Evolution and Zeno’s Paradox

I ran across this letter at New Scientist and thought that it called out an interested aspect of an argument used by ID and creationists against Evolution.

Charles Young’s call for photographs of the most complete progression from one species to another to illustrate evolution (5 April, p 21) highlights two interesting issues when considering the evolution/creationism controversy.

In his online battle with creationists who demand evidence for the existence of transitional evolutionary forms, Young seems to have fallen foul of their variation on Zeno’s paradox. In its original form, this appears to demonstrate that walking from one side of a room to the other is impossible if one tries to do it “mathematically”. By walking half the distance, then half the remaining distance, then half that remaining distance and so on, you will never reach the other side.

When creationists demand not just the broad sequence of transitional forms that led, for example, from land-based mammals to whales, but also every conceivable “in-between” form, they know they are asking the impossible. That’s not because evolution of the whale didn’t happen as described, but because of the statistical impossibility that each and every stage would be fossilised and then found – fossilisation is, after all, a rare event – and a simplistic view of evolutionary change as only ever taking place in small, incremental steps in each and every species. Adding transitional forms simply increases demands from creationists. They will claim that instead of filling a gap, the new fossil actually creates new gaps before it and after it, thereby increasing the problem for the evolutionist. If we then “fail” to fill these new “gaps”, they cry victory.

Nevertheless, Young’s call for better, more robust examples to be made more available is a valid one. Sadly, textbook writers are somewhat lazy in simply using the old favourites of the horse and peppered moth. Your feature by Donald Prothero (“Evolution: What missing link?” 23 February, p 35) nicely illustrated the range of well-evidenced transitional forms. These are the examples that should adorn our textbooks.

Being a breeder of African cichlids, I’d recommend them as the “poster fish” of Evolution.

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5 Comments

  1. Jack Snyder:

    Scoot,

    I will forever be amazed and disappointed that the debate between evolutionists and creationists/ID proponents still continues.

    In the early 80’s in a now defunct science magazine called Future Life (a sister magazine to Starlog), a debate between Isaac Asimov and a creationist was published. Asimov made the same point as the article above; that the creationists are forever looking for transitional fossils and every time one is found, it creates more gaps, so they’ve set up a situation where they can always cry victory.

    A creationist friend of mine once mentioned how evolutionists have never found the “missing link”. I tried to explain to him that the missing link is an inaccurate and outdated phrase. There is no single transitional species between humans and non-human species, that a transition is very gradual and somewhat “blends” together between species. He didn’t get it, he continued to focus on both, gaps in the fossil record, and some single, elusive missing link.

    Very annoying!

  2. Jack Snyder:

    I meant Scott, not Scoot. Sorry about that.

  3. Scott Kirwin:

    Heh.
    I completely agree. The fact that we’re arguing this 150 years after the publication of Origin of Species makes one appreciate the BS Galileo, Copernicus and other scientists had to deal with centuries ago. If so called “modern man” has trouble grasping the Truth today, just imagine how much of a bitch it was when Galileo was under house arrest.

    We’re techno-primitives. The only thing that separates us from the people of the Dark Ages is our gadgets.

  4. Jack Snyder:

    Interesting point about our gadgets separating us from the people of the dark ages. I’ve had fundamentalist Christians tell me that science hasn’t really given us anything and created more problems than solutions to our lives. They’ll say this while they enjoy the comfort and convenience of cellphones, television, computers, automobiles, passenger jets, ovens, refrigeration, climate controlled homes, and modern medicine.

    When I’ve pointed this out to a Christian (who uses high end technology everyday as a non-linear video editor), she looked at me like I had two heads, gave a little laugh, and said, “That’s so basic, that’s not science.”

    I told her that if she showed someone from the 1800’s a box that sits in your living room that can bring near instantaneous images and sounds from anywhere on the planet, and two boxes in the kitchen, one that can freeze water and another that can get as hot as the surface of Venus (while it’s in the self-cleaning mode), they not only would NOT see it as basic, they’d see it as a miracle!

    I then added that if one opens their eyes and mind, they’d see we live in a world of miracles. No one needs to travel to distant lands to see a crying statue of the Virgin Mary; they’re own household is full of miracles that trump such things. Miracles that are taken for granted and ignored.

  5. Scott Kirwin:

    Jack
    I think some people have as much problem with history as they do science. They think of it as a bunch of dates and events, missing the humanity of the people who lived before them.

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