Sunday, April 29, 2007

Evolution and Adaption

I think that in talking about evolution we must separate evolution into two distinct categories: One, evolution dealing with the adaptation of single organisms or species to a change in the environment (hereafter referred to as adaptation) and; Two, the process which life came to be on this planet through traditional ideas of natural selection (hereafter referred to as evolution). (Note the careful distinction that I make. I will make use of these definitions through out.)

Adaptation is a proven fact and has been well documented and studied by biologist, bacteriologists and pharmacologists all over the world. A problem arises when people observe adaptation and assume that it instantly proves or at least infers evolution. They argue that if species can adapt to changing situations then over time preferable arrangements of chemicals gave rise to life and life adapted and evolved until it reached its present state. Of course people who hold to creationism reject the conclusion and because they reject the conclusion they are “forced” to reject the evidence. The problem with inferring evolution from adaptation is that you run into the very real possibility of having a fallacious argument. In logic this type of fallacy can fall into two different categories, either “Proof by Example” or “Affirming the Consequent” (note: don’t get the idea that these are two names for the same thing, they are two very different fallacies, but the argument can fall under both fallacies). It is left as an exercise to the reader to figure out how these two fallacies apply (hey, I can’t give all the answers). I should point out that even when an argument is fallacious it may still be true (there are some technicalities involved here).

Also from a purely empirical viewpoint, the question has to be asked “Did you actually sit there and observe evolution?” The answer is obviously “No.” So by the basic tenants underpinning all the assumptions of science you cannot argue for evolution, until you actually observe it. Adaptation on the other had is indisputable.

I should at this point, point out that there are some rather convincing arguments founded on good science for the earth being the age they claim it to be (several billion years old). Having actually (meaning personally) measured the half life of elements and successfully calculated the half life with close agreement to the measurements I have to admit from personal observation that the dating of certain objects is based on good science that it cannot rationally be disputed. On the other hand, trying to understand the whole history of the earth and trying to conclude that life came about through evolution, just by looking at a small (yes small, despite the fact that some will say “Huge! Ginormous!”) collection of fossils is like trying to infer the structure and organization of the bureaucracy of the East India Trading Company by looking at a cup of tea.

So where do I personally stand? I am a very strong empiricist and it makes absolutely no sense to “explain” something that has not been observed. Does that bother me (that I can’t explain it)? No. (If that bothers you, then try understanding strict empiricism first and then talk to me about it.)


  1. I enjoyed the article. I will say however the reason so many scientists believe in more than adaption but additionally evolution is this:

    We have "snapshot" of the earth in every stage of development. The fossil record is a good example, but there is more. With each "snapshot" we see adaption going on. Furthermore, if you line up the "snapshots" chronologically you see what appears to be adaption leading to progressively complex organisms.

    If you then "connect the dots" it seems logical to conclude to most scientists that: since each snapshot contains adaption, and each progressive snapshot shows more complexity which appears to have resulted from this same adaption going on in the previous "snapshot," then complex life has resulted from simpler life in many stages through adaption at each stage so the result is: Evolution.

    Sorry for such a long sentence, but I believe that is the "empirical" evidence they base evolution off of.

    But again, thanks for your post. I enjoyed reading it.

  2. One more thing: Anyone who works in multiple fallacies into their post gets kudos.


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