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  1. #1
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    The Evolution Thread: shattering the invisible barrier

    The purpose of this evolution thread is to dispel the idea that there is an "invisible barrier" that stops one species from becoming another species. Too many theists / evolution doubters acknowledge that genetic mutations can cause small changes to a species, but do not think these changes can add up to large scale changes / speciation / so-called "macroevolution".

    First, let's set some ground rules.

    A) Evolution happens.
    I know it's bad form on ODN to leave a link as evidence and not discuss it. However, the link that I'm offering is just here to establish that we have observed evolution in action. Many times. For many species. If you deny that genetic mutation takes place or think that evolution doesn't happen, you need to start your own thread to discuss it. Make sure you address the evidence in the link provided in this paragraph.

    B) If you intend to offer a rebuttal, kindly read the entire post(s) before replying.
    Do not skim. Do not skip any section. It's highly likely that whatever you are going to say will be resolved elsewhere.

    C) We will b discussing a hypothetical organism in this thread, but one that could very easily exist.
    More on this in a bit.

    D) On the example below all "changes" described are the result of genetic mutation over many generations and a great deal of time.
    Consider that, if the entire existence of the planet Earth was condensed into a 24 hour period, human beings (from our most primitive ancestors) have only been around for the last 10 seconds. I bring this up to illustrate just how much time/generations evolution requires.

    That being said...

    Part I: An example of evolution.

    Let's start with a species of fish.

    This species of fish eats aquatic plants that live in shallow coastal waters. It's a pretty normal looking fish. It dies pretty quick if it gets out of water.

    A mutation happens that changes the musculature of the species' front fins. They're still fins. They still function as fins. However, they allow the fish to crudely crawl along the sandy bottom of the coastal water. (remember, read the whole thread before you reply). This mutation proves beneficial: crawling along the bottom allows the fish to find more food and more food is always a good thing.

    A few more generations later another mutation happens. The fish's gills mutate so that it can metabolize a tiiiiiiny bit of air. Basically, the fish still dies if it happens to flop out of the water onto land, but now it takes minutes instead of seconds. Still a fish. Still doing fish things.

    So now we have four groups in the same species:
    • Original non-mutated fish
    • Crawling fish
    • Efficient gill fish
    • Fish that has both crawling ability and efficient gills

    They're all the same species because they can mate with one another and produce viable offspring.

    Another gap of time passes and another group of generations goes by and the fish who can crawl and have efficient gills are WAY better at getting food than the other fish we've mentioned. The fish that can crawl and survive for a minute or two on land are thriving. The other members of the species are starting to die out; they're just not as good at getting food.

    Another set of generations go by and the fish that crawls and has good gills mutates again to have a neurological instinct to hunt for food on land. Now this could be a potentially lethal mutation... fish that want to beach themselves usually don't last long. But this fish is just lucky. There's plenty of food right n tidal pools and puddles so it can go and crawl on land some and then hurry back into the water.

    At this time, there aren't any land predators so the crawling good gill fish is doing great. Another set of generations later, it develops another mutation that causes it's gills to be set a little further inside it's body. They're still the good gills from earlier. They still work the same way. They're just a little further inside the body. This helps protect them from damage (from sand and the like) and so that fish starts to thrive better than it's predecessors.

    Another set of generations later and this same lucky fish mutates so that it's scaly skin can deal a little better with being on land. It still needs to be wet, but it's closer to being able to survive on land.

    A set of generations later, the fish's fins mutate again and allow it to crawl a little better. That gives it an advantage in getting food so that crawling fish... with all the mutations that came before and are continuing to add up... it thrives and keeps having offspring.

    During this whole time, there are also mutations going on of it's internal organs. Some are helpful and cause the fish to thrive. Some are neutral and it just carries them along. Others are harmful and that particular strain of the species dies out. But they're all small changes. A small random lump on the heart gets carried along. The lump continues to mutate. Eventually it's another chamber on the heart.

    So we've gone from a regular fish that looks like any other fish to one that can crawl and survive in air for a few minutes at a time. It's pretty close to being an amphibian. It's so different from it's predecessors that it can no longer mate with them and produce viable offspring. It's a different species. This hasn't happened abruptly or quickly. It's taken a tremendously long time and many generations.

    So eventually the small changes add up. The gills mutate so that they can metabolize oxygen from the atmosphere a little better and continue to internalize. The fins continue to strengthen and get slightly better at crawling. The internal organs continue to mutate slowly.

    Slowly... eventually... we go from having a fish to an amphibian.

    It's important to note that along the way there were likely many mutations that didn't help the species. Some mutations are harmful and cause that individual organism to die out / not carry it's mutation along. I've described the fish that made it to being amphibians, but there are plenty of organisms that just didn't make it... for example the fish whose gills mutate to cause it to die instantly when removed from the water.

    Back to our amphibian, it has a mutation that causes it's eggs to be thick and hard instead of soft on squishy. So now it doesn't have to lay eggs in the water. This is hugely helpful because there are less predators on land.

    A set of generations later and the amphibian's gills are now true lungs. It can no longer metabolize oxygen from water. It has to breath air, but it's still getting some oxygen from the water through it's skin.

    Another set of generations later and a small subtle change happens to the amphibian's skin that causes it to not need so much oxygen from it's skin.

    See how we're now getting closer to reptiles? A few subtle changes and we're there.

    Now at no time during this description have I invoked anything other than micro-evolution. Small changes that affect the species.

    Part II: How to debate this.

    What most evolution doubters have trouble with is conceptualizing how small changes can add up to form new species. They can't imagine, for example, how a fish could become a reptile. I'm hoping that Part I of this essay helped. Hopefully, if you were an evolution doubter, you're saying "Ooooooohhh... I think I get it now." If not... if you still want to debate, that's fine. Here's what you need to do:

    You need to show me where one or more of the mutations I described is impossible. That's all. It's simple. Do you think that gills can't get better at metabolizing oxygen? No problem. Just provide evidence to support this. I will happily review any and every piece of evidence you provide.

    What you don't want to do is insist that there is some kind of "invisible barrier" to evolution that stops the changes I detailed from happening. Not without supporting your claim with evidence. Nor do you want to say something asinine like "well how could a fish become a cat!? lol". The answer is quite simple, but also quite long. It's a list of small & subtle changes that would likely take up several ODN pages to recount. However, at no time would there be any sweeping impossible changes. All subtle one like what I detailed here.

    To be honest, there seem to be two and only two sorts of people in the evolution debate: people who've taken the time to comprehend how evolution actually happens and accept that it's true... and people who don't understand evolution and therefor doubt it. I'm hoping that in educating you in how evolution works, you will accept that it's true.

    Okay. Now you can write your rebuttal.

  2. #2
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    Re: The Evolution Thread: shattering the invisible barrier

    Not sure you will get one.. good post though.

    In another debate I kept asking. What is the barrier and how does it operate? How is mutation controlled so that it never reaches a point that prevents it from crossing whatever the border is?

    I got the theist to pick a scientific classification as the boundary. Might have been Genus, I don't recall. But he proposed no mechanism for how those borders are maintained or protected even while admitting that evolution drove a constant stream of change within these arbitrary groups.

    So this is a rider... if you can explain how these barriers are maintained, I'd like to hear about how it works and what makes you think it works that way. If you don't have any such idea... then why do you think it works the way you claim? Aren't you just making stuff up at that point?
    Feed me some debate pellets!

  3. #3
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    Re: The Evolution Thread: shattering the invisible barrier

    Yeah... I think I saw that one. The point of this thread is to use as a reference when people start making up that sort of thing. It takes a lot of typing, but it's worth it.

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    Re: The Evolution Thread: shattering the invisible barrier

    Good OP, explains the gist in a hypothetical and simple way. Small changes are all that happen in evolution (evolution is defined as a change in the gene pool over time), though there might also be some that are quite rapid on a geological time scale. Its interesting that actually quite a few fish can breath air in different ways, through small holes in their head and so on. I think there are other definitions of speciation apart from the mating thing, and not to spoil the simplicity, but there would be many species in between the ones described. A new species can just be some recognisable change.

    To carry on the basic explanation a bit if I may, you have to think of it like twigs and branches on a tree. One species can split into many, which live side by side, all a tiny bit different, and then gradually some of those might die out. For instance our common ancestors split into fully modern humans and neanderthals, and they are usually regarded as either a separate species or subspecies. Obviously plants and animals evolved separately.

    I did once read a piece claiming that some fish lived on the land and then went back in the water, but Im not sure if there is any truth in that, probably some truth. Dolphins and whales did of course live on land at one time.

    The best resource for all this is talkorigins.org as in the link at the top.

  5. #5
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    Re: The Evolution Thread: shattering the invisible barrier

    I'll bite for the hell of it. If I were an evolution doubter I would phrase my argument accordingly:

    1) There are countless barriers to the emergence of new genotypes and phenotypes. That's why so many mutations are lethal, cause sterility, or reduce fitness. Inability to have sex in sexually reproducing species is a barrier. So a mutation causing male sterility in humans is an example of a barrier. So lets be honest barriers exist.

    2) While your story is plausible, it is an example of an evolutionary "Just-so" story. Just because you can imagine a plausible scenario for how things happened, doesn't mean that it is so. More often one finds evolutionary Just-so stories in Evolutionary Psychology. Beyond saying its plausible, is it a scenario that you can give an honest defense of? No its not. You say a gene is mutated, causing the fish to be able crawl on sand. Plausible, yes, but its also plausible that there are actual barriers to this happening that make it implausible. What if those genes that would allow the fish to crawl on sand are single copy genes with critical roles in early development, so that mutation of them results in the mutated embryo never making it past an 8 cell stage or something equivalent? What if that gene is necessary also for sperm production, so that while our little buddy can crawl along the sandy bottoms, he has a low sperm count and can't get a girl pregnant. His wondrous mutation is going to die with him. This is why Just-so stories fail. They are evolutionary fairy tales created to explain something that is not understood and are little different that creationist stories. Its impossible for any possible opponent to reasonably argue against your scenario because it like shifting sand. It is a story so devoid in any real substance that any equally plausible "barrier" can be dismissed with subtle shifting of the scenario.

    So let me give you a counter Just-So story.

    Muscle development in fish species A is controlled by the ABC pathway.

    The ABC pathway is thus:

    A is a small signaling ligand, B is a Receptor, C is a Transcription Factor.

    A -> B -> C -> Fin muscle development.

    A is perceived by B, which in turn activates C, resulting in Fin muscle development.

    However A is also a ligand in the AGH pathway, which controls cell differentiation early in embryo development. Mutations in A result in embryos never developing past an 8 cell stage.

    B is also a receptor controlling heart development. Mutations result in a weakened heart that can not sustain the Fish past adolescence.

    C is also involved in egg production and sperm motility. Mutations cause either female sterility or sperm that swim in circles till they die.

    So, any mutation in the the ABC pathway controlling fin muscle development is a dead end.

    Prove that this is impossible.

    And so we go around with out Just-so stories.

  6. #6
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    Re: The Evolution Thread: shattering the invisible barrier

    Quote Originally Posted by chadn737 View Post
    1) There are countless barriers to the emergence of new genotypes and phenotypes. That's why so many mutations are lethal, cause sterility, or reduce fitness. Inability to have sex in sexually reproducing species is a barrier. So a mutation causing male sterility in humans is an example of a barrier. So lets be honest barriers exist.
    I understand you are playing along here... I think but its the best we have for now.

    I agree that there are barriers that limit the success of mutation to driving differentiation. One would expect many mutations to be disadvantageous or even non-transmissible. Most possible outcomes die on the vine as it were. But that is accepted in the micro-only evolutionary argument. They acknowledge that mutation does give rise to differentiation and does so in incremental steps. Some even argue it happens at a pace far exceeding the accepted rate to back up young earth notions. But.. they don't explain how such barriers are selective in limiting the change to a fixed range for each different "type" of organism, especially when all "types" appear to have nearly identical base mechanisms for mutation and genetic change.

    So there is change and there are known barriers, but how do those barriers create these "lanes" of evolution in which you can't cross the invisible lines which are apparently different for each "kind" of life?
    Feed me some debate pellets!

  7. #7
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    Re: The Evolution Thread: shattering the invisible barrier

    And I would reply that:

    1) Mutations that are not helpful to an organism aren't a barrier to evolution. They're an example of evolution. Essentially that line of reasoning is "Because there are bad changes there can't be changes". Take the example I used in the op. Add in, during the fish phase, that the fish in question loses it's ability to see. If it can still find a way to survive without sight it can still evolve into other species. The barrier that theists refer to seems to be (according to them) some limit on DNA that stops one sort of organism from becoming another... something in the DNA that transcends individual traits of organisms. If you listen to the evolution doubters, it doesn't matter what geno/phenotypes an amphibian posses; fertile, infertile, what have you... it can never eventually be a feline no matter how many subtle changes it goes through. That's simply not the case.

    2) You're missing the context of the "invisible barrier" argument that evolution doubters employ. They would argue that fish becoming reptiles isn't plausible. Not in any way. Not even in a "just-so" story. They would maintain that there is some barrier that prevents organisms from changing too much. There's no real substance to this argument. It's just something that they cannot conceive of. So sure. There are plenty of organisms that just never made it. Many more organisms never make it off the evolutionary "drawing board"... and I'd estimate the number of dead organisms to living ones at a hundred to one if not larger. But some organisms make it (even if we want to call this a "just-so" story). The issue with the people this debate is directed at is they hold that no organisms change as dramatically as I've described. To them, a fish can mutate subtly, but those mutations will never add up to say... an amphibian. Thus the "invisible barrier" argument. It needs to go.

  8. #8
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    Re: The Evolution Thread: shattering the invisible barrier

    Quote Originally Posted by Sigfried
    I agree that there are barriers that limit the success of mutation to driving differentiation.
    Exactly what I was saying in my first point.

    So there is change and there are known barriers, but how do those barriers create these "lanes" of evolution in which you can't cross the invisible lines which are apparently different for each "kind" of life?
    You got me on that one.

    This is where I revert to a slightly more sophisticated argument based on probabilities of poorly understood evolution rates and assumptions of what and how many mutations would be possible/must occur, like those used by Behe.

    What do you say to that?

    Quote Originally Posted by Zhavric View Post
    And I would reply that:

    1) Mutations that are not helpful to an organism aren't a barrier to evolution. They're an example of evolution. Essentially that line of reasoning is "Because there are bad changes there can't be changes". Take the example I used in the op. Add in, during the fish phase, that the fish in question loses it's ability to see. If it can still find a way to survive without sight it can still evolve into other species. The barrier that theists refer to seems to be (according to them) some limit on DNA that stops one sort of organism from becoming another... something in the DNA that transcends individual traits of organisms. If you listen to the evolution doubters, it doesn't matter what geno/phenotypes an amphibian posses; fertile, infertile, what have you... it can never eventually be a feline no matter how many subtle changes it goes through. That's simply not the case.
    Let me rephrase #1, because I was not saying that "bad mutations are a barrier." The point I was trying to make is that those forces that cause a mutation to be "bad" are the barrier, not the mutation itself. To reuse the example of sex. If a species reproduces through sex, that itself presents a barrier which will limit what mutations are possible. Mutations that result that provide some survival edge to the individual, but result in sterility, are a dead end because they are unable to be passed on due to the barrier posed by a sexually reproducing species. A better example may be protein structure because this is determined by actual physical forces. A protein amino acid sequence ultimately determines what secondary and tertiary structures a protein can form. Introducing certain mutations will alter those structures. In some cases, changes in protein structure cause them to form insoluble aggregates. Prions do this without any actual change in the amino acid content, resulting in diseases like Mad Cow. So the physical forces that control protein structure and folding limits the range of acceptable mutations.

    That is the point I was making. Barriers do exist in evolution, they are those forces that determine, as you put it, "good" or "bad" mutations.

    Are there firm barriers inherent in the DNA as some of the less sophisticated creationists seem to claim? No, but there are barriers.

    2) You're missing the context of the "invisible barrier" argument that evolution doubters employ. They would argue that fish becoming reptiles isn't plausible. Not in any way. Not even in a "just-so" story. They would maintain that there is some barrier that prevents organisms from changing too much. There's no real substance to this argument. It's just something that they cannot conceive of. So sure. There are plenty of organisms that just never made it. Many more organisms never make it off the evolutionary "drawing board"... and I'd estimate the number of dead organisms to living ones at a hundred to one if not larger. But some organisms make it (even if we want to call this a "just-so" story). The issue with the people this debate is directed at is they hold that no organisms change as dramatically as I've described. To them, a fish can mutate subtly, but those mutations will never add up to say... an amphibian. Thus the "invisible barrier" argument. It needs to go.
    So lets argue that there is no absolute barrier, but rather a multitude of minor leaky barriers. Individually, these barriers can be crossed, but between fish and amphibians there is a significant enough genetic difference that a vast number of these minor barriers had to be crossed. Given a certain probability for each step that occurred, the overall probability of the event becomes incredibly small even for very large populations over significant amounts of time. While this does not mean that the said evolutionary event is impossible, it does make it improbable.

  9. #9
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    Chad, I'm surprised and disappointed that you would refer to Behe. His argument has long been rebutted. The man is intellectually dishonest, relies on outdated data that he manipulates to suit his needs.

    There are many critiques of the argument, exposing it for what it is. Do I really have to refer you to them? (on iPhone now but if needed will do so tonight)
    "I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world" - Richard Dawkins

    "If you could rationalize with Religious people there would be no more Religious people" -Gregory House

  10. #10
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    Re: The Evolution Thread: shattering the invisible barrier

    Quote Originally Posted by Allocutus View Post
    Chad, I'm surprised and disappointed that you would refer to Behe. His argument has long been rebutted. The man is intellectually dishonest, relies on outdated data that he manipulates to suit his needs.

    There are many critiques of the argument, exposing it for what it is. Do I really have to refer you to them? (on iPhone now but if needed will do so tonight)
    Allocutus, I'm surprised and disappointed that you take my mildly sarcastic mention of Behe so seriously to the point that you would feel the need to rehash in some form the same tired old crap that can be found in a hundred threads on this site alone. The mere threat of such rehash is enough to make me concede. You win.

    What interests me here is the claim that there are "no barriers" to evolution. Is evolution unlimited so that as Darwin said, "endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved." Or are these forms limited in some way. Of the thousands of species, almost all can be group in one of a handful of generalized body plans. Is this a freak accident with forms yet untested or is this the extent of how living beings can manifest themselves?

  11. #11
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    Re: The Evolution Thread: shattering the invisible barrier

    Quote Originally Posted by chadn737 View Post
    Allocutus, I'm surprised and disappointed that you take my mildly sarcastic mention of Behe so seriously to the point that you would feel the need to rehash in some form the same tired old crap that can be found in a hundred threads on this site alone. The mere threat of such rehash is enough to make me concede. You win.
    Sorry, I didn't pick up the sarcasm. Hence my surprise, given your level of knowledge. In my defence, I was posting from a crowded bus using my iPhone. There was a mother with a throwing up baby sitting next to me and the dude sitting opposite apparently doesn't know how to operate a shower.

    What interests me here is the claim that there are "no barriers" to evolution. Is evolution unlimited so that as Darwin said, "endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved." Or are these forms limited in some way. Of the thousands of species, almost all can be group in one of a handful of generalized body plans. Is this a freak accident with forms yet untested or is this the extent of how living beings can manifest themselves?
    That's an interesting question. Of course it's not one that undermines the truth of evolution or of natural selection. In all fairness to Darwin, I think a lot of what he wrote was almost poetic and the above passage does have that ring to it too. And of course he knew absolutely nothing about mutations.

    I'm not entirely sure what you mean about the bodyplans. There are thousands of body plans. Compare a fibrobacter with a T-Rex.

    But yes, as many as there are, they ARE limited in number. Of course. And of course they can be grouped based on similarities, from the more specific to the most general. And this is exactly what we'd expect if evolution is a fact because evolution says that all organisms are related, they all come from a single ancestor. But I don't think you're questioning the validity of evolution here, if I (now) read you correctly.

    When you're considering limiting factors, are you thinking of causative factors (eg, what types of mutations are possible and how the genetic code drives embryology) or selective factors (a horse that's shaped like a balloon and weighs 10 tonnes will not live to leave offspring)?
    "I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world" - Richard Dawkins

    "If you could rationalize with Religious people there would be no more Religious people" -Gregory House

  12. #12
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    Re: The Evolution Thread: shattering the invisible barrier

    Sad how the people who need this thread most aren't the ones posting in it.

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    Re: The Evolution Thread: shattering the invisible barrier

    Hey guess what folks. My dad used to be a lay preacher (too old now) - and guess what subject he got me into when I was a kid? Yeah, from a hobby collecting stones and stuff, both of us did degrees in geology. I think there is a point to that anecdote relevant to the debate and its quite obvious.

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    Re: The Evolution Thread: shattering the invisible barrier

    mutations mutations mutations whats causing these mutations? Where does this new dna come from that gives the fish better fins for crawling?

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    Re: The Evolution Thread: shattering the invisible barrier

    Quote Originally Posted by I andrew View Post
    mutations mutations mutations whats causing these mutations?
    WARNING: I'm feeling impatient today for some reason...

    See Andrew, there is this thing called Google, where you can look up basic information instead of asking basic science questions and making your self look horribly ignorant and lazy.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutation

    Mutations are changes in a genomic sequence: the DNA sequence of a cell's genome or the DNA or RNA sequence of a virus. Mutations are caused by radiation, viruses, transposons and mutagenic chemicals, as well as errors that occur during meiosis or DNA replication.[1][2][3] They can also be induced by the organism itself, by cellular processes such as hypermutation.
    Feed me some debate pellets!

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    Re: The Evolution Thread: shattering the invisible barrier

    mutations mutations mutations whats causing these mutations?

    Dude, mutations are mistakes made when DNA is copied.

    PASTE:
    The cellular machinery that copies DNA sometimes makes mistakes. These mistakes alter the sequence of a gene. This is called a mutation. There are many kinds of mutations.
    Introduction to Evolutionary Biology
    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-...o-biology.html

    Mutation creates new alleles. Each new allele enters the gene pool as a single copy amongst many. Most are lost from the gene pool, the organism carrying them fails to reproduce, or reproduces but does not pass on that particular allele.


    Alleles are different versions of the same gene.

 

 

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