Explaining homology

Homology is the study of shared features between taxonomic clades, such as how all tetrapods, from amphibians to mammals, possess fingers, and is something that can only be explained by evolution. For example, what intelligent designer would give whales fingers and leg bones enveloped inside of a fleshy membrane, complete with shoulders, instead of giving them fish fins, and what intelligent designer would give whales lungs instead of enabling them to filter oxygen through the water like fish do?

These are the hallmarks of evolution, not creation. Evolution explains homology, Creationism doesn’t. It is as the late, and great, eminent Ukrainian evolutionary biologist Theodosius Doubzhansky once said:

Biology only makes sense in the light of evolution.

Homology is just one of many things in modern biology that can only be explained by evolution. Homology is indicative of common descent, not common design, as some Creationists like to claim. No intelligent designer would give whales lungs, after all.

Homology as a science was first devised by the great French anatomist and paleontologist Georges Cuvier himself, widely regarded to be the “Founder of Paleontology”, and who also happened to be a creationist, albeit not a young-earth creationist, he died a quarter of a century before Darwin published his seminal masterpiece On the Origin of Species (1859).

This is the second entry of a series of essays explaining basic evolutionary biology, the first can be found here.

A Basic Definition of Evolution

There are still tons of misconceptions floating around out there about what evolution is, and what it isn’t, so I think I should take it upon myself to provide a basic, and accurate, definition of evolution consistent with what we actually know to be true about evolution.

Evolution is simply the change in the frequencies of allele variations in any given population over time. An alternate definition of evolution is that evolution is simply descent with inherent modification, and the two separate definitions aren’t mutually exclusive.

Notice that neither of those definitions have anything to do with a “kind turning into a completely different kind”, such as the infamous Crocoduck of Kirk Cameron’s imagination, nor does it have anything to do with abiogenesis, the big bang theory, planetary formation, stellar nucleosynthesis, and the like. Evolution is solely an explanation of biodiversity, that’s it.

Perhaps the reader will be confused by how abiogenesis and evolution are two completely separate phenomena, so let me explain: Abiogenesis is about how life got here, while evolution only has to do with what happens after life got started in the first place. In other words, one needs a genome to evolve, something that prebiotic organic chemicals lack.

So it’s perfectly logically and theologically consistent for one to believe in both a deity and acknowledge evolution as the sole valid explanation for biodiversity, despite what the Fundies would have you believe.

A good source for understanding basic evolutionary biology can be found in the link below:

Understanding Evolution

Biblical contradictions #1

This is the first of a multi-part series of essays highlighting the numerous contradictions that the Bible possesses, the first one is going to focus on the contradiction in creation accounts between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2.

In Genesis 1, the creation myth goes as this: Over an undefined period of time, the cosmos, all the animals, and everything is created before humans are, and when humans are created, the two sexes of humanity are created at the same time. Contrast that with the creation myth presented in Genesis 2:

Over a period of seven days, the universe is created, and then Man is created, the beasts are created after Man is, to show Man’s dominance unto nature, and then Man gets lonely, so Woman is created from Man’s Ribs.

In the first myth, animals are created before humans, and females and males are created at the same time; in the second myth, humans are created before the animals, and woman are created after men.

This presents a problem for Biblical literalists. Clearly both cannot be true at the same time, for that would be a paradox, which is true? If only one of them is true, then that shows that the Bible cannot be infallible, for some parts of the Bible are obviously false, being not true. If both of them are true, then that creates a logical paradox for Biblical literalists, rendering them both false.

In reality, it’s blatantly obvious that the authors of Genesis compiled two separate creation myths into one half-assed whole, with poor editing, or else we wouldn’t notice the inherent contradictions in the Bible now, would we?

Dating the Book of Job

The traditional scholarly consensus is that Job is the oldest book in the Bible, with a date of origin in the Bronze Age, around 1500 BCE, but recently I noticed a few problems with this, which I will explain below.

If the King James Version translation of Job 20:24 is correct, then the references to “iron” and “steel” in that verse rule out a date of origination in the Bronze Age, for iron and steel were utterly unknown to Bronze Age peoples, for obvious reasons of course.

Therefore, the date when Job was written should be placed in the Iron Age, rather than the Bronze Age, in line with the other books of the Bible. So if I`m correct, the view that Job is an outlier is wrong, and needs to be corrected in light of Job 20:24.

I should note that I’ve received some criticism over my dating of the Book of Job, with some commentators noting that the oral traditions that the Bible is ultimately based upon are most likely far older than the works of the Bible themselves, and while I acknowledge that as likely as well, I should mention that my dating only takes place to when the oral traditions of Job and the other books of the Bible were put to writing, not when the oral traditions they are based upon first came into being.

The entirety of the verse of Job 20:24 is placed below:

He shall flee from the iron weapon, and the bow of steel shall strike him through.

 

What Occam’s Razor is, and what it isn’t.

Many people misuse and misunderstand what Occam’s Razor really is, and what it is not. A common misconception, based off of a gross misunderstanding of Occam’s Razor, is that the Razor favors “the simplest of arguments over others”, when in reality that is not the case. The Razor is a heuristic used in science and critical thought to weed out the least parsimonious of explanations, in other words, an explanation or argument that has too many unnecessary assumptions in order to make it work is less parsimonious than the explanation or argument that has fewer assumptions to make it work.

And, as explained in a previous entry, Occam’s Razor does indeed have its limits, sometimes the least parsimonious explanation actually turns out to be the correct explanation, and so one must be willing to test one’s assumptions in order to fully uncover the truth in order to improve our understanding.

Occam’s Razor is ultimately why the Ptolemaic system of geocentric astronomy was thrown out in favor of Copernican heliocentrism, because in order to work Ptolemaic geocentrism required too many cumbersome assumptions in order for it to explain the heavens, and when Copernicus introduced his revolutionary model of heliocentrism, which had far fewer assumptions needed in order for his model to accurately explain the heavens versus Ptolemy’s model, the paradigm shifted in favor of Copernicus over Ptolemy.

The Limits of Rationality

In combating fallacious arguments and fighting the ever growing tide of bullshit flowing in onto reason’s shores, one has a set of parameters used to comb out the shit from the treasure, these sets of parameters are what is known as a heuristic, and in a specific set of circumstances one’s heuristics are more than sufficient for discovering the validity of an argument, but sometimes it is not enough.

Sometimes rationality itself is not enough to discover the truth of something, one must be willing to test one’s assertions and assumptions. Take evolution, for example, if one were to use Occam’s Razor, then creationism would seem to be the more parsimonious explanation for existence than science itself, requiring only one assumption, that is, “Goddidit”, versus the several assumptions required for science to be true, that is, that the laws of nature we observe today have remained uniform throughout the past, and that a statement has to be testable to be shown to be true, if you can’t falsify it, then it ain’t truth.

But an observation of reality shows us that the exact opposite is true of creationism, “Goddidit” isn’t an explanation, it’s an excuse, a cop-out. If you don’t know how something works, just say “Goddidit” and the problem solves itself. It’s intellectually lazy, one of the biggest sins one can commit in my eyes. Absolutely everything once said to be of supernatural origination turned out to have natural causes.

People once said that diseases were caused by demons, now we know that they are caused by pathogens, and other natural causes. In some cases, what is seemingly more parsimonious than its competitors, requiring only a few assumptions versus the many of its competitors, isn’t necessarily true, and that is the reason why we must test our assumptions, even if the result defies common sense and understanding.

 

The Million Dollar Question

This is an important one, and is directed towards religious moderates, specifically Christian moderates, who tend to not be Biblical literalists. This question concerns perhaps the most damning question one can think of towards Christian moderates, and needs no introduction. I think it fit to introduce the Million Dollar Question down below, ready? Here we go:

 

How does one determine whether or not a particular passage in the Bible is literally true, or only allegorically true?

This is a question that few theists dare answer, I have received responses that, are in effect, non-answers. Such a non-answer is usually along the lines of “What’s true in the Bible is true for different people,”. That’s fine and dandy, but I`m talking about truth, not interpretation, there’s a big difference.

The truth is what can be shown to be literally true, a la if evidence can be shown to support the veracity of a particular statement. An interpretation is one’s reaction to a statement, so while people do interpret the Bible differently, it still doesn’t answer my question, and doesn’t affect whether a particular passage in the Bible is literally true, or only allegorically true.

Any takers?

The Power of Bullshit

Some dare say “conspiracy”, while others would say “bullshit”. What is it exactly that makes us fallible humans so easy to fall for the lies of the snake-oil salesman? Why are humans so attracted to bullshit, as if it has some sort of magnetic quality to it, when the truth is far grander than anything some junkie cooked up after a 12 hour acid trip (*cough*religion*cough*). The answer lies deep within our evolutionary past, humans are naturally adept at pattern recognition, seriously, it’s what we needed to survive as hunter-gatherers in our primordial days. One can’t make the connection between a hoof-print and the animal that made the hoof print without some sort of ability to recognize patterns. It’s this same ability to easily see patterns, even when they aren’t there, that also leads us to making and believing all sorts of crazy ideas. One wouldn’t believe so earnestly believe in ghosts if they hadn’t experienced something that led them to believe in ghosts and other supernatural apparitions, irregardless of the ultimate cause of those experiences.

Another answer lies in the tendency of humans to seek confirmation of what they want to believe, and ignore evidence that contradicts their presupposed notions (this *is* the basis for apologetics, BTW), which is why convincing a creationist of the fact that he’s wrong *won’t* work unless he’s open-minded to the fact that he might be wrong, if someone is utterly convinced of their position, especially if they’re being paid to support that position, it’s hard, if not outright impossible at times, to convince them otherwise. I’ve had people tell me they know I`m right, but they want to continue believing in their preconceived notions and silly superstitions anyways, since faith matters more than truth to these people. It’s why faith healers are able to get away with all of their wild claims, aka bullshit, because the audience they’re deceiving wholeheartedly believes the bullshit, even if they on some level *know* it’s bullshit.

This is called confirmation bias, and it is the source of a *huge* amount of society’s ills, someone looking up NaturalNews.com and is a naturopath already isn’t likely to find anything that contradicts their notions, and in fact supports it irregardless of the facts that say otherwise, and it’s the same thing with religion, too, because it’s all bullshit. People don’t go onto the Answers in Genesis website expecting to find evidence that contradicts the bullshit they so earnestly want to believe, they go on it in order to confirm the bullshit they so earnestly want to believe, and they wouldn’t need to go onto it if they weren’t on some level aware of what they believe is pure bullshit.

Bullshit is powerful, and it is hard to get rid of bullshit’s magnetic influence because of basic human psychology, the tendency to believe bullshit is ultimately based on several survival mechanisms that were vital in the distant past, and long ago some ingenious con artist realized they can exploit these flaws in human psychology to get what they want, and the rubes they’re deceiving won’t know any better. The result of this ancient, prehistoric con artist’s work was religion, since if I pretend to be the only speaker for some imagined deity and then get the people to believe me, I can do whatever I want.

There’s a reason only Moses was allowed to speak to God in the Book of Exodus, and it wasn’t because God had chosen Moses to be his Prophet, aka his sole representative either