That is an excuse many offer for the poor showing of real evidence. V. I. Redins writes to say,
Photo multiplier tubes have been produced that can detect 1 photon. This is roughly equivalent to the light of a candle viewed at a distance from
the earth to the moon.
We routinely measure contaminants as small as 1 part per billion. In time, this is 1/32 of a second in one year.
Something that is purported to be as common as evolutionary change should be visible under the powerful “microscope” of human observation.
V.I., we can indeed see evolution at work, if you mean evolution via horizontal gene transfer, for example—parasite turns up with host’s genes and vice versa. Smething like that may have happened with one of the recently discovered no-plastid plants (cf the algae, the second example).
Physicist Rob Sheldon, writes to discuss observation of measurement in general, and suggests that when evolution does occur, it must be very quick, like horizontal gene transfer:
A few comments on measuring small things.
a) Small amounts of time are easier to measure than force or length, so the current method for measuring isotopes of single atoms is to put them in a trap and count how many times they go around in, say, 10 minutes or so. “Time-of-flight” mass spectrometers then give the mass to five or six decimal places.
b) Some things in life can’t be measured any smaller. Democritus, around 500 BC, argued that if you keep cutting a piece of iron in half, you will eventually end up with a piece of iron that was indivisible. He called that smallest piece of iron an “atom”. Unlike Aristotle, Democritus tells us that the universe is made up of “discrete” atoms.
c) QM goes on to tell us that these discrete atoms are smeared out like waves, so we can’t even locate that iron atom very well. Heisenberg’s famous principle is that if we measure accurately where the atom is, we don’t know its speed very well and vice versa. dx * dv > (a small number).
d) The equivalent of the Democritus’ atoms for biology is “generation” and “gene”. We can not see evolution in less than a generation, and we cannot see evolution in DNA in less than a gene. The system is discrete.
e) The equivalent of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle for biology might be Haldane’s Dilemma, that the speed of evolution depends on the number of beneficial mutations = mutation rate * population, while the selection of a good trait is something like beneficity / population, so evolution speed < ( # *selection) = (mutation rate * beneficity) independent of population size.
Well that means if the mutation rate is low (or otherwise the organism dies), or the beneficity of the mutation is low (since phase space of good mutations is very sparse), we can’t fix the problem by Behe’s method of multiplying by a trillion Plasmodium per infection. Which is to say, the laws of statistics predict evolution will be infinitesimally slow, no matter the population. Species stay species.
So if there is a change, it has to be dramatically fast, it has to be a quantum jump–say, by horizontal gene transfer of large amounts of information. The one thing it cannot be, is a gradual change.
And that is why the increased ability to measure change at smaller and smaller timescales doesn’t help us with QM nor with evolution.
Even for QM, we are able to measure the “quanta” of magnetic field or photon energy to many decimal places. Why can we not do that for the quanta of biology?
Physics, he says, is in the same fix in some areas, but there is a crucial difference:
But if it is any comfort, physics still has come up empty when looking for “dark matter”. We have been certain of its existence at least since the rotation curves of the Andromeda galaxy were recorded in the 70’s by Vera Rubin, but we have known about it since Fritz Zwicky reported non-Keplerian motion in 1933. So for 80 years we have looked and found nothing. Recent exquisitely sensitive experiments involving Xenon detectors in deep tunnels has returned nothing, which is taken as disconfirmation of the hypothesis that “dark matter” = WIMPs. So it is entirely possible to have all the resources of modern science and still detect nothing.
While I would like to tell you that this result is typical of the way physics operates empirically, it is unfortunately an anomaly. I think it has more to do with the way particle physicists operate, because all their work is easily (!) repeatable, and there are strong incentives not to get it wrong–as we heard about the “faster-than-light neutrinos” last year. But the Nobel Prize in “dark energy” is proof that physics is often religiously and not empirically driven.
Still, biology is more like particle physics than astronomy, more of an experimental than an observational science. So one would think that 150 years of negative searches for evolution would perhaps be taken as disconfirmational evidence.
But never mind, if Darwinian evolution is indeed the claimed mysterious force that drives all life, we cannot, of course, see it at work, as if it were a normal process, right?
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