Defending Evolution from ID Distortions

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Evolution, Mutation and Misconceptions

A common objection to the Evolutionary model is the idea that Mutations are a driving force for change. It is seen all over Creationist literature that mutations destroy information, and never add anything, or have any benefits. — For example, the Muslim Creationist Harun Yahya claims,

The direct effect of mutations is harmful. The changes effected by mutations can only be like those experienced by people in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Chernobyl: that is, death, disability, and sickness. […] Not surprisingly, no useful mutation has been so far observed. All mutations have proved to be harmful. (The Evolution Deceit, page 55)

A few months ago, while I was debating with a creationist, I found myself having to correct a major misunderstanding he had. He repeated an argument  about Natural Selection, saying that Natural Selection is not the same as Evolution because it produces nothing new. It just “selects'” — As soon as he said this, I remembered hearing the same thing from a Kent Hovind debate. 

As soon as he said that, I quickly corrected him. Nobody says that Natural Selection “creates” anything new. When I took History of Life in Biology, that was one of the things I was taught: “Natural Selection doesn’t create new traits.” Mutations create new traits, and natural selection then determines if the new trait is favorable or good enough for a living organism to survive in a certain enviroment.  — He then interrupted saying, “Mutations are always harmful!” When I corrected him on that, he then said, “Well, cancer is a mutation! . . So, you’re telling me that if we get a whole population with cancer — “ At that, I kept repeating myself that wasn’t what I was saying and told him to stop attacking a strawman.

 He then defied me to name one beneficial mutation, just one. At that, I gave the (probably over cited) anti-bacterial resistance. He then said that didn’t count because the bacteria didn’t pass on the newly acquired resistence to its descendants, and the new traits have to be heritable. — But Creationists who make that claim are demonstrably wrong. The fact is that newly resistant bacteria do pass on their newly acquired resistance to new generations. I also pointed out the evolution of the HIV virus -the “ultimate evolver”- which didn’t seem to  make even the slightest dent, as if I expected it to.

One often cited case of a beneficial mutation is the sickle-cell anemia. Kent Hovind, in a debate with Michael Shermer, mocked this example by comparing it to being beneficial in the sence of cutting off your feet so you do not get athlete’s foot. — But it’s not so simple. Kent Hovind apparently is ignorant of the qualifiers that determine whether or not the sickle-cell mutation is beneficial or not. If the mutation is in the heterozygous state, then the mutation is detrimental causing disease and early death. However, if the mutation is heterozygous, then that causes its carriers to be resistent to infection and malaria.

One really famous example of a beneficial mutation is the CCR5-Delta 32. This mutation occurs in chromosome three in the human genome. Individuals that carry this particular mutation are resistent to the HIV virus. The heterozygous variant of this mutation is able to slow down the progression of the HIV virus while the homozygous version of the mutation causes immunity to the virus. — It is obvious that the claim made by Harun Yahya in his writings is wrong. There are several examples of beneficial mutations. It has even gotten to the point that some Creationists now admit that they in fact exist, but they then try to put qualifiers on it.

Anyway, now that Creationists have accepted that mutations can be beneficial, they now changed tactics in order to salvage their ever evolving creation model. — One creationist from CMI, while talking about the CCR5-Delta 32, tries to work his way out by saying,

However, it clashes irreconcilably with the evolutionary view that the accumulation of mutations over time brings about upward evolution (increasing functional complexity).

 . . . And then later, he then cites a paper from Nature which mentions a downside to this particular mutation. The implication he seems to be trying to give is that because it can be associated with primary sclerosing cholangitis, then therefore it cannot be count as evidence. — Creationists make similar claims about antibiotic resistence of bacteria, saying that these mutations lead to a “loss of function.”

What these excuses show is a lack of understanding of how Evolution works with mutations. As I have already pointed out in a previous post, evolution doesn’t necessarily lead to increased complexity, though it may. But there is no pre-ordained goal. All that matters is if the change is heritable, and if it is, then that works as evolutionary change. — Also, no one has ever said that mutations that lead to evolutionary change cannot have a downside. There will always be a downside. What matters is if the variation is beneficial or good enough to survive in a certain environment. In an enviroment where there is plenty of AIDS, the CCR5-Delta 32 mutation would be beneficial. Natural Selection will favor those particular individuals that carry it.

Finally, there is Gene Duplication. I know that Creationists would love to pounce on this example and say “It’s just duplicated information.” — I wonder if these same Creationists would be interested in the fact that over 97% of human genes are duplicates. Anyway, gene duplication offers raw material for Evolution and mutation, though it is true that high rates of duplication often lead to high rates of gene loss also, (a fact that would be useless for Creationists to hijack for reasons mentioned above.) What happens is, a gene gets duplicated, and then the duplicate copy has no selection pressures, so it is now free to evolve and mutate on its own, though the gene doesn’t always survive.  

I’m sure that Creationists would love to object to new function ever being derived from duplicated genes, but the fact is that it does happen. A good example is the Eosinophil Cationic Protein (or the ECP) which is toxic to bacteria by making their cell mambranes porus. Also, it is useful in the management of Asthma, despite it’s limitations. — Then there is the Eosinophil-Derived Neurotoxin (the EDN) which helps to prevent viral infections, though it’s accumulation in the intestine is associated with tissue loss.

Furthermore, observations in the genomes of bacteria only aid the conclusion that gene duplication is a viable mechanism for Evolutionary change, as the divergence of duplicated enzymes seems to have been a main contributor -though not no only one-  to the causation of new species of bacterium.

One need not be a geneticist to research the claims of anti-evolutionists to come to the realization that almost everything they claim about mutations is spurious. Even though it is true that most mutations are harmful, it is also true that in certain environments some can be quite beneficial in which cases natural selection will favor them. Some gene duplicates also show neofunction completely debunking the idea that nothing new arises from mutation.

References:
Evolution and Disease, from ChemHeritage.org
Genetics Demystified, page 151. By Edward Willett
Beneficial Mutation, by Ningthoujam Sandhyarani. From Buzzle.com
Beneficial Mutations, from SkepticWiki.
Examples of Beneficial Mutations in Humans, from The Evolution Evidence Page.
Almost all human genes resulted from ancient duplication, by Roy J. Britten, from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Gene Duplication and Evolution of Gene Function, from Evolution and Developement Group.
Evolution by Gene Duplication, by Jianzhi Zhang, from TRENDS in Ecology and Evolution. Also see Positive Darwinian Selection after gene duplication in primate ribonuclease genes, by Jianzhi Zhang, Helene F. Rosenberg, and Masatoshi Nei, from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Eosinophil cationic protein: Is it useful in asthma? A systematic review, by Gerald C.-H. Koha, Lynette P.-C. Shekb, Daniel Y.-T. Gohb, Hugo Van Beverb, David S.-Q. Koha.
Eosinophil Derived Beurotoxin (EDN)
Evolution by leaps: gene duplication in bacteria, by Margrethe H Serres, Alastair RW Kerr, Thomas J McCormack, and Monica Riley. From Biology Direct.

YEC Obsession on the Grand Canyon

Flood Geology — one of the biggest irrationalities in Young-Earth Creationism. In order to rationalize the evidence the geological record that the Earth is older than 6,000 years, they say that Noah’s flood it responsible.  This argument was used by Ellen G. White, one of the founders of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. In her book, Patriarchs and Prophets, she attempts to minimize the science of geology claiming that “apart from Bible history, geology can prove nothing.” In chapter nine entitled “The Literal Week,” she then goes on to say,  

In the days of Noah, men, animals, and trees, many times larger than now exist, were buried and thus preserved as an evidence to later generations that the antediluvians perished by a flood. God designed that the discovery of these things should establish faith in inspired history; but men, with their vain reasoning, fall into the same error as did the people before the flood. (Patriarchs and Prophets, page 112)  

I was raised a Seventh-Day Adventist – and still am officially a member, so it pains me to say that Ellen White was wrong, but . . . Ellen White was wrong. There’s no two ways about it.  

Her anti-science arguments based on her “visions from God” have continued to infect the Christian community. I’m pretty sure that most YECs are unaware that they are indirectly embracing Ellen White, since many of them consider her a “false prophet.” — As an SDA, I can freely admit that our “prophetess” was at best wrong, and at worse dishonest. Afterall, my faith is in God, not in her.  

I can, however, understand that she felt that Geologists were misguided and being led astray because of her particular, literalistic, understanding of the Bible. It is my contention that the world-wide-flood is based on a misreading of the Bible, and is therefore unbiblical. I don’t see the need to debunk her here because I already give more details in my post entitled “The Global Deluge – Is it Unbiblical.” Also, see Mark Isaak’s “Problems with a Global Flood” for Geological, Ecological and Biological evidence against the universal deluge.  

But, back to the point of this post…  

Young Earth Creationists have some sort of obsession with the Grand Canyon, apparently because they feel that it gives evidence for the flood of Noah. — Eric Hovind, Kent Hovind’s son, in a Creation Minute video mentions that the Colorado river enters the canyon at 2,800 feet above sea-level, and that it exits at 1,800 feet above sea-level, and that the top of the canyon is 7,000 feet above sea-level. Then he asks if the water from the river flowed uphill  to form it, or if it was the result of a flood. Furthermore, on Kent Hovind’s website, it is claimed,  

In contrast to all other rivers, we do not find a delta (a place where washed-out mud is deposited). This alone makes the evolutionist interpretation impossible.  

First, I’ll deal with Eric’s Creation Minute. No scientist would make the absurd assertion that water flows uphill, so he is attacking a strawman. But he obviously did not do any independent research on the formation of the Grand Canyon. No doubt he would simply call them “evolutionist lies” like daddy Hovind does. — The answer is plate tectonics. The Colorado Plateau started out flat as the river flowed. Tectonic uplift pushed upwards causing the river to continually cut into the ground eroding it away to the canyon we have today.  

Next, it isn’t true that there is no delta. All you have to do is do an internet search, and you’ll find the images of it really easily For example, the one below:  

Colorado River Delta

Personally, I find it hard to believe that the Hovinds haven’t done their homework, although it is possible that they didn’t and just assumed that they were right, and therefore saw no need to investigate any further than Creationist propaganda. Anything’s possible, I guess. . .  But still, one doesn’t need to be an expert Geologist to be able to take their claims apart.

Next is the common YEC claim made about rapidly forming canyons. Mount St. Helens is commonly cited because of a rapidly formed canyon that the 1980 erpution formed. Apparently if a canyon can be carved quickly, then the Grand Canyon could have been as well. — Also, on a YEC blog I frequently comment on, the same one I issued my flagellum challenge to Michael (the blogger) which has still been ignored, a very similar argument is being repeated. Except, Michael is using a more recent example to argue his point. — His post entitled “Rapid Canyon Formation is Finally Admitted” alone shows his misunderstanding of how Geologists view the matter.  

In his post, he cited a recent Science Daily article which talks about a newly formed canyon in central Texas. He then says,  

This is another reason why a one-party closed system that formulates ideas on research based on an old time frame gets falsified more often than just on scientific advancements. Creation scientists with many years of research field experience and PHDs were way ahead of this discovery made by secular scientists with their PHDs. It’s funny how the secular scientists act like it’s so new, again they are afraid that it will turn the public more away from evolution and their funding dollars. Let’s rejoice! It’s a great day for creationism!  

For the record, I am tired of YECs confusing Geology with Evolution. But more importantly, this doesn’t even come close to refuting evolutionary theory, much less the geological principle of uniformity. Michael has shown over and over again that he understands neither.  

We know that the Grand Canyon couldn’t have been formed in a single event in only recent history for one basic reason: It doesn’t have the features it would have if it had been carved in a short, year long event such as Noah’s flood. The Grand Canyon has  U-turns in it which is consistent with the formation of the canyon taking a long period of time, and inconsistent with a rapid event as seen below,  

Grand Canyon: Notice the U-Turn!

In contrast, the newly formed Texas canyon mentioned in Michael’s post has completely different characteristics. The photo in the original Science Daily article show the water’s path as an essentially more straight line and no meandering,  

Texas Canyon Formation: Notice the Essentially Straighter Path!

The path of the water flowing from the reservoir has a much straighter path. It is not meandering like the Colorado river in the case of the Grand Canyon. Therefore this cannot be used as evidence that the latter formation was also the result of rapid formation.  

The last issue I have with Michael, as well as other YECs. And that is their understanding of the Geological principle of uniformity. This principle is often summed up as “The present is the key to the past.” — When Creationists hear this, they assume that Geologists necessarily believe that all accumulation of geologic layers – and canyons – had to have taken millions of years. Hence, the Creationists mistakenly think that since Scientists think the Grand Canyon took millions of years to be carved, that therefore they think that all canyons had to have been carved in long periods of time. This is not the case.  

What uniformitarianism means is this: We see disasters happen today, therefore we know they happened in the past; We see floods happen today, therefore they happened in the past; Also, we see some canyons form rapidly today, and therefore some formed rapidly in the past as well. But also, we see slow processes in action today, and therefore slow processes happened in the past as well.  Nobody ever denied that rapid formation can occur, but it is denied when all the evidence is inconsistent with rapid formation.– And the Grand Canyon, is an example that is only consistent long processes.  

Even the Science Daily article affectively debunks Michael’s perception that uniformitarianism denies a rapid formation. Interestingly enough, though he quotes the article extensively, he somehow missed a very relevant section. In it is this detail,  

Our traditional view of deep river canyons, such as the Grand Canyon, is that they are carved slowly, as the regular flow and occasionally moderate rushing of rivers erodes rock over periods of millions of years.  

Such is not always the case, however. “We know that some big canyons have been cut by large catastrophic flood events during Earth’s history,” Lamb says. (My emphasis)
.  

Hmmmm, wouldn’t this take away from the title of Michael’s post that “rapid formation is finally being admitted”? — Well, it certainly refutes the idea that Creation science has in anyway been vindicated.  

This begs the question: Why did Michael leave this out? I guess it’s possible he only read what was convenient for him, or he would no longer have a strawman to knock down. Or maybe he has bad reading comprehension. Who knows? — I pointed out most of these points in my comments on Michael’s blog, and so far, he completely ignored them. I think it’s either because he knows he cannot refute them, or he is willfully ignorant. You make the call.  

References:
How was the Grand Canyon Formed, from Buzzle.com 
The Formation of the Grand Canyon, from Grand Canyon Explorer
The Grand Canyon and Creation Science, From Answers in Creation
Grand Canyon Formed over Millions of Years, by by Dr. Jeff Zweerink,  from Reasons to Believe.
CH581: Carving the Grand Canyon, by Mark Isaak, from Talk.Origins.
Geology of the Grand Canyon area, from Wikipedia.
Creationist Grand Canyon Argument

A New Challenge to a Creationist

Lately, I have been commenting on  a Creationist blog, defending Evolutionary theory from Creationist distortions. Of course, one may wonder why I would take the time, and endure the headache of defending the fact of Evolution when arguing with Creationists is often a futile crusade. Well, I guess my reasons are that 1) somebody has to do it, and 2) I’m a glutton for punishment. I like to argue my case.

For the last few months, Eelco, who often comments on the Creationist blog has been issuing a few questions to Michael (the Creationist blogger) who has completely ignored them. In fact, Michael rarely ever — if even ever — engages in discussion with anyone who disagrees with him. The questions Eelco asks Michael on every post are,

(1) Blog readership numbers ?

(2) Your qualifications to discuss any scientific subject, in response to the challenge to Olorin.

(3) A substantive review of Signature in the Cell, promised for August 2009.

(4) outstanding question from Upson Downes on mitochondrial Eve.

Sounds fair enough, no? — Olorin, who Eelco mentions in number two was another frequent commenter who always took Michael to task, and who seems to now been blocked from posting comments anymore.  Personally, I am waiting for Michael to answer Eelco, but I’m not holding my breath.

UPDATE: Olorin was banned from posting on the blog temporarily. He now has been unblocked, I imagine because of preasure that Michael has been feeling about banning him in the first place.

But now I have my own separate challenge to Michael. I refuted Irreducible complexity in my comments on his blog, and I never have gotten him to respond to me. All he did was respond to a fellow Creationist by quoting the long-refuted Michael Behe, and then he attacked the Science Talk.Origins website saying,

Talking origins is out dated piece of bias and will continue to be outdated while we learn more about nature like the FLAGELLUM.

Just pointing out, Michael couldn’t even get the name of the website right — He called it “Talking origins.” It’s Talk Origins. But I digress…

Realizing that he completely ignored EVERYTHING I said, and every argument made against Irreducible Complexity, all he does is attack a science website, and then pull out the obvious “We’re learning more about the flagellum!!” — Well, no dip!! And for some reason, he wants to treat any new discovery about the flagellum as bad for Evolution, and therefore good for Creationism, which he has no basis for.

Well, anyway, I responded to him saying,

The only bias Talk.Origins has is in favor of real scientific research.

I already showed in an earlier comment that flagellum is NOT irreducible. . . Earlier, I pointed out,

An Important fact that ANYONE here has yet to mention is that the flagellum IS NOT EVEN IRREDUCIBLE. — In 1988, G. Kuwajima was able to remove ONE-THIRD of the 497 amino acids from the flagellum, AND IT STILL WORKED PERFECTLY!!!!! . . . Also, we know that the L and the P-rings can be taken away from the flagellum, and it will STILL work. . . .

Michael, if you want to cry “BIAS!!!” then you should do so ONLY AFTER refute this fact that I pointed out.

From now on, i will be issuing a similar challenge to you that Eelco has issued to you, and one you have FAILED to take on. . . except it will be awaiting your refutation of the facts I pointed out about the REDUCIBILITY of the flagellum.

That’s my challenge to him. Will he take me up on it? I’m not holding my breath. Probably like a good Creationist, he will just pretend that it isn’t there, like he does with Eelco’s challenge.

The Truth on the Cambrian “Explosion”

The fifty-three million year period known as the Cambrian is important to the fields of geology and biology because that was when many major groups of kinds of creatures with hard parts and shells, appear in the fossil record. This has been called the “age of trilobites” which were marine arthropods. — During this period of time, there was a unique episode in the history of  life, an apparent evolutionary radiation in which life seems to “explode” in the fossil record. Complex marine animals with hard, preservable parts appear over a rapid span of time in the geological record. This event has been called the Cambrian “explosion.”

At the time Charles Darwin published Origin of Species in 1859, the fossils in the Cambrian were the oldest known ancient life, and paleontology and research in the fossil record hadn’t advanced as much as it has recently. — Darwin himself commented on it saying,

To the question why we do not find rich fossiliferous deposits belonging to these assumed earliest periods prior to the Cambrian system, I can give no satisfactory answer. . . . Nevertheless, the difficulty of assigning any good reason for the absence of vast piles of strata rich in fossils beneath the Cambrian system is very great, and may be truly urged as a valid argument against the views here entertained.

Darwin’s statement, that the lack of fossils before the Cambrian, could be used as “a valid argument” against his theory has struck a chord with critics of Evolutionary theory into the present. In fact, it is hard to find many Intelligent Design and Creationist publications that do not talk about the apparent lack of fossil life before the Cambrian, using it as a “refutation” of Darwinian Evolution — “Darwinism,” as they call it.  The apparent radiation of life that occurred called the Cambrian “explosion” is what they appeal to saying that this was the fauna in this strata appeared “all of a sudden, with no evolutionary ancestors.”

If it could be shown that animal species, in fact, appeared without any kinds of evolutionary ancestors, then Evolutionary Theory would be in trouble. That is a fact. However, if the scientific literature were to show that these fauna had viable ancestors, then there is no problem for the scientific consensus.

First of all, it should be pointed out that the Cambrian “explosion” was only explosive in geologic terms. It is usually estimated to have lasted between 10 to 25 million years —- which is a far cry from the impression that Intelligent Design proponents attempt to give when they say that phyla appear “all of a sudden.” Though rapid in geologic terms, it is hardly rapid on the time scale, and it is not far-fetched to allow plenty of evolution within that time period. It would appear that Antievolutionists are confused by the usage of the word “explosion.”

The claim that phyla appeared “all of a sudden with no viable ancestors” would also be damaging . . . if it were true. But it is not. There is sufficient evidence for animal life before the Cambrian explosion:

  • Complete fossil embryos pre-dating the Cambrian “explosion” by 10 million years were discovered in 2006, and show that animal complexity was already starting to bloom. Fossil embryos are a rare enough find without them being complete.
  • There are plausible pre-Cambrian ancestors for trilobites. For example, there are the Spriggina floundersi, the so-called “Soft-bodied trilobite,” as well as Parvancorina. — Parvancorina is classified, interestingly enough in the Kingdom Animalia, and was possibly even an arthropod. — Also, to make matters worse, there are many transitions between trilobites which are extremely diverse and themselves indicate plenty of Evolution, not just during the 300 million years of their existence, but also during the Cambrian period.
  • Even if non of the examples listed in the last example above were not arthropods or ancestral to trilobites, there is still proof that arthropods did in fact exist before the Cambrian period. Arthropod trace fossils have been found in Nevada in strata dating to 30 million years before the Cambrian, proving that there were animals with legs much earlier than once thought. — Amusingly, some Creationists have attempted to use this one example to refute the Evolution timeline not realizing that this find did more harm to the Creationist argument of the Cambrian “explosion.”
  • There is new fossil evidence of bilateral animals which was recovered from the Doushantuo Formation in China dating from between 40 and 55 million years before the Cambrian. The specimen, called Vernanimalcula, had features like a mouth, a gut, an anus as well as surface pits. This would itself show the Cambrian was not the starting point for complex life.
  • Newly discovered “chemical fossils” have demonstrated evidence that Sponges, as the first Animal life, had already existed around 635 million years ago, or between 90 to 100 million years before the Cambrian “explosion.”
  • The Cambrian “explosion” just doesn’t stand up to the genetic evidence. Molecular clocks indicate a more ancient starting point from between 800 million to 1.2 billion years. This indicates that the fossil record has plenty of gaps, though genetics seems to compensate for what is lacking to a certain extent.

Another detail to consider is that it is plausible that, even though speciation seemingly did pick up during the radiation, it is may in fact not be anything special when compared to other similar radiations that occurred. — Using trilobites as a statistical basis, Bruce S. Lieberman concluded that “speciation rates among olenellid trilobites in the Cambrian radiation were not unusually high.”  He then also said that if these results can be extended to other groups, then special rules aren’t necessary to explain the Cambrian “explosion.”  — This, in my opinion, falsifies the Creationist impression of  rapid and sudden appearance.

Since it is widely agreed by biologists that the Cambrian “explosion” was a real event, there remains the problem of  attempting to explain what caused it, and these explanations are controversial in the scientific community. Plenty of them have to do with environmental changes such as “Snowball Earth”, and also some have proposed that an increase in levels in oxygen in the atmosphere allowing big-bodied animals to thrive. This second proposal could fail assuming that the big-bodied Ediacaran fauna (existing 30 million years before the Cambrian) are in fact animals. One model indicates it -as well as other radiations- may have “changes in the pattern of gene regulation.” On the other hand, indications show that Hox and other developmental control genes were already in existence before the radiation, though genomic repattering during the early Cambrian which involved some key genes and regulators.

But then again, there are scientists that are starting to question whether or not it was even a real event based pre-Cambrian fossil evidence as well as genetics, a lot of which is given above. Naturally, if this is the case, then there is no need to explain it, much less resort to the supernatural.

Any objective look at the Scientific evidence shows that the so-called Cambrian “explosion” cannot be used as evidence for a “creation event” because of its suddenness.  As a matter of fact, some of the fossil finds would seem to muffle the “explosiveness”  since it is now clear that complex life existed at least around 40 to 55 million years before. The implications of this is that there are possible evolutionary ancestors to the Cambrian multicellular life.  — Antievolutionists should update their claims if they want to retain any credibility.

References:
The Cambrian Period: An Explosion of Life, from fossils-facts-and-finds.com
Trilobites, from C&J Fossils.
Frequently Asked Questions About Evolution, from PBS.org.
Embryo Fossils Reveal Animal Complexity 10 Million Years Before Cambrian Explosion, from Physorg.org
Origins of Trilobites by S.M. Gon III. From Trilobites.info.
Earliest Footprints Ever Found, from RESEARCH.
Signs point to sponges as earliest animal life, from MIT News.
Evolutionary Trends in Trilobites, by S.M. Gon III, From Trilibites.info.
Small Bilaterian Fossils from 40 to 55 Million Years Before the Cambrian, by Jun-Yuan Chen, David J. Bottjer, Paola Oliveri, Stephen Q. Dornbos, Feng Gao, Seth Ruffins, Huimei Chi, Chia-Wei Li, and Eric H. Davidson. From Science. Also, see The Early Evolution of Animals by David J. Bottjer, from Scientific American.
Molecular Clocks Do Not Support the Cambrian Explosion, by Jaime E. Blair and S. Blair Hedges, from Oxford Journals.– Also see Testing the Cambrian explosion hypothesis by using a molecular dating technique, by Lindell Bromham, Andrew Rambaut, Richard Fortey, Alan Cooper, and David Penny. From the Proceedings at the National Academy of Sciences.
Taking the Pulse of the Cambrian Radiation, by Bruce S. Lieberman From  Integrative and Comparative Biology
Explaining the Cambrian “Explosion” of Animals, by Charles R. Marshall, from Annual Reviews.
Adaptive walks in a gene network model of morphogenesis: insights into the Cambrian explosion, by Solé RV, Fernández P,  and Kauffman SA. From the International Journal of Developmental Biology.
Fossils, molecules and embryos: new perspectives on the Cambrian Explosion, by James W. Valentine, David Jablonski and Douglas H. Erwin.
Plant and Animal Evolution.

Recommended Reading:
Transitional Forms and the Evolution of Phyla, by Glenn R. Morton, from American Scientific Affiliation. Published in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith.
The Precambrian to Cambrian Fossil Record and Transitional Forms, by Keith Miller, from American Scientific Affiliation. Published in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith.
Re:Cambrian Explosion, by Keith Miller, from the American Scientific Affiliation.

The “Global” Deluge – Is it Unbiblical?

To explain the geologic record, Creationists read the Biblical story of Noah and the flood into the evidence. They look at the fossil record and reason that these are creatures that just didn’t make it in the Ark and perished when the flood waters overtook them. The story of Noah is one of the most famous stories in the Bible, and gives a lesson about renewal of the old. But Young-Earth Creationists propose that Noah is more than myth: He is real, historical person, and that his flood covered the entire planet.

I will not argue against the existence of  Noah as a historical person. Personally, I have no reason to believe that he didn’t exist, being a Christian. But what I will argue against is that the flood covered the entire planet since I believe the evidence in the geologic record points against it. — And I have yet more reasons than just geology to suspect the flood was a “local” event, and not universal which I will focus on in this post.

The reason why YECs insist on a global flood is because their model demands it. It is supposed to account for the fossil record, and it is based on their interpretation of the story found in the book of Genesis. There are also some “hard” atheists that use the same arguments against the idea that Genesis allows for a local flood in an attempt to say that acceptance of an old earth or Evolution is incompatible with Christianity. My personal assessment of the claims made by both groups is that they are wrong and misguided. In fact, I think the reading of  a “local” flood in Genesis is not only plausible, but also Biblical.

The basic Biblical support that Creationists have for a global flood is the universal language which is used in the Genesis account:

  • I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. (Genesis 6: 17)
  • Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made. (Genesis 7: 4)

The language from these verses is most definitely universal, so it is no wonder that modern readers, Creationists and “hard” atheists alike, understand the “global” deluge as the only viable interpretation of the flood account. — Notice my stress on the term “modern readers.” — Though somewhat convincing at first glance, universal language is hardly an indicator that the Biblical account was intended to teach that the planet as a whole was covered in water. Such usages of the term  “All under heaven” have been used to describe geographically limited areas. For example, during the time of the Roman Empire, the Romans claimed to rule the “whole earth.”  Also, In ancient China, the domain of the emperor was said to be “all under heaven,” but obviously this only applied to China and neighboring states, and not to nations far out its reach.

In fact, the Bible itself uses this universal term in geographically limited contexts as well. For example, Acts 2: 5 says, “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.” — Obviously, “all under heaven” does not mean the entire planet. It most certainly does not include other regions like North America, Japan, as well as China and Korea. These terms were simply a way of expressing one’s self in ancient times, and they didn’t have the same meaning as they do today.

Another detail to take into account is the Hebrew word for “Earth” which is אֶרֶץ (pronounced as “eretz”) which is used in the flood story. — Though this word can be understood and the entire planet, it also has several other meanings like ground, soil, land, country, territory, district, and region. Most of these can actually be substituted for “Earth,” showing that the flood can be understood as covering a local region or territory.

A couple of Atheist and Creationist rebuttals to the “local” flood that I read object on the basis that the flood story says that the mountains were covered,

The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet. (Genesis 7: 18: 20 )

Certainly this could falsify the local flood, right? — Wrong! Objections made of the basis that the waters covered the “mountains” are only dependent on English literalism which is not a legitimate reading of the Bible if the word in the original language can be understood differently. — The Hebrew word for “mountains” is הַר (pronounced as “Har”) which also means hill or even hill country. So the passage can simply be understood as saying that the flood waters elevated over the hills by over twenty feet.

Granted, this information doesn’t prove that  global flood isn’t what the writers of Genesis intended to write about. It only shows that a local flood is a legitimate understanding from the Biblical text. — If we left it all here, we would think that both interpretations, though different from each other, are harmonious with the Bible itself, but I have no intention of leaving it to that. It is my contention that the global flood is unbiblical, not just simply irrational. — Now, is there any Biblical evidence to back me up? You bet there is! — One of the best pieces of evidence comes from the prelude to the flood story itself,

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterwardwhen the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown. (Genesis 6: 4)

The Nephilim were a race of pre-flood people. Some commentators blame them for the evil in the world which caused God to bring the flood. But notice that the story says they were “on the earth in those days — and also afterward.” This implies that not only wasn’t the flood sent to destroy this race of people, they survived the flood.  They are mentioned to still be living in the time of Moses (Numbers 13: 33 ). This could only logically be true if the flood was a local event, and not global. — The one objection I ran across for this point is that the Nephilim that were around before the flood were probably not the same as those that existed afterwards. However, even if I grant that Numbers 13:33 is talking about an unrelated race, that doesn’t explain why Genesis 6:4 implies that  pre-flood and post-flood Nephilim shared a common progeny as they are both associated with “the sons of God who went to the daughters of man”  implying that they managed to survive the flood.

Then there is also the drainage of the flood. Genesis 8: 1 says that a wind was used to cause the waters to recede which would have been pointless if the flood were global because the water that got blown away would simply have been replaced my different water that wasn’t there previously. — Also, Noah is said to have sent a dove which returned with an olive leaf (Genesis 8: 11). This is also evidence against a global flood because the time allowed in the Bible for the recession of the waters would not allow an olive tree to have grown by then. Also, the salt water of the flood would have destroyed much of the plant lifeeven the olive trees, not to mention the terrestrial conditions on the earth wouldn’t have been suitable for plant growth for a while.

Interestingly enough, even the writings of Flavius Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, seem to give credence to a local flood when one reads between the lines. After his retelling of the flood, he mentions other historians which mention similar events, and then quotes Nicolaus of Damascus,

Nicolaus of Damascus, in his ninety-sixth book, hath a particular relation about them; where he speaks thus: There is a great mountain in Armenia, over Minyas, called Baris, upon which it is reported that many who fled at the time of the Deluge were saved; and that one who was carried in an ark came on shore upon the top of it; and that the remains of the timber were a great while preserved. This might be the man about whom Moses the legislator of the Jews wrote.” (Antiquities of the Jews 1: 94-94)

This is significant for two reasons: 1) Because Josephus believes that Nicolaus is describing the flood of Noah, and 2) he mentions that there were many that fled and were saved from the deluge, and he seemingly differentiates them from the passengers on the ark. This implies that these other non-Noachian survivors had different means of escape besides the Ark of Noah.  This would only make sence in the light of a local flood, not a global one. — Also, it is notable that Josephus does not correct Nicolaus as to others escaping the flood besides the passengers on the ark, implying that he agrees with him. It would be out of character for Josephus to not correct him if he disagreed with him.

The idea of a local, non-global, flood has plenty of support. The original Hebrew shows that this particular understanding id viable, and the Bible itself confirms it by implying that other people (i.e., the Nephilim) survived it. That latter detail should surely be a stumbling block to anyone who believes in a global flood. However, it is not problematic if one embraces the local flood. — In fact, for these reasons, I consider the local flood the only viable understanding of the Genesis story, and that the “global” flood is not only irrational but also unbiblical.

References:
Chinese imperialism: Encyclopedia – Chinese imperialism
Blue Letter Bible Lexicon, Hebrew word for Earth
Blue Letter Bible Lexicon, Hebrew word for Mountains.
CH542: Plant survival in the Flood, by Mark Isaak, from the Talk.Origins Archive.

Further Reading:
The Noachian Flood: Universal or Local?, by Carol A. Hill. From the American Scientific Affiliation, and published in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith.
Yes, Noah’s Flood May Have Happened, But Not Over the Whole Earth, by Lorence G Collins
Noah’s Flood: Global or Local? by Donald Hochner
The Genesis Flood: Why the Bible Says It Must be Local, by Rich Deem. From GodandScience.org
Universality of the Flood, by Greg Neyman. From AnswersInCreation.org
THE GENESIS FLOOD: The Biblical Argument for its local extent, by J. Reed. From J. Reed’s Christian Expositions.

UPDATED: December 23, 2010

Debates Between Scientists and Creationists

Scientists have overwhelming evidence to demonstrate that Evolution is not only a theory, but also a fact. So considering that, how is it that Creationists seem to win the debates? — Of course, a Creationist may simply assume that the Creationist wins because the Evolutionist is wrong. But a better look at the subject shows that this isn’t the case at all. There are several reasons Creationists seem to carry the day, and none of them have anything to do with being on the right side. And there are several reasons why Scientists are reluctant to debate with Creationists, and it isn’t because they are on the “wrong” side either.

If you have studied Evolution and know the scientific method, then you will know how Evolution works — I hope, at least. Therefore, I would also hope that you would also be able to pick out arguments made by Creationists that are totally absurd, though they may seem reasonable to the lay person. I see this happen a lot in Kent Hovind debates. — I just watched one, and I found myself getting a headache when he made an illustration about the “evolution of silverware.” Knowing what was coming, I simply fast forwarded through that. In another video I saw, he debated  Ben Waggoner from the University of Central Arkansas who, although he undoubtedly knew his stuff, was not prepared for the beating he received.  — In fact, the only hostile audience that he had that I know about was when he spoke at Berkley University in which several students called him out.

A major important reason why Creationists seem to win debates is that they seem to usually debate in front of friendly audiences. In other words, most people in the audience have already decided that Evolutionary theory is false, and the reason they are there is to see the “lost” evolutionist get trounced by their champion. — Donald  Prothero, a leading professor of Geology, described a time when he accepted a challenge to debate Duane Gish. In the end, during the questions and answers segment, he received several irrelevant and offensive questions such as “Are you going to hell?” or “Are you a sexual pervert?” The audience was not interested in the evidence, but only in seeing the Evolutionist get defeated. Ultimately, he decided not to debate Gish again since it was a waste of time.

Another reason is that Creationists tend to dominate the debate. They have better debating skills than most Scientists because they have more practice at it. Scientists are usually busy with research, so they don’t have as much time to go out and debate. — Creationists also tend to shoot out too much drivel in only a few seconds which is very difficult to refute as quickly as it gets said. And due to the formats and time limits of these debates, the poor scientist is not free to give an adequate answer.

Creationists shoot out arguments like “Life could not have originated by chance,” and “the big bang is false.” — The bull of Creationists using these arguments is that they are not part of Evolutionary theory, even though Creationists don’t seem to see the difference between Biology and Cosmology.  These arguments are made to leave the impression that the Evolutionist has no basis for his acceptance of Biological Evolution, and that the theory of evolution is therefore nonsense or “stupid,” as Kent Hovind puts it. — Were I to debate a Creationist who brings these two subjects up, I would simply say “I am here to defend Evolution, not the Big Bang, and not Abiogenesis.”

On the occasions that I do talk with Creationists, I usually run into arguments made against strawman versions of evolution rather than the recognized theory at all. One of them is the idea that evolution “must” lead to increasing complexity, and that the Uniformitarian principle (of Geology, not of evolutionary biology) means that accumulation of all geologic layers was all done slowly with no exception. These arguments are common in the Young Earth Creationist community in particular, however they are based on false premises. Evolutionary theory does not make the prediction that everything has to become more complex, and the principle of uniformitarianism (which is Geology, not evolution) does not dictate that all layers took long periods of time to form.

There is also the fact that it is near impossible to give enough information about how evolution works in just one day. There are reasons why evolution related classes such as Biology and Physical Anthropology take whole semesters. It takes whole semesters to teach the basics of these classes. So the playing field for debates is hardly even at all.

Then there is the fact that Creationists tend to move the goal posts on the scientists. — Kent Hovind’s $250,000 challenge is a great example of this. His challenge pretty much says that even if we could produce evolution, abiogenesis, and the big bang in the lab, it still wouldn’t count because we would still have to prove God had nothing to do with it. Considering that I am a Christian, and therefore believe in God, I see this as ludicrous. The requirements are so unreasonable, it is no wonder not many (if any) scientist has even bothered with this challenge. –Also when given antibacterial resistence as an example, he simply said that no matter what, that bacteria would still not be immune to a sledge-hammer, as if Evolutionary theory makes any such prediction.

Then when it comes to the fossil record, he says “Fossils can’t be used as evidence for evolution because you can’t prove they had any kids.” In other words, no evidence is good enough. Also, it demonstrates he has no understanding about why and how fossils are used. Nobody is saying that a particular fossil is our ancestor, but that it has traits we would expect of what a potential ancestor would have. Hovind was positioning himself in a way that he could be able to dismiss any and all evidence for that abominable theory that he despises so that he wouldn’t have to truly deal with it.

The final reason why Scientists don’t debate with Creationists is they just don’t think it’s worth it. — Richard Dawkins, for example, refused to debate with the Muslim Creationist Harun Yahya when he was challenged saying he didn’t want to give him status.  — Also, Kenneth Miller, another top scientist described a time when he accepted a Creationist challenge and asked Steven Gould for help,

I called Steve up and then I explained to him that I was preparing for a debate with a scientific creationist. And I asked him if he could help me out with a couple of arguments. And to my amazement, he stopped me short. And he said, `Ken, I’d like to remain your friend. I’d like to be on good terms with you, but I don’t think it’s wise to debate these guys. I don’t think it’s appropriate to give them a platform for their misguided and misleading views. And if you’re going to debate this fellow, I won’t help you, I won’t provide any assistance, and I won’t even talk with you.’

The truth is, Scientists don’t want to debate Creationists simply because they don’t want to give Creationists status where status is not due. It is not because they are “wrong” and have no evidence to support their claims. It is that the playing field is hardly level which, by the way, also doesn’t make for a good debating forum when you have a whole audience that is intellectually hostile to the scientist.  — Also, another reason why they may not want to debate with them is because it may create the impression that Evolutionary theory is controversal in the scientific community.

References:
29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: The Scientific Case for Common Descent, by Douglas L. Theobald, Ph.D. From the Talk.Origins Archive
Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters, pages 46 and 47, by Donald R. Prothero.
Kent Hovind’s $250,000 Offer, by John Pieret, From the Talk.Origins Archive
Scientists Hesitant to Debate Intelligent Design, from National Public Radio.

Devoluton and an Evolutionary “Ladder”

When I first began reading Creationist arguments, I ran across the claim that humans as well as all other species were deteriorating. — One well known Creation Scientist I read claimed that the first humans lived for several hundreds of years and were therefore superior to all humans alive today. And based on that reasoning, he claimed that we were “devolving,” not evolving — devolving since the time of Noah’s flood. My reading of Creationist and Intelligent Design lit is that for evolution to be true, everything has to lead to an improvement.

Joseph Mastropaolo, a Creation “scientist,” for example, talks about medical disabilities and harmful mutations saying that this argues against evolutionary theory. He says that if evolution were true, then there should be less mutations less disease.

From the medical literature, the evidence suggesting evolution is zero and the evidence suggesting the exact opposite, devolution, is more than 15,400. Obviously, evolution is the exact opposite of reality.

Just as a side note, Mastropaolo’s insistence that evolutionary theory makes the prediction that there should be less disease fails to take into account that the viruses and bacteria that are responsible for sickness and disabilities evolve as well, so the persistance of disease is perfectly consistent with evolution. — Also, he says,

If evolution is true, then we should observe a decrease in human mutations, medically designated human genetic disorders, over time according to one definition of evolution, change over time, and another definition, natural selection. [ . . . ] The actual data show that genetic disorders doubled every 13 years through the sixties, seventies and eighties. In the nineties, genetic disorders doubled in about half the time, every seven years.

How ’bout that? I guess for evolution to be true, harmful mutations and genetic defects should become less frequent as time goes on. This is quite an over-simplistic understanding of how evolution works. — I think I’m being too generous by even describing his description of the process as an “understanding” because that’s not how evolution works at all. It doesn’t ensure against more disabilities in the future, and it certainly never claimed to guarantee that the occurence of detrimental mutations would be reduced in the future.

Such claims and insinuations are common in Creationists literature. Their perception is that there is a certain requirement that there there is a dictated direction from the simple to the complex, and that anything that seemingly goes in the opposite “direction” is a refutation of evolutionary theory. — The idea of “devolution” is based on the common misconception that evolution is directionary, that is, that increasing complexity is a necessary outcome for evolutionary change. The truth is that evolution doesn’t dictate any such trend. It has no pre-ordained direction.

The idea of a “ladder” of progression was proposed by several, but notably by the French naturalist Jean Baptist de Lamarck who believed that the simplest life forms were on the bottom while the most complex forms (i.e., humans) were on the top. Charles Darwin, however, did not subscribe to Lamark’s ideas, considering them unreliable. In fact, by the time Darwin had appeared on the scene, the idea of a chain was losing it’s support, but Darwin was the one that ultimately demolished it. — He envisioned a tree with the branches dividing, and so on, though modern evolutionary theory is shown as more of a “bush.”

Rather than just adding, evolution often reduces as well. Tapeworms lose their guts, cavefish lose their eyes, and humans lose their appendix. The ancestors of these particular species had fully functioning versions of these particular organs, though the modern counterparts are either semi-functional or non functional. There is no reason why apparently “simple” creatures cannot have evolved from more complex ancestors, and there is reason why this would happen: If you don’t use it, you tend to lose it.

The claim that devolution occurs rather than evolution shows that Creationists either do not understand evolution, or they feel the need to redefine it so they can make it look like a pseudo-scientific absurdity. The reality is that ‘devolution’ is not a legitimate biological term. So far, I haven’t been able to find it in any science textbook. The only people who use the term tend to be just laypeople or Creationists.

As a final observation, talk about “devolution” and an evolutionary “ladder” actually causes a fundamental contradiction of another common Creationist fallacy: The claim that Darwinian Evolution is based on pure chance. If evolutionary theory dictates that organisms absolutely have to become more complex, then how could evolution be based on pure coincidence? Logically, you cannot accept both ideas. Though to be honest, Evolution isn’t based on pure chance: Though mutations are random occurences, Natural Selection is the exact opposite of chance.

The fact of the matter is, the concept of an “Evolutionary ladder” is an oxymoron. It has no place in modern biology, so if you hear anyone  using such a term, you can be sure that person doesn’t understand evolutionary theory.

References:
Age of the Earth, Medical Science, Adam, Eve, Even, and the Flood, by Joseph Mastropaolo
Jean Baptist de Lamarck
The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrate of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution, page 74. By David Quammen.
Getting the Monkey off Darwin’s Back: Four Common Myths About Evolution, by Charles Sullivan and Cameron Mcpherson Smith. From the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry
Evolution myths: Natural selection leads to ever greater complexity by Michael Le Page. From New Scientist.
Evolution Theory Overview, from FossilMuseum.Net