Sunday, May 9, 2010

Things That Would Falsify Evolution

Evolutionists claim that evolution is science because it meets the modern requirement for something to be considered to be scientific: it is testable and potentially falsifiable.

Creationists argue that isn’t true. They say that evolutionists can always find some explanation for all of the fatal flaws that they see in evolution.

But that’s only because the “flaws” they identify either aren’t valid or don’t address the core requirements of evolution.

But such falsifiable tests exist.

At the web page Dr. Douglas L. Theobald, who is a professor of Biochemistry at Brandeis University, lists more than 29 strong pieces of evidence for macro-evolution. For each one of those, he lists things which, if found and verified, would potentially falsify macro-evolution. Those falsifications of evolution are scattered over a number of different web pages. I thought that it would make sense to compile a large number of them into a single document. In total the number of specific things that he lists that would falsify evolution is probably over 100.

So that’s what I’m providing here. Where I use quote marks I am quoting directly from the web site I reference above.

The most important claim of evolution is common ancestry – all life descended from a single common ancestor. Some of the related hypotheses around that – things like “punctuated equilibrium” – if either confirmed or falsified wouldn’t falsify evolution itself. So all of the potentially falsifiable evidence mentioned here relates to that common ancestry claim.

One thing to emphasize is how specific these potential evidences are. An example: a mammalian fossil in pre-Cambrian rock is specific both in the type of fossil and in the type of rock.

Neither Biblical creationism nor Intelligent Design can be falsified. But some of their advocates will suggest things that will falsify their ideas. But their proposed evidences are always very vague.

I had one ID advocate tell me that ID would be falsified if scientists could produce life from chemicals. That wouldn’t REALLY falsify ID, but look at how vague it is!

What is “life”? There’s some debate about whether viruses are alive. If viruses were created from chemicals in a laboratory, would that count?

The problem with such vague requirements is that they give the person making the claim an easy opportunity to back out on their offer. Scientists are NOT going to produce Albert Einstein from chemicals. With a requirement as vague as the ones proposed, anything less can and will be surely disputed.

I don’t include the more technical examples (such as molecular evidence called Transposons and Redundant Pseudogenes). Those examples are very valid indeed, but too complex to be easily explained.

Shown below is a list of pieces of evidence provided by Dr. Theobold which, if found, would falsify evolution. In some cases there are many possible examples of the same type.

1. Descent from a Common Ancestor Requires certain Common Characteristics in the DNA of all Organisms on Earth

This evidence involves DNA. DNA consists of varying sequences of varying lengths of only four different nucleic acids: adenine (abbreviated A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T). All life on Earth consists of these nucleic acids. This is something that we would expect if all life is descended from a single common ancestor.

“Based solely on the theory of common descent and the genetics of known organisms, we strongly predict that we will never find any modern species from known phyla on this Earth with a foreign, non-nucleic acid genetic material. We also make the strong prediction that all newly discovered species that belong to the known phyla will use the "standard genetic code" or a close derivative thereof. For example, according to the theory, none of the thousands of new and previously unknown insects that are constantly being discovered in the Brazilian rainforest will have non-nucleic acid genomes. Nor will these yet undiscovered species of insects have genetic codes which are not close derivatives of the standard genetic code.”

Creationists insist that this is evidence for a common designer since human designers also reuse components. But the motives of human designers for doing so are not relevant to an intelligent designer.

As an engineer for more than 40 years I can surely confirm that human engineers often reuse components. They do so for two reasons.

First, it can lower costs. If, for example, the engineers who design a model of a car for Chevrolet use the identical bolt used by the engineers who design Cadillacs then General Motors can purchase those bolts in larger quantities from the bolt manufacturer. That will lower the cost of each bolt thereby lowering the cost of the car (especially when this is done with many components).

This factor isn’t relevant in living things. There’s no extra cost associated with using different nucleotides in DNA other than the four that we see.

The second reason why human engineers reuse components is because of reliability. Once a design component has been used over and over again it’s been “burnt in” (to use the phrase favored by engineers). To use a completely new component risks new human design flaws – things which haven’t been tested through extensive use. Such a new design is much more likely to be recalled than one that has been proven to work over and over again.

Most engineers actually are unhappy with this factor. When asked whether or not they can get a particular component to work, you will often hear them say something like, “I suppose I can get that to work” – a comment noticeably lacking in enthusiasm. As an Electrical Engineer for many decades, I can confirm that the switchover from vacuum tubes to transistors and other solid state components took longer than it should have and longer than the engineers would have preferred simply because technical managers were unwilling to take the risks of adopting a new technology that might have been unreliable.

Note that any omnipotent, omniscient God wouldn’t be troubled by this. An omniscient God would create no design flaws. Therefore based on our experience with this factor, we would actually expect that God would NOT reuse components.

It might very well be the case that plants might work better with a different set of nucleic acids than would animals. But that’s not what we see.

2. The “Nested Hierarchy” of living things required by common descent predicts common genetic characteristics above the DNA level

Evolution predicts that common characteristics wouldn’t end at the DNA level. We should see other shared characteristics at a higher level as well. But these might depend on when the common ancestor of various organisms lived.

Chimps and humans share a common ancestor. So chimps and humans should share characteristics of that common ancestor. But it is not necessarily the case that earlier common ancestors – such as the common ancestor of all primates – necessarily have all of those same characteristics.

“…the predicted pattern of organisms at any given point in time can be described as ‘groups within groups’, otherwise known as a nested hierarchy. The only known processes that specifically generate unique, nested, hierarchical patterns are branching evolutionary processes. Common descent is a genetic process in which the state of the present generation/individual is dependent only upon genetic changes that have occurred since the most recent ancestral population/individual.”

Because of that there are many potential pieces of evidence that would falsify evolution.

“…some nonvascular plants could have seeds or flowers, like vascular plants, but they do not. Gymnosperms (e.g. conifers or pines) occasionally could be found with flowers, but they never are. Non-seed plants, like ferns, could be found with woody stems; however, only some angiosperms have woody stems. Conceivably, some birds could have mammary glands or hair; some mammals could have feathers (they are an excellent means of insulation). Certain fish or amphibians could have differentiated or cusped teeth, but these are only characteristics of mammals. A mix and match of characters like this would make it extremely difficult to objectively organize species into nested hierarchies. Unlike organisms, cars do have a mix and match of characters, and this is precisely why a nested hierarchy does not flow naturally from classification of cars.”

3. Transitional Fossils should appear in the fossil record in the proper chronological order and at the proper times.

This only makes sense – an ancestral species should appear before its descendants.

This source of evidence is complicated by the imperfections in the fossil record and the fact that an ancestral species may live on after the descendents appear. Grandparents often co-exist with their grandchildren. In the same way that parents and grandparents don’t necessarily die when children are born, there is no need for all Archaeopteryx to become extinct the moment that later, more modern birds appear.

But where there are many millions of years between ancestors and descendent, the fossil record should be clear regarding the order of appearance. In the same way that we might expect grandparents and even great-grandparents to coexist with their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, we would never expect an ancestor from ten generations ago to co-exist with us. That fact allows very specific, potentially falsifiable predictions to be made.

“Based on the high confidence in certain branches of phylogenetic trees, some temporal constraints are extremely rigid. For example, we should never find mammalian or avian fossils in or before Devonian deposits, before reptiles had diverged from the amphibian tetrapod line. This excludes Precambrian, Cambrian, Ordovician, and Silurian deposits, encompassing 92% of the earth's geological history and 65% of the biological history of multicellular organisms. Even one incontrovertible find of any pre-Devonian mammal, bird, or flower would shatter the theory of common descent.”

In other words, the discovery of a mammalian fossil in pre-Cambrian rocks would falsify common descent and thereby falsify evolution.

4. Any Vestigial Organ should be similar to something that was functional in an ancestor.

While there is some debate about the existence of vestigial organs with some creationists arguing that things like the appendix are actually functional, there is little dispute that some organs are vestigial. Sightless eyes in cave fish and cave salamanders are an example.

Any organ for which there is even a debate about whether or not it is vestigial should always have a verifiable and clearly useful function in an ancestral species. In other words we may debate whether or not the appendix is vestigial, but our ancestors should have a verifiable use for that organ.

“Shared derived characters and molecular sequence data, not vestigial characters, determine the phylogeny and the characteristics of predicted common ancestors. Thus, if common descent is false, vestigial characters very possibly could lack an evolutionary explanation. For example, whales are classified as mammals according to many criteria, such as having mammary glands, a placenta, one bone in the lower jaw, etc. Snakes likewise are classified as reptiles by several other derived features. However, it is theoretically possible that snakes or whales could have been classified as fish (as Linnaeus originally did). If this were the case, the vestigial legs of whales or the vestigial pelvises of snakes would make no sense evolutionarily and would be inconsistent with common descent. “

“It follows, then, that we should never find vestigial nipples or a vestigial incus bone in any amphibians, birds, or reptiles. No mammals should be found with vestigial feathers. No primates should ever be found with vestigial horns or degenerate wings hidden underneath the skin of the back. We should never find any arthropods with vestigial backbones. Snakes may occasionally have vestigial legs or arms, but they should never be found with small, vestigial wings. Humans may have a vestigial caecum, since we are descendants of herbivorous mammals, but neither we nor any other primate can have a vestigial gizzard like that found in birds.“

Note that vestiges can be functional. But any organ claimed to be vestigial must have a functioning organ in an ancestral species. Charles Darwin himself explained how to identify a vestigial organ (from The Origin of Species):

"An organ, serving for two purposes, may become rudimentary or utterly aborted for one, even the more important purpose, and remain perfectly efficient for the other. Thus, in plants, the office of the pistil is to allow the pollen-tubes to reach the ovules protected in the ovarium at its base. The pistil consists of a stigma supported on the style; but in some Compositae, the male florets, which of course cannot be fecundated, have a pistil, which is in a rudimentary state, for it is not crowned with a stigma; but the style remains well developed, and is clothed with hairs as in other compositae, for the purpose of brushing the pollen out of the surrounding anthers. Again, an organ may become rudimentary for its proper purpose, and be used for a distinct object: in certain fish the swim-bladder seems to be rudimentary for its proper function of giving buoyancy, but has become converted into a nascent breathing organ or lung. Other similar instances could be given."

5. Any Atavism should be similar to something that was functional in an ancestor.

An atavism is similar to a vestigial organ except that it is a genetic characteristic that isn’t an “organ”. Examples include extra toes on horses, hind limbs in whales, etc. The argument is the same as for vestigial organs. Something like atavistic wings in whales or any other Cetacean would falsify evolution because no ancestors of cetaceans had wings.

6. Existing closely related current species should only be found geographically close to each other

“The spatial and geographical distribution of species should be consistent with their predicted genealogical relationships.”

“From a limited knowledge of species distributions, we predict that we should never find elephants on distant Pacific islands, even though they would survive well there. Similarly, we predict that we should not find amphibians on remote islands, or indigenous Cacti on Australia. Closely related species could be distributed evenly worldwide, according to whichever habitat best suits them. If this were the general biogeographical pattern, it would be a strong blow to macroevolution.”

This particular proof of macroevolution is also the single proof that falsifies the flood story in the Bible. If all species of animals lived in only one place at one time – the area around Mt. Ararat – then there is no reason not to expect all animals to be centered around that geographic location.

Since Mt. Ararat is a desert area all desert animals should be found there and no where else.

All jungle animals should be found in the jungle closest to Turkey – probably Africa.

And so on…

There should certainly be no animals anywhere in the Western Hemisphere since every single habitat is found closer to Mt. Ararat than the Western Hemisphere.

Since all of those things are not found, we can be absolutely confident that the Flood account in the Bible is a complete myth. (There are probably something like 1000 other reasons why we can be completely confident that the flood account is a myth.)

7. Recently evolved animals should be only found in the geographic area close to their evolutionary ancestors based on the fossil record

This particular proof extends the previous proof back through the fossil record. Again the key phrase is “recently”. With that word in mind, evolution makes these potentially falsifiable predictions:

“We confidently predict that fossils of recently evolved animals like apes and elephants should never be found on South America, Antarctica, or Australia (excepting, of course, the apes that travel by boat).”

“It would be macroevolutionarily devastating if we found in South America an irrefutable Epihippus or Merychippus (or any of the intermediates in-between) from the Paleocene, Eocene, Oligocene, the Miocene, or anytime before the Isthmus of Panama arose to connect North and South America (about 12 million years ago). Moreover, we should never find fossil horse ancestors on Australia or Antarctica from any geological era.”

“We do not expect to ever find any Australopithicus, Ardipithecus, or Kenyanthropus fossils in Australia, North America, South America, Antarctica, Siberia, or on any oceanic islands removed from Africa. Any such findings would be catastrophically problematic for the theory of common descent.”

8. Any genetic characteristic should be explicable in terms of genetic characteristics of evolutionary ancestors.

This proof does not require that a specific genetic characteristic should be present in all evolutionary ancestors. Instead it says that any specific genetic characteristic should be traceable through the fossil record to evolutionary ancestors.

If, for example, the” Panda’s Thumb” is an extension of the sesamoid bone in the Giant Panda. If a sesamoid bone was not present as an existing bone in evolutionary ancestors of the Panda but was something completely new, then that thumb would falsify macro-evolution.

This is similar to but different from the vestigial organ evidence. In this case the genetic characteristic is undeniably functioning.

“…a strong falsification would be if it were positively demonstrated that the primitive structures of an organism's predicted ancestors could not be reasonably modified into the modern organism's derived structures. A clear fanciful example, though completely serious, is the macroevolutionary impossibility of ever finding an animal such as a Pegasus. Since a Pegasus would be a mammal closely related to the horse, its wings would be considered derived characters. However, Pegasus wings cannot be modifications of its ancestors' structures, since the immediate predicted ancestors of Pegasi and horses had no possible structures there to modify.”

9. Molecular Similarities will be understandable due to common ancestor.

This is a more technical piece of evidence but I am including it because of how specific it is and how striking it is for evidence supporting common descent.

In the last few decades, scientists have been able to sequence DNA and determine the specific amino acid sequences that make up proteins. Some of these proteins are very important and are present in all living things. But in many cases not every amino acid is necessary. Evolution predicts that differences will be explicable through evolutionary history.

The best way to explain this is through an example. The prototypical example is cytochrome-c.

Cytochrome c is an absolutely essential protein found in all organisms, including eukaryotes (organisms with cells that have a nucleus) and bacteria. It is necessary for life in all organisms because it allows mitochondria - the energy fuel of cells - to function.

Much of the cytochrome c protein is not needed (it is “functionally silent”). That part varies from organism to organism. Human cytochrome c has been confirmed to work in yeast - a single-celled organism - despite the fact that the naturally occurring cytochrome c found in yeast is very different from that found in humans (sharing only 38 amino acids).

The cytochrome C molecule has 104 amino acids (though even that number varies a bit from species to species). The table below gives the number of amino acids in Cytochrome C for each species that are different from those found in humans[1].

Chimpanzee 0

Rhesus monkey 1

Rabbit 9

Kangaroo 10

Pig 10

Dog 11

Donkey 11

Horse 12

Duck 10

Chicken 12

Turtle 14

Rattlesnake 13

Tuna 20

Moth 30

Candida (yeast) 50

Note how this so closely matches the proposed evolutionary history of life on Earth. Its power for confirming and potentially falsifying evolution is quite stunning. The evidence is even quantifiable.

Chimps and humans share a “recent” common ancestor and have no differences in their cytochrome-c molecule. The Rhesus monkey has a less recent common ancestor, and one amino-acid difference is found.

Note that these cytochrome-c molecules differ from each other in ways not shown in this table. Kangaroos and pigs both have 10 amino acid differences from humans. Yet those are not the same ten amino acid differences. That’s because kangaroos and pigs have cytochrome-c that varies by six amino acids from each other. That implies that kangaroos and pigs have evolutionary ancestors which are roughly equidistant from humans but they also diverted from each other at some time in the past.

Cytochrome-c is the most commonly cited example because it has been studied the most. But there are other such proteins. In fact one scientific paper estimates that there are some 250 of them[2].

Evolution predicts that because of common ancestry, all of these proteins should have differences which are explicable in terms of the evolutionary history of each species as is precisely the case for cytochrome-c. Note that many of these amino acid sequences have not been completed yet for all species so the potential falsification is still quite possible.

10. Genetic change in irreversible so we should never see specific genetic characteristics reappearing based on identical genes

Evolution asserts that cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) are descended from land mammals. Prior to that, mammals were descended from aquatic animals. But when the ancestral species came on land they lost many of the genetic characteristics associated with aquatic life.

But when mammals reentered the oceans many of those genetic characteristics that were lost would have been beneficial again.

For example, gills would be very useful.

Cetaceans have lungs – just as their evolutionary ancestors had. They have evolved the ability to “hold their breath” for very long periods of time, but lungs are still not as beneficial as gills. For example, dolphins and porpoises that have become caught in fish nets have actually drowned.

Evolution predicts that gills could not evolve again. That’s because genetic change is based on random inputs – mutations. Reversing a previous large set of mutations – while not physically impossible – is much too unlikely to actually expect to take place.

Evolution predicts that cetaceans would become increasingly well adapted to their aquatic environment – as is the case with their ability to” hold their breath” underwater – but the genetic changes making them better adapted would not be the same ones that had existed previously.

I like this evidence because it argues so persuasively against Intelligent Design. No one has ever come up with even a reasonable hypothetical reason why a “designer” wouldn’t give cetaceans the ability to breathe underwater.

11. The fossil record should be very different at different geological times.

This is a very obvious conclusion from the assumption of common ancestry. Evolution says that the diversity of life has changed over time. Because of that, even though the fossil record is imperfect, it should still be very different at every point in time.

“This falsification [of macroevolution] would be simple and facile—the sediments of the earth could contain a composition of species very similar to modern life as far back as we can see in the sequential layers.”

Rocks are typically dated using radiometric dating methods. Creationists don’t trust those methods. But if that was true, it would represent all the more reason to expect this potential falsification of macroevolution to be found by someone.

In the extreme case – where radiometric dates are completely random and a radiometric date says nothing at all about the actual age of a rock – we should certainly expect to see the same fossils in all rocks regardless of what the radiometric dates told us about the age of the rock.

So, in fact, this evidence confirming macroevolution actually also implicitly confirms radiometric dating as well.

[1], referenced on November 7, 2008

[2] Bunn, H. F., and Forget, E. G. (1986) Hemoglobin: Molecular, Genetic, and Clinical Aspects. Saunders.

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