Best proofs of evolution

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Best proofs of evolution

Postby el matematico » Tue Mar 05, 2013 2:30 am UTC

We know evolution happens. However, there are people out there who don't know that. What are some of the best proofs for evolution, to give to someone who is genuinely interested in learning?
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby niky » Tue Mar 05, 2013 3:04 am UTC

Bananas. You know... because they're perfectly shaped to be held by humans, they come with a conveniently unzippable wrapper and holder, and the packaging is biodegradable.

Or eyes. Because, you know, they're too complex to have evolved.

-

Oh... for evolution... gotcha.

I've always held that anyone who studies human anatomy can not honestly believe that we were designed this way. Among the major issues with the body:

1. The Appendix: useless... oh, okay, we can keep a supply of gut bacteria in there and whatnot, but people without appendicii... appendixes... appendici are perfectly fine. It's a vestigial organ.

2. Lactose-intolerance: Lactose-tolerance is a mutation that allowed certain tribes of humans to drink animal milk. Without "evolution", nobody would be lactose-tolerant. And such traits would not be passed on genetically.

3. Tail-bone: Useless, vestigial structure.

4. Reflexes, early development:

Palmar grasp, plantar grasp... the reflexive clinging with fingers and toes that babies do when you stroke their palm or sole... vestigial bodily functions that allowed primate babies to cling to their mothers' fur. Not only are these reflexes useless, as our toes are no longer prehensile... but human mothers no longer have fur to cling to. Unless they're dwarves. But that's a different sub-species.

Asymmetric Tonic Neck Reflex... related. When a baby turns its head, the arm and leg in the direction it is facing stretch out, and the arm and leg on the other side retract. Related to how babies position themselves when clinging to their mothers.

Stepping reflex... you know how people make tiny babies "walk" by putting their feet on the ground and squealing in delight when the baby kicks off? This is reflexive walking... the way all mammals used to do it. Many mammal babies can walk just after birth. But humans and many primates can't. Useless reflex, but amusing.

The Moro Reflex... wherein the baby spreads out its limbs when suddenly dropped then pulls them in and cries when it stops falling. Ostensibly this is to delay its fall through the tree canopy, then alert the mother as to where it's dropped. But since we don't climb anymore, a more useful reflex would be the Cat-righting reflex, which would allow the infant to twist its body to land limbs first. Of course... since human babies can't even stand up, that won't work.

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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby Charlie! » Tue Mar 05, 2013 3:12 am UTC

I think the general consensus is that people aren't going to carefully read something they don't want to. So pictures are worth a thousand words.

Image
Image

Another good example is the evolution of birds from dinosaurs.

Here's a theropod, a kind of dinosaur: http://animal.memozee.com/animal/a3/MKr ... fossil.jpg

Here's a modern bird: http://www.owlpellets.com/ce/birdskel/birdskelN.gif

And here's an archaeopteryx: http://sarcozona.org/wp-content/uploads ... ssil11.jpg

On the archaeopteryx, note the long tail and no huge sternum (chest bone). The tail length is shorter than the long tail of the theropod, but longer than the feathery tail of modern birds. Birds need a huge sternum to handle the forces from their flying muscles, so no big sternum probably means archaopteryx couldn't actually fly, just glide. And look at the front claws - they're separated compared to the theropod, but less separated than the leftover claws on modern birds.
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby Dopefish » Tue Mar 05, 2013 3:36 am UTC

Charizard.

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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby yurell » Tue Mar 05, 2013 4:04 am UTC

This video series. But that's because I love Aron Ra.

To be honest, I think the best piece of evidence is that every piece of evidence ever discovered supports evolution. We can see evolution morphologically, and have found many extinct intermediaries between extant groups. We can see evolution genetically, in that inherited mutations are passed down through generations, so two species with the same exact same mutation are most likely related*. We have observed speciation in the lab, so it definitely does happen.

*I'm not a biologist, so I may be mistaken about this.

Most of the time someone is unconvinced about evolution, it's because they don't know what it is. Evolution is the gradual change over time of populations (not individuals) through inherited traits; perhaps the best question to ask the doubter is to get them to explain what they think evolution means, because chances are the same people who have made them doubt have also provided spurious definitions.
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby thoughtfully » Tue Mar 05, 2013 4:16 am UTC

Ya know, it was diferent in Darmin's time, but now we know the mechinisms of inheritance and mutation. The rest just follows.
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Mar 05, 2013 4:17 am UTC

Yeah, the very notion that there could be "a" proof of evolution already kinda plays into creationists' hands, because it depends on a failure to understand just how immense the body of evidence supporting evolution really is.
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby el matematico » Tue Mar 05, 2013 5:28 am UTC

thoughtfully wrote:Ya know, it was diferent in Darmin's time, but now we know the mechinisms of inheritance and mutation. The rest just follows.

Unless someone creates an artificial separation between micro and macro evolution and then claims mutation is enough for micro but not for macro. Trying to convince someone that there is no real difference between those two concepts is really hard, in my experience.

Also, thanks for all the suggestions.
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby yurell » Tue Mar 05, 2013 5:45 am UTC

Okay, as promised an edit! Or a complete rewrite!

This is a FAQ on transitional forms; the website has its own introduction with a very good list of many discovered 'transitional' forms (i.e. those that show traits connecting two extant species, or an extant species with an extinct one). It was written by a zoologist, and she has a good grasp on what she's talking about (again, I'm not a biologist so my word has to be taken with a pinch of salt).

As for the macro- vs micro- evolution, can you get them to explain to you the difference? If they're willing to learn, it should be something they're willing to do. You can then bring up observed instances of speciation (there are hundreds, a quick Google search will help), with examples such as the Alaska rabbit not being able to mate with the Florida rabbit (source), to show that 'macro' evolution does happen. If they insist it's microevolution, since they don't change 'kinds' (i.e. they're still rabbits), then the discussion is over — what they call 'microevolution' is what we call 'evolution', and you can explain this.

A rabbit will always give birth to a rabbit, and a million years from now it will still be a rabbit. Similarly, an ape will always give birth to an ape which is why we're still apes. A vertebrate will always give birth to a vertebrate, and so we're still vertebrates too. Basically, you just need to get them to understand what evolution predicts, and not the strawmen they've been taught.
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby tomandlu » Tue Mar 05, 2013 8:02 am UTC

Gould always favoured the rubbish bits of evolution as the better examples (perfectly evolved creatures could be just as good an argument for a creator), which was one of the themes in "The Panda's Thumb".

Aside from that, what gmalivuk said. Besides, creationists aren't really interested in proofs at all. They have a belief and they're sticking to it.
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby idobox » Tue Mar 05, 2013 12:46 pm UTC

I remember reading something about lizards on an island that evolved within a human lifetime.
Also, something on birds in the Galapagos that moved from one island to another and evolved there within recorded history.

Otherwise: farm animals and pets. It's artificial selection but it works.
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The fact that birds have better eyes and lungs than us. Seriously, our eyes have some major design flaws, a 5 year old could do a better macroscopic organization than that.
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby ahammel » Tue Mar 05, 2013 5:08 pm UTC

The argument from systematics.

Background:
Systematics is the science of classifying organisms. Systematists, as a rule, base their classifications on the evolutionary histories of their study organisms. Theyrally attempt to determine these evolutionary histories by comparing the sequences of certain genomic regions using a variety of model-fitting algorithms, the details of which need not concern us, except that they generally make make the assumption of shared ancestry. (It might look like I'm trying to beg the question here, but I''m not).

Consider a set of organisms which do not share a common ancestor (call them unrelated). We will assume that the Unrelated share many stretches of genomic sequence which are sufficiently similar to be of use to systematists (call these 'sequences'), because that, in practice, tends to be the case when we look at real organisms.

The theory of evolution asserts that any set of organisms shares a common ancestor: there are no unrelated organisms.


If we apply the techniques of systematics to one 'sequence' of the Unrelated, we will get a result that suggests that they share a particular evolutionary history. If we apply these techniques to a second sequence, however, we have no reason to believe that the evolutionary history suggested by this 'sequence' is similar to the evolutionary history suggested by the fist. In general, as we analyze more sequences, we expect the inferred evolutionary histories to diverge.

However, when systematists do this experiment in real life, they have always so far found that the inferred evolutionary histories converge. The more sequences we analyze, the more we see support for a single evolutionary history.

This result is surprising if the organisms in question are unrelated, but not surprising if the theory of evolution is true and any set of organisms shares a common ancestor.
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Mar 05, 2013 5:13 pm UTC

Depends what level of complexity you want to talk about; I think invertebrate zoology is the most accessible way to contextualize evolution, because you can see extant species that have an ever increasing body plan from sponges to arthropods, with every 'step' between still evidenced.

If they're willing to learn a little about biology, you can go anywhere; with even a high school grasp of molecular biology, it's hard to ignore evolution.
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby Alexius » Tue Mar 05, 2013 7:02 pm UTC

The Lenski experiment is one of my favourites- they have been demonstrating evolution in colonies of E. coli bacteria in the lab. One colony managed to evolve the ability to metabolise citrate- not being able to metabolise citrate was a defining characteristic of E. coli, so the citrate-metabolising bacteria could be considered to be a new species- though of course the definition of "species" gets tricky when we're talking about bacteria.

There has also been a hilarious exchange about the experiment between Professor Lenski and the owner of Conservapedia...

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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby el matematico » Tue Mar 05, 2013 9:42 pm UTC

Rereading my post and the thread against evolution, I realized it sounded like I believe in evolution despite not having proof any for it. That's not true. I always had some interest in biology, and the idea of evolution just seemed fine to me. However, what really made me sure about my position was learning about how simulations of evolution worked, and also how the concept was applied to create evolutionary algorithms. That selection and mutation could be seen in action to create a more "fit" population, and it was not just a vage, untested idea that would explain nicely the relation between species.

I just figured that those were terrible examples to give to someone whose education I don't know.
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby tomandlu » Wed Mar 06, 2013 12:15 pm UTC

Alexius wrote:There has also been a hilarious exchange about the experiment between Professor Lenski and the owner of Conservapedia...


That's wonderful. Here's a link to the full exchange (on Conservapedia to their credit):

http://www.conservapedia.com/Conservapedia:Lenski_dialog
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby AvatarIII » Wed Mar 06, 2013 12:56 pm UTC

One of the ones I have heard before is that since extinction cannot be denied, in a world without evolution, biodiversity would be in constant decline, however, it isn't.

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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby idobox » Wed Mar 06, 2013 3:28 pm UTC

ahammel wrote:The theory of evolution asserts that any set of organisms shares a common ancestor: there are no unrelated organisms.

Not really, the theory of evolution could work with more than one tree of life. If we discovered lifeforms that don't share common ancestry with us, for example in an extreme environment we haven't looked in yet, it wouldn't refute the theory of evolution. Because the theory of evolution doesn't tell us how life started, but what happens once it exists.

It's actually surprising life appears to have appeared only once on Earth. The common explanation is that if new life appeared, the much older and better adapted existing life would out-compete it.
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby ahammel » Wed Mar 06, 2013 4:53 pm UTC

idobox wrote:
ahammel wrote:The theory of evolution asserts that any set of organisms shares a common ancestor: there are no unrelated organisms.

Not really, the theory of evolution could work with more than one tree of life. If we discovered lifeforms that don't share common ancestry with us, for example in an extreme environment we haven't looked in yet, it wouldn't refute the theory of evolution.
Granted, but according to the theory as it currently stands, all terrestrial organisms share a common ancestor.

You may read my post as evidence for the common ancestry of a particular set of organisms (animals, for instance) if you prefer.
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby krogoth » Thu Mar 07, 2013 4:04 am UTC

Wolf ->dog -> breeds of dog.

Close enough evidence for me
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby tomandlu » Thu Mar 07, 2013 6:50 am UTC

krogoth wrote:Wolf ->dog -> breeds of dog.

Close enough evidence for me


I think creationists define that as microevolution (which they accept afaict).
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby AvatarIII » Thu Mar 07, 2013 9:37 am UTC

tomandlu wrote:
krogoth wrote:Wolf ->dog -> breeds of dog.

Close enough evidence for me


I think creationists define that as microevolution (which they accept afaict).


I still don't understand how someone can believe in microevolution and not macroevolution, it's like saying you can make 10 by adding 1s together, but you can never make 100, no matter how many 1s you add!

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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby yurell » Thu Mar 07, 2013 9:39 am UTC

AvatarIII wrote:I still don't understand how someone can believe in microevolution and not macroevolution, it's like saying you can make 10 by adding 1s together, but you can never make 100, no matter how many 1s you add!


I think it's because they're mislead as to what 'macroevolution' entails. I mean, even Kent Hovind accepts speciation — he said so when he recognised that Alaska rabbits and Florida rabbits aren't interfertile — but his response to that is that they're 'still rabbits'. Which is exactly what evolution predicts, but they don't recognise that.
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby Xenomortis » Thu Mar 07, 2013 9:51 am UTC

To expand upon that, this is what they want to see:
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby tomandlu » Thu Mar 07, 2013 11:09 am UTC

AvatarIII wrote:
tomandlu wrote:
krogoth wrote:Wolf ->dog -> breeds of dog.

Close enough evidence for me


I think creationists define that as microevolution (which they accept afaict).


I still don't understand how someone can believe in microevolution and not macroevolution,


I doubt that they're happy about microevolution - it's just harder to deny (moths getting sooty wings, etc.). I can feel a rant coming on... I'll stop now. It's pointless.
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby tomandlu » Thu Mar 07, 2013 11:10 am UTC

Xenomortis wrote:To expand upon that, this is what they want to see:
Image

They really haven't got a fucking clue and they've no intention of getting one.
But that won't stop them fighting you over it.


What's that picture he's holding?

Edit to add: Ah - a 'croco-duck'
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby yurell » Thu Mar 07, 2013 11:14 am UTC

Yeah, one of Kirk Cameron's favourite arguments. "If evolution were true we'd see this!" And he's lying, because he's been told it's wrong before.
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby ImagingGeek » Thu Mar 07, 2013 3:12 pm UTC

The best proof is we see it happen. Kinda like how the best proof for the moon is to look up into the sky and see the moon. The process of evolution (descent with modification) has been directly observed. So have many of the expected outcomes of this process (selection for advantageous traits, selection against deleterious ones, genetic drift, new phenotypes, speciation, extinction, etc). I always found the fact that numerous separate methodologies and underlining assumptions (i.e. systematics, genetics, taxonomy, etc) all produce the same "tree of life" a rather convincing set of evidences for what we know of paleoevolution (i.e. how modern organisms evolved from now-extinct ancestors - going all the way back to the LCUA).

The fact we harness evolution to make products is also a pretty convincing argument - if it were not 'real', and just a lab artefact (scientific conspiracy, etc), then you shouldn't be able to use it to produce products...and yet, directed evolution (planned or otherwise) is hugely economically successful.

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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby tomandlu » Thu Mar 07, 2013 3:34 pm UTC

Taking a cue from another evolution thread, something like the vestigial leg bones in a blue whale is a pretty thorough and clear example of evolution, but I don't know if it counts as a proof - it's just another bit of evidence. Are there 'proofs' of evolution? If you can prove something, doesn't it become a fact rather than a theory?

That said, if the question is "best proofs of evolution for a creationist", then I honestly don't think it's worth bothering. The polite ones, such as mathmannix*, genuinely have no interest in having evolution proved to them, and the rest are essentially trolls.

* for added irony, given my suggestion, is that mathmannix's avatar is a whale.
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby Izawwlgood » Thu Mar 07, 2013 3:52 pm UTC

If something is a 'theory', it is an exceptionally well tested and supported explanation for something. I'm not sure how to upgrade something to 'fact', but concepts/models that can ever have more data added to them will probably remain a 'theory'.

Asking for 'proof of evolution' is the first warning sign that the person probably doesn't have an understanding of the field that is sufficient to really have a conversation about it. It's like asking for 'proof of gravity'; there's a ton of ways to demonstrate it, but anything more advanced than 'stuff falls towards Earth' is going to be lost on the person asking, because they don't understand that there is nothing that 'proves gravity', there are lots of things that 'support the theory of gravity as being the best explanation for how things work'.
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby ahammel » Thu Mar 07, 2013 5:01 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:If something is a 'theory', it is an exceptionally well tested and supported explanation for something.

Spoilered for somewhat off-topic discussion of the theory/fact distinction:
Spoiler:
I keep hearing this definition of "theory" from evolution-education proponent types, and I don't really like it. That's not the way people, including scientists, typically use the word "theory". I hear a lot of people throw around "theory" to refer to things that have no empirical support whatever (string theory, for instance).

I think of a theory as a model of how something works, regardless of whether or not it's empirically supported. The theory of evolution happens to be a really well-supported one.
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby tomandlu » Thu Mar 07, 2013 5:22 pm UTC

ahammel wrote:I keep hearing this definition of "theory" from evolution-education proponent types, and I don't really like it. That's not the way people, including scientists, typically use the word "theory". I hear a lot of people throw around "theory" to refer to things that have no empirical support whatever (string theory, for instance).

I think of a theory as a model of how something works, regardless of whether or not it's empirically supported. The theory of evolution happens to be a really well-supported one.


Is that right? I would regard a model that's not empirically supported, but could be, as an hypothesis. I have to admit that I've never quite understood why it's string-theory rather than string-hypothesis, but that, as you say, is OT...
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby Izawwlgood » Thu Mar 07, 2013 5:30 pm UTC

A model *is* supported; it's why it's a model. It represents the best explanation for something based on data. A theory is an even more supported model, and a law even more so.

I believe there's some distinction wherein a law has zero contradictory evidence, while a theory might have a few outliers? I can't recall.
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby Qaanol » Thu Mar 07, 2013 6:21 pm UTC

tomandlu wrote:Is that right? I would regard a model that's not empirically supported, but could be, as an hypothesis. I have to admit that I've never quite understood why it's string-theory rather than string-hypothesis, but that, as you say, is OT...

I always use the term “string hypothesis”. I have been doing so for years, and will continue to do so as long as it is accurate.
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Mar 07, 2013 8:09 pm UTC

Creationists can accept micro- but not macroevolution by believing that the two are fundamentally different things. It's not a belief that you can get to 10 but not 100 by adding 1s, it's a belief that you can approach 1 but never reach 2 by appending more 9s to the end of 0.999.

It is, at its heart, an inability or unwillingness to recognize that "species" is a fuzzy concept, or even that fuzzy concepts can exist in the first place. (Which is why fundamentalists also generally fail to recognize when other things that fall on a spectrum, like gender or sexual orientation.)

Someone posted a link at one point to the philosophical name for this particular brand of antiscientific nonsense, but I can't find it at the moment.
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby ImagingGeek » Thu Mar 07, 2013 8:33 pm UTC

tomandlu wrote:
ahammel wrote:I keep hearing this definition of "theory" from evolution-education proponent types, and I don't really like it. That's not the way people, including scientists, typically use the word "theory". I hear a lot of people throw around "theory" to refer to things that have no empirical support whatever (string theory, for instance).

I think of a theory as a model of how something works, regardless of whether or not it's empirically supported. The theory of evolution happens to be a really well-supported one.


Is that right? I would regard a model that's not empirically supported, but could be, as an hypothesis. I have to admit that I've never quite understood why it's string-theory rather than string-hypothesis, but that, as you say, is OT...

That is correct. In science a theory is typically a model that explains all known data relevant to the theory. A hypothesis is simply an untested/unproven question. We're a little off-topic here, but in general scientific theories:
1) Explain all extant data.
2) Make predictions which can then be tested via observation/experimentation (i.e. is testable).
3) Accurately predicts the results of the experiments it generates.
4) Is falsifiable (i.e. if it is wrong, it is possible to show it is wrong)

Hypothesis is simply an untested guess - typically one based on incomplete, prior knowledge.

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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby ImagingGeek » Thu Mar 07, 2013 8:34 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:Someone posted a link at one point to the philosophical name for this particular brand of antiscientific nonsense, but I can't find it at the moment.

Stupidity?

:D

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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby thoughtfully » Thu Mar 07, 2013 10:00 pm UTC

"Theory" is a term that is used loosely, not only in general use, where fuzzy/ambiguous/contradictory connotations are de riguer, but also among scientists, at least informally, and sometimes less so, hence "String Theory". It is precisely this ambiguity that makes statements such as "but it's only a theory" meaningless. The correct response is "yeah, so what's your point?"

The label you stick on Evolution by Natural Selection is really irrelevant to its merits. One tries to apply labels that are meaningful, but unambiguity in language is an elusive goal.
Last edited by thoughtfully on Thu Mar 07, 2013 10:32 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby SlyReaper » Thu Mar 07, 2013 10:11 pm UTC

tomandlu wrote:
Xenomortis wrote:To expand upon that, this is what they want to see:
Image

They really haven't got a fucking clue and they've no intention of getting one.
But that won't stop them fighting you over it.


What's that picture he's holding?

Edit to add: Ah - a 'croco-duck'

I can show them a croco-duck.

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archaeopteryx
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Re: Best proofs of evolution

Postby Xenomortis » Thu Mar 07, 2013 10:28 pm UTC

I've had a shit day today.
That made me laugh and now I feel better. :D
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