Defending Evolution from ID Distortions

Posts tagged “Intelligent Design

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:


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.


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.


Debates Between Scientists and Creationists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Devoluton and an Evolutionary “Ladder”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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