Q1- When looking into Darwin's evolutionary theory, there are three main components. First, the struggle of survival. Second, the adaptations for survival, and thirdly, the adaptations passed along enough that the appearance of a new species exists.
The struggle is real
The main purpose of many organisms is to survive and reproduce. With few exceptions, species are supposed to reproduce. However, without evolution, there would be massive overpopulations and chances of survival would be doubtful. Some creatures have figured out that they needed to relocate, others found new ways to get change their diet, while many others have adapted in ways that alter and change so much that DNA can even be changed.
The adaptions species make are amazing. Some like the bat have evolved to have light webbing between the fingers. This gives them great control when maneuvering flight in low light. Some plants have flowers of a certain color because that color attracts a certain bug that is better adapted to move pollen around. Or, you can look at humans. We have adapted in many ways, some for the good, some not so much. We have an organ that serves no real purpose in us any more except to keep doctors and surgery centers busy when it gets inflamed and needs to be removed. Another form of human evolution that is not necessarily for the better is walking upright. While this gave us great advantages in hunting and finding dangers, it could be argued that this, along with the horrible diet that many Americans consume, are a main cause of back issues (sorry, I'm a little bias and still upset about this one).
Now these adaptations are large examples that are easily noticeable. However, when there are many of these both noticeable and unnoticeable, this is when we start to get a new species. While this doesn't make it immediate, it happens over great periods of generations. You could actually do this with a sorter life span animal like the fruit fly. You could make small changes like temperature, light, humidity and common food sources and eventually get a new species of fruit fly. You could probably even name it what you like, but I would suggest you name a star for a loved one on Valentine's Day. It wouldn't impress many to have a bugged named after them.
If you looked at one of these fruit flies, and noticed the changes from what you started with to what you ended up with you would see the differences. How they changed in appearance to get more or less cover, or if they had alterations in the exoskeleton to provide more or expel more heat or waste. What changes were made in mating habits? What about levels of sugar needed to survive? Could one evolve to be greater in size? Or be the bane of every restaurant owner and manager and develop one that is immune to drawing power of apple vinegar. You would end up with a new species of fruit fly.
Darwin had it right, sort of…
Darwin gave a lot of evidence to prove his theory. He was limited in the era he was in, but was able to prove quite a bit. The weakest evidence he had would be attributed to the lack of technology. Variation, and more specifically the origin and inheritance of variations was a difficult task at the time. He can explain what it is and give examples of it happening, but he doesn't really go into the basis.
The strongest evidence, based on who you are trying to explain this to, would be the similarities among animals, both living and using fossil evidence. Look at the cheetah and the modern domestic cat. While these are very similar basically, they have small difference that evolved over time to make them more successful and fit. The cheetah is an extremely fast animal. And while it needs its claws to grab and slow its prey, the retractable claw would be demolished at the speeds that it reaches. So, it evolved a non-retracting claw, whereas the modern domestic cat has retractable claws (which I am grateful as one is on my stomach while I use my laptop, until the alarming sneeze).
Domestic cats don't usually need to hunt and stalk prey, but they still are constantly practicing and honing these skills. Cats may seem to like playing with little fuzzy toys to amuse their owners, but these eccentric little creatures are actually practicing through play. They are working out attack strategies and how to properly hide from that pesky little ball. They aren't just batting at the ball, but grabbing it and simulating choking it out so when they do catch a mouse and place it your shoe in the morning as a valentine gift, it doesn't run away and you get the joy of a dead, wet mouse in your shoe.
Q2- Richard Dawkins updates the original Darwin theory of evolution with a couple strong arguments. Those found in chapters 6 and 8 I found the most interesting and plan on citing them when I want to remove myself from friendly, creationist company. Some of the problems that some creationist have is conceptualizing and understanding evolutionary theory. It can be a bit awesome to take such a vast and all-encompassing theory and really grasp it. It much easier to be spoon fed that a great and powerful being made it and it's just so. I also believe that these are two of the ideas that Darwin would have appreciated as well. The Missing link part, because it wasn't in Darwin's nature to be adversarial. In the idea that “you did it yourself in nine months,” would have appealed to relating to humans in a more tangible way. Again, Darwin not being one to endure a fight would have cherished the notion that there is a great model that every living person has been a participant of.
Missing Link? What do you mean, “missing”?
This update is of great importance, since it deals with common arguments that many creationists offer up. That is “what about the gaps” and “where is your crockoduck?” This is an example of an over simplification of a very complex idea.
First, let's address that notion that evolution is just a hodgepodge of animals like the crocoducks and kangaroaches. This is not what evolution is. It's not your favorite juice company with a surplus of cranberry juice and raspberry juice, mixing them to form a new fruit!? It much, much more complex and refined than that.
We say related, not direct descendants, because they are close. To put it basically, they are cousins, but not the definition of cousin in the biblical sense. There are shared genes and traits, but they are as different from each other as can be. It's how they adapt and change, it's how some creatures, to save resources, use the sun to warm the bodies like “cold-blooded” animals do. It's more complicated.
Then there's the “gaps.” With more evidence and technology available, this evidence has been properly “punched up.” Darwin didn't have the more consistent zoology and biology that we do. More likely, they had a wide range of “experts” and not as much of a consistent category system. And years of improved technological advances have also made the subjects of zoology and biology more specific. Animals were classified differently, often based on criteria that wasn't always correct. For example, the generic term of reptile is often associated with wrong creatures. There are birds that are more closely related to crocodiles and dinosaurs, and those same crocs and dinosaurs are further away from traditional reptiles like lizards and chameleons.
But there are wide gaps to deal with, mostly to do with what early species were made of. Early life was likely similar to flatworms and other microscopic parasites. There isn't much matter there to fossilize and be left to find. Also, the fact that there aren't any misplacements of fossils, or finding recent era animals with much older creatures from different eras. This may happen, but it almost always from shifts in the earth such as earthquakes or landfalls. You don't find animals “intermingling” in periods.
You did it yourself in nine months
This is a fantastic example, since it's something that creationist can understand and participated in, though in a much quicker time frame; nine months compared to billions of years. Here is where Dawkins uses technology in way that Darwin never had. He can use embryology and genetics. Showing that similarities happen at a genetic level help show that animals don't evolve through mating, but a much more longer processes. This argument may not be as strong, because it uses one specific species and doesn't explain evolution and commonality, but it does explain a basic idea that is important to evolution and that's the process of how single celled organisms can “evolve” to such a complex being.
This, I believe, is something that Darwin would greatly appreciate. Mostly because it deals with humans directly and makes a fairly simple statement. Darwin went out of his way, tiptoeing around making human example. So much so, subsequent editions of On the Origin of Species were watered down and apologetic to those he may have offended. Darwin would appreciate the straightforwardness that Dawkins so gleefully does.
Q3- Dawkins statement that “It is absolutely safe to say that if meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that) is probably the most inflammatory statements that I have read. I cannot stress enough that I disagree with that statement. While I am not surprised that Dawkins would feel this way, especially after watching the video of him reading his hate mail, I think that that statement is ridiculous.
A person can be wrong, a person can be misguided, and while they may be ignorant to the facts, Dawkins means for it to be cruel and just plain mean. And he wonders why he gets such hate mail? Similarly, to Bill Mahr, Dawkins says many things that I agree with and are factual, however this full-frontal attack on religion that they both partake on is absolutely uncalled for. It adds an element that creationist can rally behind. When you start off with, “hey, you're an idiot for your faith,” you are not going to have anyone listen and you are going to embolden those to try to prove you wrong. Are either one familiar with attracting more bees with honey than vinegar?
Is there a group of people that feel persecution, whether real or imagined, more that religious followers? They have fought battles that still rage today, and those are just about plots of sacred land. This is nothing for them.
Also, look at some of these “ignorant, stupid or insane.” Blaise Pascal, who invented the barometer isn't the “three.” Louis Pasteur, whose contributions have saved a good chunck of humanity, isn't stupid. While I have no doubt that Dawkins would say it to their faces, who would look like the bigger fool? I think that the scene, ironically enough, would resemble the final scene of Inherit the Wind, with Dawkins standing, berating these minds, alone.
Comments like that are why creationist feel that they HAVE to have creationism taught alongside evolution. Now, one could argue that a big reason that we can have this debate here is because of the freedom of speech and religion. And that our nation, though attempts at separation of church and state, has such strong ties to religion. And that trickles all the way down to school, that is something that I can get behind. I whole heartedly believe that evolution is FACT, and that creationism has no place in our education system. I cannot support or agree that Dawkins statement is true, or that it even holds water.
Q4- “What distinguishes knowledge is not certainty but evidence.” -Jerry A. Coynes
What Coynes is saying here is extremely important. This is the core of the creationism versus evolution debate, a key difference between the two. Having faith is very important to many people. Some people are able to compartmentalize the two; faith for a moral compass and science for the way of the world. People with faith have great certainty that there is a God, that He has always been there and will give salvation to those that follow. They are able to believe in something that isn't tangible in the way a scientist looks for evidence and is able to replicate the results. This is a big problem. Certainty is not evidence.
Knowledge has many definitions. Creationist could go with Merriam-Websters definition; knowledge is the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association. Experience or ASSOCIATION, that is what they lean on. Their belief is based on an association with God, his/her prophets and disciples. But most feel that they have to go all in. It's the word of God, written through the hand of man. But this offers very little proof that can be repeated and disputed/supported. Most of the evidence that they need cannot be found, though they try. History Channel is loaded with programming searching for this. And it's a great marketing strategy, 2/3 of Americans believe in some sort of faith-based belief structure. And it's endless programming because as much as they try, the answers will never be found. They can always go back to Mount Arafat or Ethiopia and look for large wooden floating zoos with no explaination of what they did with the waste, or a big golden box carrying stone tablets that allow the possessor to win every war they wager. Try and try as they will, nothing will be found and yet, people's faith will only strengthen.
However, a supporter of evolution might like at knowledge as explained in the Oxford dictionary; Facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. Education being the key term. Education leads one to believe that they have been more proactive is searching for proof. Doing the leg work, not just learning through hearsay and accepting that as the premise. If you want to prove something, it must first exist (with the exception of theoretical or abstracts like quantum physics and such that is considerably above my pay grade). That is what science does, it finds the facts and evidence. Scientists don't “create” things just to have you find the answers; that's a teachers job. But even the teacher's goal is that you find the answer, find the truth. Pastors and ministers GIVE you the truth. That is a glaring point right there.
“Faith may be a gift in religion, but in science it's poison, for faith is no way to find truth.” – Jerry Coynes
This is another key argument and gets down to the nitty gritty. Faith in science is a problem, it doesn't allow for other ideas, other possibilities. When trying to get to the answers, you need to keep as many options open as possible. Science's whole purpose is to find evidence, faith on the other hand has a much more transactional approach, throwing it around when it helps, but ignoring it when it contradicts. Even at times leading and distorting it enough to make an average person question north, south, east and west.
Scientists, in theory (before ego interfers) are willing to be proven wrong. They set out a hypothesis, and experiment to find facts. They are willing to prove it wrong as much as attempting to prove it right. It's not to support their beliefs, it's to find truth.
Science has this self-correcting progress built-in. It does not progress by means of a consensus. Something is true or not regardless of who discovers it or by what number it's believed. Theories that are superseded by better ones which explain a larger amount of the phenomena and make more sound predictions, are relegated to just being good ideas that didn't make it. So it is not a matter of “faith” at all. It is a proportionate level of confidence assigned to a fact discovered by a system which has proven itself to be the best possible, at discovering truths about the natural world, and advertising its errors when mistakes are made. By this system, an average ratio of a million errors per one truth would still work out as better odds than the possibility of any one religion being right on a matter of faith.
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