Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Science Evolution and Magic

Somewhere I once read that the American Indians had a saying that “to name a thing is to know it”. This is a pretty profound statement especially when you view it in terms of science. The field of science is littered with terms that are little more than names because no one really knows what they are or how they work, among these we find gravity, magnetism, black holes, great force, weak force, and of course evolution. Of course most scientists toss these terms about as if they really understood what they are and how they work but the reality is that they are actually describing the effect of these things without actually understanding what they are or how they work. This is especially true of Evolution which we are assured by the most reputable of scientists is a factual reality. In support of this we are offered numerous examples of “evolution” which on inspection turn out to be examples of adaptation. That is the species is modified but remains the same species. The reality is that there are no examples of one species becoming another and that there are no transition fossils found in the fossil record.

Charles Darwin was a product of his time. His Theory of Evolution was clearly an extrapolation of the Charles Lyell’s Theory of Uniformitarianism, which postulates that things change gradually and that those changes occur over long periods of time. This geologic theory held sway for a very long time but as the science of paleontology matured it became obvious that the geologic periods ended in abrupt – catastrophic changes with mass extinctions. This gave rise to the Theory of Catastrophism which vied with Uniformitarianism but these quickly and easily melded together to form a picture where geologic processes were uniform for long periods but then each period ended abruptly with catastrophic events. What triggered these abrupt changes was unknown but recent discoveries indicate that some of these if not all, were triggered by collisions with meteors or large volcanic eruptions. So these findings go a long way toward explaining the mass extinctions and abrupt endings to geologic epochs but it really doesn’t address the creation of life, evolution, or speciation.

The Pre-Cambrian is almost devoid of fossils and what fossils there are tend to be slime, tracks, or other similar evidence of simple worm like animal forms. But in the Cambrian we find some very sophisticated life forms with trilobites being the most well known. And from this point on every geologic epoch is filled with ever increasingly complex life forms, some of which go extinct while others live on, like the shark or ant, into modern times. Evolution doesn’t address the origin of life but simply addresses how life has divided and subdivided into this myriad of life forms ranging from worms to mankind. At this point it is important to note that Evolution may in fact be true, but the issue is that it remains a unproven theory and is not a demonstrated fact. Certainly, Evolution is not supported by the fossil record and therein lays the problem, which plagues paleontologists. If the fossil record does not show any transitional life forms, such as something between the Pre-Cambrian worms and the Cambrian Trilobite, then evolution as a process remains simply a possibility and with some significant hurdles for the paleontologists.

To solve this problem of no transitional fossils, Gould and his protégé Eldredge have postulated punctuated equilibria. Essentially this new theory says that a species splits off from the parent species in a very short span of time – no more than a few thousand years so no fossils are likely to be found. But the punctuated equilibria theory does allow for older forms of a species to co-exist with newer forms, which conveniently eliminates the problem with Eohippus. Initially Eohippus was cited as an example of evolution because it could be demonstrated that the horse evolved from a relatively small mammal into the current horse. Unfortunately it turned out the early fossils of Eohippus were not related to the horse and that older forms as well as newer forms of the horse co-existed. Although it was ignored the fact was that even if the fossils were all related they would all still be horses and not an example of one species becoming another. But scientists valiantly carry on because evolution cannot be abandoned without having to answer some very difficult questions regarding the origin of life, so the current effort is to demonstrate that punctuated equilibria is really evolution at work.

The primary thrust of this argument is that even members of the same species are not identical and variations occur. This is described as stasis meaning that variations occur and that these variations advance and reverse through time, which accounts for some of the variations in the fossil record which show recent fossils may be more primitive than earlier ones. This observation is then used to point out that these variations may be of the moment and not carried through time, but some are and it is these variations that lead to speciation Essentially the theory is that these variations lead to identifiable groups within a species that reproduce within their own sub-group but elect to not mate with closely related members of the same species and gradually this leads to a new species which is unable to reproduce with members of its parent species. This process is theorized to occur over a relatively short period of time – perhaps thousands of years rather than millions. It is this short period of time which is believed to account for the lack of any transitional fossil forms and to explain the sudden appearance of various life forms in the fossil record. In essence we can take a Hippopotamus lay our imaginary hand on its forehead and utter the magic word EVOLVE and we have an elephant. But this is more extreme than the theory postulates.

Essentially the Punctuated Equilibria Theory points out that the fossil record indicates that a species through time will develop sub-species and these do not reproduce with each other, hence we have variations with the species that lead to new species. Alas while this argument may be sound the reality is a trilobite is still a trilobite, a mollusk is still a mollusk, and a bird is still a bird. However, this is the foundation of the argument that man, ape, and chimpanzee all are related and that mankind has indeed split off from a common ancestor that was in fact an ape. The problem of where did that first ape come from remains and in fact if we start with primordial life in the Pre-Cambrian we must accept that we are slime derived, essentially our most ancient ancestors were pond scum.

So there is no explanation offered for the explosion of highly developed life forms in the Cambrian and there are no transitional life forms in the fossil record to indicate exactly how pond scum became fish or fish became reptiles and reptiles became mammals. Certainly Punctuated Equilibria may provide an explanation as to how animals species have so many variations and sub-species but it really doesn’t explain the march of life from the simplest forms to mankind. The conclusion can only be that Evolution remains a theory and that Punctuated Equilibria is a theory that offers a partial explanation for speciation but it too must remain a theory. The only conclusion we can draw is that science has many theories for the origin of life but they have no solid proof. And as Puck observes in “Midsummer’s Night” “Oh what fools these mortals be”.

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