Han Hua (Alan)

Student - B.E - Computer Engineering, TEDtoChina

This conversation is closed.

Can Theory of Evolution explain the existence of salmon fish? If it can't, does God exist?

A friend of mine ask me this question.

Look up salmon fish as a nitrogen pump. Weathering from rain will only 1-way wash nitrogen compounds downwards to the sea. Nitrogen is necessary for vegetation to grow. That is the basis for fertilizers. If all of the nitrogen are washed away, there will not be life in the mountains.

This is where a very special type of fish, the salmon, are designed, not for its own benefit, but for the benefit of life on the planet, to spend 3-5 years in the deep ocean eating proteins, which contain nitrogen in the amino acids. Then, like a pre-programmed guided vehicle, all the salmons remember to return to their birthplace high in the mountain streams, to breed and to die. 100% of them will never go back to the sea again. The nitrogen in their proteins will be eaten, and the bears will shit in the deep forests, and that is how nitrogen is replaced so we have life and forests in the mountains.

Question is evolution cannot explain this development of a very special fish, because there is no survival advantage for the salmon to return so high in the mountains. The benefit is for the planet. So is there a Power actually control the universe, like God?

You may refer to some materials:
http://www.thinksalmon.com/learn/science/salmon_forest/
http://www.biol.wwu.edu/hooper/Helfield%26Naiman2001Ecol_Salmon-derivedN%26ForestGrowth.pdf

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    Dec 19 2011: Of course there is a survival advantage. If they bred somewhere else, there would be a much much lower survival rate of the eggs. With this relatively isolated breeding place they assure safety for the cute little salmons.
    Another thing: explaining nitrogen circulation with ONLY this is absolutely not right. What about all the plant proteins and animal proteins biodegrading naturally in the forests? Acidic rain containing nitrogen? Human interactions? There are thousands of things which make up for this complexity. Salmon migration is one (actually a really amazing) phenomenon, which clearly contributes, but the effect really is tiny.

    There is an awful lot of things we cannot yet explain. Migration is one of them, although there are novel researches, which try to investigate how birds, fish, insects, whales migrate. Observing terrestrial objects, such as coastlines? Migrating with the help of stars and objects on the sky? Magnetic system like in pigeons - so they can find their way when it is cloudy? There are many amazing ways how these creatures migrate. Blaming the whole phenomenon to God is just ignoring many many actually interesting explanations. So what is the right attitude? Searching for some amazing evolutionary causes or saying "Bah... Who cares? It was God..."?
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      Dec 19 2011: Thank you, Tibor. Your answer is reasonable, but if we look further, we will still find questions.

      As what you said, they bred there because of higher survival rate of eggs. However, actually why should they choose there? Are there no other places safer than those mountain streams? Why do all salmons choose the same option? Why don't they bring children under their protection?

      I don't mean we should not respect science. My friend and I are very technical people, but we sometimes feel there is a power in nature, because something shown are too delicate to be true.
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        Dec 20 2011: As to why they make the trip to the mountains.

        I like to think the Salmon like the view and the fresh air of elevation. Is that not a reasonable assumption?
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      Dec 22 2011: Question Tibor: According to the study cited in my post above salmon contribute 22 to 24% of foliar nitrogen. That is not consistent with your assertion that the "effect really is tiny."
      As interesting as this is, I continue to be uncertain about the connection to proving, or disproving, God's existence.
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        Dec 23 2011: Near the streams! That's a huge difference.
        But you know... I spend my Christmas at home, in Hungary. And I started to think: there is no salmon in Hungary (no sea, no high mountaines), how come nitrogen is still circulating? Because honestly, it does! :)
        That is why I think that there may be really efficient circulations and in special cases highly developed systems such as the salmon can happen, but it contributes just a little globally.
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          Dec 23 2011: Thanks, Tibor, and Merry Christmas there in Hungary!
          Mr. Hua's question does not say that salmon are the only method of nitrogen distribution.
          I don't think the absence of salmon in Hungary nullifies the question.
          I think the question challenges the pre-supposition that survival is the driving force behind gradual changes over eons of time from a common ancestor.
          There seems to be no obvious benefit to salmon survival derived from their suicide.
          The question is why, when in prime physical condition, do they kill themselves in order to survive?
  • Dec 22 2011: You said: "we sometimes feel there is a power in nature, because something shown are too delicate to be true."

    Alan, many humans observe nature and cannot help but marvel at the order that exists, the delicate beauty that is evident upon close examination. Some, including scientists, cannot help but believe in the existence of a Creator. However, religion fails to acknowledge scientists' contributions and so many educated individuals, at seeing this fanatic behavior of "either/or" simply have stopped believing in God, because those who claim to believe in God refuse to believe in science.

    There is so much misunderstanding and such lack of accurate knowledge that I find it difficult to put my frustration into words.

    I marvel at the work scientists do. They make me appreciate life in a new way. I happen to know that there is no conflict between science and the Bible/God. The problem exist between science and christian fundamentalists/Creationists.

    Many educated individuals with knowledge of both the Bible and science find not problems with believing in the Creator. Many of us enjoy contributing to the TED community.

    It is not an either/or Alan........always have an open mind.
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    Dec 20 2011: If evolution can explain the salmon does that mean God does not exist?
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      Dec 21 2011: I'm 'afraid' the first part of your reverse question may include any of the live creature... Ouch.
      I see no salmon collision to the evolution theory. It's clearly seen in the Alan's description, without salmon, there would be a missing element in the nature, so many other creatures could not exist.
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        Dec 21 2011: Thank you for your comments Julia, but please forgive me as I am missing your point.
        Are you in agreement with Alan that the salmon represents a challenge to the theory of evolution?
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          Dec 22 2011: Wow, my comment may really seem ambiguous, but I wanted to say that I really disagree with Alan. I see no collision, no challenge at all, I just clearly see the consequence of an
          evolution - salmon fish. Sorry, maybe my first comment looked like a little bitter towards you, but my 'bitterness' was actually towards Alan =]
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        Dec 26 2011: Hi Julija,

        I think you miss my point of question.
        My question is evolution cannot explain this development of a very special fish, because there is no survival advantage for the salmon to return so high in the mountains. The benefit is for the planet.

        I didn't deny other nitrogen circles in nature. Even if God does not exist, there must be something wrong with Theory of Evolution, right?
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          Dec 26 2011: Maybe there's something a little bit wrong with man-made THEORY of evolution, but there's nothing wrong with salmon in evolution in practice since it exists and makes some other creatures exist.
          I would like to add, that your 2nd question in the title is super duper genial =]
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          Dec 27 2011: No Alan, but sometimes the picture can be so big, we get confused by the detail. Before the salmon example, people used to say the eye was evidence of god, because of its complexity (see Dawkin's The Blind Watchmaker for a really good discussion about it)

          For now from Wiki:'The complex structure of the eye has been used as evidence to support the theory that they have been designed by a creator, as it has been said to be unlikely to have evolved via natural selection.

          Charles Darwin himself wrote in his Origin of Species, that the evolution of the eye by natural selection at first glance seemed "absurd in the highest possible degree". However, he went on to explain that despite the difficulty in imagining it, this was perfectly feasible:

          He suggested a gradation from "an optic nerve merely coated with pigment, and without any other mechanism" to "a moderately high stage of perfection", giving examples of extant intermediate grades of evolution[5] Darwin's suggestions were soon shown to be correct.

          The first fossils of eyes that have been found to date are from the lower Cambrian period (about 540 million years ago).[7] This period saw a burst of apparently rapid evolution, dubbed the "Cambrian explosion". The first fossils of eyes that have been found to date are from the lower Cambrian period (about 540 million years ago).[7] This period saw a burst of apparently rapid evolution, dubbed the "Cambrian explosion".

          Since the fossil record, particularly of the Early Cambrian, is so poor, it is difficult to estimate the rate of eye evolution. Simple modelling, invoking small mutations exposed to natural selection, demonstrates that a primitive optical sense organ based upon efficient photopigments could evolve into a complex human-like eye in approximately 400,000 years.'
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        Dec 27 2011: Yes, Julija.

        Actually this question can go further.
        Why do technical people like my friend and me sometimes fall faith in a great being or super nature?
        The question is tricky here to inspire people to rethink over the relationship between science and religion.
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    Dec 19 2011: Enough already!

    GOD EXISTS ...

    ... in your imagination.
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      Dec 27 2011: Thanks Tim, for a while there I felt like it was me swimming upstream, toward a slow death...
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    Dec 20 2011: Let me first start with this: Salmons do not fixate nitrogen (id est, they don't take nitrogen from the atmosphere and turn it to a biological useful form). That role is played by plants and specific types of bacteria. Salmons do eat protein, they need it (as we all do) to survive, but in that cycle, they are just as you and me, another link in the chain rather than the starting point.

    Now, your friend is thinking of evolution and natural selection, as forces acting on individual organisms, while the reality is that they operate on populations: Salmons go upstream because they need to procreate in specific places. In that sense, the "traveling upstream" gene (or genes) may not represent survival advantage for a specific salmon, but it does represent suvival advantage to the species. If it weren't, then salmon population would decrease to zero eventually.
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      Dec 21 2011: I do not see in Alan's question where he says salmon fixate nitrogen.
      I wonder why you seem to have missed the point about salmon's profoundly important role in the distribution of nitrogen.

      Edit Effects of Salmon-Derived Nitrogen on Riparian Forest Growth and Implications for Stream Productivity (Citations: 92)
      BibTeX | EndNote | RefWorks Download

      James M. Helfield, Robert J. Naiman
      Anadromous Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) transport marine-derived nitrogen (MDN) to the rivers in which they reproduce. Isotopic analyses indicate that trees and shrubs near spawning streams derive ;22-24% of their foliar nitrogen (N) from spawn- ing salmon. As a consequence of this nutrient subsidy, growth rates are significantly in- creased in Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) near spawning streams. As riparian forests affect the quality of instream habitat through shading, sediment and nutrient filtration, and pro- duction of large woody debris (LWD), this fertilization process serves not only to enhance riparian production, but may also act as a positive feedback mechanism by which salmon- borne nutrients improve spawning and rearing habitat for subsequent salmon generations and maintain the long-term productivity of river corridors along the Pacific coast of North America.
      Journal: Ecology - ECOLOGY , vol. 82, no. 9, pp. 2403-2409, 2001
      DOI: 10.2307/2679924

      Cumulative Annual

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      ( www.bioweb.uncc.edu )

      ( fire.biol.wwu.edu )

      ( www.fish.washington.edu )


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      Citation Context (2)
      ...Several studies have used analysis of stable isotope ratios to demonstrate that nitrogen (N) derived from the carcasses of salmon is found in the foliage of riparian plants (Bilby et
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      Dec 26 2011: Hi Edward,

      Thank you very much for your materials and objectivity.
      Actually in America, China and some other places, a lot of dams were built on streams. After that, environments upstream go worse and worse.

      Just as you said,although salmon contributes part of nitrogen, it still plays an important role.
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    Dec 27 2011: OK, that is a lot written in one sitting. I will delve into the more compelling subject next, of the electric eel. I look forward to well deliberated, non-dogmatic responses as people feel is necessary. If my points are challenged, and I cannot provide a better rationale, then I stand to learn something, too.

    Just to get you started, I see the development of an extremely specialized organ which is actually a liability in pre-electric eels to be completely outside of evolutionary theory. That organ consuming resources added nothing to the population's survival until it became fully weaponized. Think of all the subsystems which, by themselves, would be worthless unless functioning as part of a EMP generator.
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    Dec 27 2011: Salmon, by feeding in the depths mainly on shrimp, concentrate isotopes of nitrogen in their flesh as another had commented. Perhaps the special nitrogen isotope carries unique advantages to the ecosystem I am not aware of. By feeding at depth their entire lives, salmons bring maximum benefit from bringing nitrogen from the depths to the upstream ecosystems, above that of surface feeding at lesser depths, hence I had used the term "nitrogen pump". The Timing system of each salmon specie causes each "class" of birth to en-mass return upstream to breed in the spring time, where the nitrogen from their bodies will provide the maximum benefit to the upstream ecosystems as well as improved survival for the hatchlings, which feed on insects and larvae not available in the seas. Whether each salmon survives long enough to breed at the top, or die somehow along the way, 100% of each returning class will give up their nitrogen in the form of amino acids to the ecosystem along the streams, either as bear shit (a collective term) or from bacterial breakdown.

    The above need for 4 systems in salmons to develop the way they did in order to provide the benefit of replacing nitrogen into the upstream environments is an example of something which appears to have been designed. Any one of the 4 systems by itself would not do the job as well, or at all. For those who are experienced in the system engineering process, it will be clear what I am referring to. Complex engineered systems begin with an end-goal objective. The project is then engineered so that sub-systems meeting specific requirements and constraints, R&C, are designed so that they all work together to meet the end goal. All software, hardware, electrical, thermal mgt, materials must work together with each other or the end goal will not be met. I contrast this level of complexity to that of linear reactionary development typical of evolutionary selection. They are not the same.
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    Dec 27 2011: For salmons, several systems must have developed in parallel in order for the benefits which they currently bring to enhance their land-based ecosystems: Homing, Timing, Feeding, Breeding. If any of these 4 systems did not develop which are unique to salmons, the benefit to the ecosystem either would not happen or would happen at greatly diminished levels.

    A homing system to guide salmons upstream to mountain streams is unique to salmons, while almost all other species of fish breed and live their entire lives in the seas or lakes, with low salinity coastal mangroves being quite prominent, even for ocean going species such as tuna. If salmon did not develop this unique homing system and a very strong drive to return to the location of their hatching, there would be no benefit to the upstream forests. All other fish do not bring nitrogen above sea level, thus bringing no benefit to upstream ecosystems. Some have commented that there are other nitrogen fixing plant species and bacteria which also provides this service in the ecosystems. My view is that in the context of tens of millions of years, gravity always works, and just like our topsoil are being washed from fertile areas into the seas, the fixated nitrogen which makes topsoil fertile are one-way being washed downwards towards sea level with each season. The commenter who dismissed that salmon must swim upstream to breed because of a more protected condition is addressing the process too late. The question I ask is, why did salmons deviate their homing program to return upstream, into fresh water, very differently from what most salt-water fish do to breed successfully to maintain their species.

    The Timing & Feeding systems cause salmon fingerlings to head for the sea when they grow big enough to predate in the oceans. Then, for 3-5 years, salmon will feed at depth, mostly on macrobial shrimp, hence getting their reddish colored flesh from the shrimp shells.
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    Dec 27 2011: The optical sight example below and others like developing fur to give survival advantage to a population over those without specific adaptations to the immediate environment makes sense to explain how species evolve to adapt to changing environments. If the environments are stable, species need slower rates of adaptation, more like optimization, to gain survival advantages. Species diversity happen during periods of environmental upheavals, requiring adaptation or extinction i.e.; polar bears being white and sea going mammals evolving during prior ice-ages. Bears without such features died in the cold climates if they could not migrate, surviving only in warmer climes. These examples I cited generally develop in LINEAR paths, as REACTIONS to unexpected environmental changes. The only times for branching would be if the environmental pressures were not too severe, such that somewhat weaker species can co-exist with their cousins equipped with stronger survival advantages. This is a very important aspect of my views germane to this discussion, the linear developmental pathway resulting from reactions to environmental pressures characteristic of evolutionary developments.

    The point I made with Alan was that, given the evolutionary selection process for features, I believe species which adapt features without immediate advantages to survival for themselves, but rather, benefiting the larger ecosystem does not follow with the generally accept evolutionary process. What I refer to as ANOMALIES wrt evolution are characterized by PARALLEL developments of the necessary systems in order for a final result to happen. The need for multiple systems to develop in parallel, each without giving a population survival advantages until all the systems become functional deviates very much from linear, reactionary development. In the case of salmon behavior, I will go into on next post. I will further add an even more compelling example of the electric eel.
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    Dec 27 2011: Greets all,
    I am Alan's friend referred to with these odd ideas. I wish to clarify any misconceptions of my beliefs so that we may have an educated discussion without attributing thoughts to me which I do not own. I am a highly logical and reasonable person with not much patience for those who make statements without providing reason to back up their statements. There is no room for dogma in reasoned thought.

    I believe in evolution but with the existence of something else which is responsible for anomalies which Darwinian evolution does not explain well. My own belief is that multiple superior beings exist, whether a culture call them gods or God is not important to me. I believe that not all of these beings are "good" by accepted societal standards, but in a bigger sense, predators killing and eating prey may not be seen as "good" either, but not many will argue that it is necessary, especially poignant when we eat our meals.

    I define my view of Darwinian evolution as that a population (not an individual) will evolve to adopt features which gives the species a survival advantage in their relevant environment at a given time period. Well known cases include the color of moths before & during the 1st Industrial Revolution in Europe. White birch bark favored white moths until coal dust darkened the birch barks, giving the darker moths a survival advantage, reversing the survival advantage towards the dark moths.

    A good case describing evolution would be the development of optical sight.
    skin cells=>light sensitive skin cells=>survival adv to worm which dislikes light=>bugs without feature gets eaten more by birds when seen=>equipped bugs continue to refine cells to give better advantages=>clumps of special cells grow into protrusions, giving directional warning=>clumps grow into primitive eye organs=>eye organs refine to directional type to find food, provide warning=>phased array eyes allow high speed precision flight.
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    Dec 26 2011: What a brilliant question. Nitrogen is also fixed by several other methods in nature, lightning for one, cyanobacteria, which inhabit nearly all illuminated environments on Earth for another. I do not think mountain regions are dependant on migration of the Salmon for nitrogen. It would not be a very balanced ecosystem if that were the case but please correct me if I am wrong on this point.

    There are lots of examples of symbiotic relationships in nature, and it gives the impression a designer has been at work. It is always possible to unravel the evolutionary trajectory.
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  • Dec 20 2011: sure there is a lot of intelligence in the universe ----until reaching the humanoids that swim downstream
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      Dec 20 2011: So Ethan. From your email I assume that you don't imagine that god exists.