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Ted Holden's Frequent Questions Answered

Copyright © 1996-2003
[Article last updated: January 23, 1996]
[Links updated: October 5, 2003]

Ted Holden claims that a series of questions he periodically posts are "avoided", that no reasonable answers have been given. Ted is incorrect. Here is a quick summary of the answers that have been given in the past, and which have been extensively discussed on the newsgroup. There are even FAQs dealing with some of these issues.

How does anything beat 1 to 10 raised to the 167,896 power odds?

It doesn't. Ted's sample calculation of the odds is invalid, because it presumes a simplest-replicator many orders of magnitude larger than abiogeneticists propose, and treats individual events as independent, which no abiogeneticist proposes. In short, those odds are a straw man.

The "argument from improbability" is discussed in the archive several places, including the biology section of the Index of Creationist Claims, and a probability bibliography.

How did proteins ever first evolve?

Ted says,

You have to figure proteins would be destroyed faster than they could be created by any natural, undirected process, and that that the ratio between these rates is again some sort of astronomical number.

Abiogeneticists don't propose proteins were created by undirected processes, but arose from earlier, simpler, self-replicants. There are FAQs on abiogenesis.

How did the first one-celled animals ever evolve?

Ted quotes Bill Anderson calculating odds against 1-celled life. As before, the odds calculations are invalid, in that they assume independence, and the need for a specific outcome instead of only a viable one.

How could many low-probability events occur in sequence?

Ted points out that any single beneficial mutation is quite rare. As rare as winning a lottery. To make a human, many (perhaps millions) of lotteries would have to be won. In Ted's words,

While one might believe that one such step against those kinds of odds had taken place in all the history of the world, how is anybody supposed to believe that millions of such steps did??

Because of natural selection plus replication plus recombination. Consider winning a lottery. The chances of a single person winning two lottery drawings in a row is very small indeed. But the chances of somebody winning each given lottery drawing are very good. And natural selection plus recombination means that everyone in the population will soon have a copy of those lottery winnings. Then when the next drawing rolls around, everybody entered in the lottery will be a previous winner, and thus the chances of somebody being a double winner are very good.

Because of natural selection, replication, and recombination, the odds are nowhere near as bleak as Ted paints them.

Why are there no wild chickens?

There are wild chickens. But what Ted means here is, why haven't chickens living in the wild evolved better flight in 5000 years. And the answer is simple: 5000 years is too short a time to do so, not to mention that Ted has demonstrated no selection pressure in that direction, and the gene pool of "escaped chickens" Ted refers to is constantly being "pumped" with fresh escapees.

In short, Ted has not even started the faintest hint of a demonstration that wild chickens ought to be expected to fly better on evolutionary grounds.

How can natural selection select on the basis of future need?

In Ted's words,

How is natural selection supposed to thus select on the basis of a hoped-for functionality, rather than simply do a random walk around some starting point for such a potential?

Evolution doesn't require selection on the basis of future need. Darwin's proposition is that existing structures would be pressed into novel uses, and would be improved to suit new needs. For example, the ear bones in mammals that amplify sounds in the middle ear were not initially selected on the basis of their acoustic properties, but rather were jaw bones in the propsed ancestral line. Jaw bones already have acoustic properties, (as well as other reasons for the whole reptile/mammal transition), and thus selecting bone properties based on their acoustics is not a case of selection of a future utility, it is improving a current one.

In fact, a lot of effort is spent by evolutionary theorists to model how features used for one purpose could be used for other purposes, and thus be subjects to selection pressures that would change them. This concept is applied everywhere, and is a central concept in evolutionary theory, and has been since Darwin. Thus the claim that natural selection is supposed by evolutionary theory to anticipate future need is a radical misrepresentation.

How is a destructive process supposed to drive evolution?

Exposure to the elements (sunlight, wind, erosion, etc) is also a "destructive process", yet this drives the purification and desalinization of ocean water to create the water cycle.

And this effect is because of a natural selection effect: evaporation selects salt-free water, and water-laden air selectively precipitates over high-altitude land.

So it is quite clear and straightforward how an apparently "destructive" source of random variation can be acted on by selective processes to produce ordered results. Many other examples abound, such as the rounding of stream pebbles, or the creation of convection cells in fluids, and many more. Life just happens to be another such case, and the feedback produced by self-replication means it's the most elaborate case.

Why can't teratorn-sized eagles be bred?

Many possible reasons. Most simply, because (according to Ted's sources) breeding eagles for size has only been going on for a few thousand years. Evolutionary processes are thought to take hundreds of times that long.

Further, teratorns may have depended on conditions that don't exist today, such as long-term stable atmospheric conditions in the area that they evolved that don't exist in the Mongolian region where Ted's alleged eagle breeding occurs.

Why haven't sauropod-sized herbivores re-evolved?

Because the ecology won't support such a large food intake without gizzards or fermenting stomachs. See the sauropod FAQ for references to texts that discuss some of the issues.

Why aren't languages and ancestry better correlated?

Ted's says,

Given evolution, you have to assume that human culture and language evolved with man as man was evolving; you have to figure that man was speech-capable hundreds of thousands of years ago. Thus, since the Indo-European and Semitic groups show no racial differences and cannot have separated from each other more than a few thousand years ago, thier languages should be very strongly related, nearly as much so as the individual languages of the Indo-European groups are to eachother. How do you explain the fact that they are not?

Because language is learned and genetic relatedness is inherited. The two can drift arbitrarily far apart.

Why have languages gotten simpler instead of more complex?

Ted says,

How do you explain the fact that Indo-European languages appear to have been simplified grammatically since the first records we have of them; that they appear to DEVOLVE rather than evolve?

There are known instances of natural languages becoming simpler, and also becoming more complex. Further, some languages do both at the same time in different measures. For one example, creations of creoles from pidgins is an example of syntax getting more complex over time.

But more fundamentally, the notion of evolution doesn't propose that things must always get more complex, so Ted's objection does not even address any problem of evolution.

There is a bibliography for linguistics in the FAQ.

What about those photos of the Cydonia region of Mars?

Yeah, what about them? Ted asks four questions about how a space-faring earth-based primate culture could have been overlooked. But even making the generous assumption that the Cydonia rubble is an actual monument, it neither helps nor hurts the case for evolution. The alleged monument could just as easily have been a portrait of a space alien's beloved pet monkey collected from earth during a biodiversity survey, as anything else.

Andrew Macrae has some additional information about the martian monuments.

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