Bronze-level articleAsk Darwinists

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AskDarwinists.com is a website run by Turkish creationist Harun Yahya. On the main page of the website, the author poses 25 questions which he claims "Darwinists" will be unable to answer.[1] The claim seems a little bit weird as many of the questions are phrased to need only simple "yes" or "no" answers. But even if the questions are answered simply as "yes" or "no", one is frequently left with the question "and so what?" - very few of these challenge or have any relevance to evolution and merely consisted of Yahya Just asking questions over his own willful ignorance. Anyway, such things cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged, so here are the answers to those unanswerable questions!

[edit] The 25 Questions

These are the 25 questions posed on the website, complete with answers. And they said "darwinists" wouldn't be able to answer them...

[edit] QUESTION 1:

Is there a single intermediate form fossil among all the 100 million or so that have been unearthed to date? Name one...

Tiktaalik... need we go on? Okay then!
The obvious answer as a specific example would be Archaeopteryx, the part bird, part reptile animal discovered very shortly after The Origin of Species was published. This is considered to be one of the best known examples because of its association with the early days of the theory of natural selection. However, some Darwinists prefer not to concentrate too much on Archaeopteryx because the discovery is old and too easily rattled off by amateur defenders of evolution. A more recent example is the discovery of Odontochelys semitestacea, a species showing part of the transition that developed turtle shells as we see them now.
One can also list Microraptor, Indohyus, Tiktaalik, Morganucodon, and Amphistium and Heteronectes as clear examples. There could be many animals around today that may be classed as transitional forms, but as we don't know what they could eventually evolve into, we couldn't say which ones. Certainly, you can't look at at a modern mudskipper without thinking "bloody hell, it's a fish that breathes air too". But a direct answer to this isn't nearly as interesting as discussing the idea of "intermediate forms".
So yes, there are many transitional fossils. Though one would need to define "intermediate form" first - as creationists like to move the goalposts with transitional fossils, particularly pointing out the new gaps that arise every time a new form is discovered, it's best to sort this out early. By the logical definition of an intermediate form in evolution, every living creature is an intermediate form; between its parents and its offspring, although the changes aren't particularly obvious. As this definition, despite being both true and accurate, is impractical for demonstration purposes, "transitional form" is usually used to refer to a fossil displaying some sort of arbitrary feature in development. Feathers, wings, lungs, fingers, legs and so on are such features. It should be made clear that these features aren't "half formed" in the sense that they are partially constructed (like a literal half an eye) but are features that perform the task only partially as well as modern examples. For example, a fossil with a rudimentary wing structure for gliding, something that displays a simple eye or photo-sensitive patch or a fossil showing the spines of fins turning into fingers.
The question of fossilised transitional forms comes up frequently with creationists because of two reasons. Firstly, they completely misunderstand evolution and think that it hinges entirely on the fossil record (it doesn't; it was developed as a theory by observations of actual living organisms, and genetic evidence has almost entirely superseded everything else in terms of analytical power) and secondly they think a transitional form is a crocoduck. Harun Yahya is no different. When he asks a question like this he expects a certain type of answer - and knows that his preferred answer isn't available and constitutes a misrepresentation of evolution, making the question a case of not even wrong. This is a theme that continues down much of this list.

[edit] QUESTION 2:

Can a single protein molecule emerge by chance?

Not likely, but protein molecules do not emerge by chance. Firstly, protein molecules that occur in nature as enzymes are assembled by other enzymes and encoded by DNA. Shorter protein sequences, usually referred to as polypeptides, can form out of reaction mixtures of amino acids, which in turn form from chemical reactions. This is all controlled by the laws of chemistry, rather than chance, and a thorough understanding of the processes involved is fascinating, but hardly bewildering and conclusive proof that it's impossible.
If the above question is referring specifically to protein folding, then this too isn't governed by chance. The interaction of water molecules with an unfolded protein (the solvent sphere) means that when a protein folds, it releases many water molecules from their rigid positions in the solvent sphere and into the bulk fluid. This increases the entropy of the system and provides a thermodynamic driving force for the protein to fold into a more ordered structure when it should stay in a disordered unfolded structure. In addition to this driving force that means proteins are more energetically stable while folded, they are controlled by specific groups that force the protein to fold in certain ways; you can see this sort of thing in action and play with it with Foldit, a protein simulation game.
This sort of complex system didn't appear out of nowhere, evolution has slowly formed it from much simpler versions, shorter peptide chains, less complex folding or simpler systems with more tolerance for incorrect folding. Creationist arguments often rely on trying to convince people that biology as we know it today formed by chance, but this is wrong. Complex biological systems that we see today under the microscope come from millions of years of evolution, starting with simpler starting points that have gradually been built upon to produce a fantastic level of complexity with no astronomical odds ever needing to be beaten.

[edit] QUESTION 3:

Is it true that there have been shown to be millions of living fossils?

"Living fossil" is an informal term, usually used to describe a species that is relatively unchanged compared to its fossilized ancestors, such as the extant coelacanth species. There are a few well known ones and some good examples but their presence can only confirm evolution by natural selection. Evolution doesn't always just happen for the sake of it, natural selection needs a driving force or opportunity, an environmental change that requires or allows a competitive edge for some living organisms in nature. If the environment remains the same, there is unlikely to be any major change in a species - all this is predicted by the idea of natural selection.

[edit] QUESTION 4:

Is it true that Piltdown Man, exhibited for 40 years, was a hoax?

Piltdown Man was shown to be a hoax. However, this fact has no bearing on the validity of evolutionary theories; the case of Piltdown Man only says that the Piltdown Man was a hoax. Creationists absolutely love this case, particularly the really paranoid ones that think evolution is an outright hoax and everything has been faked. They view it as a smoking gun of sorts, and regular players of Creationist Argument Bingo will be very familiar with it. But the fact that the Piltdown hoax was exposed, albeit after several decades, proves that science is not afraid of reinterpreting evidence and questioning theories in the pursuit of truth and a more accurate understanding of the world. The fact that Piltdown Man being exposed is science working exactly as it should is entirely ignored by creationists.
There are many other errors that crop up in the Piltdown Man argument. The skull was not "exhibited" for 40 years and was actually kept hidden by its creators, from the public and, more importantly, from closer scrutiny by other scientists. This lack of open scrutiny kept many highly sceptical of it from the moment it was announced. Compare this with the Shroud of Turin, which has been exposed as a medieval forgery, yet people still believe that it's 2000 years old and definitely the image of a certain dead white guy.
Piltdown Man may be more accurately described as a hoax on scientists, as opposed to by them, as creationists would prefer to put it.

[edit] QUESTION 5:

Is it true that Nebraska Man was a fraud based on a single peccary tooth?

Nebraska Man was an over-enthusiastic interpretation of an over-enthusiastic interpretation in a popular London paper. Even then it was described as merely the expression of an artist's brilliant imaginative genius and not a true representation. It was never widely accepted by the scientific establishment and even its most enthusiastic supporter called it "questionable". But, hoax or not, the same arguments as above apply. A more thorough discourse on Nebraska Man can be found on TalkOrigins.

[edit] QUESTION 6:

Is it true that Archæoraptor liaoningensis, proposed as a "dino-bird," was a fraud?

Again see above (see also Gish Gallop). There are some notable differences compared to Piltdown Man, however. Firstly, this fraud was uncovered and readily retracted very quickly. Secondly, this case was first published in National Geographic, which is essentially a pop science magazine which covers a massive range of topics regarding the natural world - it is not subject to the process of peer review, which checks work for credibility prior to publication.

[edit] QUESTION 7:

Is it true that the Coelacanth, for years depicted as an intermediate form fossil, is a species of fish still living today?

The Coelacanth is an example of a Lazarus taxon, or a species that was believed to be extinct but has then been rediscovered (in fact, Coelacanth is an order, not a species). This doesn't imply that it disappeared and reappeared, only that it wasn't observed (in either live or fossil form) before "discovery". No doubt the question is confusing the informal use of "living fossil" and how speciation can occur. Indeed, it bears some similarity to the old argument that "if we evolved from monkeys, how come there are still monkeys?".
Moreover, the Coelacanth found to be alive today is not the same species of Coelacanth that swam in ancient oceans, but a relative and descendant of that creature - as mentioned above Coelacanth is an order of organisms, and the order has about nine families and and over two dozen species and sub-species grouped under it. So the species observed in the fossil record isn't alive today. This is entirely expected within the field of evolutionary biology, providing you have a non-straw man understanding of speciation.
Another example of a similar situation is Metasequoia glyptostroboides, a redwood thought to be extinct, until a grove was found in China in 1944.

[edit] QUESTION 8:

Is it true that Archaeopteryx, also put forward as a missing link, was actually a fully flying bird?

This is true only if you believe Answers in Genesis, and since they believe the world is only 6000 years old, they are hardly qualified to discuss creatures that lived millions of years ago. It is unclear whether Archaeopteryx was capable of full flight or just gliding; moreover, apart from the feathers and wings, Archaeopteryx has far more similarities with non-avian dinosaurs than modern birds.

[edit] QUESTION 9:

Is the invalidity of the fictitious horse series accepted today?

Evolution of the horse.
The question refers to the line starting with Hyracotherium (a horse-like animal that was about the size of a small dog, more commonly, but incorrectly, known as Eohippus.) and ending with the modern horse. Horse evolution is extremely detailed with a number of ancestral species being well-preserved in the fossil record. Creationists have misinterpreted this group of animals to all be direct linear descendants according to the growing size of the specimens, and then when the ages of the specimens as compared to their size don't match that linear setup, they declare the entire line to be false. The truth is that the group is not a set of linear descendants, but a number of different species that branched from Hyracotherium. Some smaller equine species outlived larger equine species, and so arrangement purely according to size is a non-starter.
This sort of thing is related to the fallacy fallacy, finding one (slightly) wrong piece of data and declaring the whole of evolution to be false, dismissing all the correct pieces of data in the process. Creationists love this sort of thing, which is why they often like to repeatedly cite simple examples of where science admits that it was wrong, rather than do the arguably more difficult thing and challenge the parts where science is actually right.

[edit] QUESTION 10:

Did Ernst Haeckel admit that the embryo illustrations submitted as evidence of evolution were hoaxes?

Although some were said to be fabricated, they were fabricated only in the sense that they were reconstructed from partial data, see the Wikipedia entry for further information. But otherwise, see above that individual forgeries and hoaxes have no bearing on the validity of evolution as a theory, and that creationists are fooling no one by repeatedly selectively concentrating on them.

[edit] QUESTION 11:

Is it true that the fossil known as Lucy belonged to an extinct type of ape and has been removed from the fictitious tree of human evolution?

Lucy is classed as Australopithecus afarensis, a common ancestor of both the Australopithecus and Homo genera. No major renaming or reassignment of Lucy ever occurred, however, some evidence suggests that Australopithecus afarensis may not have been direct ancestor to humans, but a very close relative of a direct ancestor. Au. afarensis is best known for its relatively small brain size, suggesting that upright walking - rather than increase in brain volume - occurred first in human evolution. Plenty of other fossil examples of Au. afarensis are known, Lucy just happens to be one of the most famous, so what is known of this species doesn't hinge on a single fossil.
Again, though, the question appears to be clawing at the fact that science "changes its mind". It does. It changes to be closer to reality. Evidence suggests that Au. afarensis might not be a direct modern human ancestor, but this just allows us to refine the model of human ancestry. The simple fact is that science is not dogma, and part of its function is to change to accommodate facts - if it did not do so it would be more like religion - and almost useless.

[edit] QUESTION 12:

Have mutations ever been observed to produce beneficial organs?

If by mutation, the question refers to a single exchange of a DNA sequence to produce a whole, functioning organ, then no. That's impossible. It's likely that creationists and ID advocates know that it's impossible, but still ask stupid questions like this anyway. It's a loaded question; the short answer of "no" appears to not support evolution, while an actual answer would likely be met with the na-na-na-na-I-can't-hear-you-you-said-no response.
Something as complex as an organ will take several million years to evolve, although computer simulations have tested how the eye could form (another amusing YouTube video shows the evolution of a clock via a computer simulation), these cannot be observed directly in the lab. Regardless, there is far more passive evidence to track how organs may have evolved.
Additionally, there has recently been a case where E. coli bacteria have been observed to evolve the novel trait of citrate metabolism in vitro, which is certainly beneficial for the E. coli. A species of lizard introduced to an island with a dearth of its insect prey was also observed to have developed caecal valves, breaking its intestines up into chambers for the digestion of vegetable matter and turning it into an effective herbivore without any possibility of interbreeding with herbivores that already had this feature.[2]

[edit] QUESTION 13:

Can natural selection bring about changes in an organism's genetic data or produce a new organ?

Yes. Evolution is almost all about changes in the genetic data of an organism. Developing new organs (and removing obsolete ones) is a key part of the evolutionary process that has developed complex animals. If the organ provides some kind of benefit as far as the selection criteria is concerned, natural selection will conserve it. One of the most famous demonstrations of evolution producing a new trait in the lab was that carried out by Richard Lenski.
Yet again, an examination of what the question is implying is also needed. It may be suggesting that a single swap of A, C, T or G in the genetic code could bring a fully formed heart or spleen into existence. But in evolution this is not so - not that Harun Yahya has any interest in understanding this. In reality, an organ may change roles as it evolves. A fin becomes a hand. A second stomach becomes a vestigial appendix, and so on. In many cases an organ may evolve from a completely different organ and could be quite unexpected, particularly in cases of convergent evolution. Teeth found in sharks are actually very different to teeth found in mammals, and appear to have formed from the tiny "teeth" or "scale" like structures on their skin - hence how they can be replaced so frequently.
Tracking the evolution of organs made of soft tissue is difficult because such tissue doesn't fossilise. Though that doesn't stop us looking at modern analogies. Analogous organ systems are seen in most animals. We also know the rough evolution of modern animals and currently living examples that seem close to extinct and ancient species. Evolution of soft tissue can be inferred from this and the genetic evidence to corroborate it. But not only this, embryology, the development of an animal from fertilisation, can also yield clues. Even the evolution of the heart, something that you might assume to be "impossible" because of its complexity and necessity, has been studied with some very strong evidence showing how it developed over time from a simple tube-like organ (as is found in worms and small insects) to a more complex multi-chambered life support unit.[3]

[edit] QUESTION 14:

Is it true that the "peppered moths" (in the industrial melanism story), for so long proposed as evidence of natural selection as an evolutionary mechanism, were actually pictured by being glued onto trees?

The "peppered moth" story is brought up time and again in support of this bizarre creationist-only concept (well, evolutionary biologists have the term, but it means something totally different) of microevolution. This is in contrast to macroevolution, and lets creationists and design advocates admit even the most blatant examples of evolution be shoehorned into one, and leaving them free to deny the other - because only "macro" evolution must count, obviously. The Answers in Genesis line on the peppered moth example is that it is microevolution because one "kind" of moth changed into a different kind of the same moth, and not into a giraffe or something like that.
In reality, there is no barrier at all between what creationists class as micro and macro evolution; saying that one can occur and the other can't would require something like two types of DNA, one affected by mutations and one that isn't.
In any case, this question isn't even about whether the observations were right or wrong (which is a well trodden creationist tactic), but whether an illustration of the example was a set up. It's quite possible that it originally was; camouflage is no use if you're then going to go and sit on a contrasting background, but a little glue can help show how your camouflage is only useful in certain circumstances. Despite some flaws in the original 19th century experiments indicating the change in moth populations, the phenomenon of organisms reacting to pollutants in the same way has been confirmed by later experiments and observations. Showing that individual examples may have been a little contrived in their dissemination doesn't disprove evolution.

[edit] QUESTION 15:

Can the information sufficient to fill 1 million encyclopaedia pages that is contained in DNA be coded in the correct sequence by chance?

Probably not - indeed the odds against this happening by chance are so astronomically stacked it's not too much of a stretch to say definitely not. But creationists know this, and they used closed, loaded questions like this all the time to highlight the fact. A real answer requires going beyond, and explaining why such a question doesn't even apply.
Evolution isn't chance - mutations and allele exchange may be slightly random, but that alone isn't what evolution is or what natural selection does. Evolution is governed by rule; such as biochemistry and basic physics at the reductionist end, and natural selection at the other. As a result, it's almost the opposite of mere chance. What is being called the "correct sequence" in this question is a misnomer. Our DNA sequence is the result of millions of years of evolution, through a form of trial and error that follows these rules. It is not some correct, predetermined answer that was guided and popped into the world in the "correct" sequence by chance - a common misconception amongst creationists. Simple genetic algorithms such as Boxcar2D demonstrate the principle correctly. By the end of the simulation, one has a working car that can perform the task extremely well, but the odds of that car appearing "by chance" at the beginning are astronomically stacked against. Yet the car appears.
The information in even the most complicated DNA has arisen over millions of years via these rules, developing from the earliest "genome" that might not even have been built from DNA and may have coded for only a few bits of data. It isn't entirely inconceivable that something small like that could happen by chance - just as how it's not beyond chance that Boxcar2D may generate a two wheeled "thing" on its first go, if not quite a racecar.
But we all know that creationists won't try to understand this - otherwise they wouldn't have asked the closed, loaded question.

[edit] QUESTION 16:

Is it true that Darwin thought the cell was just a dark blotch and that he was unaware of such organelles as DNA, the nucleus, ribosome and mitochondrion?

That would be cell theory. The cell can be a blob or it can be several hundred smurfs walking around inside it when it comes to many of the principles of natural selection. Natural selection as a mechanism has been shown to work in computer simulations (“clocks” for example), in real-life electrical circuits adjustable by computer, and possibly even in chemical systems; and in these examples the selection criteria are not affected by the complexity or simplicity of the basic cell. The form of the cell has no influence on the mechanism of natural selection or the validity of evolutionary theories - particularly the mechanisms that Charles Darwin originally proposed - but scientific theories have moved on since then, so what Darwin said and what Darwin was aware of in the late 19th century are mostly irrelevant to modern science (even if his propositions have great historical significance).
It is certainly true that we know a lot more about biology than we did at the time of Darwin - the discovery of DNA only cemented the principles of evolution and enabled us to understand it much better. We will probably learn a lot more in the next hundred years.

[edit] QUESTION 17:

Is it true that inanimate atoms cannot join together and spontaneously give rise to life?

No. For a start, there is a blurred distinction of what "life" is. Are viruses alive? Are reproducing molecules alive? Are prions alive? Are insects that certainly aren't sentient and bacteria that aren't intelligent or possessing nervous systems alive? Why do vegetarians shrink away from killing sheep for food, but are fine with killing carrots for food? Although these questions are frivolous distractions, the point is that the development of life from inanimate atoms (although many chemists may take exception to the idea of atoms being "inanimate") is more like a process than a spontaneous "event". Atoms can't randomly form a complete cell - but they can, by the rules of chemistry, quite readily form molecules that could form precursors to RNA nucleotides which could form strands of DNA or RNA and eventually code for proteins and cells and whole organisms. This smooth progression happens slowly and at no single point could anyone say that "life has spontaneously formed".
While atoms most certainly won't randomly form together to create a human in an instant, no scientist claims that this will occur - indeed, such a thing happening would disprove evolution almost entirely.

[edit] QUESTION 18:

Is it true that thousands of complex life forms appeared simultaneously and with no forerunners during the Cambrian Period?

No. This refers to the "Cambrian explosion", where the rate of diversification increased so rapidly that science is lucky to have any fossils from that period - fossilisation being a rare thing, so rapidly developing or diversifying life can mean that certain transitional forms are missed out of the fossil record entirely. The reason why diversification increased in the Cambrian period is still unknown - there are half a dozen or so factors that could lead to it, including the possibility that the diversification was there before the Cambrian but just hasn't been found yet because the Cambrian's innovation was the development of hard parts that fossilise, while soft squishy tissue doesn't. An interesting one being that because the eye developed (more on the eye below) predator-prey relationships changes dramatically and "boosted" the rate that natural selection could work at, although this isn't widely accepted as a primary or sole cause of the Cambrian explosion.

[edit] QUESTION 19:

Does the fact that two life forms possess genetic similarities mean they have a physical resemblance?

Not necessarily. The genetic material refers to the genotype while the physical appearance is the phenotype. In modern mammals, much of the development of an embryo is controlled by the mother, meaning that similar genotypes can produce slightly different physical features. However, on the whole, some genetic similarities can be linked to physical appearance or characteristics. If this wasn't true, we wouldn't be able to genetically test for certain diseases. Entire branches of biology, such as cladistics, have developed to chart and compare genetic and physical similarities to determine the physical relationship between organisms.

[edit] QUESTION 20:

Can the idea that dinosaurs grew wings and began to fly as they chased after flies account for the origin of flight?

Most scientists will say that it is unlikely to be that simple. However, the question could be clutching at Lamarckian evolution - where traits that are developed in life are passed on. There is, in fact, still some debate about the origin of flight, evidence is always emerging and models are always being refined, that's just good science and doesn't really say anything about evolution being real or not. This being said, it isn't difficult to imagine that folds of flesh between fingers or limbs (as in flying mammals like gliders and flying squirrels) or feather-like scales (the presumed pathway between reptiles and birds) would give a jumping creature an evolutionary advantage in the height and duration of a jump to catch prey (an advantage which creatures without these proto-wings would not have), a trait which would be selected for, since the creature that can catch prey most efficiently is generally the evolutionary "winner". This would lead to a creature able to glide for short distances, then to a creature developing muscles allowing for limited powered gliding, then limited powered flight, then active powered flight. Organisms do not choose to evolve features, nor do they have a predestined "purpose". A dinosaur would not evolve proto-wing features to "help them" catch their prey. These features would help them catch their prey, but that is simply a byproduct of a genetic mutation useful to the organism, which will hence enhance that organism's chances of having offspring vis-a-vis other organisms. Logically, this will increase the frequency of that feature in the population, tending towards 100% frequency as organisms of that species without that feature lose the evolutionary race and become extinct. This is all really very easy to understand, if one makes an effort.

[edit] QUESTION 21:

Are the illustrations we see of half-human, half-animal creatures in their social environment entirely imaginary?

You mean the centaurs, fauns, perhaps Egyptian gods with crocodile heads and so on? Yes, yes they really are imaginary. Harun Yahya is a known moron so we have to make sure he hasn't accidentally mistaken the Chronicles of Narnia for a documentary. Or a fishing lure.
If - on the other, more relevant, hand - you mean "ancestors" such as Homo erectus or Homo antecessor, then no. Although drawings and illustrations will undoubtedly be artistic interpretations, and as such subject to a few errors and corrections based on new evidence that arises, they are based on skeletons and fossils, all real materials found in ancient settlements that have been examined. Therefore these pictures are as "imaginary" as this picture of a jumbo jet.

[edit] QUESTION 22:

Is it true that past civilizations depicted as primitive actually used highly advanced technology and possessed an unsurpassed conception of art?

If the question implies that the Aztecs had flying machines, then no. If it implies that the Greeks had a good grasp of maths for use in architecture, then yes. The relevance of this question to evolution is unknown, but it may be hinting at two things; firstly a perceived directionality of evolution; from worse to better, from smaller to larger, from fast to faster and so on, and secondly the idea of de-evolution which states that evolution is in fact backwards and things can only be lost over time.
Natural selection - by virtue of being natural, as opposed to artificial - is an unguided process and the idea of "superiority" is very context dependent; we may be better at walking upright than our evolutionary ancestors, but they were better at climbing trees. Evolution doesn't give rise to creatures that are objectively superior over time; it favors creatures that are better at coping with a specific set of circumstances. Human intelligence has enabled us to cope with a very wide range of circumstances, but that doesn't imply that there aren't other products of evolution (e.g. bacteria) that can exist in environments where humans can't.
In this case of past technology, if there was "advanced technology" in the past, why did it disappear? This does have some relevance to evolution and its unguided nature. A quick change in conditions that something cannot adapt to can wipe out even amazingly advanced technology or well-evolved species. As they're only advanced and well-adapted in their own conditions, changing these conditions mean that a species no longer well-adapted and suited, so will die off and disappear. This is known to be the case in Ancient Rome, which was arguably more civilised and advanced than the Dark Ages that followed in Europe. Roman civilisation couldn't sustain itself and was replaced by civilisation that could. History doesn't show gradual and perfectly linear changes over time, and neither does evolution.

[edit] QUESTION 23:

Is it possible for it to be the unconscious atoms constituting the brain that ask these questions, think, judge, rejoice, feel excitement, enjoy eating chocolate or listening to music?

What. The. Fuck. Does. This. Have. To. Do. With. Anything? Asking this question is a little like asking "is it possible for a single muscle cell from your arm to move this pencil? What about the Eiffel Tower? No? Well then clearly human muscles are incapable of moving anything! The Eiffel Tower was made by God!" Suck that evilutionists!"
But seriously, though, our current understanding of awareness is based on the idea of emergence. Piles of copper and silicon are hardly going to do any maths, but form them into microscopic transistors, run some power through them and you have a CPU. A single nerve cell won't be self aware, but string together millions of them and you have a brain. In the China brain thought experiment, it is proposed that every individual in China is told exactly how to simulate the connections caused by neurons in the brain by holding hands and exchanging hands according to a set of rules. Although each individual is working by a simple set of rules, together they form an emergent consciousness that you could interact with - it is the collective that is important. In these models, it isn't required that individual atoms think; it's how they interact that forms thought, emotion and awareness. It has little to do with evolution, though. Perhaps it's interesting if you want to discuss the soul, but is completely irrelevant to evolution.

[edit] QUESTION 24:

Is it true that 40 fundamental components need to be present at the same time and working in harmony together in order for the human eye to see?

The eye. Too complicated for some.
This is a very vague accusation. 40 parts? If you define component as any particular molecule you reach millions of components all working together. If you define it as the basic parts required for an eye of any kind to function, then it's just two: a retina behind a small hole. Even just a patch of light-sensitive material forms an "eye" of some description.
That said, there is some content to be derived from this question. It seems to be clutching at irreducible complexity, a failed concept popularised by Michael Behe that basically says "because I don't have the imagination to figure out how something works, it can't work". A system is said to be "irreducibly complex" if it ceases to function when you take a component away. This makes sense, if you take the engine away from a car, it ceases to move, if you take the lens muscles out of an eye, it ceases to focus. However, irreducible complexity (and the PRATT eye example) ignores two fundamental points. Firstly, that an evolutionary pathway can add features just as much as it can remove them. A simple example being an archway, which would obviously collapse if you removed any part of it, but a scaffold present during its construction makes it perfectly possible to build. Secondly, an evolution can involve a change of function; a paper clip bent out of shape can no longer hold paper together, but it can make a nice toothpick (and be practically the only thing that can reach those fiddly "reset" buttons on small electronic devices).
But even if it is only 40 components that make up an eye, this really means nothing. Evolutionary biologists have made a lot of progress in charting the development of the eye. From computer simulations that calculate that it could take a mere 350,000 years to evolve a full eye from a simple patch of light sensitive cells, to finding real fossil and living evidence of the eye in all of its major developmental forms.

[edit] QUESTION 25:

Is it true that the human eye provides a much more advanced and clearer image than any camera produced by even the most advanced present-day technology?

Again with the eye, always a solid crutch for creationists and intelligent design advocates. Our eyes are the primary way that we receive information about the world around us and as such they make for a great narrative to boast about the wonder of nature. However, can the eye provide better images than any camera? Tell this to a myopic person, and then tell it to the engineers who built the Hubble Space Telescope, or the enthusiasts who work with gigapixel images. Comparing technology and nature is futile, even if it is amusing to try and compare the two (the eye has such-and-such resolution, the brain has this much RAM and so on). The eye and a modern digital camera work in very different ways, so to compare the two in terms of performance is difficult. But even if the answer were an unequivocal "yes" (and for many years the human eye definitely was better than the best photography equipment around), or for that matter, "no" (photographic equipment is advancing so much that camera phones will be better than eyes soon), it would rather demand the follow up, "so what?". The appeals to the complexity and power of features developed by evolution have no bearing on its truth or mechanism.
Interestingly, regarding eyes there is a wide variety in terms of quality of vision they produce. Small rodent eyes produce very inferior images, particularly when it comes to colour as they can only pick up two possible colour pigments whereas humans pick up three - this is where we get the "primary" colours from, it's all based on biology. Meanwhile birds of prey are thought to have vision much sharper and clearer than humans, including possessing a rudimentary "zoom" feature, and many birds also process four colour vision. Again, compare this to our digital camera technology, which is based around the trichromacy of human eyesight, or to spectroscopy that isn't limited by the concept of chromacy - the comparison is futile. That eyes of various stages of development and quality have been shown across all living things is far more in keeping with adaptation and evolution than it is with intelligent design.

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. The original questions can be found at: http://www.askdarwinists.com/ Though we recommend plenty of adware and popup protection when going to this site.
  2. Science Daily article.
  3. Panda's Thumb - Evolution of the Heart
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