Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Art of Adding Epicycles

It was once thought the earth was at the center of the universe and all the other heavenly objects revolved around it. But there was a problem with this. There were certain heavenly object called planets which did not follow a straight course across the sky. They wandered around and even looped back. In order to explain this there was invented the idea of epicycles. It was thought that the planet's basic orbit around the earth was circular but that there were on this orbit smaller circles called epicycles which the planet went around, causing its abnormal motions. But one epicycle per planet was not enough to explain its motion. So they ended up adding epicycles on epicycles in complex patterns in order to make their theory work. Then Copernicus suggested the simpler option of recognizing that the earth and the other planets orbited the sun. When you have to add complicated qualifications to make your theory work, there are problems with your theory.

There is a similar problem in the theory of evolution. According to the theory of evolution  there should be a gradual development of one animal into another. But there are conspicuous gaps between various types of animals in the fossil record, without the expected intermediate forms. There are, of course, variations among related forms, but there are variations among related forms today. It is not surprising there was more variation in the past, as there were a greater variety of creatures that existed in the past. Nor is it surprising that, with this greater variety of creatures, you would occasionally meet something that looks like a transition between two other creatures. But if evolution were true you would expect this to be a regular thing. So there is the adding of epicycles by positing new theories such as the punctuated equilibrium or hopeful monster theories to explain the lack of evidence. But if you need new theories to explain the lack of evidence, there is a problem with your theory.

Darwin thought acquired traits could be inherited. Then came Mendel and contradicted this. The way around this was to appeal to genetic mutation. A mutation is an error in the genetic code. How often does an error produce something useful? Sometimes, but very rarely. All the experiments to show major change brought about by mutation have failed. Also, it is still popularly claimed that the fact the embryo in the womb recapitulates its previous forms proves evolution. This is not only questionable scientifically, but is based on an understanding of evolution no longer held. Why should an embryo recapitulate its previous mutations. More epicycles.  Or take the complexity of life even on the cellular level. The cell is a small factory. How could such a thing come together by chance? There is not even currently a good epicycle to explain this. Yet with all the epicycles, people refuse to reconsider the theory. Perhaps it is time to do so.

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