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Fact-Checking Wikipedia on Common Descent: The Evidence from Comparative Physiology and Biochemistry

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I recently read the Wikipedia web-page on the “Evidence of Common Descent.” The page comprises a succinct, yet comprehensive, description of the most frequently cited arguments for the proposition of universal descent with modification. Since this is a subject that interests me, I decided to take it upon myself to write a review of the arguments, and in so doing to evaluate their merits. Wikipedia lists eight categories of evidence for common descent, which I hope to address over the course of this and future articles.

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If anyone wants to see why ERVs really are extremely good evidence for common descent (minus the obfuscation) see this link: http://www.evolutionarymodel.com/ervs.htm The same logic applies to all transposable elements. And to see The Myth of Junk DNA dismantled go to The Sandwalk and look at Larry Moran's extensive review. I'm not an atheist, but when one of them is right about something I'm happy to refer to them. It saves me the trouble. PNG
Thanks. You may be interested in this paper: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9585431 Starbuck
Thanks, Starbuck. For some reason, I cited the wrong paper there. Don't know how I managed that. It's now fixed. J Jonathan M
Jonathan M:
In 2002, a research group published two further interesting studies (here and here). These researchers hybridized twenty-one different chromosome-specific human alpha satellite DNA probes to the full complement of chromosomes from the chimpanzee, gorilla and the orangutan. They reported that most of the human probes failed to hybridize to the equivalent ape chromosome.
They did not use any "chromosome-specific human alpha satellite probes" in this study. They did not study either of the two ancestral centromeres, but instead the site where the very ends (telomeres) of the two ancestral chromosomes joined up. The region theystudied was not and is not now the site of a centromere. Starbuck
Not bias, Scott :) Why would you add Tiktaaliks first? Elizabeth Liddle
In a general sense, seeing the inevitable errors or 'mistakes' - mutation rate - introduced in every generation of every living thing, would not running this backwards in time lead to DNA with no mistakes? And as species converge together (back in time), would not a convergence, ultimately, to a finite number of DNA's be a valid conclusion? Like the reason it's not a good idea to marry your sister (one reason!) - you both have inherited many of the same 'mistakes'. But removing mistakes in each previous generation ultimately would make such a union genetically 'safe'. butifnot
Yes, essentially. That would be most consistent with observation, and all the more so as more and more 'surprising' finds are unearthed. Would there be a scientific reason to exclude such a conclusion? butifnot
So physically what do you think happened? E.g was there a bolt of lightening and there stood a male and a female of each species? markf
Elizabeth, If you were going to design an ecosystem, adding horses, cats, and bears first would pose immediate problems. They would have nothing to breathe. If it were me I would add plankton and plants first, as well as the other organisms that handle a lot of the dirty work. I'm surprised that you wouldn't stop to consider how the same sequence of appearance might fit another explanation equally well. Bias, perhaps? ScottAndrews
God did it and that's good enough for me JK. The question is a little low brow and not breaking any new ground. I believe the evidential challenges to the 'geologic column' as a record of slow deposition are well known and in fact overwhelming. Prior to finding the many 'living fossils' you could have listed them in your argument from silence sample of animals. Not surprisingly as time has gone by, more and more examples of out of place life forms have been found, certainly partially attributable to the increasing sample size. But look at the trend of the 'spread' of strata in which fossil types are found - at this rate the whole column will be covered soon enough. So no, I don't think fresh batches are delivered to earth and I don't think that's a serious question. butifnot
GMO is intelligent design, isn't it? NickMatzke_UD
So why do we find only one-celled life-forms in very early strata? And why do we find horses, cats and bears in only very recent strata? Are you suggesting that every so often in the history of the world a fresh batch of kinds was delivered, ex nihilo, fully formed? Elizabeth Liddle
If we grant that there was once a time when the universe contained no complex life forms That there was or ever could be non-complex life forms is completely unwarranted. And the implication is complex life came into being ex nihilo. butifnot
I myself group them by common sense. I hardly know what tetrapods are. But by noncontroversial example horse, cat, bear etc. From reading about these things, and my backround is math and physics, trying to merge them further back is an imposition on the evidence. butifnot
Sorry, I meant universal common descent. But, out of interest, how do you group "kinds"? Would you accept that all tetrapods have a common ancestor? Elizabeth Liddle
No, I realise there is no common position, Scott. I was just interested in seeing what variability there was, because I see a number of positions critiqued here, including ones that I think at least some ID proponents hold. And from your recently expressed views on OOL, I'd have assumed you were in the universal common descent camp, but postulate that an ID got the thing going, and possibly nudged it along the way. Elizabeth Liddle
I would say no "ID Proponents" (vaguely condescending) dispute common descent - the observable and well supported idea that different 'kinds' (creation alert) of animals are descended from common ancestors. What many would dispute is universal common descent, as unsupported and contradicted by observation and evidence. Setting aside the implications, isn't descent from separate common ancestors most consistent with the evidence we have? Searching around for oldest and earliest examples of creatures will yield results remarkably similar to modern instances. Search around for earliest and oldest butifnot
At the risk of rambling, let me offer an illustration: Imagine a judge, known by all to be fair and impartial. To the extent possible for a human he is known to apply the law equally and consistently in every case without partiality. This judge then dismisses charges against his son. Without knowing any details regarding the charges or the evidence, his fair application of the law is immediately called into question, and rightly so. His judgment is trusted without reservation in every case except this one. Why is this? Is there evidence that the judge acted with bias? None. Many or most observers feel that he would have decided any other case similarly. Why, then, is his judgment called into question? The answer is that even the very appearance of a reason for bias, even absent the evidence of such bias, taints his decision. This is because of a well-known tendency of people to bias their actions, decisions, and even their own thinking when emotion or self-interest enter the picture. The allegiance of many scientists to materialism in general and evolutionary theory in particular bear the marks of bias. Objections to criticisms of evolution or to alternate theories are emotional as often as rational. Opposing viewpoints are attacked and intimidated rather than being permitted to stand or fall on their merits. Reactions are comparable to those on either side of the gun control or abortion debates. The slightest encroachment is viewed as an assault. As in the case of the judge, this calls any interpretation of evidence into question, even if one does not have specific knowledge of it. Of course having knowledge is even better. But there's just way too much bias and only a blind fool would believe what either Wikipedia or the most well-respected biologist says without taking that bias into account. ScottAndrews
Elizabeth, If you're asking about opinions then my post is irrelevant. We all have opinions, but there is no ID position on common descent. Sure, there is evidence to support common descent. I don't personally find it very convincing. That's just me. ScottAndrews
Scott, I'm really not seeing the connection between your post and my question. As for bullets and psychology - of course - we can consider causality on many levels. It's a point I make quite regularly :) But I don't see any relevance to the simple question as to whether ID proponents do or do not think that the evidence supports a universal common ancestor, or rather, how many do and how many don't. Behe, I think, does, and I had also thought that Dembski did. But ba77, for instance, doesn't. How about you, Scott? Elizabeth Liddle
Elizabeth, Terminal ballistics is the study of how bullets interact with their targets, often human bodies. Psychology includes the study of why one person might shoot another. Can you see that student of either field might have opinions about the other, but that there is no psychological question of how bullets impact their targets, and no question from ballistics of why the gun was fired? You're looking for the answer. There is no question. ScottAndrews
Liz and Admin, I would like to see this question made into it's own Thread. MedsRex
I'm sorry that was poorly worded on my part. In no way am I saying that someone is "allowing" chaos to have control over reality. However, in cases where chaos does reign supreme, like in Eocene's GMO industry illustration, the results are less than ideal and less than ordered. That being said perhaps the correlation between the GMO industry and CD is a little far-fetched? :) MedsRex
I'm curious to know how many ID proponents dispute common descent. I'd sort of got the impression that most ID proponents accepted common descent, but argued that evolution must have been guided in some way, either by means of an original "front-loaded" genome, or nudged as it went along in the ID's desired direction. In fact, in several places here, I've seen the point made that "ID is not an argument against evolution", just against Darwinian mechanisms, and even then, as I understand it, only when these are called to explain "macro" evolution. Same with OOL - some people seem to think that the LUCA was created ex nihilo, with DNA and ribozomes etc already present, others seem to think that the fact that the LUCA seems to have been complex is evidence that intelligent design must have been involved in getting to it from pre-life materials. So when people maintain that "Darwinism" or "neo-Darwinism" is on its last tottering legs, I'm not at all sure which piece of "Darwinism" is supposed to be tottering. Or is there in fact widespread disagreement in the ID community about this? Elizabeth Liddle
Sorry - I absolutely cannot see the relevance of Eocene's post to Common Descent. I as questioning the importance of Common Descent as opposed to just Descent from simple organisms. Both are compatible with some kind of design - although I guess something on these lines is necessary but not sufficient for all modern theories of evolution. markf
I'm still not sure what this even means. In what sense is anyone alleging that "chaos" has "control over reality"? And who is supposed to be "allowing" it? Elizabeth Liddle
Despite my disagreement with Eocene earlier his point is perfectly salient. . . If chaos is allowed to "control" anything. . . Order does not occur. since our reality shows a dizzying level of order how much control over reality does chaos actually have? And eocene I apologize. . . I believe I misunderstood your point in the nobel prize for physics post. MedsRex
When you have a worldview that shows utter disrespect for anything to do with moral guidlines, then you should expect all manner of Chaos.
This is probably true. But what relevance does it have to the topic of common descent? Or, indeed, science? Elizabeth Liddle
markf: "Why is Common Descent such an issue?" ====== Because whether it was a Creator of life or some mysterious force which magically through LUCK breathed life into Dice Theory, both apparently had to use the same program coding for the software that every living thing displays. Unfortunately for advocates of Dice Theory, our experience and knowledge of codes is that there is always a mind behind it's origin. We NEVER have been given a clean explanation of just how blind pointless indifferent forces which have zero direction, guidance or intent are able to accomplish even just one code. Not only the codes themselves, but ALSO the very orderly Laws which govern their strict regulation, like species barriers or boundaries. This is where GMO technologies expose and actually illuminate the gross deficiences of the chaos which ultimately is the driving force operating "Dice Theory". GMO research has glaringly revealed what happens when motivated by a worldview where no absolutes exist, you can without consideration to future consequences and motivated by raw selfishness and greed, screw up an environment by splicing a gene out of one organism and sticking it into another and the consequences of shoving it down the world's throat without ANY responsible research to see if they should have undertaken such an irresponsible direction in the first place. GMO technologies remind me of a line out of Jurassic Park by Dr Ian Malcolm: “Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” When you have a worldview that shows utter disrespect for anything to do with moral guidlines, then you should expect all manner of Chaos. Or in other words, the present chaotic world we all live in today. Eocene
Why is Common Descent such an issue?  Surely what really matters for most people is the hypothesis that complex life forms such as ourselves are descended from much simpler life forms such as prokaryotes.  If there were a large number of such simpler life forms billions of years ago that hardly changes our feelings about place in story of life. Now consider what the alternative is to this hypothesis.  If we grant that there was once a time when the universe contained no complex life forms then either 1) complex life forms were descended from simpler life forms or 2) they somehow came into being directly from non-living materials (and then started reproducing).  Does anyone on this forum believe (2)? I doubt it. markf
Wouldn't the improbability of convergent evolution (e.g. eyes, mollusc brains) be enough to discredit common descent? Robert Sheldon

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