Sunday, September 15, 2013

GIGO Study on Cambrian Explosion

"Garbage In, Garbage Out" is one of the oldest expressions in data processing. That expression came to mind when reading this latest attempt to white-wash the problems for Macro-evolution posed by the Cambrian Explosion. The Cambrian Explosion is a problem for the evolutionary hypothesis because, besides perhaps sponges, every basic body plan in existence today (and many which are not) shows up within a 10 million or so year window in the fossil record, including vertebrates. This event was estimated to have occurred 543 million years ago, and nothing remotely like it has ever happened since. The assumption is that all of those plans "evolved" but it seemed a ridiculous amount of change occurred in a remarkably brief period of time.

I am a fan of real science, and so junk science like this bothers me. What they did was try to develop a computer model to determine how much faster macroevolutionary change occurred in the explosion than occurred at any other period of time. This was done in an effort to produce the result they got- so it does not surprise me that they got it. They claim the results show that evolution only had to happen five times faster than "normal" to produce these changes. The article gives no details as to how their "computer modeling" was put together.

They were shy on the details in the article, they just wanted to be able to tell laymen "scientists have determined that the Cambrian explosion was not that big a deal. Evolution only had to happen five times faster than normal." Still, they only could have even generated the garbage that went in two ways. One was to take short-term micro-evolutionary trends and extrapolate them to absurdly unsound degrees, and the other is to engage in the perfectly circular reasoning of assuming that any other big change in the fossil record is wholly due to evolution and that therefore those changes could be used to calculate a "normal" rate for evolution.

For example, they could have taken short term micro-evolutionary changes, like variation in beak size or hair color patterns, and extrapolated how long those tiny changes would take to amount to major changes. This of course assumes that the change is not part of a cycle back and forth around more or less fixed limits. The scientific term for this sort of fallacy is "unsound extrapolation of data." It is when you take too little data over too short a period of time and try to make long term predictions with it.

For example, if the temperature rises twenty degrees from six am to two pm, we might predict that it will be two hundred degrees higher three days from now. Or if the stock market drops 100 points today we might postulate that one month from now one could buy the entire DOW for one dollar. A third example would be timing a runner who goes one quarter of a mile in one minute. Will they manage 10 miles in forty minutes, or 100 miles in 400 minutes? The mistake is to think that a short term change, one that is often built into the system, can be sustained nearly indefinitely even when there are physical constraints impacting the amount of change likely, or even possible, once you leave a narrow range.

As sorry as the above would be, it still makes more sense than the other technique they could have used, and the one that I suspect that they did use. At least micro-evolution is observable in the actual world, rather than just inferred from other evidence. It happens, but it is only a re-shuffling of existing information rather than the creation of complex new structures through novel new information being introduced into living systems.

The other way they could have produced the garbage to put into their model is simply to assume what they were trying to prove, and then use the information from their assumption to "validate" their conclusion. This is of course the fallacy of circular reasoning. The whole point of calculating how fast macro-evolution would have to occur in the Cambrian Explosion was because the event was being used by Creationists to question the evolutionary hypothesis. They said as much in the article.

So the second way they could have calculated their rates of evolution was to assume that every change they see in the fossil record was due to evolution, then pick a few of the "fastest" changes they think they see in the fossil record, then apply that to the Cambrian to see how much faster it would have to be than the other times it went fast. The problem of course is that it assumes those other times were really evolution. We have never really seen complex new features arise in organisms within the period of human history, we have only seen variation back and forth around a mean for various groups of animals.

The pattern in the fossil record is that organism are introduced as a general type, then radiate to more specialized types, then there is a long period of stasis. The changes happen in mini-explosions in most cases, not slowly over an extended time period. Is that due to a burst of evolution or something beyond evolution? The way they designed this experiment does not allow them to ask this question.

Suppose instead of fossils you has my credit card receipts, and you were trying to determine how fast I could change location. Most days you would see I was in the same general area, but a few days I might drive to a city 400 miles away. Then one day I took an airplane to a city 2000 miles away. If they did not know about jet planes, they might conclude that I could drive 2,000 miles in a day because it was "only" five times faster than the car trips which I occasionally took. In this scenario, the jet plane represents intelligent design, which they discount in an attempt to shoe-horn in the idea that the processes they know about are sufficient to explain the amount of change over time they see. The analogy breaks down though, because in the case of evolution they don't have a rate of change to even explain the car trips. It would be more like their insisting I could evolve fast enough to explain every credit card receipt by foot travel. They would use my car trips to claim I could foot-travel far faster than I really could, then use the mistaken assumption about my ability to foot-travel to say it could also explain the time I took a jet to Rio.

They are using an "evolution of the gaps" to explain sudden bursts of genomic change which themselves do not make sense under presently understood mechanisms, and then using that inexplicable rate of change to claim that an even larger rate of change is not that big a deal because it is only five times faster than the other times we have seen it happening at an inexplicable rate. Hey folks, that answers nothing, because they still can't demonstrate that evolution produced the original rate of change, much less the ones that are five times faster over a Titanic scale.

I see science rapidly being replaced by propaganda as government funding takes over research departments around the country. At this point, I view a failure to consider certain ideas and ask questions which challenge not just the details, but the overall framework under which researchers are operating as a hindrance to human progress.

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