Defending Evolution from ID Distortions

Posts tagged “Creationists

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.

References:

Recommended Reading:


Michael bans Olorin, and then Eelco

A while ago, on a post dated on June, I challenged Michael to answer certain questions about the irreducibly of the bacterial flagellum. I issued it after he banned  Olorin, a constant, critical commentator on his blog. Eelco, another commentator on the blog then took Michael to task for banning him, and I followed suit. Sometime after I published my post in which I presented my challenge, Olorin was allowed to comment again. Well and good, right? Well, not quite, since afterwards, Michael then seemed to have banned Eelco this time. — Olorin then asked him if he did ban him, to which he responded,

Why is it when certain liberals cut and paste numerous postings it’s not spam, but when someone else does it, it is…? I can ban as many IPs as it takes, I make no distinctions…

This was a question I found pretty ridiculous considering that Michael decided to wave around the “liberal” label, and claim there was a double standard. Truthfully, I found it ridiculous because I’m personally not even a “Liberal.” I am a Moderate Christian, and a Conservative leaning Libertarian. All-in-all, I’m a bit right of center. I don’t know how Olorin and Eelco stand on everything, though.

The “numerous cut and paste postings” that Michael mentions are the questions that Eelco has posed to Michael continually, not wanting him to forget them. They’re about:

(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.

My comments here come into play:

  • Question #1 is the least important, at least to me, though I have a nagging suspicion that the answer is “not much.”
  • Question #2 is the one I want most to answer of the four, but a simple reading of his blog leads me to belive that this answer is “none.”
  • Question #3 was actually one that Michael should have answered a long time ago. — On a blog post from July 31, 2009, he promised he would write a book-review of Signature in the Cell. It’s been a year since, and we are all still waiting.
  • I’ll let question #4 go for now since I don’t know what the question here is.

Anyway, Eelco constantly posted his questions to Michael who constantly pretended they weren’t there, and the more Michael ignored them, the more often they were posted. I guess Michael got tired of them, since he used the constant cut and paste as a rationale for banning him.

My bone with Michael cannot be that he banned someone per se, though it does give off the impression that he doesn’t like opposition to his views. But I did take issue with his saying that he makes “no distinctions” on the IPs he bans. I then challenged him saying,

Since you say you make no distinctions, then answer me this: Name me one Creationist/Intelligent Design proponent that you have banned from commenting.

This should be a simple thing to answer. — Oh well, I never got an answer, and I cannot base any conclusion based on that.

Eelco was able to post a couple of comments from another IP he had and predicted that he would be banned from there as well. It seems he was right, since he has not appeared on Michael’s blog since. Eelco, as far as I can see, did nothing that warrants being blocked, and I can see no reason for Michael to do it, besides the fact that Eelco (who actually has scientific credentials) spent a lot of time showing how Michael (who seemingly doesn’t) is talking about issues he doesn’t understand. Personally, I’m starting to wonder if I am next.

— Michael, if you are reading this, do yourself a favor. You can redeem yourself somewhat by lifting Eelco’s ban. Your blocking him does nothing to help your image, and it only adds to the perception that Creationists use “Stalinist” tactics on their blogs to silence dissent. Not to mention, you are cutting down your stat numbers by banning him. Also. for the love of God, just answer his questions. They’ll only go away after.


Creationists: Inherent Quote Miners?

Currently, I am having an argument with a Creationist -that goes by the title CreationByDesign–  on Michael’s blog who confuses Lamarck’s theories with modern Evolutionary theory, that is, he is repeating the same old uninformed misinformation that Evolution is a chain or a ladder with “higher” and “lower” forms, which it isn’t. Darwin’s theory of Evolution is based on a tree of life, not a chain. I then quoted Darwin’s own words: “It is absurd to talk of one animal being higher than another.” — To that , linked some papers in which scientists used the terms “more evolved” and “less evolved” and then made the claim that either these scientists were wrong, or Darwin was.

If that was all, I wouldn’t be posting this. But, in the comments we were posting, he was cherry-picking and selectively quoting me, which has lead me to assume that 1) either he has bad reading comprehension, or 2) he is dishonest and a typical quote-miner.

A response I gave him was,

I don’t know what would posses a scientist to talk about “more” or “less” evolved except to simplify it for people who do not understand how evolution works (like people like you and Michael).

Sounds reasonable, no? Well, he later quoted only the first half of this as,

I don’t know what would posses a scientist to talk about “more” or “less” evolved …..

Convenient, huh? And then he knocked down the incomplete quote saying,

Yes, I can see that you don’t know. I posted excerpts from 5 peer-reviewed scientific publications which used the terminology “more evolved”.

Well, nice. Except, read the rest which adds, ” . . . . except to simplify it for people who do not understand how evolution works (like people like you and Michael).” — Get that? I wasn’t actually saying I didn’t know why!! I was giving the reason why Scientists would do such a thing. — Scientists use over-simplified terms all the time for the benefit of laypeople, for example, for public understanding, they call dinosaurs “reptiles,” even though they weren’t really reptiles. And they also call ancestral mammals “mammal-like reptiles,” even though that term is also misleading. Mammals evolved from Synapsids, not reptiles, though they are superficially like them.

Well, anyway, he accused me of changing my story, saying

You previously claimed: “The term “more evolved” has no place in actual science …

So, you made the claim that the term itself is not found in actual science. When I refuted that, you now change your story.

Hmmm, well, lets see if I really did change my story. In the comment he first replied to, I said,

I don’t know what would posses a scientist to talk about “more” or “less” evolved except to simplify it for people who do not understand how evolution works (like people like you and Michael).

Now, if they mean “more advanced” then that is another story, because that would mean creatures that are not primitive. — Sponges would be considered “primitive” BUT that is only because they appeared before we did. They are not “less” evolved then we are, and we are not “more” evolved than sponges.

And then, in the second one I said,

It depends on what they mean. If they simply mean “primitive,” then the story is different, since sponges are considered primitive because they are considered one of the first animals to appear. HOWEVER sponges are not “higher” or “lower”

We are not “more” evolved than Homo habilis, or Australopithecines, . . even though they are “primitive” in the sence they existed before we did.

Now, tell me. How are these “stories” different from each other? As someone who has a university reading level, I see no difference at all. — And as for my “claim” that terms like “more” evolved do not belong in modern science, I stand by that. Such usage is unfortunate oversimplification and distorts the actual scientific view of Evolutionary theory, and I have support to back myself  from scientists themselves. 

Keven Padian and Kenneth Angielczyk, in their essay entitled “‘Transitional forms’ verses Transitional Features” say,

Although a ladderlike image of evolution remains common in the popular media, scientists have long realized that such a concept is simplistic and innaccurate. Instead of resembling a ladder, the evolution of life is more similar to a branching bush.

And also, Donald R. Prothero in his book  says:

But life is not a ladder, and there are no such things as “higher” or “lower” organisms. . . .The first time Biologists hear this question, they are puzzled because it seems to make no sense whatsoever — until they realize this creationist is still using concepts that were abandoned over 200 years ago.

Prothero is considered one of the leading evolutionary scientists in the country, so to say he doesn’t know what he is talking about is like telling a top military commander he knows nothing about the army.

Well, anyway, I already showed that this Creationist twisted my words in a quote while leaving out the second half which rendered his criticism of me irrelevant. And his claim that I changed my story if flat wrong, which can be checked by anyone who decides to read the comments I left  on Michael’s post. — Quite frankly, this isn’t even the first time this same guy (it was CbD, not Michael) selectively quoted me when we had a discussion. When we were talking about the flagellum, he selectively took down what could be considered the “weaker” points of my arguments while completely ignoring the portions I really wanted him to take down. In my view, the statements he tried taking down were more irrelevant than anything else.

[That particular conversation was partially why I issued my flagellum challenge to Michael a while ago. . . one he still hasn’t adequately met, though he gave a feeble attempt . . .]

Oh well, perhaps his reading comprehension sucks, and therefore he didn’t mean to quote-mine me. . .

But then again, it does seem Creationists are inherent quote miners, since there are many examples of dishonest quotes taken by Creationists.

References:
Scientists Confront Creationism: Intelligent Design and Beyond, page 205
Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters, page 125. By Donald R. Prothero.

Further Reading:
Devolution and an Evolutionary “ladder”


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.

References:
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.

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


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.