Natural Selection – Evolution Magic

Natural Selection is described as “the differential survival and reproduction of individuals due to differences in phenotype”. To this, some add “blind, mindless, and purposeless environmental process” that nonetheless is imagined turning random genetic mutations into superior new features enhancing descendants’ survivability (fitness). Accumulation of these features supposedly turns one lifeform into another over time. Natural Selection seeks to explain the appearance of design in nature without appealing to a designer.

This definition however fails the simplest test as different phenotypes survive different environments thus delinking phenotype from survivability. In a small farm, only organisms closely related to their wild cousins survive, but agribusinesses select for chickens with oversize breasts and research labs select for populations with specific genetic mutations requiring tight environments to survive. Although all these have different phenotypes, they do not possess an intrinsic phenotype “fitness” independent of the environment. In addition, who decides what is natural and what is not? Darwin considered domestication natural enough to include it as supporting argument. And as far as “blind, mindless, and purposeless”, all these are impossible to prove in addition to being utterly incompatible with the anthropic concepts of “better adapted” and “better fit”, both of which cannot be evaluated independent of survivability anyway.

Natural Selection is supposed to tie both ways survivability with phenotype, but this leaves out the environment which not only affects survivability directly, but also phenotype, itself a sum of genotype plus the environment, and even genotype that is a recurrent function of previous genotypes and the environment again. So in the end, survivability is a recurrent function of genotype, an infinite continuum of environments, and other unknown factors. While survivability can be measured as can be the individual genotype, measuring a population’s genotype is daunting at best, and the impact of the ever changing environment is simply impossible to evaluate. Phenotypes are impossible to define and measure in entirety even for one individual and, in addition, phenotype changes constantly from birth to adult to old age. We do see genetic mutations (unknowable if random) and we do know that, given a similar environment, extreme genotypes reduce survivability, yet we also know that a large variety of genotypes survive just fine in any population.

Fitness is never defined independently of survivability – this renders the fitness concept redundant especially since survivability can be measured while fitness cannot. Evolutionary Fitness is defined as the quantitative representation of natural and sexual selection (reproductive success) of a genotype or phenotype in a given environment. “Survival of the fittest” is interpreted as: “Survival of the form (phenotypic or genotypic) that will leave the most copies of itself in successive generations.” Not only is survivability the only measure, but survivability also changes with the environment.

Natural Selection is Intelligent Selection which is always done by an Intelligent Selector such as Darwin’s breeder which is an intelligent and willful player that takes intentional actions to reach preset goals. Predators, plants, birds, insects or bacteria, all show intelligence and the willful pursuit of predetermined goals. When interacting with the inert environment, organisms self-select rather than being selected by this environment. As soon as the organism dies and becomes part of the lifeless universe, all selection of that entity ceases.

Selection is limited to a narrow set of possible adaptations – what is not there, cannot be selected. Among the most common adaptations are body color/size/shape, hair type, antibiotic/chemical resistance, and behavior, and even these are limited in scope. Farmers would like to grow walking chicken breasts the size of hogs that grow much faster and come in various flavors, but this is not happening despite their best efforts. Antibiotic resistant bacteria still cannot survive extreme temperatures and chemical concentrations and their resistance decreases when the stimulus is removed. Rabbits cannot turn green when hopping over grass and white just over winter, despite the clear advantage such camouflage would bring. Size of tails, horns, beaks, trees, etc. are all stable over time as tradeoffs limit their growth. Human intelligence, flying, swimming, venom, and all other desirable capabilities remain restricted to specific organisms. Domestication has greatly helped mankind’s progress, but it has not changed the nature of the target animals and plants despite intensive efforts to accelerate their evolution. Instead, humans only enhanced the built in characteristics of domestic organisms and simply did without – a huge civilization disadvantage – when those plants and animals were unavailable. Hence, selection does not “design”, is limited in scope to a few available characteristics, and is reversed as soon as the selection pressure ends.

Extinct organism were not flawed and their features were not “selected away”. Most characteristics of the extinct survive just fine in current organisms of which some changed so little over time they are called living fossils. Sure, the mammal eye might provide superior vision to insect eye, but nothing comes for free and tradeoffs ensure both survive. Organisms that have completely vanished cannot be characterized as flawed and it would not take much imagination to see them thriving in a current landscape. The environment may have changed dramatically over time, however on a macro scale, the environment affected all organisms making the “natural selection” explanation highly doubtful regarding why some organisms survived in their old form, why some went extinct and why others would survive in a changed form. Humans and apes shared the same environment in Africa so common genotype would not have caused our dramatic differences just as lions are not that different than leopard, the cheetah and the others.

What if anything should replace Natural Selection? Humans have applied the most intensive and targeted selective pressure on us and others with great results for our existence. Yet we have not transformed even one organism into another – not even the lowly eColi after decades of laboratory work (Lenski). Our dogs are still basic canines and our cats are still basic felines, not much different than their wild cousins. If anything, we had to adapt to them rather than them to us. The finch, the moth, the antibiotic resistant bacteria are still the original organisms, their hailed changes having reverted or proven simple adaptations. We are no smarter, more powerful or longer living (in absolute) than out primitive ancestors. Selection is not transformative, much less creative.

Humans would apply the Natural Selection method if feasible. But we don’t because it isn’t. A Natural Selection software would use a random generator and a selection criteria to maximize survivability in an available niche. For instance, a family vehicle should optimize the transport function (survivability) given a set of environmental constraints (regulations) and an existing design as starting point. Random minute changes could be tested and retained if the transport function is improved. However, this method can only remove minor oversights but will never create any new designs. Any significant departure such as a new fuel, material or environment either results in a suboptimal design, or requires a cascade of changes to improve the survivability function. That is why the auto industry, like most other industries, introduces minor redesign annually and major revamps every few years. And while even the minor improvements must come in harmonized packages rather than one off (to reduce negative ramifications), in the absence of those major redesigns a firm would shortly go extinct.

Designs do not transform into better designs without crossing an inevitable optimization gap. Given a certain environment, once a design is optimized for a certain function, it becomes suboptimal as soon as the function, the structure, or the materials changes. Until the new design is optimized for that particular change, it remains inferior to an old design already optimized to that environment. Humans optimize new designs (with multidimensional differences from previous versions) conceptually before abruptly replacing old designs. A Darwinist biologic gradual design transition would thus be impossible hence never observed in nature. Had the compound eye been optimized first, a transition to non-compound eye would inevitably had to be suboptimal for a while and vice versa. Only if all eye designs had started from the same point, each following an independent path and at the same pace would we have so many different designs today, each optimized for its function. This however implies a coordinated original grand design incompatible with Darwinian evolution.

Pro-Con Notes

Con: What about organic design? Isn’t that natural selection at work?

Pro: No. This is just iterative optimization of a given design. In this case, the wing shape, the material, the environmental forces and the optimization target are all given. The algorithm will not generate a new wing shape or material and it will stop converging as soon as the environment is less than perfectly defined. In addition, this design is radically different from the previous one, and the next iteration will certainly be radically different than this one (no gradualism).

Con: You just don’t understand natural selection.

Pro: If “natural selection” were hard to understand it would not be taught to young children. Instead, “natural selection” is more like very bad street magic where the bus is covered with the cloth and we then are asked to imagine it disappeared without even removing the cloth and showing us the empty space.

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663 thoughts on “Natural Selection – Evolution Magic

  1. Adapa,

    He never made that claim.

    John: You persist in ignoring the nested hierarchy, which common descent explains, and in introducing the origins of various features, which common descent does not explain and was never intended to explain.

    What do you think he means by this?

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  2. Moved one comment guano. Probably should move some more. I know the OP is, well, scraping the barrel of acceptability but could members restrain themselves from comments directed at the perceived mental failings of fellow members?

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  3. Moved more comments to guano. The moderation issues thread is for discussing moderation actions.

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  4. colewd:
    John Harshman,

    Are you retracting your claim that evolutionary mechanisms are separate from common descent?

    That wasn’t my claim. Common descent, after all, is one particular evolutionary mechanism. My claim is that the causes of mutation and fixation (which are all evolutionary mechanisms) are not the causes of the nested hierarchy, just of the characters that make up the nested hierarchy, quite another thing. And I also that in order to infer common descent from nested hierarchy it isn’t necessary to know what caused the mutation and fixation of the characters. Their arrangement is sufficient.

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  5. phoodoo: What do you mean by this?Maybe Neil knows.

    There’s a difference between saying “you are stupid” and saying “what you wrote is stupid”. Do you need someone to explain the difference?

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  6. John Harshman,

    And I also that in order to infer common descent from nested hierarchy it isn’t necessary to know what caused the mutation and fixation of the characters. Their arrangement is sufficient.

    How then would you describe common descent as an evolutionary mechanism? Wouldn’t mutation be a part of its output?

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  7. colewd:
    John Harshman,

    How then would you describe common descent as an evolutionary mechanism?Wouldn’t mutation be a part of its output?

    I would describe what you say above as word salad. You use a number of words that have clear meanings, but in contexts in which they make no discernible sense. As such, no meaningful response is possible.

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  8. John, to Bill:

    I would describe what you say above as word salad. You use a number of words that have clear meanings, but in contexts in which they make no discernible sense. As such, no meaningful response is possible.

    Bill, you don’t understand how difficult it can be for an intelligent person to reverse-engineer your mistakes. Your current confused misunderstanding of the issues may seem obvious and even necessary to you, but rest assured, it isn’t. It’s just one of many possible confused misunderstandings, and it’s hard work for a smart person to duplicate the particular combination of screw-ups and misconceptions that lead you to your idiosyncratic confusion du jour.

    You expect us to find you on Planet Bill, wherever it happens to be in its chaotic orbit, and then guide you all the way back to Earth. That’s just not practical, especially when linguistic impairments prevent you from giving comprehensible directions to Planet Bill in the first place.

    You’re going to have to try much harder. Blood from a turnip, I know, but if you can’t express yourself at least well enough that we can see where you’ve gone wrong, then we can’t correct you and get you back on the right path, however temporarily.

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  9. colewd:
    John Harshman,

    The word salad followed by you are a bot excuse for not support your claims.Priceless.

    You have to admit when you keep repeating the same stupid claims after people have explained simple concepts to you a dozen times does make you look like a brainless automaton.

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  10. Adapa,

    You have to admit when you keep repeating the same stupid claims after people have explained simple concepts to you a dozen times does make you look like a brainless automaton.

    What simple concepts Timmy?

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  11. colewd:
    Adapa,

    What simple concepts Timmy?

    Things like natural selection, common descent, how evolution doesn’t have to search some ginormous search space every generation to find working small variations. Things a relatively bright high school freshman can understand go so far over your head they leave contrails, Billy.

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  12. It’s clear to everyone, bill, that your objections are not based in fact but preconceived bias.

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  13. Nonlin.org: Where do you get “camouflage can not increase survival”?

    Also, if phenotype is a purely theoretical concept (because you can’t measure as seen), how do you link it (something purely theoretical) with something else that is real?

    And there is your problem. Phenotype is not a purely theoretical concept, but it is by definition, the observable features of an organism. I note newton told you as much as well.

    Nonlin.org: Say you measure height. It sets us apart and is included in phenotype, but it is not phenotype.

    Uh, yes it is. Height is a phenotype. Cryptic coloration is also a phenotype. It is little wonder you do not understand natural selection if you cannot even get the basic concepts right.

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  14. Nonlin.org: Remember each organism is different that all others.

    How can you possibly tell whether organisms differ from each other if the phenotype is “impossible to define or measured in entirety even for one individual”?

    ETA: clarification

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  15. Corneel: How can you possibly tell if the phenotype is “impossible to define or measured in entirety even for one individual”?

    IDists claim that evolution cannot increase the amount of FSCO/FIASCO in an organism. Yet when asked they are unable to specify the amount of FSCO in said organism, and hence they cannot determine if it’s ever gone up or down.

    I therefore conclude that their position is not intended to be rational, but sufficiently “science-like” to convince those who do no understand actual science.

    This thread demonstrates exactly that. Cargo-cult science at it’s finest.

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  16. OMagain: IDists claim that evolution cannot increase the amount of FSCO/FIASCO in an organism. Yet when asked they are unable to specify the amount of FSCO in said organism, and hence they cannot determine if it’s ever gone up or down.

    I fear that the position of our nonlinear friend is even worse; he denies that phenotypes are observable or measurable at all, irrespective whether a specific phenotype is functional or complex.
    But because of your comment, I discovered that my comment wasn’t entirely clear so I edited it a bit. Thanks.

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  17. Both phenetics and cladistics are about measuring, and evaluating, phenotypic characteristics.

    I know several taxonomists, and all of them are constantly quantifying some phenotypic characteristics, and figuring out ways to quantify other phenotypic characteristics. From spine density in a spore, to leaf edge forms, from smooth to serrated, to number of horns over the nose, to meatiness in the fruit. Huge etc.

    When I was learning botany and zoology, phenotypes were the one and only thins we were taught about to try and understand how plants and animals are classified. Same for how all other organisms are classified.

    Measuring and quantifying phenotypes is an everyday endeavour.

    Nonlin is very, but very, misinformed. Sadly, she/he could have quickly verified, and saved the embarrassment of exposing such ignorance with that much, undeserving, arrogance.

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  18. I’m a bit surprised that most of the comments directed at nonlin.org haven’t actually addressed his/her arguments, so I’ll have a go.

    This definition [of natural selection as “the differential survival and reproduction of individuals due to differences in phenotype”] however fails the simplest test as different phenotypes survive different environments thus delinking phenotype from survivability.

    Note the bolding I inserted into the above quote. Your argument only shows that a phenotype can survive environmental changes. The question, however, is: survive with how many descendants, compared with new, rival varieties? If a rival variety possesses even a slight reproductive advantage, that means it can outcompete the original, over many generations.

    We do see genetic mutations (unknowable if random)…

    The link you cite (which is from your Website) argues that “randomness just cannot be demonstrated, therefore in the Darwinian explanation, randomness is just assumed.”

    I’m going to have to pull you up here. Your definition of “random” is flat-out wrong. You think it means “blind, mindless, and purposeless,” but to an evolutionist it simply means “not biased in a manner that tends to enhance fitness in organisms.” That’s the whole point of natural selection: to provide the bias that mutations, by themselves, cannot supply. However, evolutionists do not simply assume the randomness of mutations: they can observe it. To quote from the evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne:

    (By “random,” evolutionists mean “mutations occur regardless of whether they’d enhance the fitness of the organism.”) In fact, we know of no evidence for mutations occurring nonrandomly or “adaptively”, i.e., that the occurrence of mutations is somehow biased in a direction that makes them more likely to be favorable when they arise, particularly when the environment changes in a way that requires favorable mutations to fuel adaptive evolution. There has been some controversy about the occurrence of “adaptive mutation” in bacteria, but that’s died out because there’s simply no evidence that the phenomenon occurs.

    You continue:

    Predators, plants, birds, insects or bacteria, all show intelligence and the willful pursuit of predetermined goals. When interacting with the inert environment, organisms self-select rather than being selected by this environment.

    Three points: (i) if your definition of “intelligence” is sufficiently broad as to include bacteria, then it’s obviously a very elastic one; (ii) it is profoundly mistaken to characterize the environment as “inert,” when it is extremely dynamic and when it constantly molds organisms; (iii) there is no good evidence that bacteria select their own mutations.

    Organisms that have completely vanished cannot be characterized as flawed and it would not take much imagination to see them thriving in a current landscape. The environment may have changed dramatically over time, however on a macro scale, the environment affected all organisms making the “natural selection” explanation highly doubtful regarding why some organisms survived in their old form, why some went extinct and why others would survive in a changed form.

    Extinct species of organisms aren’t “flawed”; they’re just inferior to the rival species that outbred them. As for the point you raise about living fossils that survived in their old form: you might like to have a look at this discussion here. I’ll quote a couple of excerpts:

    …[A]lthough living fossils show little morphological change they can continue to show change at the molecular level at rates as high as, or higher than, other organisms – e.g. (May et al 2007; Cao et al 2013).

    Why sharks are still around as living fossils

    The real answer here is that, in a very real sense, they aren’t. Modern sharks are no more alike (sic) their long-dead forebears than squirrels are. However, the biological niche inhabited by sharks (apex predator) is a successful one, and sharks, already existing in this niche, have had successful children, made more successful by being superficially and behaviourally alike (sic) to their parents, and so, the modern shark presents as a living fossil.

    You continue:

    Designs do not transform into better designs without crossing an inevitable optimization gap. Given a certain environment, once a design is optimized for a certain function, it becomes suboptimal as soon as the function, the structure, or the materials changes. Until the new design is optimized for that particular change, it remains inferior to an old design already optimized to that environment.

    Here we come to the nub of your argument. You overlook the existence of changes which are selectively neutral or near-neutral. Even if they are slightly inferior, that doesn’t spell their doom instantly. If an inferior variety’s descendants can survive long enough for a few of them to acquire a mutation that would confer a significant advantage in relation to some new function which the original lacks, then that variety may (with the help of the advantageous mutation) eventually outcompete the original. I say “may” because none of this is inevitable: one should never ignore the role of random genetic drift.

    Had the compound eye been optimized first, a transition to non-compound eye would inevitably had to be suboptimal for a while and vice versa.

    The origin of the compound eye remains controverted. Regarding your more general point that transitions would have to have been suboptimal: this would only be true if the original design were at a fitness peak, which begs the question.

    I would also suggest you have a look at the Wikipedia article on the evolution of the eye. The following quote illustrates the way in which a trait which originally conferred selective advantage X may, over the course of its evolution, come to confer another selective advantage, Y, which becomes more important than X:

    Pit eyes, which had arisen by the Cambrian period, were seen in ancient snails, and are found in some snails and other invertebrates living today, such as planaria. Planaria can slightly differentiate the direction and intensity of light because of their cup-shaped, heavily pigmented retina cells, which shield the light-sensitive cells from exposure in all directions except for the single opening for the light. However, this proto-eye is still much more useful for detecting the absence or presence of light than its direction; this gradually changes as the eye’s pit deepens and the number of photoreceptive cells grows, allowing for increasingly precise visual information.

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  19. Adapa,

    Things like natural selection, common descent, how evolution doesn’t have to search some ginormous search space every generation to find working small variations

    I will grant you that it doesn’t, if it is starting from a working gene, for the sake of argument. How would you then show how evolution working from small adaptions can build a spliceosome thus demonstrating that common descent from a universal ancestor is not a fairy tale.

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  20. colewd:
    Adapa,

    I will grant you that it doesn’t, if it is starting from a working gene, for the sake of argument.How would you then show how evolution working from small adaptions can build a spliceosome thus demonstrating that common descent from a universal ancestor is not a fairy tale.

    Shall we add the difference between common descent and the origin of innovation as another thing that’s been explained to you many, many times without the slightest sign that you have understood?

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  21. John Harshman,

    Shall we add the difference between common descent and the origin of innovation as another thing that’s been explained to you many, many times without the slightest sign that you have understood?

    I understand your prior argument that common descent does not explain innovation. Do you think Adapta understands this? Nonil.org clearly did not understand this.

    Now that you are claiming that common descent is a mechanism how do you continue to exclude innovation as part of the claim? What does the common descent mechanism do?

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  22. colewd:
    Adapa,

    I will grant you that it doesn’t, if it is starting from a working gene, for the sake of argument.How would you then show how evolution working from small adaptions can build a spliceosome thus demonstrating that common descent from a universal ancestor is not a fairy tale.

    We can observe erosion from water and wind in action real time. How do we then show erosion of small amounts of material at a time can produce the Grand Canyon or smooth down the Appalachian Mountains?

    Think Billy. It may be scary but it won’t hurt you, I promise.

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  23. colewd:
    John Harshman,

    I understand your prior argument that common descent does not explain innovation. Do you think Adapta understands this? Nonil.org clearly did not understand this.

    I have seen no evidence that Adapa doesn’t understand it. Nonil.org clearly understands very little. And no, you don’t understand, as was made clear in the very comment I was responding to, as well as what’s just below this:

    Now that you are claiming that common descent is a mechanism how do you continue to exclude innovation as part of the claim? What does the common descent mechanism do?

    See? You don’t understand. The “common descent mechanism” explains the nested hierarchy in data. Common descent is not responsible for innovation, as I have explained to you oh so many times. Common descent explains the pattern in which innovations are organized.

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  24. John Harshman,

    See? You don’t understand. The “common descent mechanism” explains the nested hierarchy in data.

    Again: What does the common descent mechanism do?

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  25. Adapa,

    We can observe erosion from water and wind in action real time. How do we then show erosion of small amounts of material at a time can produce the Grand Canyon or smooth down the Appalachian Mountains?

    So wind and erosion created the spliceosome?

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  26. colewd:
    John Harshman,

    Again: What does the common descent mechanism do?

    Do? It produces a pattern in data. It’s responsible for some features of what we observe in the world. Isn’t that doing something?

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  27. colewd:
    Adapa,

    So wind and erosion created the spliceosome?

    I see that thinking stuff still has you petrified.

    Do you really wonder why people think of you as a mindless bot?

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  28. John Harshman: Do? It produces a pattern in data. It’s responsible for some features of what we observe in the world. Isn’t that doing something?

    The thing is Billy just knows evolution must be wrong. Just knows it. He can’t say how or why it is wrong but if he throws together enough meaningless combinations of buzzwords he can delay having to face scientific reality indefinitely.

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  29. Adapa,

    The thing is Billy just knows evolution must be wrong. Just knows it.

    Especially when wizards like Timmy claim that wind and erosion are analogous to organizing 300k nucleotides that are capable of expressing over 150 genes that translate into a protein complex that is capable of removing introns and attaching exons.

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  30. colewd:
    Adapa,

    Especially when wizards like Timmy claim that wind and erosion are analogous to organizing 300k nucleotides that are capable of expressing over 150 genes that translate into a protein complex that is capable of removing introns and attaching exons.

    Yet another example of Billy not understanding simple English sentences and twisting the words to mean whatever his Creationist mindset dreams up.

    I wonder if he’s consciously trying to make Creationists look like disingenuous fools?

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  31. John Harshman,

    However did you get that out of what I wrote? Your problems with English extend to both reading and writing.

    No John, my english is fine. I read your faulty explanation word for word. Again: what does common descent do? Generated data is not what a mechanism does it is the result of the measurement of the output of that mechanism.

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  32. Adapa,

    Yet another example of Billy not understanding simple English sentences and twisting the words to mean whatever his Creationist mindset dreams up.

    I wonder if he’s consciously trying to make Creationists look like disingenuous fools?

    Simple english like wind and erosion is analogous to evolution creating a spliceosome?
    Maybe you don’t know what a spliceosome is.

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  33. Adapa,

    So you admit to being deliberately dishonest and not just confused?

    Its you and John making incoherent claims. I am just calling out your nonsense.

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  34. colewd:
    Adapa,

    Its you and John making incoherent claims.I am just calling out your nonsense.

    Funny then how everyone else had no problem understanding what John wrote. Seems like the problem is you.

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  35. colewd:
    Adapa,

    Simple english like wind and erosion is analogous to evolution creating a spliceosome?
    Maybe you don’t know what a spliceosome is.

    Yep, consciously trying to make Creationists look like disingenuous fools. Doing a fine job of it too. 🙂

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  36. Adapa,

    Funny then how everyone else had no problem understanding what John wrote. Seems like the problem is you.

    So are you going to explain how common descent is an evolutionary mechanism? John has not been able to support the claim maybe you can save him.

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  37. colewd:
    Adapa,

    So are you going to explain how common descent is an evolutionary mechanism? John has not been able to support the claim maybe you can save him.

    John explained how it produces patterns in the data. These patterns are quite distinct and allow the construction of accurate phylogenies.

    People have tried and tried to break through your wall of Creationist impenetrable ignorance with no success. Such willful ignorance is your problem however, not science’s.

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  38. Adapa,

    John explained how it produces patterns in the data. These patterns are quite distinct and allow the construction of accurate phylogenies.

    Lets add mechanism to the words you don’t understand.

    People have tried and tried to break through your wall of Creationist impenetrable ignorance with no success. Such willful ignorance is your problem however, not science’s.

    Creationists understand there is not a good mechanistic explanation for the origin of the spliceosome. Hopefully someday you will learn what it is and understand its role in life’s history.

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