Friday, December 23, 2011

Evolution and Poker: Professor Says There are no Scientific Problems With Evolution

Poker players don’t lose with bad hands, they lose with great hands. I once saw a player dealt a four of a kind while the other player was dealt a full house. Those are the second and third best hands in poker, but the fellow dealing the cards had a royal flush—the highest hand in all of poker. If you have four of a kind or a full house, then you are supremely confident, and by the time those cards were dealt everyone had all their pennies on the table. It was a complete loss for those two players and an illustration of the dangers of a great hand. If you have a bad hand, then you won’t make losing bets. But great hands are susceptible to losing bets.

It was also an illustration of another important principle. For when the cards were laid down for all to see, the two losing players knew something was awry. Four of a kind, a full house and a royal flush all in the same round? And the royal flush just happening to go to the dealer? No way, it must have been rigged.

Imagine a friend calls you over with great exclamation. “Look at this!” he cries, “I just tossed out these Scrabble letters onto the board and look!” What you see are the letters CONSTANTINOPLE laid out in perfect order. “What are the odds?” he asks incredulously. “Yeah, right,” you respond, not willing to play the fool. He obviously arranged the letters and pretended to have thrown them down randomly.

But this principle, of the rigged game, can be subtle. For the four of a kind, full house and royal flush hands have precisely the same probability as any other set of hands. They are just as likely as garbage hands with nothing more than a high card.

Likewise, CONSTANTINOPLE has the same probability as any other set of 14 letters. So why are we suspicious? How do we know it is rigged? As Pierre-Simon Laplace explained so long ago (before Scrabble was invented), we know the game is rigged not because we miscompute the probabilities.

It is true, the great French mathematician explained, that all the possible letter combinations are equiprobable. But we know CONSTANTINOPLE was probably rigged because we intuitively realize that that outcome has a high probability of having been manipulated. Humans are good at evaluating a wide range of possible causes.

Likewise, the three high poker hands were unlikely to have occurred by chance because those are the types of hands that someone would stack the deck to create. The chance hypothesis is unlikely because the non chance hypothesis is so much more likely.

Evolution and poker

So what do these two principles have to do with evolution? The first describes the evolutionist’s predicament. Like the poker players with the four of a kind and full house, evolutionists are convinced. They are supremely confident they have a winning hand. They are certain that evolution is correct.

People sometimes ask me how evolutionists can do what they do. How can evolutionists engage in and promote such absurdity? It is amazing, but please understand, evolutionists are not out to spread atheism or corrupt science. Evolutionists are out to spread and protect the truth—the scientific truth as they understand it. And they are certain they do understand it.

Evolutionists are in a similar predicament as those poor poker players with, what they were certain were, winning hands. And just as those poker players were more than happy to make losing bet after losing bet, so too evolutionists think nothing of making losing arguments for evolution.

For instance, evolutionists claim that all the evidence supports evolution. Amazingly, they say there is no contradictory evidence, no scientific problems to deal with.

When I first heard this argument I was astonished. But when you are certain you are right, then any and all arguments must support evolution.

You can see an example of this claim here where an evolution professor calls some mathematicians dumb***** (while issuing several other profanities) and assures his readers that he is “unaware of any general concerns with the theory of evolution that is not steeped in religion.”

One reason the professor makes this monumental scientific blunder is a fundamental yet typical misunderstanding of our second principle above. While it was obvious to most of us that the poker game was rigged, evolutionists make another one of their losing arguments to get around the problem.

Sure biology may seem improbable but, after all, any outcome has the same probability as any other outcome. Don’t be fooled by outcomes that may seem to be unlikely, they warn. The spontaneous origin of everything is no more improbable than any other outcome. As the professor explains:

Let’s start with a simple probability idea and work our way up. If we get a penny and flip it, the chance of it coming up heads is ½ or 50% (the other possibility being tails of course). The odds of getting heads twice in a row is ¼ (½ x ½) or 25%. Similarly the odds of flipping a coin and having it come up heads and then tails is also ¼. We can take this a little further, the chance of flipping a coin 10 times and having it come up heads each time is 1/1024. 1/1024 is the same as 0.0009765 or 9.77x10^-4 or ~1x10^-3. It’s about 1 time in a 1000. The important thing here is that the odds of getting any specific combination of heads and tails in 10 flips is about 1 in a 1000. However, if you flip a coin 10 times, you will get a specific combination. I just flipped a nickel 10 times and got T(ails), T, H(eads), T, H, T, H, H, T, H. Was the chance of that happening 1 in a 1000? Well, it was before I flipped the nickel the first time, but now that it has happened the chance that it happened is 100% or 1/1. …

Remember when we flipped the coin 10 times above? The odds were ~1/1000 (a 1 followed by 3 zeros) that any specific sequence would come up. Well if we flip that coin 270 times, the odds of it coming up heads every time, or any other specific sequence, is 1/1.9x10^81. If I flip that coin every 15 seconds, it will take me just over an hour to get enough flips to get a sequence of heads and tails. If we calculate the odds of getting that sequence ahead of time, we get a number greater than the number of atoms in the universe! Using the creationist logic, then it was impossible to get the sequence of 270 Heads or Tails we just got.

There you have it. The creationist is wrong again. All of biology isn’t improbable any more than winning a million jackpots. All outcomes are equiprobable so a royal flush, CONSTANTINOPLE, and yes evolution, are not at all unlikely.

Religion drives science, and it matters.

33 comments:

  1. Cornelius, when you use the word "evolution" are you referring to evolution itself or to the theory of evolution?

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  2. I don't think you believe that nonsense even a little bit CH. The whole point of science is to eliminate reliance on personal intuition which is more often than not dead wrong, and replace it with an objective test method.

    It is true, the great French mathematician explained, that all the possible letter combinations are equiprobable. But we know CONSTANTINOPLE was probably rigged because we intuitively realize that that outcome has a high probability of having been manipulated. Humans are good at evaluating a wide range of possible causes.

    Actually humans are abysmally bad at estimating probabilities. What humans are good at is making false conclusions based on incomplete data sets. We make false pattern matches based on ignorance and/or bad assumptions all the time. That's why people see animal shapes in clouds, or the Virgin Mary's face on a grilled cheese sandwich.

    Take your poker example. You claim it's more probable that someone cheated than that they got dealt the hands. But suppose the rules of the game were that each player could discard/draw as many times as they wanted until they were satisfied with their cards? Then having three high-value hands isn't improbable at all.

    If you made the wrong assumption at the start (cards were only dealt once) then you get the wrong conclusion based on your incomplete data.

    You also make the same mistake with your Scrabble example. You pattern matched a pre-existing word in your memory, but that doesn't changes the probability of those letter combinations coming up randomly one iota.

    In both of your examples you assume rules of the game are fixed and known - one deal of the cards, or one draw of the letters. You also assume knowledge of the capabilities and motives of the humans involved. Neither of those are applicable to biological evolution. Extant species are the result of a 3+ billion year iterative feedback process, not a one-time 'poof' event, and you have no knowledge of any Intelligent Designer's capabilities or motives.

    I suppose the argument from ignorance based personal incredulity will never go out of style with Creationists.

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  3. This was a GREAT article!!!

    I agree that atheists will go to any extremes to avoid design implications because they hate the idea of a personal Creator of the Universe and life. Ergo the tone of their arguments.

    If they want to claim that it is so easy for a stochastic process to create a living organism out of non-living chemicals, all they have to do is go to a laboratory and recreate a sterile early earth environment where random processes end up creating a lifeform out of non-living components. The fact that we don't see this, despite the untold numbers of man hours by the best scientists across the planet trying to figure out how to do it should tell you something.

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  4. This post misses entirely the point made by Lorax. Here it is, in a nutshell:

    "The chance of a single protein randomly assembling is 1/1x20100 the denominator, as you know, is a number bigger than the total number of atoms in the universe. Add in the factor that you need this to happen 100 times (for each protein). It ain’t never gonna happen! CHECKMATE biologists, the theory of evolution is impossible. Of course, no biologist thinks or suggests that the above happens. But why let reality interfere with your delusions."

    No evolutionary biologist argues that a protein is assembled by pure chance. Protein evolution is not just random walk through protein space. Getting to a functional protein is not a random search. We know that. Cornelius knows that. Nothing new in this world.

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  5. The whole truth said:
    Cornelius, when you use the word "evolution" are you referring to evolution itself or to the theory of evolution?
    ------------------------------------------------What you said here are 2 different things. You can only comment on the theory of 'evolution', because there is no such thing as 'evolution'.

    http://patternsofcreation.weebly.com/

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  6. Thornton has it spot on. If you are allowed to deal three hands of card over and over and over again, eventually you WILL deal out four of a kind, a full house and a royal flush all in the same round. Especially if you are allowed to withhold certain cards from deal to deal.

    Same with the Scrabble tiles. Pull 14 letters out at random, keep the ones that are included in CONSTANTINOPLE, and return and replace the ones that don't, and you will have the word rather quickly.

    The other popular metaphor which illustrates the same misunderstanding is the tornado in a junkyard assembling a 747. It utterly fails as a demonstration of evolution because, like the poker and Scrabble examples, it involves a single-step jump operated by random chance alone.

    Evolution, on the other hand, is a cumulative feedback process which has been built up over more than 3 billion years.

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  7. Unfortunately, when IDiots play they often aren't even playing with a full deck. (I'm sorry...I had to)

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  8. thornton: " Extant species are the result of a 3+ billion year iterative feedback process"

    Yeah and you guys are sooo so knowledgable about that iterative feedback process, (selection?) you've got all the details don't you! You've got all of the probablilities all figured out over the billion+ years right? Hey guy, if you have the probability thing down, please tell me the probablility of spelling Constantinople with all letters lined up nicely and correct, orientation within +/- 30 degrees, spacing to be normalized to .75 ~ 1.25 . Alignment normalized similarly. Assume 14 random chips are pulled from the pile each time. Lets say 10 trial/sec, how many times would success have occurred over the history of the earth? Certainly you can estimate, just like you estimate the number of random mutations it took to generate the accidental human binocular vision system and all of the allied perceptual structures. You a scientist right? You good at probability right? Stochastic processes at the root of your belief system right?

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  9. MSEE, yes, imagine that, we do know something about the power of feedback. The Monte Carlo and simulated annealing methods in applied math and statistical physics are well known. Whereas a random search takes an exponentially long time to get to an optimum, these methods find it in an algebraic time. That's the power of feedback.

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  10. Why do people do these card tricks and probability games? They have nothing to do with the real world in talking about how life started, or the hypothesis of 'evolution'.

    There is a method to test for ID.

    The easiest way to set up a way to detect ID is to do a 2 part experiment.
    Look for life that is just starting naturally on its own with no interference, from man here on the earth.Or you could also look for it in other places like Mars , or other planets. Though earth is kind of out because of all the life here, and the scientists have not even found all of it yet.
    The other part of this experiment is to try to build life in a lab, and record all thinking and theorizing and tests and materials etc, it would take to make a cell, all of this will be ID.
    Compare the 2 parts of the experiment.

    No math problems no card tricks, just real life.

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  11. oleg: Good for you. Certainly you can ascertain I wasn't talking physics, but biology. Apply what you know to what was going on a billion years ago on the topic. That is of stochastic processes and living organisms. If like you I wanted to throw around jargon from applied science regarding feedback and stability I could have mentioned Nyquist or contour integration of rational functions. But I didn't.

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  12. Sorry the unknown above was me.
    So now you know who to get even with. :)

    http://patternsofcreation.weebly.com/

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  13. MSEE,

    It just so happened that I discussed Nyquist noise in my graduate class a few weeks ago. I almost used contour integration to derive Kramers-Kronig relations but decided against it because there is a more transparent way to do that. So I can relate. None of those advanced topics, however, is relevant to the subject of discussion here.

    On the other hand, cumulative selection is relevant to biology. Cornelius as usual forgets that evolution is not a random walk but is rather a walk with positive feedback. That's why it optimizes a function much faster. My point was to remind him that we know a lot about such processes. Monte Carlo and simulated annealing are examples of the same. In fact, we discussed on this blog a biology paper showing how point mutations, coupled with selective pressure, improve fitness quite dramatically.

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  14. Here is the reality of the situation:

    If we start with an optimal configuration space considered to be “fit” relative to the population.

    AND

    If we have a 1 in 3 chance (given a mutation can be beneficial, neutral or deleterious) that for each indiscriminate mutation considering type and location/position within this configuration space that can be considered beneficial (overall increases the overall “fitness”), it is easy to see that without an intelligent mechanism to guide the process (perhaps filter out mutations themselves that offset its optimality) relative fitness will decrease substantially, and the organism is subject to rapid extinction.
    The key is sustainability to itself (ie: mutational awareness feedback), if it doesn’t have that it has nothing.

    OR

    If we start with little to no function, no “optimality” as a given, its much worse; both neutral and deleterious gets us nowhere. A 1 in 3 chance it will somewhat increase in fitness, and a 2 in 3 chance it will eliminate that same increase in fitness.

    AND

    Achieving greater fitness only becomes worse with a changing environment.

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  15. First, Thorten's comment clearly reflects the question I've asked time and time again.

    Please enlighten us as to how it's possible to extrapolate observations without first putting them into an explanatory framework? Please be specific. In the absence of such an explanation, then exactly what framework are you using? Again, please be specific.

    Second, even if you were playing the numbers game correctly, it's not worth playing (that is, unless you're attempting to deliberately misrepresent the position of a theory you personally find offensive to your religious beliefs)

    We simply do not use statistics to justify conclusions. This is because statistical calculations are based on a particular number of observations, which are inadequate due to the problem of induction.

    For example, we have an overwhelming number of observations that gravity is uniform in the local vicinity of the earth over 100,000 years (which is being quite generous). However, but this is just a drop in the bucket compared the number of possibility observations in entire universe over a estimated 13.7 billion year window. From the perspective of statistics alone, one could say it's astronomically unlikely that gravity is uniform. And if the universe lasts another 8-13+ billion years, this get's even "worse". We simply do not know how many future observations we could make that might show it's not.

    So, am I throwing science under the bus? No, I'm not. I'm simply pointing out that one's intuition that we actually use induction is actually a myth. (See Karl Popper's Conjectures and Refutations and David Deutsch's Beginning of Infinity)

    We do not justify the conclusion that gravity is uniform based on statistics alone. Rather, our explanation for local phenomena of gravity includes the theory that space-time is curved in the presence of mass. And we explain the entire universe in that it's made up of space-time. Furthermore, these to explanations represent two links in a hard to vary chain that explains other phenomena, of which we cannot empirically "prove" by mere observations alone, either.

    So, despite actually having an astronomically small number of empirical observations that gravity is uniform, compared to the total possible, we're justified in concluding its uniformity since it's part of a good explanation for a number of local observations.

    In other words, we do not derive a theory that gravity is uniform based on positive evidence, but on what was initially conjecture, which has been yet to be refuted. While it's impossible to test gravity's uniformity everywhere, all it takes is one set of observations that cannot be explained by GR, along with our best explanations at the time the observation was made.

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  16. When testing the likelihood of a hypothesis it is important to actually test that hypothesis and not some flawed analogy thereof. Cornelius is very fond of throwing out examples of tests of chance hypotheses and then concluding that some immense improbability is stacked against evolution. Cornelius should know better.

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  17. "Pull 14 letters out at random, keep the ones that are included in CONSTANTINOPLE, and return and replace the ones that don't, and you will have the word rather quickly."

    Methinks it is like a weasel.

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  18. Much as I appreciate a Shakespeare quote, I don't get your point.

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  19. Ritchie said...

    Much as I appreciate a Shakespeare quote, I don't get your point.


    He's making a reference to simple genetic algorithm program written by Richard Dawkins to demonstrate the power of cumulative selection. Start with a random string of text, and the program will randomly mutate the string and and keep the letters that most closely match a target string. The program has been come to be know as the 'Weasel' program because of the example string used by Dawkins "Methinks it is like a weasel."

    Weasel program

    It was never designed as an 'evolution simulator' as many Creationists are fond of claiming. It's a simple but effective demonstration of the cumulative power of variation filtered by selection.

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  20. "Evolution, on the other hand, is a CUMULATIVE FEEDBACK PROCESS which has been built up over more than 3 billion years."

    Cumulative? As evidenced by what--the Cambrian Explosion, when representatives of every kingdom appear from a primordial ooze in a geological instant, totally void of cumulative links to the mythical Common Ancestor? Or maybe Punctuated Equilibrium, concocted to explain away the lack of evidence for 'cumulative' changes? In truth, evolution is critically dependent on what is tantamount to "a single-step jump operated by random chance alone," hence CH's valid point.

    As to the "feedback process" claim, are we now to believe evolving populations somehow receive "feedback" from its evolutionary failures, thereby facilitating a more probable evolutionary track--one that is less embarrassed by statistical odds? Or are we merely being treated to a desperate semantics misdirection in which a "trial and error process" is recast as a "feedback process?"

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  21. Nemo said...

    As to the "feedback process" claim, are we now to believe evolving populations somehow receive "feedback" from its evolutionary failures, thereby facilitating a more probable evolutionary track--one that is less embarrassed by statistical odds? Or are we merely being treated to a desperate semantics misdirection in which a "trial and error process" is recast as a "feedback process?"


    The biggest reason there are virtually no worthwhile scientific discussions on places like this blog are drive-by Creationists who don't understand even the smallest technical aspect of the theory they're attacking.

    Feedback Theory and Darwinian Evolution

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  22. Don't feedback loops work only if each iteration produces a benefit? What if there is no benefit until ten mutation have occured? Then there is no feedback until then? And what is the percentage of mutations that actually produce some fitness benefit? If they very rare, then that is a problem, even with a feedback loop. And what happens oif there are negative side effects, or epistatic effects that accumulate? This will slow doen the effect of a feedback loop. Don't all these questions have to be examined before we can say we have solved the problem by declaring feedback loops?

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  23. natschuster said...

    Don't feedback loops work only if each iteration produces a benefit? What if there is no benefit until ten mutation have occured? Then there is no feedback until then? And what is the percentage of mutations that actually produce some fitness benefit? If they very rare, then that is a problem, even with a feedback loop. And what happens oif there are negative side effects, or epistatic effects that accumulate? This will slow doen the effect of a feedback loop. Don't all these questions have to be examined before we can say we have solved the problem by declaring feedback loops?


    The biggest reason there are virtually no worthwhile scientific discussions on places like this blog are drive-by Creationists who don't understand even the smallest technical aspect of the theory they're attacking.

    Repeated for emphasis along with a classic example.

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  24. Thorton:

    Please be kind enough to address the questions I raised. I didn't see them addressed in the article you linked. Maybe I'm just not smart enough to understand. So educate me.

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  25. natschuster said...

    Thorton:

    Please be kind enough to address the questions I raised. I didn't see them addressed in the article you linked. Maybe I'm just not smart enough to understand. So educate me.


    Go suck an egg nat. Your "please waste lots of time answering my phony dumb questions so I can hand wave away your answers too" act got old long ago.

    If you research on your own and ask intelligent, relevant questions I'll be glad to answer. But you never do. So start sucking.

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  26. Why aren't my questions valid, intelligent or relevant? You asserted that a certain process can account for evolution. I'm responding by saying that it seems that the process only will only work under very limited circustances. And I find it very hard to believe that you are concerned with wasting time. You seem to have plenty of time for insults, etc. You even took the time to responding by telling me you aren't responding.

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  27. I took your advice and did some research.

    I found this:

    http://www.ploscompbiol.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pcbi.1000002

    It seems that mutations that can lead to a new enzyme function can be destabilizing. This has to be compensated for by other mutations. This is sort of what i meant when I said there might be side effects to beneficial mutations. So things are a lot more complicated than just simple feedback mechanism.

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  28. There's still some egg left in the shell nat. Suck harder.

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  29. From Thorton paper:
    "One imp o r t a n t exampl e o f the " l o c k - i n " effect o f positive f e e d b a c k loops is f o u n d
    in the f a c t t h a t the organi c mol e cul e s f rom whi ch terrestrial organi sms are c o n s t r u c t e d
    di spl ay a s t rong chiral a symme t ry. Mos t o r d i n a r y sugars a n d ami n o acids ( a long
    with ma n y o t h e r organi c mol e cul e s ) have two chi r a l ly symme t r i c forms , c a l l ed L
    a n d D, t h a t are mi r ror images o f e a ch other. In living organi sms the s e mol e cul e s
    are f o u n d to cons i s t a lmos t exclusively o f L- amino acids a n d D-sugars. Al t h o u g h
    the r e are r e a sons to expe c t t h a t b o t h type s o f mol e cul e s will not be c omb i n e d in
    the s ame organi sm, the r e is no obvious r e a son wh y this pa r t i cul a r c omb i n a t i o n
    s h o u l d have be en chos en over its symme t r i c count e rpa r t . Yet as f a r ba ck as 1953,
    F. C. F r a n k s h owe d t h a t i f the pr e s enc e o f one s ymme t r y in organi sms inc r e a s ed
    the p o p u l a t i o n growth rate o f t h a t type o f organi sm, t h e n a positive f e e d b a c k loop
    wo u l d be set u p t h a t wo u l d qui ckly l e ad to the compl e t e d o m i n a n c e o f t h a t type
    ove r the other. The d o m i n a n t choi c e o f symme t ry wo u l d thus d e p e n d o n l y on whi ch
    type first g a i n e d a t i n y p r e d omi n a n c e t h r o u g h r a n d o m f luc tua t ions . And it is easy
    to find r e a sons why the presence o f one s ymme t r y wo u l d i n d e e d f avor the growth
    o f organi sms t h a t require t h a t form: mor e f o o d wo u l d be ava i l abl e to t h em, for
    exampl e (see Hegs t rom & K o n d e p u d i , 1990)"

    This kind of stories are the ones commenters of this blog do not understand Thorton?

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  30. Blas said...

    This kind of stories are the ones commenters of this blog do not understand Thorton?


    Most don't, and the tiny minority who do (like CH) usually choose to deliberately misrepresent what is presented.

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  31. Thorton said:
    The biggest reason there are virtually no worthwhile scientific discussions on places like this blog are drive-by Creationists who don't understand even the smallest technical aspect of the theory they're attacking.
    --------------------------------------------
    Thorton, here are 3 facts everyone knows to be true.

    1 life comes from life
    2 a human come from humans
    3 there design in life
    There is no scientific evidence that does not support these.
    Now, many scientists hypothesis's go against these. But ID or creation is supported by all three.
    So who really follows the evidence?

    http://patternsofcreation.weebly.com/

    ReplyDelete