Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I'd Like A Million Dollars Please!

I just got back from a science meeting in Milan, it's late, so I figured I'd tackle an easy one before going to bed.

PZ Meyers has brought to us another side-splittingly excellent creationist post from the Missing Universe Museum, which includes this hilarious "evolution test" for students to give their teachers, then saying "When they fail it, ask them why they are teaching this nonsense!". Unfortunately they fail to give the students a grading scheme so they would have no idea whether or not their teachers' answers qualify them to pass or fail it. I'd like to give it a shot though. Darn that degree in Zoology was useless, I barely would have had to pass 9th grade bio to be able to answer these questions! OK here goes

1. Which evolved first, male or female?

 Here I am unsure whether the question is about humans or the evolution of sex in general. For humans it's extremely easy, neither. The first population of Homo sapiens had both males and females.

The evolution of the sexes is a little more complicated. You have to really define "male and female" first to get a good explanation. Are hermaphroditic species male or female or both? anyway it doesn't matter because the question doesn't ask how the sexes evolved, they just ask which evolved first, and the answer is the same. Neither. They evolved together

2. How many millions of years elapsed between the first male and first female?


3. List at least 9 of the false assumptions made with radioactive dating methods.

Well here's a loaded question! Of course the obvious answer is there are no false assumptions made with radioactive dating methods. No one would base a method on an assumption that they believed was false. The only real assumption made is that the laws of physics have remained the same throughout the history of our universe. Is it possible that this assumption is false?
Of course anything is possible, but it is extremely improbable. The fact is that there are numerous radioactive "clocks", each with their own time scale, that can be used to check each other. Not only would the laws of physics have had to have been dramatically different in the past, but they would have had to be altered in different ways for each radioactive isotope speeding their decay at different rates and giving the illusion of all coming to the same old-earth conclusion for radiometric dating to be based on a "false assumption". Even for creationists, that's a stretch.

4. Why hasn’t any extinct creature re-evolved after millions of years?

Because that would be impossible. Let's say that a population is divided in two parts by the formation of a geographical barrier between them. One of these populations evolves into a new species (A) and subsequently goes extinct. Why doesn't the population on the other side (P) re-evolve this species A? Because that population has not frozen in time. They have carried on reproducing, accumulating genetic mutations and adapting to their environment. They may have changed less if, for example, the environment they found themselves changed far less than the one that species A found itself in, but it has changed and evolved nonetheless. Once you start taking a path through time you can't jump back and start over from the beginning. Species P might branch off again, and a subgroup of P might evolve into a new species (B), this species may even share some physical similarities with the extinct species A if the population finds itself in a similar environment, but it will never be a "re-evolved" species A. Evolution just doesn't work like that.

5. Which came first:
…the eye,
…the eyelid,
…the eyebrow,
…the eye sockets,
…the eye muscles,
…the eye lashes,
…the tear ducts,
…the brain’s interpretation of light?

Once again this is difficult based on what you mean by each. Does a patch of light-sensitive cells count as an eye? In that case the eye came first. First came the eye, then the eye sockets, then the eye muscles, then the lid, then tears, then lashes and brows, all along the brain tagging along and getting more complex at interpreting the information as time went on. Let me be more specific and look at the evolution of the camera eye in particular, since I presume this question stems from the human eye.

It all starts from a photosensitive spot which has the ability to tell the organism whether it is light or dark. Backing this spot with a pigment gives some directionality, as a translucent organism would not be able to tell if the light it was detecting was coming from above or below it. If this photosensitive spot then deepens into a cup even more directionality can be gauged by how the light hits the cup. This gives the organism an evolutionary advantage in that it can detect what direction a shadow (which could be a predator) is coming from, and thus escape in the opposite direction. This "cup" could be considered to be in the first eye socket.
The deeper the cup the more directionality you get, so the more advantageous it is, until we begin to get a very rounded cup with a small opening. There is only one problem, the smaller the opening the less light can actually make its way in, so there is a limit to how small this hole can get and still be advantageous. BUT if the hole gets smaller you can start to get a rudimentary image forming, so how do you optimize this? With a lens to focus the light on to a smaller spot. I'm making this extremely brief for the sake of time, because this is where the muscles come in. You need muscles to contract this lens in order to focus on things that are closer or farther. So now we have eye muscles.
Eyelids, tear ducts and eyelashes were not needed until animals left the water to pursue a life on land. eyelids were probably the first as they protected the eye from debris in our amphibious ancestors which still spent most of the time in the water. Tear ducts were advantageous for animals that left the water definitively in order to keep their eyes moist once they had to adapt to much drier environments. Eyelashes, being hairs, most likely came last as a novel adaptation of hair to help keep the eye clean. Eyebrows would also have had to come along around this time, since it is also hair which is exclusively a mammalian characteristic, but I'm not sure what eyebrows really have to do with the evolution of the eye.

All along you have the brain. The thing is you don't need a brain to "interpret light". There are plenty of animals from jellyfish to scallops which don't have proper brains but do have eyes and "interpret light" just fine. There are also animals like cavefish that have proper brains and don't have eyes. Brains have functions that are entirely independent from "interpreting light", so their evolution is not as tightly linked to eye evolution as it appears from this question.

6. How many millions of years between each in question 5?

 Well this depends on numerous factors. It has been demonstrated that it actually takes very few genetic "steps" to evolve an eye, but that doesn't mean that all eyes evolved that quickly. Some animals, like planarian worms, are perfectly happy carrying on with just a patch of photosensitive cells. Others, like scallops, have the beginnings of an eye without a lens. It all depends on what kind of selection pressures the organism was put under, how prone the organism's genome is to genetic mutations, how long the organism's generation time is, and of course which particular organism's eye you're tracing back through evolutionary history. Point is that there is no definitive answer to this question, but it is physically possible for each of these structures to evolve in a very short time indeed.

7. If we all evolved from a common ancestor, why can’t all the different species mate with one another and produce fertile offspring?

 Because there is more than one species of animal on this planet. Shocking right? When a population of animals splits and enough time passes without interbreeding those two populations become so different that they no longer have the ability to breed. Here's a question: if there was originally only one language in the world why is it that we can't understand every person on this planet?

8. List any of the millions of creatures in just five stages of its evolution showing the progression of a new organ of any kind. When you have done this, you can collect the millions of dollars in rewards offered for proof of evolution!

 This really doesn't make any sense at all. How do you list a creature in five stages of its evolution? What does that even mean? I presume they mean list five species that demonstrate the progressive development of an organ. OK how about the tetrapod limb? Pandoerichthys, Tiktaalik, Acanthostega, Ichthyostega, Temnospondyls. BAM! Can I have my moneis now please?

9. Why is it that the very things that would prove Evolution (transitional forms) are still missing?

That's easy, they're not. I just listed some for you in the previous question. Before asking this question, give a solid confirmed definition of a transitional form and state what criteria you would be satisfied with, then we can talk transitional forms.

10. Explain why something as complex as human life could happen by chance, but something as simple as a coin must have a creator. (Show your math solution.)

Easy again. The choice is not either A) chance or B) creator. There is an entirely non-random process that is involved called natural selection, combined with a random process of gene mutation. Those two together are the recipe for the evolution of a human being, not chance. Carved pieces of metal are not capable of making copies of themselves, nor do they die or survive, so they can't evolve in the way that biological species can. No math necessary.
But if you're so interested in math and suggest that there is a "math solution" to this question, I'd love to see your "math solution" that demonstrates that there is a creator of the universe. Go ahead, I'll wait.

11. Why aren’t any fossils or coal or oil being formed today?

Who says there aren't? There surely are, it's just something that happens so slowly that we wouldn't see it happen under our eyes

12. List 50 vestigial or useless organs or appendages in the human body.

There are no useless organs in the human body, although some argue the appendix is good for nothing except to get infected. The appendix however is a good example of a vestigial organ from our leaf-eating past. Another is the tailbone. Another is the tail we have as embryos that later disappear with development. Not sure why you landed on 50 though. If humans were created we shouldn't have a single vestigial organ, don't you think? If the creator thinks its appropriate for us to have one, why would 50 disprove divine creation? If anything its evolution that would put a cap on the number of useless vestigial organs we could cart around with us, since an animal born without all that useless baggage would probably have a better shot at surviving than one with it.

13. Why hasn’t anyone collected the millions of dollars in rewards for proof of evolution?

Because the creationists offering the rewards are not willing to part with that well swindled err I mean earned cash

14. If life began hundreds of millions of years ago, why is the earth still under populated?

It's most certainly not. We are in a panic about how ridiculously overpopulated the earth is at the moment. There are millions of people starving, we don't know what the hell we're going to do to meet our energy requirements, we've run out of places to dump our waste, we're systematically drying up our resources, how does any of this smell of underpopulation to you?

15. Why hasn’t evolution duplicated all species on all continents?

Because evolution doesn't work like that. Different continents have different environments, different resources, different selection pressures, different niches, all of which organisms would change and adapt to. This by definition would create different species, not loads of the same ones. Also, as in my answer to question 4, once you've gone down an evolutionary path you can't go backwards. You can't look over to your sister species in South America and think damn, now that the weather is changing I should have evolved what she's got, let me go back and start again! Once you start in one direction you can only keep moving forward, which brings species to be ever more genetically different, not all one in the same thing.

 Well, that's what I got for someone ready to get into her pjs asap. Can I have my million dollars now please? Thanks a mill


  1. I followed you from Pharyngula. Excellent takedown!

  2. @Kevin DeGraaf thanks! Hoping to have more science-y posts up when I finally start having some time