Defending Evolution from ID Distortions

Posts tagged “Atheism

On the Interpretation of Genesis

“When God began to create heaven and earth–” (Genesis 1:1)

The verse that drives every Creationist to object to scientific discoveries of natural causes which would be responsible for formation of the world as we know it, and drives them  to commit the either/or fallacy that if natural causes could have done it, God is therefore unnecessary: “God either did it directly, or not at all.”  In my opinion, and being a Christian myself, I don’t see why that has to follow. When I was a Creationist, I would frequently hear anti-scientific arguments that a six-day creation was central to Christian doctrine, and that if the earth were 4.5 billion years old, then therefore Jesus would be mythologized. More recently, I got into an argument with a Creationist who insinuated that if I accepted that natural processes can be credited with how our species came about, then I therefore would have no basis to believe in the resurrection. Hmmm, so not invoking the supernatural in one instance of scientific matters therefore disqualifies the supernatural in non-scientific matters? I would also wonder how would even a natural explanation disqualify God from authoring the natural laws that lead to the result.

The typical view taken by Creationists, particularly Young-Earth Creationists, is that the Bible is infallible and that therefore the universe, the earth, and life on this planet had to have been created within six twenty-four hour days. The Creationists see the infallibility of the Bible depends on this interpretation,– and yes, it is just an interpretation since there are several other acceptable views that can be taken on how to read the first few chapters of Genesis. They do not seem to understand that it is possible to believe the inerrancy of the Bible and still not accept a literal six day creation, though I would argue that even if the Bible were an infallible document, that wouldn’t disqualify their interpretation as fallible. In fact, I have read several other interpretations of the book of Genesis which seem much more plausible than the one that YECs cling onto. For example, there is one written by Glenn Moore (See: Does Old Earth Creationism Contradict Genesis 1?)

First, on the six days of creation– YECs acknowledge that the Hebrew word יום (pronounced as “yom”) is not necessarily a twenty-four hour day, but that  in Genesis 1 the Hebrew grammar demands it because of the ordinal number given with each creation day. Interestingly enough, Hebrew linguists contradict this view. Rodney Whitefield, for example, shows that there is no such grammatical rule in Hebrew, and that the wording does not rule an “extended age.”  More likely than not, this “rule” was invented by Young-Earth Creationists in order to prove their point. 

Perhaps one of the main problems with view that the creation days are an actual, literal chronological sequence of events is that Genesis seems to say that the sun was created on the fourth day after the first living things appear. (Genesis 1: 14, 19) Since living things cannot exist without the sun in the first place, the sun had to have been created first. But some YECs insist that there was an alternate light source before the creation of the sun. For example, Jonathan Sarfati makes the claim that,

On the fourth day the present system was instituted as the Earth’s temporary light-bearers were made, so the diffused light from the first day was no longer needed.

Overlooking the fact that this is an untestable claim, this begs the question: If God had created a different light source before the fourth day, what would the point have been in God obliterating the first light source in order to create the sun? — Further more, Jeff A. Benner of the Ancient Hebrew Research Center points out that Genesis chapter one was not written with the intention of it being chronological. He points out,

It must be remembered that modern western thinkers view events in step logic. This is the idea that each event comes after the previous forming a series of events in a linear timeline. But, the Hebrews did not think in step logic but in block logic. This is the grouping together of similar ideas together and not in chronological order. Most people read Genesis chapter one from a step logic perspective or chronological, rather than from the block logic so prevalent in Hebrew poetry.

Although we do not see it, Genesis 1 is actually composed of six separate stories, one story per day. This itself can be taken to mean that the six creation “days” were not intended as literal. And the fact that it has been pointed out that they are “not in chronological order” would itself harmonize the apparent contradiction between science and scripture about whether the sun was created before the earth or after. — Another interesting detain, as Whitefield points out, is that the usual translation of Genesis 1: 16 is misleading. He shows that the Hebrew for “made” in the context of the creation of the sun on the fourth day is more correctly translated as “had made,” implying that the sun had been created before the fourth creation day. With this in mind, even if Genesis 1 were intended to be chronological which I personally do not believe, this particular matter would be a non-issue. Whatever the case may be, it shows that the YEC perspective on this matter is based on an over-literalistic, modern English reading of the text which is actually contradicted by Hebrew linguists.

The YEC interpretation also begs another question since on this particular matter since their position is that the “lesser and greater lights” were created on the fourth day. One of their main points is that the term “evening and morning” is associated with each “creation day,” and therefore it can only indicate a twenty-four hour period.  Because evening and morning are defined by the cycles of the sun and the moon, how would one define what “evening and morning” was before they had even existed? This could logically indicate that, at the very least, the first three days themselves were not literal twenty-four hour periods meaning that “evening and morning” is simply an indication of a time interval. In fact, there are other uses of evening and morning in the Bible that are indicators of non-literal days (for example: Psalms 90: 6).

A common criticism made by Yong-Earthers and “Hard” Atheists against Christians that accept an old earth and Evolutionary theory is that they are compromisers; that they attempt to harmonize their beliefs in God and the Bible with irreconcilable views, and judging by how their arguments coincide, it makes me wonder if the “hard” atheists have been reading articles from Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Reasearch. Many of these criticisms have mostly to do with, of course, the creation days. Both of these groups tend to claim that before Darwin believed that the earth was young, and that they also believed that the creation days were literal 24 hour days. Even if this was the standard view, the linguistic evidence by itself debunks the literal day view, however it is not true that all Christians and Jews before Darwin believed in an overtly literal interpretation of Genesis 1. In fact, there are many examples of non-literalistic interpretations of Genesis stretching over the last two-thousand years:

  1. Philo Judeaus, also called Philo of Alexandria (20 BC to 50 AD), who was a Jewish philosopher and apologist, didn’t believe that the creation days necessarily had a literal meaning. In his writings, he said:

    When, therefore, Moses says, “God completed his works on the sixth day,” we must understand that he is speaking not of a number of days, but that he takes six as a perfect number. Since it is the first number which is equal in its parts, in the half, and the third and sixth parts, and since it is produced by the multiplication of two unequal factors, two and three. (Treatise 1:2)

  2. St. Cyprian of Carthage (Birth: unknown, died in 258 AD), although he would be considered a Young Earth Creationists by several standards, also believed that the Creation days were not twenty-four hours. In a moment of Rhetoric which includes the number seven, he wrote: 

    As the first seven days in the divine arrangement containing seven thousand of years, as the seven spirits and seven angels which stand and go in and out before the face of God, and the seven-branched lamp in the tabernacle of witness…. (Treatise 11: 11)

  3. St. Augustine of Hippo (354 AD to 430) seemed to have thought that the Creation was all done “simultaneously,” but he also seemed ambivalent about defining what a “day” was in this case:

    But simultaneously with time the world was made, if in the world’s creation change and motion were created, as seems evident from the order of the first six or seven days. For in these days the morning and evening are counted, until, on the sixth day, all things which God then made were finished, and on the seventh the rest of God was mysteriously and sublimely signalized. What kind of days these were it is extremely difficult, or perhaps impossible for us to conceive, and how much more to say! (City of God 11:6)

There are numerous other examples, but these three are more than adequate enough to debunk the YEC/”Hard” Atheist criticism against Christian Old Earth Creationist and so-called “evolutionists” that non-literalistic understandings of  creation days in Genesis is nothing more than a reaction to scientific discoveries made in the last two centuries; It had been happening for the last two-thousand years, and is therefore not an ad hoc attempt by some Christian theists to save their faith as they felt intellectually obligated to accept the scientific discoveries. On the contrary: It shows that early Judeo-Christians interpretations were quite diverse.  Furthermore, there are other ancient interpretations of Genesis that involve other details as well. Flavius Josephus (37 AD to 100) may not have given an opinion about the creation days per say, but he still gives hints that he read Genesis as somewhat allegorically; that is, in the context of the creation of man saying that after the seven days,  the writer  “begins to talk philosophically.” (Antiquities 1:34) As far as I can tell, this is the only hint given by Josephus though it is a vital one.

One main counterpoint that Young Earth Creationists make against the theory of evolution is the repetition given in Genesis that creatures reproduced after their own kinds. This leads them to propose the so-called “created kinds.” The reasons for this, it appears, is to 1) explain away the speciation via microevolution that has been observed, and 2) to force fit representatives of all animal, both living and extinct, onto Noah’s Ark from dinosaurs to mammals. Biologists, however, have been quick to point out that there is no biological basis for a biblical, created kind. It doesn’t help that creationists have been unable to definitely define what a kind actually is. And to rub salt into the wound, there is likely not even a biblical basis for the “created kind.” — According to the Illustrated Bible Dictionary:

Some have insisted that the phrase ‘after it’s kind’ is a complete refutation of the theory of evolution. It is not, however, at all clear what the Hebrew word ‘kind’ (mîn) means, except as a general observation that God made creatures that they reproduced in their families. But it the Hebrew word is not understood, it is also true to say that the biological groupings are not at all finally decided. Let it be agreed that the Bible is asserting that, however life came into being, God lay behind the process, then the chapter neither affirms nor denies the theory of evolution, or any theory for that matter. (Volume 1, page 334)

If all the term “after it’s kind” simply means that animals were reproducing, then there is no inconsistency.  It’s not as if Darwinian Evolution required a species to all of a sudden reproduce into something completely different from itself; the change is much more gradual. With the “kind” having neither a biological or biblical basis, it becomes apparent that the YECs simply have been inserting details in the Bible which originally had no place there.

A final Young-Earth objection to evolution is rooted in the belief that God made everything all “good.” Then they look at the fossil record and claim that there is a record of death, disease and suffering. They then believe that those animals had to have died after Adam’s sin because death is apparently “evil.” What Young Earth Creationists need to realize is that “good” does not mean “perfect.” The question here is, why should death be considered a bad thing? — In fact, it’s a good thing for preventing ecological meltdown. Also, a close reading of the Bible shows that animal death before Adam’s fall is not unbiblical. Perhaps death may not occur in our preference for a perfect world, but it only says that the creation was good; not that it was “perfect.” — To further support the idea, the fact that God ordered the first  humans to eat and reproduce indicates that death could have happened before (Genesis 1:27-30). 

Although not all of the Young Earth Creationist objections to the acceptance of an old earth and evolution itself have been covered here, enough have been covered here to show that many of them are invalid. The claim that non-literal understandings of Genesis are nothing more than a result of Christians attempting to force-fit the Bible so that it fits with the last two centuries of scientific discoveries are demonstrably false since both Jews and Christians had read Genesis in such a way for the last two-thousand years and had diverse interpretations of it. — From my perspective, there is no conflict between acceptance of evolution, an old earth, and of Christianity or theism in general.


Recommended Reading:

YECs on Fossils and the “Evolutionary Timeline”

Because Young-Earth Creationists are so defensive of their model that requires the earth to be between 6,000 to 10,000 years old, they are always out to discredit the scientific date of the earth with anything they can fish out. They feel that if their interpretation of the Bible is wrong -to hell with other legitimate interpretations,- then their whole world will fall apart. This leads many YECs to make many bogus arguments for a young earth like  the decay of the magnetic field, the recession of the moon, etc, etc., etc., yada, yada, yada…. Then, another favorite tactic they use is to point out a fossil find and claim it is “out-of-place,” and that therefore the timeline is all wrong, and therefore their model of a 6,000 year old universe has to be right. I see this particular argument used more by Brian Thomas who is employed by the Insitute for Creation Research than anywhere else.

One of my favorite examples of  Thomas’s use of the “fossil out-of-place” argument is  from an article entitled “Fossil Footprints Trample Evolutions Timeline.” — It talks about arthropod trace-fossil foot prints which were found in Pre-Cambrian strata in Nevada. Thomas presented this find as if it were a blow to the Evolutionary theory because it would require some reevaluation of determining when arthropods appeared. It never occurred to them that this find actually hurts Creationism more than it could ever hurt the present theory of Evolution. More precisely, this discovery hurts the favorite Creationist argument about the so-called Cambrian”explosion” because it shows that complex, animal life was around 30 million years before.

There are several other examples that the Institute cites, and I’ll address some of them here just to show how they 1) show ignorance of the person making the claim, and 2) how are completely irrelevant to the topic of the “evolutionary timeline.” Further reading of ICR claims on the subject will show any informed person how the Institute takes certain scientific discoveries and takes them out of context to try to refute Evolutionary theory.

  1. One claim that the Thomas makes is that a  newly discovered amber trapped spider web too old for the timeline. A news article he cites of this fossil find, in fact, shows that spider webs had evolved long before it was first thought, however when one does more research on spider evolution, the apparent “harm” done to the timeline really doesn’t exist. This fossilized web’s age is estimated at 140 million years, while  the evolution of spiders is thought to have started some 400 million years ago. That gives the web about 260 million years to evolve, so there is no harm done here.
  2. Another claim that he made is that the T-Rex body structure evolved 60 million years “too early.” This claim is based on a newly discovered relative of the tyrannosaurs now called Raptorex. I seriously cannot help but see the irrelevance of this fossil to debunking the so-called “timeline.” It never crosses Thomas’ mind that rather than hurting the current theory of evolution, this helps it by aiding the construction of a phylogeny of the tyrannosaurs.
  3. Claims of human artifacts, such as evidence of boats and jewelry, are used to say that we have always been the same species. We now know that Homo neandertalensis had fassion sense, but nobody disputes this, so it is irrelevant. Also, multiple mtDNA tests show they are not the same species as Homo sapiens, despite the YEC model’s insistence. And the evidence that Homo erectus was a mariner is really not news since we knew that for over a decade (at least since 1998). Hence, this is also irrelevant.
  4. Another apparent contradiction of the timeline is the discovery of fossil ambers dating to the Carboniferous which lasted from 355 to 300 million years ago, though the first flowering plants known to the fossil record appear during the Cretaceous (125 million years ago). The Brian Thomas criticizes the scientist who discovered them of  evolutionary bias because he said this doesn’t necessarily mean that flowering plants appeared so early, but that it shows that aspects of them were starting to make an appearance. But at the same time, he doesn’t provide any credible evidence to the contrary, so they affectively fail to show how the timeline was falsified.

The only thing some of the examples above show is a slight reevaluation of  some of the current scientific understandings., but that’s all. On the other hand, some of the examples don’t affect out understandings at all. This kind of makes me wonder if the employees at ICR sees any unexpected scientific find as an inherent refutation of Evolutionary theory as we know it.

As I see it, ICR has a very odd definition of an “out-of-place” fossil. In one post entitled Cambrian Fossils Found in the Wrong Place,” it is argued that since soft-bodied creatures were thought to be stem ancestors to the Cambrian fauna were found in some of the same layers, one could not have evolved into the other because  the argument for evolution  “relies on the absence of these creatures in higher layers to support the assumption that they ‘diverged’ into ‘later’ life forms.” –This reminds me of the argument “If humans evolved from apes, why are there still apes.”  Even if  a certain animal evolved into another species, there is no reason to assume that evolutionary ecenario “relies” on the absence of the mother species.

So really, not a single one of the examples given of “out-of-place” fossils given by the Institute refute any of  the important aspects of Evolution, and any revision that is made from them, so far, is only minor. Any fossil that actually refutes our scientific understanding should be unexplainable, like fossil rabbits in the Cambrian, and so far, the Young-Earthers have failed.

Darwin’s Dilemma: My Take on the Discovery Institute’s Claims

I know it’s several months late, but I just got through watching a film done by the Discovery institute, on the Cambrian “explosion,” called “Darwin’s Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Explosion.” There are a few details that should be addressed about it. But, before I go into any kind of detail, yes, it should be pointed out that this is mostly the same kind of Creationist bull that I thought it would be, just a bit more sophisticated than the usual Creationist arguments made about the Cambrian radiation.

At first, typical of Creationist claims, Jonathan Wells makes the well-worn claim about life forms before and during the Cambrian. He compares the entire 3.8 to 4 billion years of life to a twenty-four hour day saying that for the first 21 hours, there were only unicellular life forms, and then the Cambrian life forms came into existence on the scale of a two minutes. This is an attempt to make the Cambrian radiation appear “sudden” A few minutes later, Wells then says something on the lines of that it could have happened over night which is complete bogus because it lasted at least 10 to 25 million years. Though there are higher estimates that go as high as 35 million years or more. The film says that fossil evidence shows that those estimates are too high, but it doesn’t give convincing details.

The film, however does mention the existence of other life forms, like the Ediacaran fauna which existed before the Cambrian, as well as fossil embryos. . . . Oh, about the fossil embryos, the film uses them to address the idea that pre-Cambrian fossils are not preserved because they were too soft. It is pointed out that these embryos were from soft-bodied organisms, and that they existed tens of millions of years before the Cambrian. From that, it is reasoned that if the appeal to pre-Cambrian organisms being too soft for preservation cannot be used. As the film argues this, the Discovery Institute seems to have missed a major implication of fossil embryos several millions of years before the Cambrian “explosion.” Think about it: Those embryos had to have come from precursor ancestors, and that would therefore show that the Darwinian prediction of the existence of simpler pre-Cambrian life. It shows, therefore, that such organisms did in fact exist, but that they were rarely ever fossilized. Fossilization is already a rare enough occurence without the organisms being much softer than is accustomed. But, another detail the DI seems to have missed: I do not remember any scientist ever saying that soft-bodied, pre-Cambrian fossils could never be preserved. They can be, it’s just much more of a novelty. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think the Discovery Institute is attacking a strawman.

Something I find exceptionally interesting is the interest that the film takes in fossils from southern China. All along, citing these fossils as evidence for their conclusion, I’m left to wonder why other fossils from China are ignored. In pre-Cambrian deposits dating from the Doushantou Formation, evidence of animal life in the form of adult Cnidirians was found. Among the finds were fossilized embryos and larvae tat resembled Anthrozoans. Not to mention, there s also evidence of cnidirian body plans with anthozoan affinity. An implication of this find is that  stem groups of bilaterians were also present between 25 to 45 million years before the Cambrian “explosion.” — Then, also there is more recent evidence from the same formation that complex, bilatarians existed between 40 to 55 million years before the Cambrian. — These fossil finds I cited were made in the first half of the last decade, between 2002, and 2005. These finds alone would show that the Cambrian “explosion” was likely less explosive. In contrast, the film Darwin’s Dilemma was released in September, 2009. Why didn’t the Discovery Institute include these fossil finds? Because of ignorance or bias? You make the call. — I go into more detail in my previous post entitled “The Truth on the Cambrian ‘explosion.’

Between scenes, the Discovery Institute indulges in the usual Creationist quote mining from well-known scientists about the appearance of the Cambrian fauna in the fossil record, but prominently Stephen Gould. Personally, I found that somewhat disrespectful since he is dead with his statements still being hijacked. Then also, they use a very selective quote from Richard Dawkins about the Cambrian’s abruptness in which he says, “It’s as though they were just planted there, without any evolutionary history.” You just have to realize that Dawkins is an Atheist and a major anti-Creationist to realize that he ultimately was not endorsing that view.  Besides, as he proposes a little later that “it might be that many of these animals had only soft parts to their bodies: no shells or bones to fossilize,” a view which the film goes out of its way to attempt refuting.  — The Quotes from Charles Darwin can be dismissed since they are 151 years out of date, and do not reflect the research accomplished since he published his theory.

A final claim made is on genetic information, and questioning whether or not Darwinian mechanisms can produce it. After deciding that it cannot, they resort to their typical “designer did it” cop-out. They try to rationalize their logic by saying that information is the product of intelligence, yada, yada . . . .  I’m not going to even bother to refute the typical argument from ignorance.

Basically, the film really doesn’t address anything that hasn’t been debunked before, it just seems to be a bit more sophisticated, and a bit more informative than other pieces of Creationist propaganda, but that’s probably because it admits to the existence of some fossils from before the Cambrian. I guess from that, it is the “best” Intelligent Design film I’ve ever seen, but that isn’t saying much. Mostly, the only real thing this film has going for it is its graphics, though I have seen better. I guess one of its goals is to dazzle the uninformed layperson with its computer graphics?  Who can tell? The Discovery Institute may accept the scientific age of the earth, but other than that, they aren’t much better than ICR.

Precambrian Animal Life: Probable Developmental and Adult Cnidarian Forms from Southwest China, by Jun-Yuan Chena, Paola , Feng Gaoa, Stephen Q. Dornbos, Chia-Wei Lid, David J. Bottjer and Eric H. Davidson. From Science Direct, and Developmental Biology.
The Early Evolution of Animals by David J. Bottjer, from Scientific American.

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.
Cambrian Explosion, from SkepticWiki

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.

Evolution and Disease, from
Genetics Demystified, page 151. By Edward Willett
Beneficial Mutation, by Ningthoujam Sandhyarani. From
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.

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.

The Cambrian Period: An Explosion of Life, from
Trilobites, from C&J Fossils.
Frequently Asked Questions About Evolution, from
Embryo Fossils Reveal Animal Complexity 10 Million Years Before Cambrian Explosion, from
Origins of Trilobites by S.M. Gon III. From
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
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.

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
Universality of the Flood, by Greg Neyman. From
THE GENESIS FLOOD: The Biblical Argument for its local extent, by J. Reed. From J. Reed’s Christian Expositions.

UPDATED: December 23, 2010