• Bloody awesome – rap and evolution

    Some time ago, Robin Ince and some other comedians and skeptical minds came together to produce “9 Lessons and Carols for Godless People”, a skeptical comedy and science carol service at Christmas. It is now a more regular fixture. The whole show is great, but the absolute highlight is this video, a performance by Baba Brinkman, a rap about evolution. It sends shivers down my spine every time I listen to it. It’s just a really cool take on evolution as being a feedback loop – performance, feedback, revision.

    Performance, Feedback, Revision…

    Check it out – it rocks. There is another equally cool video by the same guy below, too.

    If that’s not enough, this video takes it a step further, critiquing religious intelligent design. Brinkman is really quite a genius.

    Category: EvolutionScienceScience and religion


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce

    • Fraser M

      Now the theory of evolution [and the problems with it] – that is a debate worth having!

      • Jonathan MS Pearce

        Lucky you, Fraser as we are going to run a popular misconceptions deniers have with evolution series! There really are no problems, just perceived ones. Andreas, my evolutionary biologist contributor is writing one up as we speak!

        Out of interest, what would be your top problem?

        • Fraser M

          That is one I would love to read – its a fascinating area and to have someone with a better mind than mine answer these questions would be great! I wish i was an expert in the field, sorry if these cross over or I’m covering old versions of natural selection.

          I’d struggle to narrow it down to one, so here’s my top ramblings [apologies for incoherence – its late!]:

          1. Have we ever been able to recreate large evolution? Surely someone should have been able to take some bacteria, breed them in a jar and create something from “nothing”. From what I ‘ve read, mutatons always end up as the same thing.

          2. Linked to that, has anyone ever re-created primordial ooze in the lab

          3. Can the theory of evolution really be boiled down to mutations occuring and then breeding through? Or am I revealing my ignorance – surely this is really, really far fetched? [Your possible/improbable theory applies here to me!]

          4. Fish with legs – any fossils showing the inbetween stages? Is there any fossil record of anything half formed -half a spine, part of an eye etc.

          5. This is a stretch for my mind – over time don’t all systems fall apart. Why does the evolution end up with a perfectly balanced system?

          Apologies if these are all lame and easily debunked – have always had a hard time with evolution and my secondary school science teacher would never discuss it!

          • Jonathan MS Pearce

            Hey buddy, I’ll try and answer these and any I can’t, I will pass on.

            1) If you haven’t, read up on Lenski’s E.Coli experiment. They are a superb example of observed evolution. Interestingly, they are an AWESOME example of how to design a brilliant experiment, with forethought and anticipation of scenarios. The experiment has now reached well over 50,000 generations. One strain has evolved a new ability to feed on citrate. Lots of other selected mutations too. Fascinating stuff. Good basic start here:

            But a really good video that you would love can be found here to explain it in layman’s terms:

            2) Supposedly a chap called Miller did it some decades ago, but no one has been able to recreate it. However, they recently got hold of loads of unknown vials and stuff from his lab (not being accurate here since remembering it from BBC 3 part doc called The Cell).

            I also suggest seeing this TED talk, short but fascinating, on the development in the lab of protocells. This is about the blurry boundary between life and non-life. They have developed non-living cells which exhibit life-like qualities. Can be defined as ‘weird life’:

            Loads of work going in to this (abiogenesis) with lots of different theories. This is technically NOT evolution, and is a common misconception. Evolution says nothing about how life started, but merely about the process given those building blocks. Abiogenesis talks about that initial start.

            Here is a good, though a few years old, essay about the probability of life starting:
            Well worth a read.

          • Jonathan MS Pearce

            4) This is a CLASSIC misconception. Technically speaking, there is no such thing as a species. This is similar to a paradox called the Sorites Paradox whereby it is impossible to delineate two things on a single linear and gradual continuum. Here is a rather short answer I gave to someone who was relying on the work of a twat called Kent Hovind who misinforms Christian America. Also, see this link as an awesome pictorial representation of the problem of species http://9gag.com/gag/82540:

            The Theist OK, so you have some half-baked idea that Hovind has a clue what he is talking about. Hint, he doesn’t. What was one of his classic lines? “I’ve never seen a dog give birth to a non-dog?” What a dick who doesn’t have the first clue. He could do with investigating the “problem of species” which even Darwin was cognisant of. In reality, there is no such thing as a species, since all animals exist on a continuum of development over time. Check my post here: http://atipplingphilosopher.yo…. Species are a useful labelling tool to enable humans to understand a taxonomy of life; however, they do not have real ontology outside of the human conceptual mind. It is the same mechanism we use in laws. We allow people to vote when they are 18, to have consensual sex when they are 16, to drive… The reality is, there is no discernible difference between the girl who is 17 and 364 days, 23 hrs and 59 minutes 59 seconds, and that same girl a second later. However, one second she can’t vote, the next she can. We draw arbitrary lines in time continuums for pragmatic reasons. This is what the idea of species does. However, if you found a fossil of an early Homo, you could rightly argue that it is actually a late Austrolapithecus (and this is what has happened with the famous fossil, Twiggy). Fossils which sit closer to that arbitrary line are harder to argue. That is because that line is arbitrary. It is not as if an Austrolapithecus gave birth to a homo. This gradual move took thousands and thousands of years. We, now, look back and whack a line somewhere to differentiate the two. However, at that line, there would be no discernible difference. So the questions “Why don’t dogs give birth to non-dogs?” could only ever be asked by a complete wanker.

            This is often called microevolution vs macroevolution. The Creationist says “Well, we accept since we can see small changes, but big ones, from a fish to a bird are just silly”. The point can be eliminated. There is no difference, only time. Macroevolution is what happens when you either have shed loads of times (millions of years) or quick evolution (we know that evolution CAN happen quickly sometimes – see observations and experiments with guppies, and also the Italian Wall Lizard). In other words, EVERY species . organism is, by definition, transitional, just ever so slightly.

            As far as I can remember, there are STILL 13 species of fish (I could be wrong on the number) around now with legs, or protolegs.

            • Peter

              Tiktaalik is a good example of a transitional fossil between fish and land-based creatures. It was found by Neil Shubin and colleagues, who had predicted that the transition must have occurred at a specific time (between 400 and 350 million years ago) and in fresh water. They sought out freshwater sedimentary rocks of that age and after years of searching found this species which had both fish and amphibian like features! It’s described in Neil Shubin’s book “Your Inner Fish”, which I really recommend.

            • Jonathan MS Pearce
          • Jonathan MS Pearce

            5) I presume you are talking about the 2nd laws of thermodynamics here, and entropy in particular. This is usually countered by showing that Creationists don’t know what they are talking about. One has to think of the system as a whole, not localised areas of it.

            For example, if life starts in area A of the universe, it is taking energy out of a more ordered system, using it to increase order, but expels energy as heat. PZ Meyers puts it better than me:

            “I usually rebut this claim about the second law in a qualitative way, and by example — it’s obvious that the second law does not state that nothing can ever increase in order, but only that an decrease in one part must be accompanied by a greater increase in entropy in another. Two gametes, for instance, can fuse and begin a complicated process in development that represents a long-term local decrease in entropy, but at the same time that embryo is pumping heat out into its environment and increasing the entropy of the surrounding bit of the world.”


            I hope this helps. No need for Andreas! Evolution is fascinating. What is always good to remember is this: People have been trying to debunk it for 150 years. An entire new discipline was discovered in the meantime which not only supported it, but utterly underscored it (genetics). Hundreds of thousands of scientists have worked within its framework, and if there really were problems, the scientific method would (and has done) work on it, and scientists wouldn’t hold to something with so many holes.

            If you have any further questions or ones that come out of these, or if I have explained things craply, let me know.

    • Fraser M

      Loving all of this! Will take me ages to work through, but I really appreciate all of the effort. Absolutely fascinating!!

      • Jonathan MS Pearce

        No worries mate – glad to be of help! The more you get to know evolution, the more simple and elegant it appears; the more you realise how very much evidence there is across dozens of disciplines. Anyone that denies it simply hasn’t read enough!

        • or has an active reason for ignoring it…

    • I did a chapter-by-chapter review of Shubin’s Your Inner Fish. I also do a lot of writing on abiogensis on my blog here: http://ogremk5.wordpress.com

      You can hit the ‘book review’ tag for Your Inner Fish or ‘abiogensis’ for that. There’s a fair bit of researchblogging in that link.

      There’s also a lot of anti-ID stuff in there too.

      • Jonathan MS Pearce

        Thanks Ogre, I’ll check it out. Abiogenesis is where it’s at!

      • Jonathan MS Pearce

        I couldn’t find the tag list, only the category list.

        • Oops, yeah, the category list should do it.

          • Jonathan MS Pearce

            Have you got an overarching review of his book that I could post here?

            • I could write one if you like… It wouldn’t take long, I could have it this afternoon for you.

            • Jonathan MS Pearce

              I’ll shoot you an email – thanks!

    • Fraser M

      Phew! Finally worked through it all.

      A massive thank you to Jonno and the other contributors for what has been a fantastic morning’s reading. Really, really interesting – skepticblogs is now on my RSS feed!

      • Jonathan MS Pearce

        From one teacher to another – learning is fun!

        Just one point I want to clarify, when I say species don’t exist, I mean objectively.They do exist to humans, though even biologists can’t agree. They exist conceptually, in our heads.

        However, if you were to line up all the generations of rabbits (as Dawkins says) back in time to the previous species to rabbit, and back further still, to the first single celled organism, and you walked along that line from now,you would not be able to tell where it goes from rabbit to non-rabbit. Each pair of rabbits gives birth to an offspring. The offspring will look identical and will only have, at best, entirely marginal differences. These tiny differences mean that over thousands of years you can see a difference when comparing the beginning to the end, but not when looking from one generation to the next. Thus, in reality, every living organism moving from one lineage evolved from the first organism right through to now is one species which marginally changes over time. However, humans love to categorise, and taxonomy means that we arbitrarily split those lines up. Splitting those lines up does not make the label “species” and each “species” suddenly exist objectively, but it does help us carve up biology for our own means.

        This is why people genuinely argue over what species certain fossils belong to if they sit near that arbitrary line since it can be a late A or an early B.

        One other things is this:

        Let’s say evolution has 200,000 units of evidence to support it, across many disciplines. Now, say, we have a problem with one small area of it so either we have missing evidence, or problematic evidence. Say 1 unit of it.

        Is it epistemologically (study of knowledge) right to throw out 200,000 units of evidence for 1 unit that is missing? Problematic?

        Not at all, that would be insane. But this is what denialists do. If a unit of evidence is problematic, unless that evidence is entirely crucial (like finding a rabbit fossil in Jurassic strata), then it would be more sensible to see how evolution adapts to that new evidence rather than reject the whole framework out of hand. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

        • A cline or ring species is a great example of how this appears in the real world.

          The best example is that I know of is the Larus gulls around the North polar area. There are seven species:
          1 – 2- 3- 4- 5- 6 -7

          Because of the ring shape, species 7 is physically close to species 1. Now, each species can interbreed with its neighbors (1 with 2, 3 with 4, 6 with 7, etc.) But species 7 cannot interbreed with species 1, in spite of physical proximity.

          Little changes between the species have accumulated. Species 1 is so different from species 7 that they don’t interbreed, in spite of the fact that there is an unbroken chain of interbreeding along the ring.

          So, where do we draw the line? At what point do we have biological species separation? Can we say that 1 and 7 are completely different?

          These aren’t trivial questions and there are no easy answers. Suffice to say that species are squishy and don’t fit into out little boxes very well (as JP mentioned).

          • Jonathan MS Pearce

            That’s great to have a real example. Cheers for that. Do you have a good link for this?

    • Greenish Warbler: http://www.zoology.ubc.ca/~irwin/GreenishWarblers.html

      Ring Species in plants: http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2012/06/11/rspb.2012.0498

      Gulls: http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/271/1542/893

      I disagree with the title of the gull article. Mainly because he dies actually describe a ring species, but then states that it’s not a ring species. Just goes to show that things are much, much more complex than we could ever wish for.