Alright, so I'd just like to say how much I love this site and the rational answers behind each question. I am an atheist myself, and I'm pretty well-read on the topic that is the existence of God. Until someone asks me about evolution. My question is what is the proof of evolution other than just fossils? I suppose I believe in it; it seems to make sense. But I would just like a few more facts to support WHY I should believe in it.
Atheist Answer: 

You've got plenty to work with, never fear. There are so many different kinds of evidence that even the Wikipedia article is monstrous.

I'll let you read that to get yourself started, but here's a rundown of the basic categories:

- The fossil record, of course.
- The genomes of all living things, especially the similarities and specific differences between given species.
- Comparative anatomy: common features, new features and vestigial features.
- Comparative physiology and biochemistry: like comparative anatomy, but more in depth.
- Geographical distribution of apparently related species.
- The steady decline in the effectiveness of any given antibiotic or pesticide against rapidly developing organisms like bacteria and insects.
- The success of recent attempts to recreate the process of evolution virtually.
- Observed events of beneficial mutation and even complete speciation.
- Interspecies infertility, another indicator of important differences between creatures.

Go chew on that lot for a while. There's a wealth of information for each online. Have fun.

- SmartLX

Adaptation VS Evolution

Just wondering if adaption is a reality in terms of evolution. Are the changes always a random mutation or do living creatures actually adapt to their environment? I recently saw a blip about cuttlefish on the nightly news ... very interesting the way they can willingly change their skin to match any background; even something outside of nature. This made me think about adaptation on in a general sense. Does that happen?
Atheist Answer: 

Living creatures can adapt radically to suit their environment during their lifetimes, but such adaptations are not reflected in their DNA and therefore are not passed on genetically. Only recombination (during sexual reproduction) and mutation cause genetic change.

The idea that deliberate adaptations become hereditary is the central idea of a rival theory to Darwin's, namely that of Lamarckian evolution. This theory actually is the way creationists tend to think of Darwinian evolution: unsupported by the evidence, discredited by contrary evidence, and almost entirely dismissed by the scientific community.

That said, Darwinian evolution does allow for some developments that might appear Lamarckian in nature. While deliberate adaptations are not passed on genetically, they can be passed on by instruction and example. If a new skill is deliberately taught to the young for many generations, it may actually affect the selection process; mutations which benefit that skill may be favoured. Therefore it's possible for adaptations to eventually be reflected genetically, but only in a roundabout way.

- SmartLX

Taking a couple of jabs at evolution

1) Evolutionst claim that we are cousins with apes. But we are very different than apes. For example, we have 100 Billion Neurons (all evolved, of course) yet chimps only have 6 Billion (and our common anscestor had even less than 6 Billion). So they respond by pointing to the fossil record which shows that there were many (more than twenty) humanoid species. (Let us ignore, for the moment, that Stephen J. Gould said that ALL of the fossils can be explained as being either human or ape, not proof of an intermediate species. For example, retarted humans have MUCH smaller brains.) According to evolutionists, we descend only from one of these twenty humanoid species. Ask the evolutionist where these species live today? He will respond that they all, somehow, became extinct. Are they looking for the truth or not? 2) Did you know, that a large blue whale has more cells than the number of seconds that have elapsed since the earth was formed? All evolution, of course. I would rather trust Sir Ernst B. Chain, a nobel-prize winning biochemist, who concluded that he would rather believe in fairy tales than evolution.
Atheist Answer: 

I note your expression "the evolutionist", singular but referring to all who accept evolution. It's an insidious grammatical variation which implies that since they are all alike, there is effectively only one to consider. Historical parallels include "the savage", "the Jew" and "the Hun". Consider the prejudices of the people who used those.

1) Here is what Gould meant. The division between human and ape is arbitrary, based on a consensus of zoologists. They drew a line in the progression and called everything after it "Homo". Just this side of that arbitrary line is what we would call a very apelike human. Just the far side is a species considered a very humanlike ape. Every species on the line can be considered a transitional species between those either side of it. (I'd like to know what your definition of "transitional species" is, by the way.)

We are immediately descended from only one of the humanoid species, in the same way that an individual can only have one set of parents. Though some of them like Neanderthal Man split off as our umpteenth cousins, many of the species found are our direct ancestors, and the ancestors of our immediate ancestor species.

The current estimate is that 90% of all species of anything which have ever lived are now extinct. It happens, especially when a species very like you but somehow better is suddenly sharing your resources. Through competition and natural selection, each species on the timeline is likely responsible for the extinction of the one before it, including Homo sapiens. The other apes survived by diversifying to the point where they weren't in competition with our ancestors anymore. For example, some came down from the trees and some didn't.

2) Blue whales are very big, and they grow quickly. Cells are very small, so if a big lifeform grows quickly, a lot of cells are created very quickly. If cells multiply and increase at a rate faster than one cell per second, then it is reasonable that something with more cells than seconds since the Earth's formation (1.5 * 10^17) could fully form in the time since the Earth's formation.

As it happens, the rate of increase of blue whale cells easily exceeds 100 million per second during childhood, which allows an individual blue whale to grow to adulthood in a matter of years. Is there an actual problem with this, or does it just strike you as amazing and therefore impossible without divine help?

Ernst Chain's objections to evolution (as told by the Institute for Creation Research) have been answered many times, though not necessarily here.
- He saw evolution as a chance process, which thanks to the mechanism of natural selection it is not.
- He doubted the efficacy of change through mutation, which has been repeatedly demonstrated, most recently by Richard Lenski's e.coli experiment.
- He contrasted "classical Darwinian ideas" with the function of genes, knowing that Darwin and his contemporaries had no idea what genes or DNA were. Post-genetic neo-Darwinian theory, which was available to Chain if he wished to study it, takes genetic function into account very well.
- He saw the development of mathematics, poetry and other exclusively human abilities as the result of a "divine spark", whereas evolutionary psychology has excellent explanations for their development.
- He wrote that evolutionary theory "does not allow the development of ethical guidelines for human behavior," assuming as many religious people do that anyone would want to use it for that purpose. There's enough secular empathy, convention and philosophy to do that already, without also trying to exploit a simple scientific explanation of a physical phenomenon, thankyou very much.

If there's no particular reason why Chain did not support evolution which stands up today, invoking him is simply a shallow appeal to authority. If that's all you're going for, fine, but it's an authority in the minority.

Why hasn't life evolved on other planets?

According to atheists, evolution is bound to happen given enough time (4.5 billion Years, or 100 Qaudrillion seconds). If so, why have we not been visited by aleins from other planets? Surely, at least one of 10(24) stars (quite a large number, it is a billion times more than the number of seconds that have elapsed since the big bang) contains a species which is interested enough, and technologically advanced enough, to visit us. Yet, they never have. Why?
Atheist Answer: 

What we have here is a case of large numbers vs other large numbers, preventing a clear-cut case for high or low probability.

A simple version of the Drake equation applies here. The probability that we will be contacted by aliens is:

A. the probability of intelligent life evolving on at least one other planet, multiplied by
B. the probability that a given intelligent species will develop interstellar exploration, or intergalactic exploration as the case may be, before it becomes extinct, multiplied by
C. the probability that a given species with interstellar/galactic exploration will actually find us before we become extinct ourselves.

(I say "exploration" rather than "travel", because the aliens might not have to be in our vicinity to find and contact us.)

If you remove the "other" from A to make, "the probability of intelligent life evolving on at least one planet," its probability becomes 1 (certain), as our existence proves it has already happened. If it happened here, nothing prevents it happening elsewhere, so A is indeed very close to 1 and very likely indeed. In other words, they're probably out there.

B is where the trouble starts. Interstellar or intergalactic travel or communication within reasonable timeframes (say, between any two stars in a galaxy within a lifetime) might actually be impossible, if the universe's inherent speed limit of 300,000km a second cannot be circumvented. B could be zero, and therefore alien contact might simply be impossible.

If instead there is a way to cross the cosmos which we haven't discovered yet, we won't know how long that takes until it happens. The danger is that it requires a species to spend a very long time working from a baseline of technologies with which it might inadvertently destroy itself. We're at that stage right now; our theories of deep space travel stem from some of the same research and the same minds as our atomic weaponry. The terrible risk of this particular period in a civilisation's existence appears to lower B considerably.

Finally, C is a function of A and the possibly infinite size of the universe. If every intelligent species which will ever arise has an volume of space to itself so big it will take the rest of its lifespan to explore (likely so far, since we've found nothing in the places we can see properly), no two may ever cross paths. Since the universe is expanding, the chances of contact are shrinking all the time, especially if the species are in separate galaxies, clusters or superclusters.

Tragically, the most likely case appears to be that there's intelligent life all over the universe, forcibly segregated by the tyranny of time and distance. Of course, ET could show up tomorrow and waggle a glowing finger at our flawed view of the universe.

- SmartLX

The Atheist's Riddle

Taken directly from the site Cosmic Fingerprints, often linked from ATA by the Google ad sidebar (or just Google it): 1) DNA is not merely a molecule with a pattern; it is a code, a language, and an information storage mechanism. 2) All codes are created by a conscious mind; there is no natural process known to science that creates coded information. 3) Therefore DNA was designed by a mind.
Atheist Answer: 

Perry Marshall presents himself as an invincible defender of his supposed proof of an Intelligent Designer, standing atop a mountain of vanquished counter-arguments from hordes of atheists.

The plain logical error in the argument is in the second premise, and it's the one logical fallacy I come across more than any other: an argument from ignorance. "There is no natural process known to science that creates coded information." That's not the same as saying there really is no such natural process (which would be a simple unsupported statement rather than a fallacy), but it expects us to assume as much. Is Mr Marshall, or any human alive, familiar with "all codes" in the universe? What qualifies anyone to make such a sweeping statement? This attempted proof by elimination of the origin of DNA must leave room for unknown alternatives to maintain any honesty, and is therefore not a real proof.

I realise that the fact of the logical error is not such a brilliant counter-argument when you're actually trying to convince people. There are plenty more objections, and Marshall has posted and replied to many on his site. He hasn't always done so convincingly, though you can judge that for yourself. I'll just take one approach as an exercise.

As support for the argument that all codes are designed by a mind, Marshall argues that random processes do not produce information. (I've been through this at length.) His primary demonstration is his own text-based random mutation generator which takes a sentence and, through single-letter changes, turns it to nonsense.

Marshall admits that the mutation utility does not simulate natural selection, the non-random element of evolution. Furthermore, he's not interested in adding that functionality to test his own argument. (He says instead that the reader is free to do it for him; if someone has taken him up on this, please let us know. Meanwhile, here's a more complex simulator.)

He argues that natural selection would only create sensible sentences if words only mutated into other meaningful words, but that's not applying natural selection at the letter level. An ideal extension of his program would present several choices of mutation at each step, and allow those letter mutations which destroy the legibility of a word to be manually or automatically ruled out. (The real world equivalent is a serious birth defect, which would keep a creature from breeding or even living long enough to breed.) In Marshall's program, detrimental mutations are allowed to compound until all sense is lost. Of course we won't likely get anything useful out of it.

Forgetting even the mechanism of natural selection, I submit a basic argument for the possibility of chance creating information which I've used before: think of a large grid of squares which can be either black or white, but all start as white. If you randomly pick the colour of every square at once, there is a chance, however small, that the newly black squares will form a simple but clear picture of a rectangle, or the letter G, or Elvis. Without adding any extra material, chance can increase the amount of information the grid provides. The prebiotic chemicals only had to manage a feat like this once, given potentially unlimited opportunities, to come up with DNA or its precursors.

- SmartLX

from ape to man!?

how is it possible that man had been morphed from ape to humans i don't get it. and the bible says that we were made in the image and likeness of God so i don't get it.
Atheist Answer: 

According to the Book of Genesis, the "morphing" process between species didn't happen. According to archaeological and biological evidence, however, humans got to be as they are now very, very, VERY slowly.

No ancient ape actually morphed. Apes just had a lot of children, and some of those children were different in tiny ways. Some were smarter, some were stronger, some had less hair. If the changes helped the children to survive and have kids of their own, the changes stuck by way of plain old heredity. If changes didn't help, they died out. That's what we call natural selection.

This went on for millions of years, so the changes stacked up over time. Notice how a playing card is practically flat, but a deck of cards has thickness? That's how unnoticeable changes can eventually add up to big changes. Our deck had a lot of stacking time.

As the population grew, groups of apes separated and began to pass on different changes. One group survived through sheer strength, and developed into gorillas. Another group found that being smaller helped them escape things that wanted to eat them, and ended up as chimpanzees. One group prospered because of its greater intelligence, so it kept on getting smarter. That group was our ancestors.

So you see, we didn't develop from the apes we see in jungles and zoos today. We and they are all descended from common ancestors, entirely different apes which aren't around anymore. Modern apes aren't our ancestors, they're our distant cousins. That's why we share a lot of our DNA with them.

We look back at this process through all the fossils we've found of the different forms our ancestors took, and we have to ask, "When did these apes become humans?" All we really did was pick a point about two million years ago when they were humanlike enough, and declare, "There. We started there. Everything before that was just apes." All species after that point were named Homo, because that's the Latin for "man". The first was Homo habilis, and we are the last one so far, Homo sapiens.

The reality is that we didn't morph from apes, we are highly advanced apes ourselves. It's like how a square is also a rectangle, but it has unique qualities.

You might think it's an insult to call all humans apes, but it's not. If we're apes, then everything we are is part of what an ape can be. Apes can write poetry, build machines, give to charity. Apes can look up at the sky and wonder. Apes can be romantic. Apes can be human. I'm proud to be an ape.

On the other hand, if things happened exactly as the Book of Genesis says they did, we've got nothing to do with apes and all the accepted evidence is wrong. If you want to look at it that way, fine, but you're rejecting a lot of evidence. Go check it out.

- SmartLX

Is evolution real?

If evolution is caused by random mutations that can morph one species into another species, why aren't there any fossils that are in-between species? Well, I guess there are a few bits and pieces that don't really prove anything. And why is there such an increase in species during the Cambrian explosion? I don't understand how the process of natural selection through favoragle mutations could do this in such a short span of time. The odds are beyond astronomical. Are there any instances of a species evolving into another species that have actually been observed in nature? I don't mean a slight modification of a species like those Darwin birds with the big beaks. That is not a new species, just a big beak that is still a beak on the same bird. Why haven't people evolved in the thousands of years of recorded history? Yeah, we're a little taller, but we eat a lot better so that doesn't mean much either.
Atheist Answer: 

What we have here is a laundry list of creationist talking points. Thanks for rounding them up for me.

There are more than a few bits and pieces of transitional fossils. Here is a list of hundreds of excellent examples of transitional species for which adequate-to-plentiful fossil evidence has been found. If you want to research a couple in detail, I recommend Ambulocetus (which means "walking whale") and the famous Tiktaalik. Suit yourself though, you're spoilt for choice.

The Cambrian period was fifty million years long. The "explosion" itself happened in a relatively short period at the beginning, but "relatively short" in this context can still stretch over several million years. That's hardly instantaneous, and it certainly isn't beyond the capabilities of ordinary evolutionary diversification. The going theory is that animals in general emerged at about that time, or even during the "explosion"; such completely new life forms would have had a lot of licence to spread and change.

The odds of any specific species emerging are astronomical indeed, but given that an almost unlimited number of hypothetical species could have appeared in their place, the odds of something appearing probably approach certainty. Think of the lottery; every entrant has a one-in-umpteen-million chance of winning, but how often does someone take the jackpot anyway? Never more than a few weeks go by before it happens. Why? Because everybody's got a ticket. (As for the odds on the diversity of the Cambrian explosion, just what are the astronomical odds you're on about?)

Use your browser to search this article for the word "observed" to find some recent examples of new species emerging before our eyes. It's true that these examples generally have some important new feature or dimensions rather than being an entirely new type of animal, but unfortunately the sorts of changes I think you'd like to see take thousands of times too long to observe in a human lifespan. Sorry, but it's like asking to watch the erosion of the Grand Canyon. Even if you'd been there when the water was, you might not have noticed a thing even if you stared at it for years. You'd need the equivalent of a time-lapse film, and that's what the geological (for fossils, the paleontological) record provides.

Recorded history is seven thousand years long at the most (writing was only invented about 5500 years ago, so before that it's all symbols and drawings). Current understanding of our pre-human ancestry indicates a new species of primate every one to five hundred thousand years. Recorded history therefore stretches back far enough to allow for 7%, at most, of the change necessary to declare a new species. Given the diversity of human bodies, the sheer deviation from various averages, 7% isn't enough to pick out the actual evolution from plain old human differences.

Again, sorry, but we're just not around long enough to spot this stuff happening around us. Nevertheless, every piece of evidence we have tells us that it does.

- SmartLX

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