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Study Explains Evolution's Molecular Advance 477

pnewhook writes "The New York Times is reporting that 'by reconstructing ancient genes from long-extinct animals, scientists have for the first time demonstrated the step-by-step progression of how evolution created a new piece of molecular machinery by reusing and modifying existing parts. The researchers say the findings, published today in the journal Science, offer a counterargument to doubters of evolution who question how a progression of small changes could produce the intricate mechanisms found in living cells.'"
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Study Explains Evolution's Molecular Advance

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  • Matter of time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Transcendent ( 204992 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @02:19PM (#15091640)
    It was only a matter of time before scientists discovered the steps and had enough knowledge to connect the dots.

    Frankly, I'm glad they're finding more and more of how biology works. I don't want to get into a creationist debate, but it has always astounded me that people would argue that life is too complex for it to have been made "naturally" and that a higher being must have helped along the way. But, by saying that, they're saying that God is not powerful enough to create such a universe in which evolution can happen, that a universe created by God could not possibly work by itself.

    How dare they...
    • Re:Matter of time (Score:5, Interesting)

      by dsanfte ( 443781 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @02:36PM (#15091707) Journal
      It's also immensely disrespectful to our ancestors of well over a million years' span, to deny their existence because it just might, maybe rock the boat a little.

      How many thousands of generations of people lived and died over the millennia so that we might be where we are today? And some would deny their very existence. Shame on you!
    • no (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Khashishi ( 775369 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @02:43PM (#15091744) Journal
      They aren't saying that God is not powerful enough to create a universe with evolution. They are saying God didn't create a universe with evolution. Significant difference there
    • Re:Matter of time (Score:5, Interesting)

      by shawb ( 16347 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @02:46PM (#15091755)
      To be fair, evolution does not disprove of A god...

      But it does kinda reduce the likelihood that there is a PERSONAL god who is intimately concerned with all of our activities, and so is a reason to behave in a moral way and more importantly, to then worship that god and tithe to the church who claims to be the bridge between man and god.

      (Note, I was not saying that atheists are not moral with the "is a reason to behave..." line, but for some people the existance of a personal god is one of the reasons to behave in a moral manner.)
      • Re:Matter of time (Score:2, Insightful)

        by hitmark ( 640295 )
        and those basicly need a parent figure that they can look at with their puppy eyes and go "sorry, we didnt know that it was wrong"...

        allso, if god is personal, why do one need a church to act as a bridge? are "we" not all directly linked? ah, theology, creating debate for over 2000 years...
      • Re:Matter of time (Score:5, Insightful)

        by plunge ( 27239 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @03:16PM (#15091876)
        Not at all. I'm an atheist, but I welcome imaginative, honest theist thinkers like biologist Kenneth Miller who feel that, if anything, evolution BETTER fits this theology than the reverse. A universe in which God allows to develop on its own, and then reaches out PERSONALLY to sentient creatures (and even performs miracles as part of this reaching out) is far more "free" than one in which God is constantly micro-managing.

        Now, I don't believe in God, but I bear no grudges against those who do, and as long as a belief doesn't involve scientific claims or attacking good science with falsehoods, but I applaud those who are taking their beliefs forward and refining them to make them more honest rather than simply defending dogma. If there were a God, the only kind I can possibly imagine would reward the former, not the latter.
      • Re:Matter of time (Score:5, Interesting)

        by geeber ( 520231 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @03:43PM (#15091981)
        To be fair, evolution does not disprove of A god...

        But it does kinda reduce the likelihood that there is a PERSONAL god who is intimately concerned with all of our activities, and so is a reason to behave in a moral way and more importantly, to then worship that god and tithe to the church who claims to be the bridge between man and god.

        Personally, I feel like events such as hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in the indian ocean, and September 11th offer a much stronger proof of the lack of a personal god.

        Interestingly, other people look at the same events and come to the exact opposite conclusion.

        Wierd, no?
        • Personally... (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Personally, I feel like events such as hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in the indian ocean, and September 11th offer a much stronger proof of the lack of a personal god.

          Either that, or at least strong proof that if there IS a god, he/she's a sadistic bastard without anything resembling our idea of morality, justice, or fairness. In other words, any god that regularly lets shit like this happen deserves our scorn, not our adoration.

          Either way, religion is shit.

      • Re:Matter of time (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Woldry ( 928749 )
        But it does kinda reduce the likelihood that there is a PERSONAL god who is intimately concerned with all of our activities


        What if the myriad quantum fluctuations that we observe as "random" are, every single one of them, directed by just such a god? What could be more "intimately concerned with all of our activities" than directing every single subatomic event?

        "Random" is a description, not an explanation. What if the statistical probabilities that we observe that say that particle X will de
        • However, the likelihood that God is intimately concerned with our lives is a question completely independent of science, and cannot be considered to have been demonstrated to be more or less likely, no matter what science discovers.

          Well, if there's a personal God intimately concerned with our lives, then the fact that he caused or at least did not prevent the tsunami shows that his priorities are extremely strange indeed. He then certainly cannot be described as "good" in any of the word's standard sense

        • I never said this DISPROVES a personal god, but it does show that the personal god as described in... well... most western monotheistic religions is not actually necessary for us to have gotten from a single cell floating around in a broth to the walking, thinking, complex organism that we are today. This makes the existance of that god less likely, as there is an alternative path of events that could have happened, as defined by natural laws, for us to get where we are today.

          If I go somewhere to eat an
        • Re:Matter of time (Score:5, Informative)

          by monoqlith ( 610041 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @06:52PM (#15092730)
          Sorry to nitpick, but quantum "fluctuations" are not random. People often confuse the terms "random" and "probabilistic" when they talk about quantum physics. A "random" system is a system where any outcome of measurement is just as likely as any other outcome. However, quantum particles are more likely to be at the expectation value of position than at any other place, though there is a NON-zero probability of it being anywhere else in the system. So quantum "fluctuations"(I'm not sure what you mean by this) are NOT random, because some outcomes of measurement are vastly more likely than others. The only requirement for a quantum particle is that the probability of it being SOMEWHERE is 1.

          Quantum particles are associated with probability WAVES that fluctuate with time. When we say wave-particle duality we mean that the particle does NOT have a definite classical trajectory but instead a WAVE of probability associated with it that describes the positions, energies, and momentums at which the particle is most likely to be. This is called a wave function; it is a solution to Schrodinger's differential wave equation and its square is a probability curve.

          Depending on your interpretation, quantum mechanics does indicate some things about reality such as there is an ONTOLOGICAL limit on what we can know for certain about objective reality such that it appears meaningless to talk about an absolute objective reality at all. That is, reality changes by being observed. However, unlike general relativity which does indeed EXPLAIN gravity by saying that gravity is identical with a curved space-time geometry, you are quite right in saying that quantum mechanics does not explain anything. Nor does particle theory or E&M explain why there are electric and magnetic forces without beginning to conjure up force-carrying particles and the like. They are currently trying to explain all these things by means of string theory.

    • It's designed to "naturally" evolve to what we are. God is powerful enough to create a universe in which evolution can happen...as designed. I don't have a problem with that.

      We'll need to figure most ALL the steps (especially the difficult, rare ones), and the probability that everything happened by change...and then believing things just happen (God by change) or believing that there's some highly improbable that happened (God, not chance) will still depend on a matter of chance. We'll never be able to con
  • Sperm + Egg = Baby

    Okay, I realise most people here have never had a chance to partake in this activity after they were born, but you get the picture.

  • that they ended with a quote by Behe.

    When will he just give up? He's just grasping at straws....
    • Re:Annoying.... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @02:50PM (#15091767) Journal
      Dr. Behe described the results as "piddling." He wondered whether the receptors with the intermediate mutations would be harmful to the survival of the organisms and said a two-component hormone-receptor pair was too simple to be considered irreducibly complex. He said such a system would require at least three pieces and perform some specific function to fit his notion of irreducibly complex.

      What Dr. Thornton has shown, Dr. Behe said, falls within with incremental changes that he allows evolutionary processes can cause.

      "Even if this works, and they haven't shown that it does," Dr. Behe said, "I wouldn't have a problem with that. It doesn't really show that much."
      He will never give up as long as he can keep moving the goalposts.

      It's truly an intellectually dishonest practice and it speaks directly to the kind of Doctor Behe is. This is the guy who testified in that 'lets put ID into the classroom' trial in Dover, PA. His testimony was an embarrassement and I'm surprised he has enough credibility left that the NY Times would include him in their article. I guess it's the whole "two sides of an argument" theme again.

      Here's a great astronomy example of almost the exact same thing.
      http://www.anomalist.com/commentaries/claim.html [anomalist.com]
      Rather than having two images of the same object, astronomers now randomly decided that three were necessary.
      • But he's right, it is a piddling example. The difference in complexity from those systems which Behe calls irreducibly complex systems is several orders of magnitude.
        • True, though the article states that other ID proponents have cited it as an example.

          Behe's statement provokes an interestingly falsifiable challenge. Using the techniques developed for this study, it may be possible to find a system of at least three pieces performing some purpose, as he suggests. He's still got wiggle room in there should somebody discover that (especially in the word "purpose"), but he'll find himself increasingly marginalized if somebody manages to meet his challenge. (Not that he's no
        • Re:Annoying.... (Score:3, Interesting)

          by ppanon ( 16583 )
          But those several orders of magnitude are just a constant factor. What the research has done is really like proving a problem is solvable in Polynomial time when a bunch of people have been arguing that it's NP.
  • by Quirk ( 36086 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @02:41PM (#15091733) Homepage Journal
    Molecular Biology has is taking the lead in terms of validating evolution as a cogent theory. The attacks on Darwin's ideas by factions such as those who proport Intelligent Design are following along far behind the advances being made today.

    It is amusing that religions touting a Creator God are excellent examples of Evolution in Action. The Creator God is the equivalent of the alpha male of a troop of primates. The idea of the Creator God speaks not to the present alpha male but to an idealized father founder of the tribe. The sense of history inherent in a Creator meshes with our sense of our own history. The concept of history, partially embodied in burial rites, points to the ideas of teleology and the status quo ante that underpin many religions. The idea of death as examplified in burial and a belief in a life after death are ideas that need to be examined as they define us as a species.

    Religions posing an alpha male Creator Father have evolved through many generations of selective mating. Those who strongly believed in the tribe's faith were more likely to find suitable mates. Those who couldn't bring themselves to believe in a Creator God were often killed outright as heretics or were driven from the tribe. Many generations of mating based upon religious beliefs should give us a population the majority of which advocate a belief in God. Religion is Evolution in Action.

    • Religion is Evolution in Action.
      Your example isn't evolution. It's natural selection. You're talking about popualations being refined, not growing a new leg or being endowed through mutations to better survive a climate or environment.
      • Religion is Evolution in Action.

        Your example isn't evolution. It's natural selection.

        I didn't understand his example either but his original premise is correct. Religion are shining examples of Evolution.

        We've got the dinosaurs (dead religions/mythology): Norse, Greek, Babylonian, Egyptian, Celtic, etc. Natural selection in action.

        And the ones still evolving: Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Bhudism, etc

        Notice that Judiaism spawned the two successor religions first Christianity (a new

  • "The researchers say the findings, published today in the journal Science, offer a counterargument to doubters of evolution who question..."

    Can you believe it's 2006 and we still care about the near-high-school drop-outs who continue to question evolution?

    I've found that most people who are ignorant of evolutionary processes lead sheltered lives. They are vaguely ignorant of where the beef on their table came from, they couldn't tell you how rainclouds form and they don't have a clue how much oil may b

    • The disbelievers will really be in trouble when we genetically engineer hyper-intelligent monkeys who can work in Walmart and Mcdonolds and take their jobs.
    • "Near-high-school dropouts"?

      From the article:

      Dr. Thornton said the experiment refutes the notion of "irreducible complexity" put forward by Michael J. Behe, a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University.

      We care because these yahoos get control of school boards and muck about with the science curricula in public schools. It's 2006, and it would be inexcusable not actively oppose them, because they have no intention to stop inflicting kids with "near-high-school dropout" level of science education.

    • Unfortunately, it's a fairly large percent of the population. According to the latest surveys, 42% of Americans believe [pewforum.org]that life existed in its present form from the beginning of time.
      • I wonder if the people who answered yes to this really believe that:

        a) the dinosaurs never existed
        b) if they did, that it had no real effect on the ecology: things were still pretty much like they are now, just with dinos running around.

        I mean, the era of the dinos are by the far most well-known geologic period other than our own. And you need only to have seen a few imaginative pics of this time to know that they lived in a radically different ecology: all different plants, all different creatures, very d
    • Partly because one of those near-high-school drop-outs is our president. And some others sit in Congress. And while I believe the federal government should have no say at all in local education the fact is they currently do. If they wanted to drop a school's federal funding because they teach evolution they can do it.
    • by f97tosc ( 578893 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @03:36PM (#15091954)
      Can you believe it's 2006 and we still care about the near-high-school drop-outs who continue to question evolution?

      For those of you who don't read science, I would like to add that the paper itself made no mention of ID at all. Of course, biologists are interested in evlotution of complex mechanisms for its own sake, not for the sake of convincing some young earth creationists.

      However, Dr Christoph Adami, who wrote in Perspecives (basically, giving an opinion of the significance of a new finding and providing the non-specialist with a context of the paper) made the point of how fatal this finding is for the ID argument. Here we have parts that have exactly the "irreducable complexity" that ID proponents love to talk about, and now someone has managed to reconstruct their evolutionary history.

    • Can you believe it's 2006 and we still care about the near-high-school drop-outs who continue to question evolution?

      As the article points out, near-high-school-dropouts aren't the only ones who have questions about evolution, and I'm not just talking about proponents of intelligent design.

      But maybe it's not so much that we care about what those who "question evolution" think as that good science doesn't simply stick to whatever the prevalent dogma is. Maybe it's that good science continues to come up with a
    • Can you believe it's 2006 and we still care about the near-high-school drop-outs who continue to question evolution?

      The problem is that evolution cannot be demonstrated making simple stuff into complex stuff before the eyes of observers and cameras. One has to except that truckloads of incremental and minor evidence can be extrapolated to the formation of complex life from simple life or mud. After being lied to by automechanics, lawyers, financial advisors, and marketers; people have formed a "show me" a
      • I'd say that the problem is that the evidence for evolution requires a lot of prior knowledge. You have to be reasonably well informed about: chemistry, genetics, bio-chem, statistics, geology, and the basic scientific method to put it all together. Most laypeople simply have neither the time nor the interest to devote to learning those things, much less looking at how all the evidence for evolution fits together.

        I'm not sure what the solution is, other than more education. Sadly, in the US at least, des
    • by localman ( 111171 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @04:25PM (#15092127) Homepage
      Speaking of sheltered lives...

      I'm a high school dropout and I'm both an athiest and I subscribe to evolution. I know a lot of college graduates who are very sharp and intelligent and yet don't accept evolution and believe in god.

      Really, I think that the choice on this matter is often dicated by emotion, which overrides any intellectual consideration or presentation of facts. Some people are afraid of there not being a god, or don't like the feeling of not knowing the purpose of life, or just like sharing beliefs with their friends and families, or don't like to admit they've been wrong for the past forty years, etc.

      And these people are important: they make up more than half of the voting population in my estimation so they have a profound effect on you and I. So don't dismiss them. And don't bother trying to convert them. But find a way to live with them. You may even find some of them make good friends.

    • I continue to question evolution, and I gradutated University with a Bachelor's of Science in Physics. However I haven't had a biology course since 10th grade, so I haven't had that much exposure to evolutionary ideas in a while. However, one of my main objections has been that nobody could explain in a detailed manner how a random mutation could every add functionality to an organism, so it is nice to see that such things can be explained. It makes evolution seem more plausible to me, although I haven't qu
  • by fleshapple ( 321038 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @03:03PM (#15091819)
    Carl Zimmer,who is of course, THE MAN! of parasite parables and paraphenalia, has posted a more in-depth analysis [corante.com] of this story at his weblog, The Loom [corante.com] , going into the genetic/molecular mechanism. Additionally, Zimmer responds to the creationist take [corante.com] on the story (the usual move-the-goalpost panic of those advocating irreduceable complexity). Of larger concern, why does this incredibly fascinating discussion about scientific sleuthing and the potential and beauty of proteomics, get automatically sidelined into a discussion on "what does creationism say about this?" I don't blame Zimmer for responding; indeed, that's the duty of science writers as gifted as he. But it diminishes the power of the story itself to have to ask, imnsho.
  • by plunge ( 27239 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @03:22PM (#15091898)
    It's worth noting that most mathematicians already think ideas like Irreducible Complexity and Complex Specified Information are a load of hooey, despite the appeals people like Dembski and Behe make to having made innovative breakthroughs in these areas:

    One good blog on this subject I've found is Good Math, Bad Math, and some posts relevant to this topic are:

    -CSI is basically incoherent: if you translate the definition of CSI into non-obscure words, it essentially boils down to either "something that contains a lot of information, but doesn't contain a lot of information" or a definition for which EVERY piece of information is specified:
    http://goodmath.blogspot.com/2006/04/one-last-stab -at-dembski-vacuousness.html [blogspot.com]

    -IC, when translated into math, makes no sense. We can actually PROVE in math that there is no general proof that some system is the simplest possible (which IC requires), much like we can prove that we can never solve the halting problem.
    http://goodmath.blogspot.com/2006/03/problem-with- irreducible-complexity.html [blogspot.com]

    -Even if they did make sense, CSI and IC basically conflict with each other, arguing contradictory things:
    http://goodmath.blogspot.com/2006/03/conflict-betw een-ic-and-it-arguments.html [blogspot.com]
  • Reducible Complexity (Score:5, Informative)

    by posterlogo ( 943853 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @03:28PM (#15091924)
    The study is a fascinating one. If you have a subscription to Science, I suggest reading the summary of the research by Cristoph Adami termed "Reducible Complexity." I'm sorry I don't know how to get that article to those without a subscription but I can give a lay-man's summary here. Although the original research did not specifically mention evolution vs. intelligent design, they essentially disproved the central tenet of ID, that of "irreducible complexity." IC states that some things are so complex, they look like a "lock and key" mechanism -- one could not have be made without the other "in mind" -- thus they must both have been designed. The research that is the focus of this article described two different hormones with two different receptors. Both look like lock and key systems. By tracing evolutionary lineages, the authors of the study showed how a series of mutations, as little as 2, occuring sequentially by random could have led to the two divergent lock and key systems from a single precursor. As an academic biologist, I really think this elegant study is one of the nicest pieces of evolution research to come out recently. It truly addresses a problem even Darwin admitted was a caveat (though Darwin also offered the solution, which was indeed confirmed here).

    The solution is that the original precursor gained the ability to bind a new hormone by a single point mutation, and this did not disrupt the ability of it to bind its old hormone. The new receptor then diverged and through a well known process of gene duplication, begat multiple and independently evolving molecules. One retained the function of binding the old hormone, whereas another mutated further to lose the ability to bind the old hormone and could now only bind the new hormone. Viola -- two seemingly "designed" systems out of one precursor -- evolution at its finest, and IMHO, damning evidence against the basic principle of Intelligent Design.

    On a personal note, it never fails to amaze me how much people deny the intelligence of humans to figure things out... the old "just because we can't explain it now, it must have be an unexplicable force, like God." I'm sure lightning and earthquakes seemed supernatural too. Evolution is no different -- it can be dissected and explained.

    • by plunge ( 27239 )
      Yep. It's important to note that the functional abilities of proteins are often determined by just a few key sites (certain amnio acid sequences) which make the protein fold in a certain way. The rest of the protein is free to vary somewhat without making much of a difference. And sometimes, these sections can, through mutation, add a new function to the protein without taking away the old function: the new folding may not interfere with important part of the old shape.

      Of course, this "retain the old, tr
    • Another way to speak about reducible complexity is to use the analogy with compilers: originally, there was no compiler. Then somebody made a translator of the first programming language in assembler; then someone else wrote another compiler in this programming language etc. And now we have operating systems and compilers who seem to exist in "lock and key" status, but they were actually produced independently.

  • In the interests of good discussion, I'd like to answer any questions that those questioning or unfamiliar with evolution have about the basic idea. We always seem to get a lot of sniping and pile-ons, and cross debate on this subject, so I thought I'd at least offer a place to express doubts or ask somewhat more general theory questions. Most of what I'm best experienced with as regards to evolution is common descent, but I've been studying the subject for quite some time now both as an amatuer and as an
  • It is ridiculous (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ashayh ( 636057 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @03:34PM (#15091951)
    It is ridiculus and demeaning to all human scientific progress to suggest that articles published by researchers are to be used as a "counter argument" to ID.

    Please compare: What is their argument and what is ths scientific argument ? Who and where are their researchers ? What "science" do these reseaerhers do ? Is it a coincidence that almost all of them are Fervent Christians ? Do these peope want REAL answers to questions in the Universe or have they decided their answers already ? Imagine what would happen if their "science" becomes mainstream in schools and Universities: Something similar to what would have happened if Nazi bigotry had become mainstream.

    What I'm trying to say is, it is stupid, demeaning and a complete waste of time,for example, to present arguments of the level of Einsteins work to someones who's bigotry driven intelligence is barely comparable to a below average high schooler. (not to demean high schoolers).

    The only way to tackle these lies is to hit the root of the Big Lie: Who, what and where is this I in ID that they speak of ? Showing them Science journal will come later.
  • After RTFA I have to say I'm impressed with this study. Science for far too long has neglected to roll its sleeves up and get to the nitty-gritty of how biochemical evolution might have occurred. Usually scientists show us a chart of, say, eyeballs, from the primitive light-sensitive patches of worms all the way to the more advanced eyeballs, like the humans. This is usually followed with some vigorous handwaving, capable of producing hurricane-like winds. "Behold! Evolution!" shouted with triumph, but
  • The gist of the paper seems to be that the belief that intertwined mechanisms had no purpose prior to their union is false. While we may not currently know what purpose the individual mechanisms originally served, it does not mean that they arose solely to work together. The belief that they arose to work together seems to be a sort of bias toward the present-day--an assumption that what there is now is somehow better than what there was in the past, and therefore the past must have been working solely to a
  • There are two reasons why we have a recent uprising of ID. One is that there are people whose religious beliefs are found in conflict with evolutionary science. The other is that people are simply ignorant of the science, in large part because of lousy science education and hard-to-read science literature.

    In response to the ID debate, scientists have been motivated to clean up their acts. First, they have targeted specific areas of research that the ID proponents have harped on. Secondly, they are worki
    • While I agree with some of your post but your statement "In response to the ID debate, scientists have been motivated to clean up their acts. First, they have targeted specific areas of research that the ID proponents have harped on." is way off. The principle job of a scientist is to do research and you directly state we're not doing our jobs. That's pretty offensive especially since research in molecular evolution started back in the 60's when ID was still called creationism. Thornton's research is ju
    • In response to the ID debate, scientists have been motivated to clean up their acts. First, they have targeted specific areas of research that the ID proponents have harped on. Secondly, they are working harder to improve science education.

      Clean up their act? They're cleaning up other people's mess!
      Having throwbacks to pre-rational thinking dictate areas of research to target is a nuisance, not a boon. And they are working harder because they have to undo the harm that the ID conmen have caused, hard work t
  • Its established Paloentological fact that the Sabertooth Tiger has appeared, went extinct, and reappeared at least four times in prehistory. This is due to genetics. Every big cat and every domestic feline carries the genes that could become active again and thus bring about the reappearance of the Sabertooth.

    All one has to do is think of DNA as a complex computer program. It can correct itself if errors are found, and it can change itself to adapt. Its not hard to imagine that Evolution is a byproduct
    • by plunge ( 27239 )
      I can't find any reference to this fact about the "reappearing Sabertooth" anywhere. Nor does it really make much sense that we could declare something extinct if there is fossil evidence that it existed after that period. Nor am I aware of any genes in domestic felines that can simply be turned on to produce a Sabertoth. So..... Cite?
  • by mcc ( 14761 ) <amcclure@purdue.edu> on Saturday April 08, 2006 @04:55PM (#15092253) Homepage
    A bit of context, for the record:

    The reason the NYT is giving this the "doubters of evolution" spin is that there's this guy, Michael Behe, who wrote a book around 1995 somewhere called "Darwin's Black Box". The central idea of that book was the allegation that evolutionary science treats the cell like a "black box" that nobody attempts to look inside or explain. Evolutionary science, said Behe, only concerns itself with larger structures, and only assumes the stuff inside the cell "just works". Because evolution can't explain, subcellular structures, evolution lacks a foundation, is built on nothing, and is wrong.

    This is, of course, silly if you're actually familiar with the science, because to whatever extent scienists ever treated the cell like a "black box", it was because we didn't know how to look inside yet. Viewing machinery the size of a molecule is really hard. Scientists could analyze things, but have only relatively recently gained the ability to view the full picture of things, much as they might have wanted to.

    Once the technology for understanding the molecular structures that make up cells really started to take off (say, at the beginning of the 80s-ish), a revolution of sorts started in microbiology and genetics. And as this happened, Behe managed to exploit a neat trick of timing; he wrote his book just as a lot of fascinating questions were appearing through this revolution in microbiology, but before (since the questions had only just been asked) we really knew what the answers were. Behe was able to craft the illusion, since we didn't know the answers to some of those questions yet, that the questions didn't have answers or would never be answered and thus evolution was flawed-- not mentioning that work was underway or even partially completed to find answers to all of these questions. In the time since Behe wrote his book, cell microbiology has progressed by leaps and bounds, but the book itself is able to do a neat little job of making it seem like the cell really is just an inexplicable black box, because he wrote it just as science totally finished picking the lock.

    Which brings us to this story: The one scientific "big idea" in Darwin's Black Box was what Behe calls "Irreducible Complexity", and the publication of Darwin's Black Box was the main way this idea was popularized. The idea behind irreducible complexity is that there exist structures that contain one or more parts, and that if you remove one of the parts, the entire thing stops working. But one would expect that evolutionary mutation can only change "one thing" at a time; the idea that a single new allele that could simultaneously create two separable and interlocking structures seems wholly unbelievable. So how did irreducibly complex structures evolve?

    This is an extremely reasonable question, and one evolutionary science is obligated to answer. The problem is that Behe, and the rest of the ID crowd:
    1. Instead of asking the question, "how did irreducibly complex structures evolve?", skipped the question and immediately jumped to the conclusion "it is impossible for irreducibly complex structures to evolve".
    2. Even after answers to the question saying "this is an explanation of how irreducibly complex structures can evolve" were provided again, and again, and again, kept doggedly insisting "it is impossible for irreducibly complex structures to evolve".

    The answer to how irreducibly complex structures could evolve is pretty simple: all that would have to happen is for a structure to change its purpose over time. That is to say, it doesn't matter that irreducibly complex structures can only evolve one part at a time, because it is simple to imagine each of the small structures in an irreducibly complex system independently evolving for some other purpose than the big IC system performs, then being adapted into a bigger IC system with rube goldberg style ingenuity, then gradually losing the ability to function for their original purpose indepen

  • Creationist Nonsense (Score:4, Informative)

    by eclectic4 ( 665330 ) on Saturday April 08, 2006 @05:09PM (#15092314)
    Scientific American gives 15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense. [sciam.com]

    Memorize them for your next party

"If you lived today as if it were your last, you'd buy up a box of rockets and fire them all off, wouldn't you?" -- Garrison Keillor