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From lowly origins

Escaping Entropy

Published: Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 16:02

Dunn

TNH

Dunn

False impressions about scientific theories are pervasive throughout society, as most of us are well aware. People cringe at hearing "genetically modified food," not realizing where a malnourished majority of the world receives its life-saving vitamins. Global warming is touted as fraud, and stem cell research has been stymied for years.

The list is large and growing still. Well-funded political and religious groups cloud the central issues to mislead the public into faulty conclusions. This bi-weekly column has two main goals: To take a stand for science by demystifying popular topics, and to highlight UNH-funded student research.

This week's topic is evolution.

Proponents of creationism, or its pseudoscience counterpart known as intelligent design (ID), often perpetuate misinformation regarding what is widely considered the most highly-supported scientific theory ever conceived— evolutionary theory. ID is a teleological argument that may, to the unsuspecting reader, appear to be a rational alternative to evolution. It isn't.

One of the first misconceptions arises from a confusion of what the word "theory" means to a scientist versus a layperson. For an idea to obtain the coveted addendum of "theory" in the world of science, it must explain and predict a host of phenomena.

Substantial evidence both corroborating and apparently contradictory must be accounted for by the theory; no scientific laws may be violated unless the proposed theory revises the law(s) it contradicts. The purpose of a theory is to condense a collection of facts into a model that describes reality. This is precisely what evolution does and intelligent design does not.

Here are a few major pieces of misinformation routinely offered as contradictory evidence toward evolutionary theory.

"Evolution says that humans evolved from apes." What evolution says is that humans and chimpanzees likely shared a common ancestor between five and seven million years ago. If you substitute any other animals for humans and apes in the preceding sentence, it quickly becomes apparent that no modern living organism could have evolved from any of its contemporaries. Living organisms must have evolved from ancestor species, and biologists classify species by their relatedness to each other based upon genetic and fossil evidence.

"No missing link has ever been found between apes and humans." Assuming the speaker meant "the last common ancestor" instead of apes, this statement is still incorrect. Missing links, actually known as transition fossils, can be viewed at museums around the world. Thousands of transitional human fossils have been discovered, leaving little doubt that there were once numerous species within our genus.

"Evolution says that life arose spontaneously." While evolution has much to say regarding the origins of life, it is not intended to be a theory about life's origins. Secondly, spontaneous generation was disproved in a series of brilliant experiments by Louis Pasteur in the 19th century.

Evolution comes under attack by those who seek to impose their inconsistent beliefs upon society. A powerful theory like Darwin's that explained life without incorporating a divine being was bound to find fundamentalists up in arms. Our generation is witness to a major paradigm shift in thinking about our origins, and I, for one, embrace it.

Stephen Dunn is a senior genetics major. He studies protein-protein interactions of the Src oncogene with Dr. Collins. Send questions, comments, and criticism to snk8@unh.edu.

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7 comments

Anonymous
Fri Sep 30 2011 13:57
Interesting article, Stephen, but you did not take into account one's deep, inner faith
love, mom
2nd Anonymous
Fri Sep 16 2011 04:04
Is third anonymous the author of this article?
Stephen Dunn
Wed Sep 14 2011 21:23
Hi Sean, thanks for your thoughtful response, I appreciate it.
1) The mechanism is actually very well determined. I think your confusion lies in exactly "what" causes a mutation in evolution. There are lots of different ways, from cosmic rays to errors in the replication proteins that actually do the copying.
2) Sure, what you're saying is true. Let's assume a divine creator exists and made the world appear 6,000 years old. That also means he made the entire universe appear 6,000 years old, since the mechanisms we use to predict age also have bearing on our aging of the stars and cosmos. There are several problems with this logic. The first is: why? Why 6,000 years? And why bother making it appear like it's ~4 billion years old? Logically, this makes no sense if you're a divine being. To create a world, plant fossils everywhere, leave clues to follow, laws to obey, and evidence distinctly contradictory to your own existence just for your own amusement. But assuming this is what has happened, can't I just use the same argument back at you? Specifically, why do you need to propose a divine being to explain the Earth/universe/life? Couldn't it just as easily be here for reasons yet unknown? That's the point of science, to take a skeptical attitude and follow an argument through as logically and unbiased as possible. Why bother with the middle man of god, when clearly we have no explicit indication that he exists. Every phenomena observed so far has found a logical explanation that obeys laws described by science.
3) On the contrary, I have 14 years of Catholic school under my belt. I used to be somewhat religious and was forced to attend mass every week for many years. I have since changed my opinion based on evidence and education. I appreciate the complements though :)
4) I will look into it! Thank you.

In response to "this is one of the worst articles I have ever read", I must ask: Please provide specific examples from the article so we can discuss what it is you find so terrible and offensive.

Thanks!
-Stephen

Anonymous
Wed Sep 14 2011 02:24
Great article, and to the person who thinks that this is the worst article they've ever read you are a complete incompetent. You are clearly and single sided thinker who never has written an article of your own, nor do you probably have the courage to write an article expressing your opinion; though it may contrast others. Its because of people like you, attacking people who have the fortitude to stand out and make this world a better place that this country is going to shit.
Sean Matthews
Tue Sep 13 2011 16:57
Hey man, kudos for taking this on. I once wrote for the TNH in a sort've opposite view... writing titled "Religion and College". I actually discussed scientific certainty and uncertainty in one of my column entries, and got roasted for using "theory" and "fact" incorrectly. I've since been corrected. I think you're doing a good thing.

A few questions/points of interest/comments...

1) As far as I understand it, while evolution itself is pretty solidly factual, the mechanism of how it works is not necessarily determined (most people point to random chance for mutations, and survival of the fittest). There is strong evidence for the survival of the fittest model, but there is still no way to prove if it's "random chance" or "the hand of God/the Divine" at play. Regardless, there are plenty of fun problems to run with for a Christian or theist there. But, it does allow for some wiggle room.

2) One of my friends pointed out: This is a fascinating discussion, but ultimately has no bearing on the existence of a "God" or Divine or Intelligent Creator. If this Creator/God exists, and is all-powerful, is it out of the realm of possibility that He/she/it could have created the world to produce the results that it does now? It's a sort of unimportant discussion in the long run: God could have "Created" the world/universe 6,000 years ago but made it to seem as though it were billions of years old, or he could have created it billions of years ago, using evolution to get to human beings, or he could just not be part of the equation at all. It's not relevant to the discussion of deity divinity or faith. Kind of a cop-out answer, but I really cannot see how it's irrational.

3) You have a slightly unfair bias coming through. Slightly because you're respectful and factual. Unfair because your knowledge of science clearly outweighs your knowledge of the nuanced apologetic arguments. But, I like your tone and approach, as it invites a discussion based on truth and agreed facts, not mental gymnastics to make our desired views fit reality.

4) The Veritas Forum is looking to host a conversation about Jesus' relevance in a Scientific world come the Spring Semester. I think a voice like yours (and class-mates, and friends I assume?) would be invaluable to have in this discussion. Check out veritas.org to find out more about the forum in general.

Hope to continue conversation! I don't mind giving my e-mail/search me on facebook if you'd like.

Yours in Service and Seeking Truth,
~Sean

Anonymous
Tue Sep 13 2011 14:28
Wow, you guys are all so brave attacking people you have never met at an institution where everyone agrees with you. I'm a big fan of science new writing, this is one of the worst articles I have ever read.
Anonymous
Tue Sep 13 2011 02:38
Fundamentalists Christianity is a cult; its members are now brainwashed and won't listen to reason any more.




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