Evolution, the Debate

This month in American Spectator they staged an Evolution Theory debate. That’s OK with me.

The Darwin evolutionary theory of random mutations and selection is a mechanism that cannot work in the real world of living things that are composed of chemicals to include base pairs on a spiral skeleton structure of phosphate and sugars called DNA. DNA is the core of genes.

I’ll bet that random mutation with selection doesn’t get us to what we are, you bet what you like.

So the American Spectator set up the debate, why not.

JunkScience.com aficionados are up for it–one of the great debates for sure.

(I got a dog in this fight because I know enough to know that random mutations of base pairs with selection ain’t gonna get us to bacteria, ricketsia, protozoans, ants, wasps, moths, praying mantises, crocodiles, pythons, tortoises, hawks, wrens, elephants,wolves, horses, antelopes, apes, and humans in the time allotted, and I don’t know the mechanism that might have created this functional complexity. I am not a creationist.)

On one side of the debate is Stephen Meyer, a PhD (Cambridge) in the history of science, on the other side is a strong Darwinist, journalist, essayist and polemicist, John Derbyshire, who most would consider a fair hand at argument and debate, even if he is a little weak on basic science.

But it’s not a fair fight as you will see by reading the text linked below. Derbyshire can’t get past name calling and strawman arguments.

Stephen Meyer presents an argument based on scientific analysis of the question of mutation/selection with an ample consideration of what is known to be true about cellular molecular biochemistry and genetics. He doesn’t talk about God or Genesis, at all.

Meyer asks the reasonable question, can the random mutation/selection theory work at the biochemical and genetic level, given a limit in time and the nature of random shuffling of genetic material to make specific and complex, functional proteins.

Derbyshire devotes his space to–oh, nothing here but creationist bunkum, and creationist bible belters, disregard. I met em, I examined them, they are kooky religionists, and there’s nothing to consider in these arguments they make. Sneer, sneer.

This “debate” was not a debate on science and analysis of possibilities, and it is emblematic of the nonsense that I see all the ime on design. As soon as possible the evolutionists turn any debate on design into a debate about the bible or the creationist hokum.

If someone on the design side presents a science or logic or probability/possibility argument based on accepted and known biomolecular science, the response is that the arguments are just cover for biblical creationism. You know 7 days, that’s it.

The evolution side frames the argument to create a maximum advantage for ad hominem and mendacious sneering and snarkyness. Elitism does not abide by a departure from the canon and their tolerance for “religious nuts” keeps any serious argument on design from occurring, even with people who propose design without a religious “taint.”

http://spectator.org/articles/57159/does-intelligent-design-provide-plausible-account-lifes-origins

Recently I read a silly, and I mean silly devotional piece on Richard Dawkins by a guy named David Dobbs. Dobbs can’t stop praising Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene that is symptomatic of the problem. He thinks Dawkins hung the moon, and I think Dawkins hung a whole lot less in his expansive and very confident book that provides nothing close to convincing arguments to nullify the questions raised by the design people. Dawkins just asserts that it works because the genes make it work. I say these are simple chemical molecules and they have no innate sense of anything except to be molecules.

http://aeon.co/magazine/nature-and-cosmos/why-its-time-to-lay-the-selfish-gene-to-rest/

The guy Dobbs almost swoons and collapses talking about the magic of vision and eloquence of Richard Dawkins, but I am not impressed.

Dawkins’ book is wishful thinking at best. He thinks that chemicals know what they want to do to move evolution along? PUULEEEEZ.

Derbyshire complains that design advocates haven’t been involved in the basic research on evolution. My position is that the design people have been focusing on the question of how to interpret the evidence we have and the science that is settled.

Richard Dawkins has filled up pages with his theory and argument that goes like this–no fossils for intermediate forms, evolution works, no explanation for how evolution moves forward and produces more and better functional organism, no problem, I invented the selfish gene, evolution works.

It is probably not fair to put Derbyshire in the position of arguing that design theorists are wrong, since he cannot deal with the arguments at all.

But can Dawkins? Not from what I have seen.

I am not a bible belter, young earth creationist. I just know the complexity of living things and I have no clue how the mutation/selection theory could possibly make the complex proteins essential to life by random variation and selection in the alloted time for mutational variances. Period.

Meyer takes the time to show that there isn’t enough deep time since the big bang to make the mutations that would produce the complex proteins for an armadillo, or a human. For damn sure.

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43 responses to “Evolution, the Debate

  1. First, I believe that God created the universe and everything in it.

    With that as my premise, I find the pursuit of figuring out the method — by which His Creation is constructed and advances through time — to be absolutely delightful to follow. For me, it is painful to watch people getting dogmatic about the pursuit because either (a) admitting to design evidence makes vulnerable the adamant belief that there is no God or (b) admitting to genetic variation evidence makes vulnerable the belief that God could never use such a method.

    Science can only advance by dumb luck when the investigators have a dog in the fight — like a need to try to prove God is, or isn’t — because that dog’s snarling either focuses attention where it is not useful, or blinds the eye to something right in plain sight.

    That said, I agree with the author: simple, mildly reactive molecules can’t organize into anything outside their binding space. Something bigger, with the information of the organism’s structure embedded, must be there to construct DNA.

    Either that, or figure out how to find the strands that work out of the nearly uncountable ones that don’t, as the bad ones consume resources with no living result.

    I usually quip about it this way: Remember all those monkeys and typewriters? Well, let’s say they always type every word of The Tempest perfectly, every time, except for the last 20 characters. Then, being quite liberal about it, there would be a “good” to “bad” ratio of 2.0E28 to 1. Even when they did type a good copy, how would you ever find it among all the litter and monkey poop, even assuming you had enough paper and typewriters and monkeys to get the job done?

    But the hunt is wonderful, isn’t it, when you can just relax and be satisfied with whatever result science delivers?

  2. Anyone who doubts evolution has only to take a walk down the Grand Canyon (with their eyes open, of course).

  3. John you are exactly right I can’t understand how intelligent people can BELIEVE life happens with fortuitous mutations (accidents) and a whole lot of luck.

  4. JUNKSCIENCE is well named.

    Most of the issues discussed in this blog were have been debated by biologists since the 1930′s. S. J. Gould and Niles Eldredge recounted the revolution in the Darwinian theory of evolution that followed the development of genetics. The development of evolutionary theory is ongoing. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niles_Eldredge

    Whether or not Darwin’s original theory was valid is really no more relevant to modern science than whether or not Galileo’s theory was valid. Both theories have been developed so far beyond the originator’s theory that both Darwin’s theory of evolution and Galileo’s theory of the cosmos are subjects for historians of science, not subject for modern scientists working in the fields of genetics and evolutionary theory.

    Did Einstein refute Newton? And do modern physicists spend time disputing whether or not Newton’s theories are valid? If you want to get a grant to do such work, you apply for a grant to do history, not science. If you want a grant to study Darwin’s theory of evolution you apply for a grant to do history, not genetics or biology.

    Attacking Darwin’s theory of evolution today is to create a straw-man just for the fun of knocking him down. The reason is simple: genetics and evolutionary theory no longer rely on Charles Darwin’s theory as set out in his writings.

    Attacking Darwinian theory is neither history or science. It’s junk science.

    • Dare you to read what Meyer has to say and be so confident. He just explains that complex functional proteins essential to living things cannot be the product of random mutations. Pretty simple.

      Evolution takes two obvious things, all living things are carbon based, and there is plenty of diversity with some similarities, and it posits a bad mechanism for how it happened, actually the mutation part was grafted onto Darwin’s observational theory.

      • Argument from incredulity. Just because he can’t imagine it doesn’t make it impossible.

        As I have said before, if you want to kill evolution, you are going to have to come up with a better theory.

        God poofed it all isn’t a theory.

        Additionally, your challenges to evolution are intellectually dishonest. You aren’t interested in a discussion of evolution; there is nothing that could be said to change your mind. As Mr. Colbourne says, you are creating a staw-man for sport. There is no reason to try to refute your claims, because you will just trot out a hundred more.

        “Evolution can’t be true because of WHATEVER” does not explain the diversity of life on earth.

  5. Thank you.

    I got into this when I was a young adult, newly married. My wife had been raised Jehovah’s Witness, and while she’d sloughed off their teachings, she retained a stubborn belief that evolution was seriously flawed. I attempted to convince her otherwise, but she pointed out that all my arguments were coming from textbooks. So I started going to the source material.

    For the next couple of years I spent many hours in research libraries and the archaeological library of the ROM pouring over the records of fossil digs and countless first-hand documents. And each time the scientists got to the point of explaining exactly how it happened (often after seeming to delight in pointing out how impossible it was), their answer boiled down to, “It just did.”

    Over the years I’ve attempted to ask evolutionists about some of the problems only to be met with personal attacks and accusations of being a religious nut. (I’m not, damn it!)

    Anyway, when I first saw the opening part of this post in my email I opened it with a feeling of dread, figuring I was in for yet another moronic attack on anyone who questions the theory — I mean after all, this is an excellent science blog, and science blogs aren’t known for questioning the evolutionary doctrine.

    So thank you, again.

  6. If you don’t believe in mutations or evolution, just spend a few hours with a dog-breeder.

    • Intra species variation is what Darwin was observing, but he never mastered the inter species differences. So dog or horse or pigeon breeding doesn’t provide evidence for the process. Selective intra species breeding is what it is.

      • “Species” is a fallacious concept that antedates the theory of evolution and was rendered useless by it. You can’t use it in a reasoned argument because it is not well-defined. The moment you attempt to give it a precise definition, you will begin to see how little sense there is in the “intra species” vs “inter species” arguments.

        No meaningful debate is possible until all parties understand what they are debating.

  7. Westchester Bill

    One of the animal documentaries on PBS covered a mother alligator as she protected her nest where she had deposited many eggs. Her nastiness to those approaching her looked like the protection of her young. It’s the mother’s thing. The investigators in the film took the eggs from the nest and put them in front of mother alligator. She returned to her nest ignoring her eggs and showed no interest in the people doing a hat dance on her eggs. Creatures who defend territory will defend their eggs as a corollary. What seems like determined action is just the result of the dynamics of life. That is what baffles people; dynamic actions seem purposeful. The dynamic need to procreate leads to love and family. That’s great and the existence of God is totally unnecessary. And when the relationship sours, the mother of your children will do a hat dance on your scrotum.

  8. Science, properly conceived should seek to answer basic questions such as the origin of life. What distinguishes science from creationism is how one defines the proper starting point for the investigation. I think it’s fine (even necessary) to question evolutionary theory. What I think is inappropriate is to start with a preconceived notion of a creator and force fit scientific observations into a creation model. This is the same technique the catastrophic climate advocates take, i.e. start with a model or theory and bend the facts to support the model. Science necessarily starts at first principles. Until a common epistemological frame of reference can be agreed upon the usefulness of evolution or creation debates is dubious.

  9. The problem with the creation/ID/evolution debate is that both sides approach it with great religious fervor. It tends to move the debate away from science.

    My post doctoral research was in organic stereochemistry (chiral micellar catalysis) in the lab of a chemist studying the chemical basis of creation. One of the results of experiments in that lab showed that peptides made from racemic mixtures of amino acids tended to become chiral and stereo selective if they get long enough. Chemically, life is chiral (optically active), so it may be a reasonable assumption that the formation of chiral peptides could be a precursor to life. The problem is that the laboratory reactions can’t be done outside a flask. These results are about 4 decades old and I really haven’t followed creation chemistry, so I don’t know where they are now. However, I have some doubt about the combinatorial argument that it couldn’t happen.

    Evolution is better debated without creation. The lab notes on creation are rather vague and laboratory reproduction of the event hasn’t quite been successful. At the current state of the art, you need to die to find out and there have been few reports from those folks and none addressing the question in great detail.

    It appears that the theory of evolution does a better job of explaining the observations than the theory of intelligent design. As for the “jumps” in ID, we seem to be finding new stuff each year, so all that is known about the distant past is not static. However, both sides seem to work with theories that can’t be falsified. So, I guess I’ll have to wait for the ultimate proof.

  10. Evolution is not a theory, it is a concept. The definition is so murky that it cannot be discussed without multitudinous caveats. Are we talking about single-ancestor theory? If so, are we certain life can only spontaneously arise from one single set of circumstances? What’s to say that it didn’t happen more than once with different evolutionary lines stemming from each? Too much of the Great Evolution Debate is little more than narratives and suppositions masquerading as fact. The idea has been hijacked by anti-creation atheists as a tool to fight the spread of theistic religions. If you drop the false dichotomy that either evolution or creation is true you have a much better chance of being scientific in your analysis.

    Incredible statistics about the complexity of life are meaningless. Just because there is a 1:1000 chance of something occurring doesn’t mean it won’t occur on the first try. There is no time element of improbability.

    Selective breeding is proof of nothing more than that an intelligent being is capable of intervening in population genetics. Generally selective breeding and natural selection remove genetic potential from a population. An increase in biodiversity requires an addition of new genetic potential to a population.

    Survival of the fittest is an antiquated notion foisted upon modern evolutionists by people arguing against them. A mutation does not need to be advantageous to survive. It merely needs to not be so disadvantageous that it prevents reproduction. This is best illustrated by the difference in outcome between albinos in forests and albinos in caves.

    Creationism is not an argument about how genetic populations have changed over the years, but rather an argument about starting point. Perhaps god created a bunch of animals that then went on to diversify through natural selection. There’s no way to disprove this possibility.

    The problem here is that neither side is secular. The same facts are used as “evidence” by both sides. Even if full blown, indisputable life were created in a lab, it still wouldn’t prove what happened in the past. Creationists will merely point out that what you have empirically proven is that an intelligent being can create life. Proving something can happen is not proof that it did happen. Even if a thousand years from now we have solid empirical evidence of genetic lines meandering from fully aquatic to fully land-based, it still will not prove that that this has happened before. At some point the element of faith becomes a factor. Until a time machine is invented, neither creation nor single-ancestor evolution will enter the realm of fact.

    Theism and atheism are equally impossible to prove or disprove. The same is true of their conscripted theories concerning the origins of life. It is wrong to say that an alternate theory needs to be presented in order to disprove or cast doubt on a standing theory. In real science there is no shame in the accurate admission that we simply do not, and perhaps cannot know.

  11. Christianity is not a closed system; it is in fact very open to the scientific approach concerning things that can be quantified, not?

    “A hypothesis that cannot be falsified by empirical observations is not science. The current hypothesis on anthropogenic global warming (AGW), presented by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is no exception to this principle. Indeed, it is the job of scientists to expose the weaknesses of this hypothesis …” (William DiPuccio)

    However, you can’t quantify morals. I think Christianity has done a lot of good work in the area of falsifying ideas that do not lend themselves to an empirical or logical analysis. The Leftist-libs would throw all of that good work away even though they have no good substitute for what has been lost.

    Ayn Rand the atheist is an enigma. For example, you would not say that Rand’s Ellsworth Toohey is “not evil, just wrong.” On the contrary: Toohey is more like the devil than just a ideologically-driven Leftist, commie, atheist.

    Whereas, isn’t the architect, Howard Rourke probably also an atheist that could as easily be Hermann Hesse’s monk, Joseph Knecht? In may ways, Jesus would not be much different than a Howard Roark, despite the fact that the ideas of capitalism, determinedness, individual liberty, self-responsibility and uncompromising devotion to inner truth has never been confused with a religion.

    Interestingly, the Left—primarily socialist and anti-capitalist—considers Rand’s brand of atheism a cult. Their antipathy to Rand rings rather hollow to me when I also hear them cry that atheism is not a religion.

    Atheism may be the disbelieving in a particular god — disbelieving in any and all gods — but, belief and disbelief do not stop right there. Atheology certainly is not beyond good and evil and the atheist would agree with that, e.g., I am sure they would say there are good atheists and there must be bad atheists.

    You don’t seem to get that with Leftist-libs. Any Leftist is a good Leftist. And what is good when all truth is relative. And, what is any truth but that which serves the Leftists’ objectives.

    So perhaps atheists feel that they can lay claim to a higher principle than what we see with the Leftist-libs. Even so, the faith of the atheist stops at the feet of the gods, and the atheist dares not look up.

    Atheists are afraid to face Darwin’s dilemma. Many of the questions Christianity attempts to answer have been answered by 1,000s of years of human experience. Nevertheless, all of the traditions of the past shall be burned at the stake of atheology because the Darwinians feel science has proven that ancient wisdom is no longer needed.

    Atheists must ask again and answer anew all questions about if a life of inevitable existence, the result of amoral preference and without consequence, can provide a sound basis from which any rational, predictable moral response from the individual can or even should be expected. What we see with atheology is that it inevitably leads to nihilism.

    Although morality can be looked at objectively, I question the practicality of that approach based on the obvious unpredictability of the result.

    And, what is to be gained by now adding mere conjecture to enigmas and conundrums such as an atheist’s belief that morality is simply hard-wired into human DNA?

    That is as silly a notion as saying Leftists believe humans are born to share. Such conclusions about human nature — by either atheists or Leftists — would have to be called beliefs not scientific facts. Atheists and Leftists are simply giving new gods a new name.

    So, let’s talk about Darwinian evolution taking a further step down the rabbit hole. Aren’t we going from a theory of immortal, mutable, random, cumulative, synergistic chemical reactions, resulting in ever more complex biological systems and finally arriving at beings that simply exist for their own sake?

    Doesn’t the latter part of such Darwinian evolution sound a lot like capitalism? However, in a Darwinian scheme of things, we must also believe that such Darwinian beings also are programmed to think that they know how they should exist? This does not seem at all like Ayn Rand’s free will. And, it does not seem like the free will that any atheist would argue for either.

    For example, when does a legal argument about when a fertilized egg becomes a human, or at what point in time feticide leaves off and infanticide begins, can it be said that this is a matter of morality that is hard-wired into the DNA of all humans? And, who seriously would believe that science impels us to come face to face with these issues?

    Obviously, answers to the above questions may be found in applying situational ethics. How much confidence, however, shall we invest in answers to complex problems that have been “freed” from 1,000s of years of human experience?

    Shall we substitute the will of moderns empowered by society at a point in time, and coalitions of convenience, and of special interests, and a simple consensus of opinion, unbound from past conventions and future ramifications? Isn’t this the very environment where it is more not less likely to result in the ultimate slavery?

    Isn’t it an inescapable consequence for being unrepresented (like the unborn fetus) — and subject to the will of a fluid and perhaps superstitious majority — that oftentimes, the truth will be sacrificed for the ‘good’ of others instead of the truth being esteemed for its own sake?

  12. Ok ok, as Joe Pesce would say, this is fun.

    The Grand Canyon is a deep hole in sediment rock and proves that the earth is old. It is an inspiring thing, but It provides no information on mutation and selection current theory.

    Moreover, and more important, the Grand Canyon does provide evidence of the eons and that the age of the earth can be estimated or guesstimated.

    However, for those who read the Meyer piece he allowed for the random mutation to produce complex functionality to the estimated time from the big bang, so he gave the process the max time for the life of this universe we know and it still isn’t enough time to randomly build complex proteins necessary for life, Proteins with specific sequencing and amino acids in that sequence that have to be right or left.

    The numbers are incomprehensible for randomly shuffling codons to get a functional 200 amino acid protein, and there are many proteins and they all have to be there for the living organism to work, all of it.

    I will pass on explaining why consensus and intellectual passion should not be substituted for evaluating the process of genetic generation of RNA that causes organelles in the cell to make the critical long and complex functional anatomic and enzymatic proteins.

    As for throwing around creationism, talk about an irritating strawman for me, I am focused on the mechanical and chemical processes and the business of random shuffling of genetic material that somehow gets to functionality, and the evolutionist says–you are just a bible belting ignoramus and evolution is settled science.

    Meyer talks process and randomness, and protein synthesis and the evolutionists say “creationist” and dismiss the argument–that’s not a good debate.

    Dog breeders are not the place to study evolution,anymore than it was a good idea for Darwin to assume he understood how phyla were on a branching tree from what he saw in intraspecies modifications. Great Danes and Dachshunds do not prove up evolution, any more than Arabians and Clydesdales.

    I was told by one writer that I had an olden time concept of species. Species were now an anachronistic concept that was supplanted by evolutionary theory. Species is defined as a group of animals or plants that are similar and can produce young animals or plants : a group of related animals or plants that is smaller than a genus. Darwin recognized genus and species was a philologist for sure, but he didn’t know cellular biochem and ultra structure or genetics, so he was at a disadvantage.

    We can all agree that as compared to the Borg we are carbon based units and we share genetic material with all other living things. After that it gets pretty fuzzy.

    I think Meyer asked the right questions and created the time and space and material questions that make the Darwin Evolutionary theory less than a cinch for sure and arguably a failure.

    Dawkins selfish gene is a magical concept that posits that chemicals know that they are doin’ and evolution to high complexity is driven by some internal energy that overcomes the problems of getting all those complex functional proteins, cellular structures, organs and organisms lined up to work all at the right time.

    One last item. i was unclear on the other element of the Darwinian theory that has cache’ even today. Fitness. My example, not properly completed in an incomplete comment, is that cows are not fit and many other surviving animals, insects, reptiles, fish and other species are not fit by any objective standard, they are fit because they survive. They survive because they are fit. The test is their presence on the earth and they are not extinct, but I do believe everyone can think of species that aren’t fit in that they are vulnerable, so they survive and they are fit. How they came to be what they are and survive creates our tautology. They are fit because they survived.

    Why, for goodness sake, should some of the complex creatures be here and how did they come to be complex functioning things. I have 3 perfectly made dogs and 3 perfectly made horses and there are many perfectly made deer in my pasture along with whatever else is out there, insect, bird, mammal, and the magnitude and complexity of that array of complex life challenges anyone to propose that a random shuffling of genetic material would do such a thing perfectly–where are all the monsters–more importantly, where are all the intermediate forms?

    I think it’s fascinating. I feel sorry for self described evolutionary scientists who see evolution everywhere, like sociological evolutionists–really? I know Aristotle is as sophisticated as me so the scale is wrong for that one, societies evolve? Oh yeah, like they evolved the Nazis, but no doubt increased populations and specialization and cities certainly involved evolution from hunter gatherer to city dweller specialists that resulted in trade and such social things as come from city life.

    Are we as a species evolving? Those old fossils say over time, but is that intraspecies, like digging up a Great Dane and a Boxer?

    I enjoy the uncertainty and the mystery, and I think to say we have the answer of complex functionality and how it came to be is a little bit of hope and a lot of confidence. I prefer humility. I was humbled to see the Grand Canyon for the first time, or the picture of the earth from the moon orbit, and I am humbled to take care of humans who make my job easier because of all the complex feedback systems that provide for equilibrium. Imagine if the human body was like what the climate modelers claim the climate is–we’d all be going into the ditch all the time and practicing medicine would be impossible, like stopping a runaway train.

  13. Darwin’s key to variation was not mutation. Indeed he believed that a mutation would rarely be an element in natural selection because the bearer of the mutation would stand (depending on species) 90% chance of being eaten rather than reproducing.
    Darwin believed that small changes, well within the bounds of inheritance (he knew nothing of DNA itself, of course), would cause some individuals in a species to have an advantage over others, or have an advantage within a niche perhaps. The individuals that varied in that direction would tend to accumulate the change in that direction.
    From a genetic viewpoint, something that Darwin had only the earliest glimpses of, the DNA would at some point be so different from a similar species that the animals could no longer reproduce.
    Darwin illustrates this partly by showing that many traits do show fine gradations among existing wild species, gradations that fit each variety or species for its niche. That fit is always precarious. If descendants have some change that promotes breeding, the descendants eventually replace the parent species.
    It doesn’t all work exactly this way, but Darwin’s key points have been validated by pretty nearly all work since his day. We can produce wide variation by breeding, although as far as I know we’ve never broken out a dog breed that can’t breed with other dogs. We can trace similarities between different genera — foxes are not dogs but clearly share traits, so we believe they share ancestors. We see varieties with gradations even now — the grey wolf, the red wolf, the coyote, the domestic dog, are defined as separate species but can all interbreed. Recent evidence shows grizzly bear and polar bear DNA mixed in some animals, meaning these two species are more closely related than was thought and perhaps meaning that they are still separating genetically.

    • There’s a huge problem with meandering definitions in this debate. For instance, we can artificially inseminate a great dane with sperm from a shi tzu, but can they successfully interbreed in the wild? Could the mother and pups survive if we inseminated the other way around? Recently biologists have changed the definition of species to mean animals that do reproduce in the wild rather than those that genetically could. That makes it easier for them to claim speciation has occurred in a lab and is a great boon to environmentalists that seek to add animals to the endangered species list. Any animal on an island is automatically a different species than the one on the mainland. Of course the new definition is muddied by the momentum of the old categories. For example, we haven’t reclassified dogs. Evolution is proven fact if, of course, you mean to say that breeding populations will exhibit shifts in dominant variations within genetic potential over time. If, on the other hand, you say that the line of variation over time can be extended out indefinitely into the past without limit, then not so much. The current narratives may be engaging, but there are still too many holes to consider them conclusive. Common ancestry as a creation myth relies just as much faith as any other creation myth.

  14. Its not proteins, its RNA that seems to have started things off. To get life, you need a molecule that has the ability to self replicate and to catalyse reactions. RNA can do this though not very well. The earth seemed to be cool enough for habitation about 4.5 billion years ago. The estimates for the first organism are about 4 billion. The random and not so random chemistries occurred in that 1/2 billion years. Much speculation on how things got started have been proposed. Having taught a course on microbial ecology for the last 15 years, I have been pondering the possibilities. I think that in the primative earth, when water was not abundant, many complex molecules were formed from lightning discharges and some radiation. As water vapor was outgassed and formed oceans. the action may have moved to the deep sea, especially hydrothermal vents. Now we have high pressure to prevent boiling and large gradients between hot and cold. More random reactions form primative nucleotides which polymerize to a primative RNA. This material can fold and form primative active sites for biochemical reactions. It can also fold on itself forming a double helix needed for self replication. Near a deep sea vent, the gradient between hot and cold allows for many unfoldings and refoldings, not unlike the PCR of today.. A half billion years of this and you may get that magic piece of RNA that can replicate and catalize an energy procuring reaction. The rest is left to your speculation and imagination. The chemistries of carbon, nitrogen phophorus and sulfur are all compatable to form these proto life macromolecules. As far as creation goes, The creator’s genious may well be all the wealth of atoms allowing these reactions to occur.

    • “The rest is left to your speculation and imagination.”

      The first part was all speculation and imagination. That’s the problem with paleobiology. Give me any three random events and I can come up with a theory about how they are interrelated. Narratives of possible mechanisms are not proof of anything more than the human minds ability to use imagination to create relationships that aren’t there.

    • the RNA solution was killed by the simple fact that there is no non cellular source of RNA.

  15. I would like to make an observation, which may-or-may-not be relevant. Ever since I was a child (lo, these many years), every few years someone makes headlines by declaring that they are about to release to market a flying car. This has been going on for decades. We do not have flying cars commonly available (considering how some people drive, I am actually grateful for that). And, ever since I was a child (again, lo, these many years), every few years someone makes headlines by declaring that they are about to create life out of inert materials. We do not have any new life, or old life, or any type of life, that has been made from inert materials.
    So what does that mean? It simply means that we really don’t know how life started on this world (and no fair talking about space aliens dropping us off, because then where did they get started?). For now, life creates life, and the new life is very much like whatever life created it. Whether by design or accident, life finds a way.
    We sometimes forget that the error bars on what we know, those bars far overshadow what we do know. We are standing on the shoulders of giants, and yet we cannot pierce the shadows with our gaze. Let’s all do a group hug and stop arguing about something that none of us understand. It will all eventually get sorted out.
    Now, about those flying cars . . .

    • Janice, your observation about the error bars on what we know is certainly relevant, and it reminds me of another sage observation that my father passed to me from one of his mentors, who noted that the frontier between our knowledge and the unknown grows and becomes more complex and intimidating as we acquire new knowledge.

      Inevitably, because the acquisition of knew knowledge can be a strenuous endeavour, some of us end up understanding more than others. Some, frighteningly more.

  16. This discussion is blooming in too many directions at once to respond to all, so let’s focus on the key issue.

    Randomness is one. The way it is used in the age-of-the-universe analysis is beyond faulty. Randomness is a mathematical phantom that does not apply to life. It does not even apply to computers. Just ask any cryptographer how difficult it is to achieve randomness in the real world. To them, it is always “pseudo-randomness” of varying quality. In life, the variations we observe are not even pseudo-random, they are not random at all. We did not have to go through all possible combinations of letters in the code to get where we are now, simply because most of the mathematically possible combinations are not allowed in the physical world. Some are constrained by the specificity of interactions involved in maintaining and reading the code, some by the shape of the container it is packed into, some by the shape and other properties of the product. To give you a sense of how far beyond the pale the naive mathematical reasoning is, consider that out of 340+ protein residues in flu haemagglutinin sequence, mutations at only 7 (possibly 9) loci have been linked to virulence; all mutations we see at other loci appear to be synonymous.

    So mathematics and information theory are irrelevant, at least when applied in such a ham-handed way. Mutations are not random, they are heavily constrained. We these constraints in place, it is possible that we are not the first life on earth. It could have appeared and disappeared multiple times in the geologic time frame.

    The next issue that is being stubbornly brought up is the idea that if the theory of evolution was valid, we would be seeing new forms of life (they invariable use the word “species”) emerge as we speak. But we do see that.

    It is not even an argument from incredulity, because many of those people from whom we hear this argument, now including our host John, cannot even claim ignorance in the matter.

    I want to focus John’s attention on the anatomic variations of human thoracic outlet — the structure that he himself lead me to discover just a couple weeks ago (thank you immensely, John — I had lots of fun!)

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3101069/#s2title

    We can see possibly dozens of new “species” right there. These are not subtle style changes, such as brown iris or blue iris. These are significant design variants, some of which affect function. Here’s more of this type of variation in the hand, with the discussion of its functional significance.

    http://www.musicandhealth.co.uk/differences.html

    Of course, one is free to call these variants ungodly abnormalities, but doing so will not change the fact that they are widespread and persistent. And then, of all those variants that do not immediately cause illness or inconvenience, which ones are normal? The most frequently occurring one? What if there are two or more that are equally frequent? What’s up with those supernumerary ribs? One percent of the general population is not a small number. Even in the absence of data on the evolutionary history of human thorax, such a high frequency of occurrence tells me it must have persisted for at least a couple dozen generations. Is it a new species emerging? I guess we’ll know for sure a hundred generations later. With faster-breeding forms of life, you don’t need to wait as long. You do see them come and go, if you care to look.

    [lots of other issues, no time to address each]

    And finally, forget the big bang. It could only happen in a contrived mathverse. If we want to be rid of junk, we need to use the same principles in detecting it and in disposing of it, regardless of its origin. We see junk physics, junk cosmology, junk biology, junk medicine — no school of thought is free of junk. The only official discipline that makes itself indiscernible from junk is mathematics. No theory is too bizarre for a mathematician and any imaginable structure, form or algorithm can be of genuine interest. That’s why we can’t trust any ideas derived from mathematics.

    • Gene, I have supernumerary ribs, and have had problems all of my life with my thoracic outlet, resulting in a lot of pain in neck, shoulders, arms, and hands. I even passed this on to my four children. One of them is now a cyborg, having had special electrodes implanted in her back to manage the pain. This probably came through my Scandinavian heritage, and I do remember my father insisting that Scandinavians are the highest-level life form on the planet, so having extra ribs is obviously a sign of an advanced and viable genetic mutation. (do I really need to put in a /sarc off at this point?)
      Anyway, I was reminded a few weeks ago that humans share a good 57% of the same DNA that are in cabbages. Anyone who pays attention to our duly elected federal government officials is probably not surprised at that. But the reason for bringing this up is a remark that my husband made a few months ago. He is a guru computer programmer. He said that if someone went in and made just a few random changes to computer code, it most likely would not create a new viable software, it would probably just make the software stop working.
      Therefore, assuming that DNA works similar to computer code, any viable change from parent to child (DNA-wise) is not really creating a mutation, but simply activating, or de-activating, something that already exists in the DNA. We do appear to see dramatic changes in DNA of simple organisms, but we don’t see that in higher-order creatures (like Scandinavians). Which may be why we don’t see viable mutations of the higher-order creatures, because the systems are so complex and interactive that any dramatic change simply kills the creature. That may be why up to 20% of pregnancies end up as spontaneous abortions.

      • Janice, it hurts me to imagine how it hurts you and your daughter (I’m fresh out of several months of disability caused by nerve compression in the area of thoracic outlet). But, four children? Four? You must be a Super-Scandinavian! There must be some hidden advantage associated with this optional feature you’ve got.

        I wonder though, whether an ortho surgeon could devise a decompression strategy for your nerve, if such does not exist already. Have you considered that?

        The DNA does sort-of work similar to computer code of a very high level of abstraction, with a lot of indirection and delayed messaging. But it is not uniform in its sensitivity to errors. It is mostly robust to abuse, but there are other certain segments (like those coding for ribosomal RNA subunits), that can be rendered nonsensical with very small changes. The wisdom we get from this observation is that you can’t mess with the basic machinery — the stuff that all known life seems to have. It means it was good enough so long ago that no further improvements were necessary or even possible. Yes, we share a lot of code with cabbage, worms, yeast, and even bacteria. To reuse your husband’s computer code analogy, this good, solid stuff that we all share will be equivalent to the computer itself. While you can run all sorts of code on it, its basic architecture has remained unchanged since Von Neumann (unfortunately for computing, I must note). To further elaborate on this analogy and to make it more life-like, imagine that the malicious hacker who wants to break the code can only do so via a crippled keyboard that only allows him to move the insertion point (not necessarily where he wants it to go) and to insert a semicolon. Let’s say the code is c-like. In that case, not all of such random insertions will render the code meaningless — only those that break the syntax will. Some will do nothing, while others might change the execution path and lead to a different result, instead of aborting the code in the middle.

        Regarding pregnancy and spontaneous abortions, it appears that they are not so spontaneous, after all. “Spontaneous” is another word fraught with ambiguity, just like “randomness”. There is a system of complex interactions between the foetus and the mother; some are foetus-driven. Since the very early stages of development, they keep checking on each other, going through many distinct of go-no-go checkpoints. Even without external influences, such as infections, trauma and what not, any of these checkpoints can result in a preterm delivery. The more we learn about this mechanism, the more it appears that we only want super-high-qualty babies and that babies only want super-high-quality parents, and failing that, it’s a no-go. Humans are particularly demanding in that regard; we have additional quality controls that no other mammals seem to have, which makes experimental research of human parturition very difficult.

        Here’s a good write-up on that (by no means complete, though):

        http://medicina.iztacala.unam.mx/medicina/Endocrinology%20of%20Parturition.pdf

        • Gene
          Interesting concept “super-high-qualty babies”. So what would you consider we call the babies born with spina-bifida or Anencephaly or Encephalocele or any number of less than super quality characteristics?

          • Roger, I guess these types of abnormalities are not detectable by the relatively dumb biochemical heuristics that control parturition. But they seem do detect a lot of stuff no mother would want to carry to full term.

    • well hot dog. the supernumery ribs, really. more than 12?

      OK Ok, as Joe Pesce would say, the extra rib can cause an outlet syndrom which would be in the arms, not in the back.

      So, whatever the daughter has, it isn’t a thoracic outlet problem.

      There are so many things that cause shoulder troubles but the big ones are supraspinatus problems, subacromial bursitis problems, and, in my experience, rhomboid bursitis.

      I bet a 100 that the girl has sub rhomboid bursitis which is just to inside of the scapula and causes a lot of trouble. Pain the upper back close to the spine and goes down the arm.

      that’s it for today. can’t keep up with you gene–your are a whirlwind.

      • Dr. John, since the extra ribs are coming off of my cervical vertebra, it seems to be a double-edged sword, if you will. The end of the extra rib sticks down into the thoracic outlet, but there is also some stress being transmitted up to the vertebra itself. Many years ago I had one of the extra ribs removed, along with the first normal rib next to it, on the right side. There is an enormous difference between my right side, with the ribs removed, and the left side, with everything intact. Starting from the neck area, all the way down to my fingertips, I have a lot of pain on the left side, some of which radiates in the front into my chest, and in the back into my shoulder blade. The right side is relatively free from pain.
        My daughter has different symptoms, but her extra ribs are different in terms of length and deflection. She may, indeed, have some other problems in addition. Skeletal abnormality appears to be the norm in my family, along with some other minor problems. One of my sons was diagnosed with Scheuermann’s disease.
        The Spartan’s would undoubtedly have just thrown all of us off the cliff. Luckily, we live in a more enlightened age, and my children and I will live to be very old, but with a certain amount of pain the whole time. Pain is just Nature’s way of telling us we’re still alive.
        Dr. John, I will ask my daughter if any of your observations match what she was told by her doctor. I was much more focused on the electronics themselves.

  17. It’s unfortunate that old-earth creationism never seems to get any press. Every time the Creation/Evolution debate comes up on-line, the Creationist position is always presented as the “seven 24-hour day position”. To anyone who is actually taking the time to read this post: THAT IS NOT THE ONLY CREATIONIST POSITION/VIEW. There is a small segment of the Christianity that holds to the day-age view, in which God is still the source of the physical universe, but that He did not create it in seven 24-hour days. Instead, each creation day recorded in Genesis represents an age and follows quite nicely with the geological history we have discovered. For more, go to http://www.reasons.org.

    • Sorry I’m late to this one, Dude, but I have to tell you that it’s not “unfortunate,” so much as “totally to be expected.”

      Linguistically and contextually, there’s no reason to read the word “day” as anything other than “one complete day/night oscillation,” let alone as a millenium, megayear, etc. Logically, that equivocation is not possible without a rewrite of the opening chapter of the Bible, as plants we would recognize (“3rd Day”) are said to have been created and thrived in a world with no sun (“4th Day”) — quite a feat, plantlife living in the absence of sun for an “age.” Theologically, one must then explain why a God powerful enough to effect such creative acts in the first place, instead of performing them as written, would cause one thing to be written down in “His Book,” when the actual events were different. (BIG theological issues there.) Finally, and again logically, having rewritten “IN THE BEGINNING,” why should it not be axiomatic that the rest of Scripture requires fundemental revision as well?

      Scientifically, your viewpoint is no different from a 7-Day one: it assumes an intelligent Being which, using powers beyond technical understanding, created what we see the way we see it; finding data with which to falsify such a broad, adaptable statement is devilishly difficult (pardon the pun).

      In other words, your viewpoint is NOT a reasonable compromise to the current debate: instead it alienates BOTH major sides in what amounts to a theological — not scientific — discussion.

      • Linguistically and contextually, there’s no reason to read the word “day” as anything other than “one complete day/night oscillation,” let alone as a millenium, megayear, etc.

        I guess, to be technically accurate, that would be “one complete night/day oscillation in the understanding of the time of the passage’s actual writing. The point remains.

  18. John, you can’t think of now, you got to let your mind go back to the days before cells. before atmospheric oxygen. The whole trick to primitive life, or focused catalyzed reactions is a macromolecules that can have an active site, as do modern proteins and can replicate itself. An RNA type nucleotide can do that. I’ll give you that it may not be modern RNA. Evolution tells us the primitive disappears. Proteins and enzymes are much to exotic to have developed from random chemical reactions. Ury Miller type experiments show that nucleotides can form abiotically.

  19. John, You state “DNA is the core of genes” so lets look at physical evidence found in DNA. Data collected that supports evolution suggests that birds have dinosaurs as ancestors. We know from the fossil record that dynos had teeth but birds like chickens do not have teeth, So you would probably point to the fact that chicken do not have teeth as “proof” that they did not “evolve” from dynos. How then do you explain the fact that chicken DNA contains the remnants of the gens that result in teeth. This is much like the fact that human DNA contains the remnant genes for the growth of tails. Sometimes these “switch” that would normally turn off the tail genes in humans mutates and we end up with a human baby with a tail with all the needed vertebrate structure.
    If as you claim all current species were brought into existence by magic in essentially their current form 5,000 million years ago why would they share so many common DNA traits.
    The above examples of chicken teeth and human tails is seen in dozens if not hundreds of other species when DNA of current species and the fossil remains of their predecessors are studied by people that do not fall back on “its magic” when confronted with facts they either do not understand or do not want to understand.

    • No, the DNA “evidence” which you claim shows birds were descended from dinosaurs is more about wishful thinking than real evidence.

      The evidence doesn’t show, my friend, the critical process of changing genetic information that establishes the evidence of an intermediate form or a that dinosaurs were the daddy or the mommie of birds.

      You could hope for that, but the evidence falls far short of such a proof. I don’t argue that expression of genes proves anything with regards to the critical process of modification or mutation of genetic material to produce some other species.

      As for the idea that remnants of genes explains–if you knew and if I knew, that conversation might be worth our time.

      I have delivered a bunch of babies with no tails. Trust me, the mechanism for inheritance is pretty good adn humans usually end up being humans with any monster elements.

      I will have to warn you–mutation is way overrated. Evolution as proposed by Darwin and Dawkins is also overrated.

      We will have to live with not knowing. I like that, you want to join the high holy church of charles darwin and richard dawkins, be my guest.

    • Birds do have real embryonic teeth that can be stimulated to differentiate and to develop into full-blown mature teeth. I visited a development lab more than 40 years ago where they showed me a toothed rook. That lab no longer exists, but similar work has been done later.

      http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=mutant-chicken-grows-alli

  20. Perhaps someone can help me. E coli divides in about 24 hours and has been manipulated in the lab for decades. Based ion the various environmental manipulation that have been used this is equivalent to over a million years of human evolution. Yet no one has announced a new bacterium! Not even an F coli! Only new forms of the original. In other words evolution has been put on super fast forward in the lab and no one has seen anything evolve from one species to another.

    • Hang in there, help is on the way.

      First, the generation time if wild-type E. coli grown on a rich medium is measured in tens of minutes, not hours. In 24, you get 50-80 generations.

      And here you can find somewhat codified and dated announcements of new bacteria:

      http://cgsc.biology.yale.edu

      The problem here is not in the discovery of new bacteria (that happens every hour). The problem is keeping the known cell lines stable enough that we can make repeatable experiments. That is what ATCC is for.

      Also, there is nothing special about E. coli — it is only a short distance away from other enterics, like Salmonella, Haemophilus, and lots of others.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escherichia_coli#Genome_plasticity

  21. If Meyer is right. then he has excluded not only the possibility of species developing by evolution, but their developing in any way at all, known or unknown. Invoking the deus ex machina (I use the phrase advisedly) of an intelligent agent creating the required information doesn’t help, because (if for no other reason) there had to be information before there could be intelligence.

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