Conversation with a Creationist

A couple of days ago I said to a Facebook friend who is a creationist

……If you can reply to, lets say, the transitional fossils information I provided you. If you can show that you have found some information yourself about transitional fossils online – not from my links and not from a creationist site. And provide some kind of refutation of that information I will not only leave it up here, I will share it. And I have lots of “evolutionist” friends, so you will reach heaps of people! But it has to be from a reputable source and not one you’ve been fed by me or by a creationist site. You can point out all the ways it’s wrong and you disagree, but you have to find some real information first.

I said this because I find the whole idea of creationists frustrating. It annoys me that people (not necessarily this individual) try to push their religious agendas in schools. It annoys me that people don’t do their own research or critically think about things they believe in. I mostly said this because this person got annoyed about something I posted on Facebook, which wasn’t directed at them, and I kind of grumpily let them know that if they wanted to be offended by what I thought about them this would be the issue to look at!

So, I will now provide the questions they asked after this challenge and the answers I am able to provide. I’m not the most educated person on this subject, and I know I have some very well-informed and intelligent friends, so please! Everyone feel free to add their wonderful knowledge in the comments! In case it’s not obvious the creationist questions are in italics.

This may stretch to several posts, as it’s quite extensive.

Here’s one – http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=11876&page=3

Science, Evolution, and Creationism (2008)
Put out by the National Academy of Sciences Etc.
Quote:
The National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine are each governed by an elected council. The NAS Council is responsible for honorific aspects of the NAS and for the corporate management of the organization. The IOM Council oversees the study activities of the Institute, as well as matters pertaining to the IOM membership. The members of both councils reviewed, revised, and approved this document.

Quote:
For more than a century and a half, scientists have been gathering evidence that expands our understanding of both the fact and the processes of biological evolution. They are investigating how evolution has occurred and is continuing to occur.
In 2004, for example,…………

Tiktaalik lived during the period when freshwater fishes were evolving the adaptations that enabled four-legged animals to live out of water. Tiktaalik may have lived somewhat before or somewhat after the ancestral species that gave rise to all of today’s limbed animals, including humans. The evolutionary lineage that contained Tiktaalik may have gone extinct, as shown in this diagram by the short line branching from the main evolutionary lineage, or it may have been part of the evolutionary line leading to all modern tetrapods (animals with four legs).

My thoughts so far:
This particular example is not proving “evolution”. The Tiktaalik appears in the lineage and then the line “may or may not end” ( their words not mine, hardly conclusive evidence for the continuity of evolution). One can only imagine the vast examples of fossils that this institution would have access to. Why then would they not have shown an example that BEST proved the continuity of evolution? Are there any better examples of the continuity or are they all “may or may not’s”? Is “May or may not” scientific evidence? The only thing this example shows me conclusively is that, “Once upon a time in Canada there lived a species of animal which we’ve called Tiktaalik.”

Personally I think Tiktaalik is fantastic and exciting! It is a wonderful example of evolution – a great example of a transitional fossil. It is an anatomical mix between fish and land-living animal, it has a neck, it has bones inside the fin which correspond to the bones you would find in an arm (upper arm bone, forearm and wrist) It even has both lungs and gills!

Even more exciting – the way it was found proves that the scientific process works. The scientists who found Tiktaalik used their knowledge of evolutionary theory and geology to specifically go looking for this kind of fossil in specific geological layers of a particular age and in a particular region of the world. And they found it! They made predictions about the kind of fossil they should be able to find, they made predictions about where they should find it and they proved that those predictions were correct when they made their discovery. Tiktaalik isn’t just proof of evolution; it’s also proof that the scientific process works.

So basically I love Tiktaalik and I love that this is what was found to discuss.

So to the question – there seems to be issues with the idea that Tiktaaliks line may or may not end. I quote “hardly conclusive evidence for the continuity of evolution” 

This to me feels like an issue that some people have with their understanding of evolution. Evolution is not going towards a purpose – it’s not aiming at something. It’s not one line (including Tiktaalik) going from single celled organisms and aiming at us (homo sapiens). Evolution is changes that happen in all populations. Changes that suit the environment better, that make organisms more successful at surviving and spreading their genes are more likely to be passed on to future generations. So more of those offspring survive, and these changes add up over time and eventually those hundreds and hundreds of changes end up in bigger differences.

But! Sometimes something will change that will mean that an species is no longer suited to it’s environment. Maybe the climate will change, maybe there will be changes with a food source, maybe there will be changes with a predator. If that species cannot change quick enough to adapt to this new environmental factor it will die out. So lets say dear wee Tiktaalik evolved it’s wonderful ability to move out of the water – took on a whole new environment and then one day, somewhere down the line, later generations faced a challenge to their survival and didn’t make it. That doesn’t mean that Tiktaalik didn’t evolve – it doesn’t mean that evolution isn’t continuous, it just means that in this case, this lineage didn’t make it. Didn’t evolve fast enough, or something else evolved faster (it’s prey or predators) and suddenly they were out of luck.

A prediction from more than a century of findings from evolutionary biology suggests that one of the early species that emerged from the Earth’s oceans about 375 million years ago was the ancestor of amphibians, reptiles, dinosaurs, birds, and mammals.

My thoughts so far
“Suggests” their word not mine, not proves! Suggestion is not proof. The argument put forward by Evolutionists is that the science proves evolution or am I mistaken?

The science does prove evolution. And here’s the wonderful thing about Tiktaalik – they knew from the evolutionary research that an there should be something like Tiktaalik. They knew there should be evidence of species that emerged from the oceans – something that had characteristics of fish and of land-living animals. They knew that it probably should have occurred at a particular point in the geological record, in specific geological layers. They were able to use the evolutionary theory to make a prediction about where in the world this should be found – and then they FOUND it! Evolutionary biology suggested Tiktaalik should exist, so they went looking for the evidence to back up the suggestion and there it was!

I would like to focus on one thing I find very concerning about the National Assembly of Science’s document. It is what they, as scientists, consider to be an example of evidence supporting evolution.

In the first paragraph they state:

“For more than a century and a half, scientists have been gathering evidence that expands our understanding of both the fact and the processes of biological evolution. They are investigating how evolution has occurred and is continuing to occur.

Then a few pages on for their example for evolution it is stated:

The evolutionary lineage that contained Tiktaalik may have gone extinct, as shown in this diagram by the short line branching from the main evolutionary lineage, or it may have been part of the evolutionary line leading to all modern tetrapods (animals with four legs).

When I was studying science myself it was considered that for the Hypothesis to be considered statistically true the certainty had to be greater than 90% for plant sciences and above 70 – 75% for animal sciences. Anything less was considered non-significant and the Hypothesis then was considered not true.

The way I read the above example is a certainty of 50%. May have gone extinct…. may have formed part of an evolutionary line.

I would think that the Tiktaalik would be a poor example of how evolution HAS occurred, that evolution MIGHT have occurred I could cope with but not definitively.

If this was just some random post on some random site on the internet – sure – easily dismissed as some dodgey scientific commentary. But this has come from a well respected scientific institution for the purposes of persuading people that evolution is indisputable fact.

May have gone extinct…….may have been part of the evolutionary line. This example is inconclusive I think.

Please DO NOT read that I am saying that because this one example is inconclusive then therefore all are inconclusive. What I am saying is that given the aim of the entire document and the source of the document (the NAS) surely if a more convincing example exists then that example should have been used instead.

Your thoughts?

My thoughts on this start by saying that your reading of “the above example is a certainty of 50%” is you putting a number value on something. They don’t say that they have a certainty of 50%, you have just decided on that number based on the sentence in the article.

Apart from that, whether Tiktaalik is part of the evolutionary line that leads to all modern animals or not doesn’t mean evolution didn’t occur. Tiktaalik is evidence that there were species that evolved that critical step from fish to land living animals. They may (or may not) have any certainty over whether Tiktaalik’s line continued or died out at some point in history – but that doesn’t effect whether evolution occured.

Also – certainty is a TERRIBLE thing to depend on! Are you saying that the reason you are a creationist is because they people who preach about creationism are certain about what they think happened? Because you can be certain about things that are wrong and untrue. I might say to you that I am certain there is a unicorn in my back garden right now, but I think that regardless of my certainty you might want some concrete evidence for that!

The reasons Tiktaalik are convincing are because of the things I listed before. Evolutionary theory suggested this type of fossil should exist. The scientists used their knowledge of evolutionary theory and geology to go looking in a particular place in the world and a particular geological layer (so a particular period in history) and found it!

As it says in the article you linked to “The discovery of Tiktaalik, while critically important for confirming predictions of evolution theory, is just one example of the many findings made every year that add depth and breadth to the scientific understanding of biological evolution.”

Anyway, there are a couple of other questions I didn’t answer – I will have to try those later. I enjoyed spending this evening with Tiktaalik, a fascinating fossil and a potential ancestor 😉

Please – anyone who knows what they are talking about better than me (and there are many of you!), feel free to add your thoughts.

Thank you very very much Jo or James for taking my challenge and finding us such a lovely subject to talk about. Please feel free to double check any or all of the things I’ve said online, don’t believe me! If you have other questions about Tiktaalik, please feel free to ask and you’ll probably get a better answer from someone who actually knows what they are talking about.

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