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Sunday Thoughts: Evolution and the Scientific Method

Evolution Scientific Method

Evolution today is considered accepted settled science. It is taught now in our schools as fact. Any opposition to this view will be quickly ridiculed. At the same time, we learned long ago from academics, the scientific method to find truth in our natural world. Anything else would be considered “junk science.” In this light, one wonders how evolution has stacked up to this scientific method. Has evolution sufficiently past the muster of this method? In the way of review, let’s examine this scientific method.

The scientific method is a process for experimentation that is used to explore observations and answer questions. Does this mean all scientists follow exactly this process? No. Some areas of science can be more easily tested than others. For example, scientists studying how stars change as they age or how dinosaurs digested their food cannot fast-forward a star’s life by a million years or run medical exams on feeding dinosaurs to test their hypotheses. When direct experimentation is not possible, scientists modify the scientific method. In fact, there are probably as many versions of the scientific method as there are scientists! But even when modified, the goal remains the same: to discover cause and effect relationships by asking questions, carefully gathering and examining the evidence, and seeing if all the available information can be combined into a logical answer. Here is a simple flow chart:

An important part of this scientific method is in the reproducibility of its results. If an experiment cannot be repeated to produce the same results, this implies that the original results might have been in error. As a result, it is common for a single experiment to be performed multiple times, especially when there are uncontrolled variables or other indications of experimental error. It is even better if a peer-review group performs the same experiments of the scientific method’s hypothesis tests.

A key element in this scientific method is testing the hypotheses. There are many methods of testing for sure, but one needs to examine in more detail the ideas of observational vs. the experimental study methods. The observational method is somewhat passive and uses a data modeling approach, as opposed to the experimental approach that sets a more laboratory environmental test. The observational study method can be problematic as one is left to extrapolate findings when correlations may not be causation. Here is a brief video that explains this more:

So what study methods in testing the evolutionary hypothesis were used in the scientific method to prove evolution? Certainly, there are certain aspects of the evolutionary hypothesis that can be studied in the lab via experiments, but overall the evolutionary hypothesis has been proven from observational methods. For example, the observation of the fossil record. The observation of the fossil record does indicate change – but does it really explain the “how?” Does the correlation of observation have the causality suggested by evolutionists? One could develop and extrapolate a model of this fossil record that could be from Intelligent Design. From Intelligent Design or evolution, the fossil record could look the same. Observational studies may be insufficient to prove evolution.

To use an experimental study model, one would need to set up a laboratory experiment to see if evolution would occur, except it could take millions of years – not realistic. Instead, one breaks down the evolutionary process into sub-processes of mutations and natural selection, which are the critical sub-processes of evolution. Both of these processes can be somewhat demonstrated in a lab experiment. But can one prove these evolutionary mechanisms that are reassembled into a grander hypothesis? For example, every Olympics, some speed runner breaks a new record. Therefore, one-day, humans will run at the speed of light – one can not necessarily extrapolate smaller provable assertions into a grander hypothesis. 

No one believes that natural selection alone can turn fish fins into bird wings. However, combined with mutations, evolutionists believe this is possible. Change occurring from natural selection has limits of a “window of possibilities,” though it can cause change. Mutations can cause change, as well. But how do we know that this “window of possibilities” is not also true for mutations?

Concerning mutations, the concept of “window of possibilities” aligns with discussions of “minor” vs. “major” or even “adaptive” vs. “non-adaptive” (i.e., adaptations to the environment) mutations, which are all non-scientific terms and used loosely, though some have tried to define them. Common mutations can be said to delete, duplicate, invert, insert, or translocate genetic information. But can these errors in genetic code be stringed together and extrapolated into a model that proves “full-blown” evolution (i.e. turning fish fins into bird wings, which is an undefined term as well)? Or mere minor adaptations to the organism’s environment that has limits?

For example, a farmer grows crops in a field along with unwanted weeds. The farmer sprays herbicide on the field that is a chemical that attaches to the weed’s enzymes on their leaves, which stops the photosynthesis process and kills the weed. However, a few weeds have mutated and are not killed and then grow a large population in subsequent years that make the herbicide have no effect. One might say that the weeds grew in strength – but did they? In fact, the mutation is an attenuation of the gene (devolution) that allows the herbicide chemical to attached to the enzymes in the leaves. In other words, the error in the genetic code was “not a bug, but a feature.” Ah ha – evolution! But another example asks; can one string a series of errors found in Windows10 that turned into features to then created Windows 11, that contains entirely new non-adaptive change? Has this non-adaptive change on a significant basis been proven with the scientific method via actual experiments? Evolutionists would say yes, though evidence has always been minor in scale – they must use an extrapolation model.

Changing gears, for some Biblical believers (i.e., Intelligent Design believers), are there any thoughts given to these processes of natural selection and mutations in the Biblical text? This idea of “window of possibilities” is supported by the notion of the word “Kinds” in the Biblical text. Many have postulated that “Kinds” is not synonymous with speciation, rather groups of genetic code that could follow a limited level of evolution to create variations and some limited speciation. The Bible’s first use of this word “Kind” is found in Genesis 1 when God creates plants and animals “according to their kinds.” It is used again in Genesis 6 and 8 when God instructs Noah to take two of every kind of land-dwelling, air-breathing animal onto the ark. The idea here is that Noah was instructed to collect “Kinds” of animals, as it was not necessary to collect every variation of species, because of subsequent limited evolution that would subsequently occur to repopulate. But to be clear, any Intelligent Design theory as well would need to be subject to the same scientific method, of which today is not the case and not proven.

Has there been any attempt at an actual “full-blown” experiment for evolution? Well, sort of – in 1988, Richard Lenski started an experiment to breed 12 separate sets of E.coli [Escherichia Coli] bacteria in Petri dishes. E.coli is an interesting organism as it is capable of reproducing generations in a day. This allows one to see possible evolution over many generations in a shorter time. They’ve run about 73,500 generations by early 2020, and the experiment is still going. This represents about 6.3 generations per day – see more about the experiments here. The team working on this project has received numerous scientific awards for “demonstrating” evolution. But did they? Again, for sure, some evolution had occurred, but did it stay within the “window of possibilities,” and not really show significant “full-blown” evolution? There have been others that dispute the claims of the  Richard Lenski experiments, see here, here, here, and here.

If we extrapolate the 73,500 E.coli generations on to humans, at 20 years per generation, this puts a start in a potential human experiment to 1,470,000 years ago. This is at about the time of Homo Ergaster on the human evolutionary timeline. See the chart below:

Aside from the obvious physical appearance differences, Homo Ergaster had limited speech abilities due to the lack of nerves needed for the complex control of breathing while speaking. Homo Ergaster could barely use primitive tools. Their brain size was about 65% of humans. None of the Homo Ergaster skeletons that have been found so far were deliberately buried. There is evidence, however, that they did care for living members of their group who were sick or injured, but they did not seem to be concerned with their welfare after death. 

The differences between Homo Ergaster and modern humans were significant. Are the difference between the first E.coli (1988) and the E.coli today (2020) in the Richard Lenski experiments similar to the differences we see in these other fossil record timelines? The fossil record timelines of other species seem to suggest that the E.coli in the Richard Lenski experiment evolved little – small mutations – perhaps within “windows of possibilities.” Are more advanced organisms easier or less easy to evolve? According to some, the answer is no. It would be a dubious argument to say that the E.coli Richard Lenski experiments proved evolution beyond any doubt. What will another decade or two show?

So the question remains, how does the theory of evolution respect the scientific method? When using the world’s most powerful search engine, it is remarkable that the few search results that come up that show evolution proved by the scientific method. Often the search results are filled with wild assertions and accusations of stupidity if you don’t agree with the evolutionary theory. Here, here and here are just a few. One has to wonder if the truth was the actual goal if one uses these emotive arguments. There are many learned folks who also have challenged evolution. Check out this very interesting video on “Mathematical Challenges To Darwin’s Theory Of Evolution, With David Berlinski, Stephen Meyer, And David Gelernter” below:

Since it is quite difficult to create an experimental study for evolution, due to the extensive time required, are there any other ways to have evidence of “full-blown” evolution? Possibly. One way would be to discover life (or the remains of life) on another planetary body, that we could observe this same evolutionary process in an alien fossil record. However, this is still not proof positive, because an Intelligent Design process could still be possible on every planetary body. However, it would go a long way to give greater evidence of the evolutionary process. The point here is that this article is not to promote a God Creator (Intelligent Design) nor to disprove evolution, rather say neither beliefs as of today, have been adequately proven scientifically for many – and with good reason. So stop the emotive mocking and evolution marketing program and get busy in the lab.

Back a few hundred years ago, many sailors believed that if one sailed too far out to sea, one may fall off the edge of the flat earth or be eaten by the sea monsters. It was only when brave sailors challenged this hypothesis with actual repeatable testable proof that the common man began to believe that those assertions were false. Perhaps evolution should have to pass the same test before one integrates this into or educational systems by governments as fact, though students could be exposed to its possibility. Please give your thoughts in the comment section of this article.

 RWR original article syndication source.

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Dotty
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Perhaps no proof will ever convince either the advocates of Intelligent Design or evolution that the other is right. For one thing, they answer different needs. Intelligent design is about the dignity and sanctity of life, and evolution theory is about the understanding of the process of life. Different questions are being addressed. Are they necessarily opposed? They have certainly “evolved” that way.

L. Beau
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Presenting the Theory of Evolution as the only possibility of Origins when it cannot be proven, and even contradicts the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, has undermined the integrity of the entire scientific community. I do not trust any of their pronouncements now. It is gigantic FRAUD to have presented this philosophy to youth in all textbooks as “‘proven science” for decades using artists’ imaginary drawings as though they are fact. Evolution is a belief system based on faith which contradicts even logic in many ways. The “scientific” and “truthful” thing to do would be to present BOTH possibilities about Origins… Read more »

L. Beau
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Another serious problem with presenting the Theory of Evolution to youth as “proven fact”, and as being the only possibility of Origins, is the ambivalence it creates in young minds. On one hand, huge numbers of people in society are believing in a Creator God as manifested by numerous church denominations and religions everywhere, and senators, congressmen, presidents, coaches, continually mention their “belief in God” and refer to “God” in speeches, and, “In God We Trust” is on our money, and Bible verses are engraved on our government buildings in Washington D.C. yet our public schools teach only “there is… Read more »