To non-Creationists: What is evolution?

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To non-Creationists: What is evolution?

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Post by Neatras »

Title says it all. Please, describe to me the theory of evolution. Please include some technical language, and do not use warped analogies. Additionally, do not make claims about it that the theory does not make, and do not put words in scientists' mouths.

I want you to describe it to me as if I did not know what the theory already was; feel free to describe it, however, as if I understood biology, genetics, and chemistry, so you don't have to avoid topics on my account.

This is meant to juxtapose my other thread; by comparing what definitions both sides are working with, we can glean which side is more intellectually honest, or more scientifically literate.

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Post by TheBeardedDude »

Evolution: whether through gradualism or punctuated equilibrium, evolution is the process by which organisms adapt and change through time (generations). This change can be non-obvious (change in allele frequency from generation to the next, something evolutionary biologists can easily measure) or obvious (morphological change, which is what we use to look at evolutionary trends in the fossil record in particular). Evolution is a consequence of selection pressures that can range from abiotic factors (like climatic or environmental change) to biotic (intra- and/or interspecies competition. Like sexual selection or predator-prey interactions).

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Re: To non-Creationists: What is evolution?

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Post by Divine Insight »

Neatras wrote: I want you to describe it to me as if I did not know what the theory already was; feel free to describe it, however, as if I understood biology, genetics, and chemistry, so you don't have to avoid topics on my account.
This is my favorite subject and I would love to teach it! So be prepared for a post that is close to being an outline for a very comprehensive book on "Evolution".

Also, I'm going to take you up on challenge to describe it to you as if you do not know what the "Theory" already is. So let me begin by describing the concept of "Evolution" in general terms first.

Evolution: The Concept

To begin with I would like to break the concept of Evolution down into several distinct concepts.

1. The general abstract notion of the concept of Evolution:
2. Physical Evolution (i.e. the evolution of the physical aspect of our world)
3. Chemical Evolution (This is also an advanced form of physical evolution)
4. Biological Evolution (The evolution of highly complex collections of molecules specifically associated with DNA and Genetics)

1. The general abstract notion of the concept of Evolution:

The most abstract concept of evolution in general is basically any change that takes place over time.

For example, supposed you knock over a pail of paint on your concrete patio deck. The paint will flow out of the bucket and "evolve" to become a large puddle of paint spread out over your patio. You could say that this puddle "evolved" over time in that it continued to flow and change until it finally came to rest and basically hardened. You might be tempted to call this type of "evolution" a totally random action. However, in truth there were physical laws governing how the paint would ultimately flow and form this puddle. For example the law of gravity is what causes the paint to flow in the first place and then the imperfections in the surface of patio "guides" the puddle to it's final resting configuration. This may appear to be "random" but in truth it's not random at all. It's all determined by the physical properties of the paint, the surface of the patio and gravity, etc.

The type of "evolved" configuration described above could still be said to be "random" in a sense, since all of the factors guiding this change over time appear, from a human perspective, to be the result of totally random factors. This type of "evolution" also does not appear to be very productive or constructive. In other words, an unwanted puddle of paint spread out across a patio would most likely appear to be far worse than a nice neat pail full of paint. This type of "evolution" could even be said to be a negative evolution. In other words, a change that moved from a seemingly well-ordered state into a total mess. :D

And that's fine. But this would still be an example of a system that had "evolved" over time. In fact, we typically don't even refer to such systems as representing "evolution". We tend to reserve the term "evolution" to mean a change over time where things have become more orderly, more complex, and potentially more valuable in some way, especially in terms of thermodynamics or the potential to perform work or some other constructive function.

So for the rest of this post I'll focus entirely on constructive evolution In other words changes over time that become more highly ordered, and potentially more productive or "useful" in terms of producing more complex configurations.

In fact, this is typically what we mean when we use the term "Evolution". We seldom, if ever, think of systems that "devolve" over time as being an example of evolution. But that would just be a negative evolution. :D

2. Physical Evolution (i.e. the evolution of the physical aspect of our world)

We observe, by making astrophysical observations of our universe, and experiments in laboratories, that the very elements that our universe is made of have "Evolved" over time. We have an extremely good understanding of how the process of nucleosynthesis occurs. Atoms evolve within stars and the process of their evolution is precise. Our universe consisting mostly of hydrogen and helium and all of the heavier elements "evolved" within the center of stars.

This process of physical "evolution" is guided entirely by the natural laws of physics.

In other words, the original hydrogen gas will naturally "evolve" to become stars because of the natural law of gravity. Then these stars will then naturally "evolve" to produce more complex atoms due to the natural laws of physics. They then explode and spew these more complex evolved atoms back out into the universe at large.

Note that no "Star God" is required to cause this evolution to occur. The evolution occurs naturally due only to the laws of physics. No other intervention in the process is required.

The "Theory" of atomic evolution is called "nucleosynthesis" and has been demonstrated to be a correct explanation of the process via laboratory experiments.

Note that a "Theory" is simply an "Explanation" of something that actually occurs. And the theory of nucleosynthesis has been demonstrated to be a correct theory of the evolution of the chemical elements or atoms.

3. Chemical Evolution (This is also an advanced form of physical evolution)

Once these "heavier" (i.e. more complex) elements have been created via the evolution of nucleosynthesis they are spewed out into the universe and are collected together via gravity to form more complex objects such as our sun and the earth.

These more complex atoms then continue to "evolve" via that natural laws of physics to form what we call molecules (i.e. complex arrangements of various types of atoms). Water is one of the most well-known molecules it consists of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen that have been bonded together via the natural forces of nature.

This is a very simple example of "chemical evolution". Note that no "Water God" is required to produce water. Water is the result of a perfectly natural combination of natural elements.

This perfectly natural construction of complex molecules continues as more complex molecules are formed. Molecules that are formed from bonds with atoms of carbon are often referred to as "Biochemistry". The reason they are named in this way is because these molecules end up being the molecules that are used by biological creatures on earth. However it is important to note here that biochemistry occurs naturally prior to the actual evolution of living organisms.

In other words, much of Biochemistry evolves naturally prior to life. So the components that allow living organisms to begin to evolve are explained by standard physics and chemistry. In other words this is all done using natural processes, no "Bio-God" is required for biochemistry to naturally evolve.

4. Biological Evolution (The evolution of highly complex collections of molecules specifically associated with DNA and Genetics)

Once the non-living molecules of biochemistry exist via natural evolution this makes possible the Biological Evolution of actual living organisms.

A note about "Abiogenesis":

Abiogenesis is described as the transition between non-living biochemistry and actual living organism. This specific delineation between biochemistry and a living organism is itself ill-defined at this time. Because of this the term "abiogenesis" itself is not a well-defined term. In other words we haven't yet pinned down precisely what we can point to that would be an example of where this distinction between biochemistry and a living organism actually takes place. For this reason the topic of Abiogenesis can only be described as "Currently Under Research". And there is much work being done to understand precisely how this transition takes place.

It might be worthy to note that just because we don't yet understand precisely how abiogenesis has occurred there is no reason to jump to the conclusion that an "Abiogenesis God" was required. After all, no God was required anywhere else in the process. And as we will soon see, no God is required to explain Biological Evolution after abiogenesis has taken place.

Once we are given a single "living cell" that is able to multiply via cell division, we can then "explain" the entire biological diversity of life on earth. This explanation is called "The Theory of Evolution". But note that a "theory" is just an explanation. It's not a guess, nor is it the evidence for biological evolution. The actual evidence for biological evolution exists in nature. Not only can we see how biological creatures evolved historically over time via the fossil record of life on earth, but we can actually manipulate the genetics in the lab to show that the "Theory of Genetic Evolution" is true. In other words our Theory (i.e. "Explanation") of how biological entities evolve is correct.

So we know that our "Theory of Evolution" is correct and true. There is no question about this by those who truly understand it.

The only question that remains as yet unanswered is the question of precisely how Abiogenesis actually occurred. But there is nothing anywhere in this entire process that suggests that an "Abiogenesis God" would be required for this evolutionary transition from biochemistry to living cells.

Also, even if there was a question concerning how Abiogenesis occurred, that wouldn't change the fact that "The Theory of Evolution" still stands as an obviously correct description of how biological life evolves once a single cell has come into being.

So the "Theory of Evolution" is correct and true. If any "Creator God" is required at all it would only be needed to cause abiogenesis to occur. And even that act would only need to produce a single self-replicating cell, then natural evolution could once again take over from there.

However, from a scientific perspective we have no rational reason to think that Abiogenesis didn't also occur perfectly naturally just like everything else. There is simply no scientific reason to suspect otherwise. To the contrary, from a scientific perspective we should absolutely expect to discover how Abiogenesis occurred via perfectly natural processes. There is just no reason to suspect otherwise. All other aspects of evolution has been explained via the natural laws of physics. The most likely scenario is that Abiogenesis will not be an exception to the natural process of cosmic evolution.



I hope everyone finds my explanation of evolution to be straight-forward and easy to understand. I'm totally open to hearing any comments on anything anyone feels that I might have explained incorrectly. (hopefully there weren't too many typos in this explanation) My apologies ahead of time if there are.

By the way, I tried to keep this post as short as possible. I didn't even mention Entropy or thermodynamics. Often arguments are given against evolution claiming that the thermodynamic law of Entropy would forbid evolution to occur naturally. This is actually quite the opposite of the truth. The Second Law of Thermodynamics, or "Entropy" is actually what makes evolution possible and even drives the entire process forward. :D

Perhaps the explanation of how Entropy actually drives evolution forward is better suited to a thread devoted to that topic alone. But in short, there is no contradiction in science here at all. All of the laws of physics support evolution including the Second Law of Thermodynamics or Entropy.
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