why shouldn’t I? Taking the word of someone who has no credentials is actually a form of “An Appeal to Authority” fallacy. You are taught in debating class not to rely on that kind of thing. You do not rely on a mechanic when he talks about astronomy, for example. If Michael wants to clear that doubt away, all he has to do is spill the beans.

    You refuse to accept findings supporting ID, for example, from scientists who have far more scientific credentials than you do.

    Problem: ID scientists have made no contribution. They made no contribution to biology, genetics, astronomy, or cosmology. — Din’t complain about me not accepting their findings when there is nothing to accept.

  12. I think the argument here, which has been relentless and continual on every post is “scientists said it, therefore you have to believe it”. That’s the blind-faith approach. So, the non-scientists here like Orolin [sic] can’t produce an opinion either. They just have to claim that “scientists said it” and that supposedly proves the point.

    Not quite the correct word, CbD. Let’s try “Scientists said it, therefore you have reason to TRUST it.”

    Science embraces not only the content of science, but the practice of science. The reason we can trust what scientists say is that the process of doing science involves observation, formulating hypotheses, then peer-reviewed publication, criticism of the publication by others knowledgeable in the field, and replication.

    Have you noticed that occasionally a fraudulent result appears and is exposed? Aha, you say, the system failed. No, the system worked. Nobelist David Baltimore almost suffered a professional death sentence when it was merely suspected that one of his co-authors had omitted—not altered, only omitted—some pertinent results. Several times a year there is a notice in Science that a paper has been retracted. Fraud? No. Another lab tried to reproduce the authors’ work, but could not. Or the authors themselves could not reproduce their results. The system worked.

    Why does the system have to work? Because science is cumulative. Later researchers build upon the results of earlier research, citing the papers of others. It is not uncommon for even a run-of-the-mill journal paper to be cited 30 or 40 times. Science progresses.

    What can we say of creationism? The few soi-disant “journals” that do exist are written for lay audiences, not for peers. Only one or two even claim to be reviewed–and we have no authentication that any review ever took place. Michael Behe claimed that The Edge of Evolution was reviewed. Turned out the review consisted of a 10-minute telephone call to a veterinarian friend who didn’t see the book, and who did not even remember the call six months later. Then we have Andrew Snelling, who reviews his own papers in Answers Journal.[1] Do creationists ever criticize each others’ theories? No. Do they advance alternative hypotheses to explain observations? No.

    But then creationists need not be trustworthy, since later “research” does not build upon earlier work.[2] Nothing accumulates. It’s always from the Bible to the hypothesis in a single bound.

    The reason for this difference is the the difference in goals. The goal of science is to acquire knowledge of the physical world, for the purpose of understanding, prediction, and control of natural phenomena. If we want to save the salmon, but our theory of the selective pressures acting on them is wrong, then our efforts will fail. Creationists, on the other fin, are interested only in advancing a preconceived belief. We call this “apologetics,” not science. Their goal is not to explain, but to convince.

    And this is why scientists refer to creationists as Liars for Jesus. As Martin Luther once put it,

    “A small lie in the service of the Lord is no sin.”

    =============

    [1] It’s even worse than that. Creationist Andrew Snelling argues in Answers that the Earth is only a few thousand years old. However, Consulting Geologist Andrew Snelling—apparently a href=”http://www.noanswersingenesis.org.au/realsnelling.htm”>different person with the same name at the same address–writes papers in refereed journals using the mainstream timetable of 4.5By. Would anyone call this intellectual honesty?

    [2] Although our hero Dr Snelling does cite earlier papers, it turns out that they are his own earlier papers. Or papers by meteorologist Larry Vardiman, who works cheek-to-jowl with Snelling. Or Snelling & Vardiman. Or Vardiman & Snelling.

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