Defending Evolution from ID Distortions

Posts tagged “Kent Hovind

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


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.