Responses to Barash’s Talk

Recently I discussed an essay by David Barash that appeared in The New York Times. Barash discussed a talk he gives to his animal behavior class about evolution and religion. More specifically, he explains why, in his view, evolution and religion are just incompatible. I mostly agreed with the substantive points that he made, but disagreed that such a talk was appropriate. Opening your class by attacking the religious beliefs of your students does not seem like good pedagogy to me.

The Times has now published multiple letters to the editors regarding Barash’s talk. Incredibly, all of them manage to provide some food for thought. Most of them demur from Barash’s view that evolution and religion are incompatible, but all of them are, at least, polite. Jerry Coyne has already responded. I’ll offer a few thoughts of my own, but to keep things to a reasonable length I’ll break this up over two posts.

Here’s the first letter:

Re “God, Darwin and My College Biology Class” (Sunday Review, Sept. 28):

I absolutely disagree with the evolutionary biologist David P. Barash when he asserts that religion and science, in the form of the theory of evolution, cannot be reconciled. Science begins with the Big Bang theory, and evolution according to Darwin begins with a simple one-cell life. But science can say nothing about what preceded the Big Bang or how life was injected into that simple cell.

In essence, science cannot say where we came from, where we are going or even where we are, and certainly not why we are. Those kinds of questions are the business of religion.

Science and religion do not compete. They are separate animals that can and should work together to discover what and who we are.

SKIP JOHNSON
Charleston, S.C., Sept. 28, 2014

Science is not completely silent about what came before the Big Bang and about where life came from, but I take the general point that there are questions science cannot answer. The problem with the letter, though, is the assertion that certain unknowable questions are “the business of religion.” Let me suggest that this is the sort of nonsense we need less of. Religion does not provide answers to questions about meaning and purpose. It makes assertions about such things, but it is entirely unable to back up those assertions with persuasive arguments.

Likewise for any notion that science and religion should work together to discover what and who we are. I do not agree. Religion has nothing at all to contribute to the question of what and who we are. It brings no reliable investigative methods to the quest. That is why it is so often in the business of demanding unquestioning ascent, and often seems uninclined to engage in calm debate.

Nowadays we hear requests for science and religion to work together. That is what religion says at times and in places where it is weak. When it has the strength to do so religion, with its baseless claims to knowledge and dubious claims to authority, invariably insists on running the show.

Next letter:

I think David P. Barash may be deceiving himself about the efficacy of “The Talk” he gives his students, in which he attempts to illuminate the logical superiority of evolution over belief. Like him, I am always stunned by repeated surveys showing the public’s ignorance regarding evolution’s status as established science, and I’m sympathetic to his attempts at remedying the situation.

As often seems the case, however, his arguments soon become more grandiose than convincing. He argues that the patent amorality of the natural world leads to an “unavoidable” exclusion of a benevolent creator, just as random variation excludes the need for a grand “watchmaker” god.

While I agree that these distinctions are masterful explanations of how we understand the physical world, they do not unavoidably exclude a creative force. To overstate the case against a creator, in my mind, is as logically obtuse as preaching the reverse.

DANIEL SULLIVAN
San Diego, Sept. 30, 2014

This letter raises a common trope in discussions of this kind. They key phrase is “unavoidably exclude.” Indeed, no scientific argument could meet such a burden of proof. If religious folks are only interested in preserving the bare logical possibility that God exists, then they can rest assured that science will not deprive them of that.

The problem comes when you want something more than the logical possibility that God exists. Barash’s arguments certainly pose a severe challenge to certain common religious beliefs, even while stopping short of an outright disproof. Serious religious people need good answers to those arguments to maintain an intellectually satisfying faith, and it is very debatable whether they have them.

As a Catholic biology teacher, I see that teaching students about life processes is a powerful mode for learning about their creator and understanding their place in the cosmos. Like Prof. David P. Barash, I recognize the centrality of evolutionary theory in biology; however, I also see that evolution and creation are not mutually exclusive theories. The creation story in Genesis is meant to communicate that God created the world and has a certain relationship to it, not how he created the world.

Also, Mr. Barash does little to prove his claim that science and religion cannot be reconciled. It all depends on how science and God are defined. Science, without religion, becomes its own belief system. We would benefit to embrace science as a valuable, though limited approach toward understanding the multidimensional mystery of life.

MEGHAN SHAUGHNESSY
Louisville, Ky., Sept. 29, 2014

The problem is that what evolution suggests about any creator that set it in motion is not very flattering. It was that, and not any arguments based on Genesis, that were are the core of Barash’s arguments. If God set evolution in motion then I must conclude that he prefers to do his creating through eons of bloodsport and did not have humans in mind at the start of the process. These are not lessons Christians seem inclined to accept.

Science does just fine without religion, and I’m not even sure what it means to say that science is in danger of becoming its own belief system. Indeed, science was entirely unable to thrive until religion’s power was diminished and curtailed. It is not religion that keeps science in check, but the constraints placed upon it by reality. If you’re theory doesn’t work when tested against evidence, then there is no hope for you. As with any human institution, in science bad ideas can persist to a frustrating degree. In this it cannot hold a candle to religion, however.

One more:

David P. Barash argues that science and religion cannot be reconciled. That is true if one reads the Bible literally. But if we extract from the myths of the Bible (such as the creation myth in Genesis) the moral underpinnings, then the teachings of the Bible and religion hold relevance even for the scientist. The most important lesson of the creation myth is that we are all created equal, from a common ancestor, in the divine image. Genesis is not a textbook of geology or astronomy; it is an attempt to discover the true meaning of human existence.

Albert Einstein observed, “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.” The Nazi doctors who performed atrocious criminal experiments on humans were all educated scientists–but they lacked religious and moral values. If we can grasp the significance of the two disciplines and their legitimate functions and limitations, then science and religion might coexist peacefully and enrich one another.

(Rabbi) GILBERT S. ROSENTHAL
Needham, Mass., Sept. 28, 2014

That’s a mighty gentle reading of the stories in Genesis! One unambiguous teaching of Genesis 2, for example, is that women were created solely to satisfy the needs of men. The story of Noah ends with the curse of Ham, which to this day provides Biblical warrant to racist arguments. Moreover, we hardly need the Bible to instruct us about the equality of people. As Stephen Jay Gould pointed out, evolution basically proves that all by itself. The idea that an anthology of ancient documents provides special instruction on this point is not correct.

Let me also suggest that it is time to retire that oft-abused quote from Albert Einstein. He was so scathing towards traditional religion and to any notion of a personal God that to invoke him in this context is rather unfair. As for Nazi scientists, I would certainly agree that they lacked a strong sense of morality. But any notion that morality must come from religion is ridiculous and must be rejected. It is not as though people filled to the brim with religious feeling always behave well, after all. I could far more reasonably point to the many examples of religion-fueled evil in the world and argue that its practitioners need a dose of secular thought.

That’s it for now! We’ll have a look at the other letters at a later time.

Comments

  1. #1 Lenoxus
    October 10, 2014

    I was going to write a strong critique of the idea that all Nazis were atheists, but further research has told me that it’s not straightforward one way or the other. It seems they sometimes behaved religiously and sometimes opposed it in all forms, depending on which was more useful.

    However, there’s an elephant in the room when it comes to Christians connecting Nazis to atheism. The core of Nazism (whatever its “real” religious or irreligious beliefs were) was antisemitism. Now, it may have been couched in “scientific” terms, but even if one or two Nazis went so far as to somehow derive it from science (as in, they read Origin of the Species and shouted out “This means Jews are subhuman!”), where did the popular support for the idea come from? What single worldview is the most obviously responsible for antisemitism in that time and place to begin with?

    This is not to say that there’s something inherently antisemitic about Christians or Christianity, any more than I have to feel some sort of responsibility for the atrocities of atheist communists. I just mean that one must take care when pointing fingers.

  2. #2 Wesley Dodson
    October 10, 2014

    Shall we draw a distinction between religion and faith?

  3. #3 Phil
    October 10, 2014

    “Religion has nothing at all to contribute to the question of what and who we are. It brings no reliable investigative methods to the quest.”

    Science has no such methods either. Evolutionary-prefixed disciplines of science are necessarily committed, and restricted, to chance as the mechanism for everything. There are no natural laws associated with random mutations.

    Science that greases the skids with simplicity is simply not scientific. There is no “simple one-cell life”. The minimum gene sets are well known. What is not known is how functional genes could have ever resulted from random events.

  4. #4 Michael Kelsey
    SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
    October 10, 2014

    @Phil #3: Your lack of understanding of biology (and lack of reading any other of Dr. Rosenhouse’s articles) is quite clear. Each one of your unsupported assertions is demonstrably false, as a trivial search of high-school level resources (such as Wikipedia, or your local library) would demonstrate.

    1) Evolution is NOT “restricted to chance” at all. In fact, the core mechanisms which drive evolution — the various forms of _selection_ — are specifically non-random. From a pool of diverse individuals (where that diversity may be driven by “random mutation” or by non-random recombination, as in sexual reproduction), non-random selection (environmental pressure, mate choices, whatever) choose some of those individuals over others for reproduction.

    2) There most certainly _are_ “natural laws” associated with how mutation occurs. Unless of course your definition of “natural laws” is limited to “stuff I understand.” Chemistry and physics are definitely natural laws, and we have a quite thorough understanding of how point mutations, gene duplication, gene deletion, and the many other source of variation arise.

    3) Functional gene didn’t, and don’t “result from random events.” RNA self-polymerizes (in more or less random sequences) under appropriate chemical conditions. NON-random environmental effects (see (1), above) can then quite obviously filter out those sequences which do nothing, from those which do something useful (catalyze a protein, metabolize something, catalyze further RNA synthesis, whatever). That’s how evolution works — a random, or partially random, input collection, followed by biased, non-random winnowing of that collection.

  5. #5 jane
    October 10, 2014

    Science also does not and cannot provide answers to questions about meaning and purpose. Real science does not attempt to impose a set of culturally influenced values on others, but provides mental tools that help people to achieve goals in line with their values. Religion, philosophy, and every other means of identifying the meaning or purpose of life provide answers that are meaningful only within a cultural context, as proven by the fact that different cultures offer many different opinions. I am not going to hold my breath while waiting for any new branch of science to be invented that could prove one of those opinions Right and all the others Wrong.

    This debate always seems to assume that the only alternative belief systems are monotheism and gnu-ism, so the issue of the mechanism of creation, whether of the universe itself or of the first spark of life [on any given planet], is endlessly hashed over and insisted to be best explained by science. This is because the monotheism to be debunked views time as linear, with the universe existing for only a finite, and often quite short, amount of time, so its followers are obsessed with the processes of creation and termination. Some other religions view the universe as existing for an infinite time and cyclical in nature – which, it seems, would be entirely consistent with certain alternatives now considered plausible by some astrophysicists. Adherents of these religions might consider the question of “how the universe was created” totally unimportant, if not indeed meaningless.

  6. #6 Phil
    October 10, 2014

    Michael,

    “Your lack of understanding of biology….”

    I’m not a biologist, but I do understand the evolutionary narrative, particularly in regards to mutations.

    “Evolution is NOT “restricted to chance” at all. In fact, the core mechanisms which drive evolution — the various forms of _selection_ — are specifically non-random.”

    The various (inflated) forms of natural selection can’t drive anything. If there are no random DNA replication errors, there is nothing to select. You don’t have to look much further than the Wikipedia entry on mutations to notice that the actual nature of mutations does not match the narrative. Overwhelming fidelity is the norm, which is what you should expect when a suite of very effective replication enzymes are involved. Perhaps you’d like to comment on how such specialized proteins formed on an accidental basis, and why you believe so much evolution has occurred when those enzymes specifically serve to prevent it from happening.

  7. #7 jane
    October 11, 2014

    For my part, I believe “so much evolution has occurred” because you can SEE it, in the form for example of sequences of a gene that are all very similar among individuals of a species, slightly more diverse among morphologically similar species, still more different among more different species, and so forth. Moreover, the same pattern is seen in “junk” DNA of no known function, so it is not because of functional constraint. Moreover, “enzymes” don’t stop genetic defects and cancers from arising rather regularly.

    That said, selection is far from being the only mechanism driving evolution. Chance and founder effects are also important.

  8. #8 Phil
    October 12, 2014

    Jane,

    “I believe “so much evolution has occurred” because you can SEE it, in the form for example of sequences of a gene that are all very similar among individuals of a species, slightly more diverse among morphologically similar species, still more different among more different species…”

    I can’t disagree with any of that, but it doesn’t address the origin of things as complex as genes.

    the same pattern is seen in “junk” DNA of no known function…”

    The emphasis here has to be on the ‘known’ part. The junk concept is diminished almost weekly as the staggering complexity of genomes is explored. Things like this:

    “Scientists at the University of Washington discovered that genomes use genetic code not only to write information about proteins, but to write in two separate languages. The second language was discovered to lie beneath the first and is believed to instruct the cell on how genes are controlled.”
    http://www.universityherald.com/articles/6207/20131213/dna-language-discovered-to-have-second-meaning-what-duons-may-mean-for-disease-diagnosis-and-treatment.htm

    My quarrel is never with authentic data. It is with the idea that things like this could be the result of random events. Things that are hyper-complex, hyper-organized and hyper-functional are not the result of accidents in the world I live in.

    “Moreover, “enzymes” don’t stop genetic defects and cancers from arising rather regularly.”

    As I mentioned earlier, the actual nature of DNA replication errors does not coincide with the picture painted to go along with current evolutionary theory. Mutations are about damage and disease.

    “Chance and founder effects are also important.”

    You lost me with the founder effect. As I understand it, genetic variation is actually diminished when that happens.

  9. #9 GregH
    October 12, 2014

    Phil: “Things that are hyper-complex, hyper-organized and hyper-functional are not the result of accidents in the world I live in.

    That’s because your ideas are “pre-fixed”, like you say above, by the idea that god created life. But then, you’re not a biologist. “I’m not a scientist” is the sound of someone refusing to understand inconvenient facts, even when they are scientists! (see Jindal, Bobby).

    Incidentally, using modifiers like “hyper-” to describe complexity, organization, and functionality implies that you believe in “word power” instead of rational explanation. Why is that?

  10. #10 Phil
    October 12, 2014

    GregH,

    I understand your point about bias. But what inconvenient facts are you referring to?

    “using modifiers like “hyper-” to describe complexity, organization, and functionality implies that you believe in “word power” instead of rational explanation.”

    When I read about genes, how they interact, and what they do, I don’t think that particular prefix is inappropriate.

    I’m entirely open to rational explanations. The problem is that is is easier to get assurances than it is the explanations, as with Michael above. How would you account for the origins of replication enzymes? Was selection involved, or were they altogether chance molecular assemblies? How did the sequential interaction between them develop on a random basis?

  11. #11 jane
    October 13, 2014

    Phile – Founder effects reduce variability within each daughter population, but they create populations of a species that end up having fixed differences from one another, which, if speciation ultimately occurs, become characters that distinguish the species.

    Mutations aren’t only “about damage and disease” unless you choose to define any change from the baseline state as “damage.” Even in modern humans there are mutations (some old enough to be common in certain regions, recent and restricted to a single family) that bestow what could be considered desirable characteristics, e.g., production of lactase beyond childhood in dairying cultures.

    Visualizing the emergence of life from nonliving chemical soup is challenging, but plausible hypotheses have been offered for how it could have happened. Even if you do not accept any of these hypotheses, and believe that life must have been seeded from some other planet or from your deity of choice, that does not justify rejecting the theory that life, once it existed, has naturally evolved and experienced speciation events. There is so much evidence for the latter that it seems to me literally impossible for someone who looks at it objectively not to be convinced.

  12. #12 jane
    October 13, 2014

    “Phil” I mean – sorry.

  13. #13 GregH
    October 13, 2014

    This is more of a response to Dr. Rosenhouse, but Phil, if you’re interested, this may contain answers for you as well.

    An example from physics:
    Teaching Physics = correcting misconceptions about the natural world before they become permanent”

    This whole video is quite interesting, but this segment is relevant to the discussion above. 😉

  14. #14 Phil
    October 13, 2014

    Jane,

    “Founder effects reduce variability within each daughter population, but they create populations of a species that end up having fixed differences from one another, which, if speciation ultimately occurs, become characters that distinguish the species.”

    Yes..but that is just speciation. I don’t have any kind of problem with speciation. What I find disagreeable are such things as every single plant and animal species descending from a single common ancestor. In my appraisal, that is simply an idea, and a very poor one.

    “there are mutations (some old enough to be common in certain regions, recent and restricted to a single family) that bestow what could be considered desirable characteristics, e.g., production of lactase…”

    As I understand it, there is some dispute about whether the mutants are the lactase tolerant or the intolerant. That aside, the standard list of examples of beneficial mutations is short and unimpressive.

    “plausible hypotheses have been offered for how [the emergence of life from nonliving chemical soup] could have happened.”

    Plausible? Which ones do you consider plausible?

    “that does not justify rejecting the theory that life, once it existed, has naturally evolved and experienced speciation events.”

    Well, not naturally. Fidelity is natural. But to clarify, if you want to qualify adaptation as being evolution/speciation, then I’m all in. There is no place to hide from the data. Polar bears and brown bears can interbreed, and the former surely descends from the latter. Adaptation, even radical adaptation, is easy to document (and interesting to read about). But adaptation does not extrapolate into fish to amphibs to reptiles to birds/mammals evolution. There is simply no evidence to support the idea of mutations being able to accomplish such things.

  15. #15 Sean T
    October 14, 2014

    Phil,

    Then what is the barrier preventing small changes from accumulating into large ones? Do you deny that the sequence of DNA is the essential feature that gives an organism its identity? If not, then what stops a DNA sequence such as (CGATCGAGC) from mutating into (ACGATCGAGC). The second sequence is entirely different from the first. If these were the complete genomes of some (absurdly simple!) organisms, would you not expect that the second organism would be vastly different from the first? The corresponding positions have no matching pairs, and the second sequence contains an extra base pair relative to the first. Of course, careful observation of these two sequences reveals that all the happened to turn sequence 1 into sequence 2 was the addition of a single base pair at the beginning of sequence 1, a relatively simple and common type of mutation.

    The admittedly overly simple example I gave above yielded 0% commonality in the DNA of the two “organisms”. In reality, actual DNA similarities between organisms are greater than 0%. For instance humans have the following DNA similarities with other organisms:

    Chimpanzee 90%
    Mouse 80%
    Cow 85%
    Dog 84%
    Platypus 69%
    Chicken 65%
    Fruit Fly 47%
    Wine Grapes 24%
    Baker’s Yeast 18%

    Some of these are obviously much higher than others, but if you are seriously denying the common ancestry of organisms, it is incumbent upon you to provide an explanation as to why there is ANY genomic similarity between organisms at all. Why should unrelated organisms share DNA? Evolution provides a very good explanation for this data; organisms that speciated away from a common ancestor more recently have had less time for their genomes to change via mutation. Therefore, these organisms, such as humans and chimpanzees, show a relatively large amount of similarity in their DNA sequences. Organisms that diverged earlier, such as humans and yeast, show a much lower similarity because of the greater time available for mutation to change their genomes.

    If you deny this explanation, then please answer two questions:

    1. What is the mechanism that allows SOME amount of variation in a genome but prevents this variation from becoming too large? IOW, why is it possible for small variations, such as that between humans and chimps to arise naturally, but larger variations, such as that between humans and yeasts are not possible?

    2. Why should organisms that are not directly related via some common ancestor share any DNA at all?

  16. #16 jane
    October 14, 2014

    I cannot see any reason not to acknowledge the unifying characteristics shared by all vertebrates, the evidence from morphology, fossils, DNA, etc. that says birds did evolve from reptiles, the evidence that feathers existed on some dinosaurs and were presumably a beneficial novelty (i.e., mutation or series of mutations), and, sigh, so forth. I am not going to write an essay on this subject, because if you wanted to read about it there are many better ones available. Suffice it to say that huge amounts of evidence exist.

    I assume it is likely that you avoid pondering that evidence because it challenges a religious belief. Nobody has the right to tell other people what the tenets of their faith ought to be. However, in my opinion, it is unwise to define specific beliefs about the material world as a necessary part of a religion. If one of them is disproven, believers are forced to remain ignorant of the whole subject or be considered apostate. This is not fair, and not necessary to serve the proper purposes of religion. I know a couple of fine evolutionary biologists who are religious; to them, the long and glorious history of life on earth does not in the least reduce its meaningfulness.

  17. #17 Phil
    October 14, 2014

    Sean T,

    “Then what is the barrier preventing small changes from accumulating into large ones?”

    There are all kinds of formidable barriers. First, the enzymes that cause and carry out replication also have functions that check, excise and replace errors in the process. They are exceptionally effective in that role, which I suppose explains why evolutionists are loathe to even think about what a problem they pose…much less how in hell they ever ‘evolved’.

    Second, the small errors that do occur have to occur in gametes, or they don’t get passed on. To add to this, only a minuscule number of candidate germ cells are ever actually involved in reproduction, so the odds of the new small change making it into the genome are much worse than very small.

    Third, the small change must be followed by a very long and particular series of subsequent errors, all of them complimentary to the previous ones, and all of them constrained by the above. The small changes also have to be fixed in a population to get any kind of toe-hold.

    Fourth, the small changes can only accumulate into larger ones if the replication errors occur to some degree, in the same genetic region. In a genome with millions of base pairs, the odds are hugely against this every happening. For example, let’s say a classic gene duplication has occurred (generous on my part, because it spares you from having to explain getting one from scratch). This gene, along with other genes, is all ready to be changed by replication errors to do something new, but those random errors have to occur in this gene, repeatedly.

    Fifth, if the large resulting change is of any real consequence, it will not be singular. Biological features are not stand-alone things. For an eye to function, requires skull, muscle, gland and neurological subsystems and components. So all those would necessarily have to develop in parallel. The more complex the system, the more tedious and specialized the small changes would have to be.

    Sixth, exquisitely complex control/regulatory mechanisms would have to to evolve in parallel by the same random method.

    So, that’s my answer.

    My questions would be:

    -Why would anyone believe that the above has happened countless billions of times?

    -Why you never see evolutionary biologists address such things, and why are they not addressed in textbooks?

    Jane,

    “Suffice it to say that huge amounts of evidence exist.”

    Well, if you say so. But which one of the origins of life ideas do you think is most promising?

  18. #18 Another Matt
    October 14, 2014

    Second, the small errors that do occur have to occur in gametes, or they don’t get passed on. To add to this, only a minuscule number of candidate germ cells are ever actually involved in reproduction, so the odds of the new small change making it into the genome are much worse than very small.

    If I’m not mistaken, many — possibly most — of the transcription factors and virtually all of the metabolic pathways you care about were in place before sexual reproduction evolved. The single-cell laboratory is vast.

    Fifth, if the large resulting change is of any real consequence, it will not be singular. Biological features are not stand-alone things. For an eye to function, requires skull, muscle, gland and neurological subsystems and components. So all those would necessarily have to develop in parallel. The more complex the system, the more tedious and specialized the small changes would have to be.

    This doesn’t have the consequences you think it does. Parallel development is key to evolution — evolution would be much harder if it were constrained to be serial and teleological, with stand-alone features.

  19. #19 eric
    October 15, 2014

    Phil:

    Well, if you say so. But which one of the origins of life ideas do you think is most promising?

    Well, we observe organic molecules forming without intelligent intervention. We observe autocatalyzing systems (i.e., chemical that produce more of themselves) forming without intelligent intervention. We observe polymers forming without intelligent intervention. So the hypothesis that some stable, organic, autocatalyzing polymers formed about 4 billion years ago, on Earth, without intelligent intervention has a lot going for it. Its certainly not a lock, not demonstrated. But there’s lots of evidence hat supports that notion.

    In contrast, the hypothesis of…well what? What alternative hypothesis are you suggesting? ID? ID theorists refuse to give a who, what, where, when, and how. They intentionally stay vague and keep their ideas untestable. Their “evidence” consists of merely the argument from incredulity (“we don’t know how X happened so….design!”)There is simply no serious alternative offered.

    So it seems pretty clear to me that the mainstream scientific idea of earth-based abiogenesis is most promising. For there to be a more promising hypothesis, you will first have to (1) actually state an alternative testable hypothesis, and (2) provide evidence for it that is stronger than the evidence I mentioned above.

  20. #20 Michael Fugate
    October 15, 2014

    Phil, back exposing his ignorance again – sigh….
    When are going to come up with a scientific hypothesis for ID instead of just pissing on evolution, Phil?

    Back some time ago, Phil whined that new genes just could not be produced by natural processes, but had to poofed into existence by a god. Wait!, I just heard the holy spirit passing over the Drosophila gene pool producing a new gene for catalyzing the removal of an R-group from an amino acid. Oh hold on, there goes another one – the spirit is active today!

    On the other hand, you could read some science papers summarized by Carl Zimmer here, but of course, you will try to twist the results into something else and then claim (like you do for transitional fossils that they are not actually transitional) the genes aren’t actually new.

  21. #21 jane
    October 15, 2014

    I don’t know much about the origins-of-life issue. As far as I can tell, there’s not much certainty of exactly what happened, and you are free to believe what you want. That is totally unrelated to the issue of whether and how life, once existing, has changed over time. For that, there is so much evidence of so many types that no one person could ever read and learn about all of it in a lifetime; understand 5% of it and you will be adequately convinced.

    No matter what, I can’t believe in any kind of “Creator” who would create a bunch of individual species that look, in every particular, as if they are related and evolved over time – in everything from shared similar DNA sequences (and the observable ongoing existence of mutation) to shared morphology and ontogeny to fossils of similar species complete with fragments of DNA and red blood cells – and then threaten to stew me in hell if I believe they are related and evolved over time. It would be as if an art forger went to the most incredible pains to duplicate a da Vinci, from technique to paint chemistry to wood of the correct age and geographic origin, and then got mad if people credited the work to da Vinci. If there is only one possible conclusion to be drawn from observation of the “work”, then that presumably would be the conclusion I was “supposed” to draw.

  22. #22 Phil
    October 15, 2014

    Matt,

    “many — possibly most — of the transcription factors and virtually all of the metabolic pathways you care about were in place before sexual reproduction evolved. The single-cell laboratory is vast”

    While the laboratory is vast, in everything that reproduces sexually, it is mostly waste. Beneficial mutations are extremely rare, and the point I was making is that they would necessarily also be diluted. 100,000 mutants in a crowd of 200,000,000 means very low odds.

    “Parallel development is key to evolution — evolution would be much harder if it were constrained to be serial and teleological, with stand-alone features”

    This is just restating the problem. In a completely random system, there is nothing to coerce parallel development. Fortuitous random DNA replication errors don’t occur just because the theory depends on it.

    ===

    Eric,

    “…we observe…
    -organic molecules forming without intelligent intervention
    -autocatalyzing systems (i.e., chemical that produce more of themselves) forming without intelligent intervention
    -polymers forming without intelligent intervention”

    Can you provide examples or references for each of these so I can understand the no-intervention part?

    “…Their “evidence” consists of merely the argument from incredulity (“we don’t know how X happened so….design!”)There is simply no serious alternative offered.
    So it seems pretty clear to me that the mainstream scientific idea of earth-based abiogenesis is most promising.”

    This always surprises me because what you’re saying is that you must believe in something asinine until something better comes along. Actual science should scrutinize ideas on their own merit. There is nothing noble about the poorest in a poor collection.

    ===

    Michael Fugate,

    “When are going to come up with a scientific hypothesis for ID…”

    Well, the necessity of design is the hypothesis. But you have to get in touch with the normal, observable, expectable, routine results of accidents before that will make sense. Try this; If you’re in a room with your computer, look around and try to find something that is not the result of planning, effort, deliberation, and purposeful decisions. Or if you just can’t grasp that there must be limits to what accidents can accomplish, try imagining the series of mutations that produced butterfly metamorphosis where you have two radically different morphologies packed into a single DNA molecule, along with everything it takes to render one into the other.

    “…instead of just pissing on evolution, Phil?”

    It really need watering Mike. If you show high school students the realities about mutations, they easily comprehend the problems. While religious notions might make it difficult to accept, it is not hard to understand.

    ===

    Jane,

    “That is totally unrelated to the issue of whether and how life, once existing, has changed over time.”

    Well, nobody who is serious disputes adaptive change, though Gould and Eldredge pointed out that overwhelming stasis is actually the norm. But that aside, origins is very much related to the baseline ideas of evolutionary theory. They both demand that extremely unlikely, totally random events result in miraculous, incomprehensible complexity.

  23. #23 eric
    October 16, 2014

    Phil:

    Can you provide examples or references for each of these so I can understand the no-intervention part?
    Here is a link to organic molecule formation in star forming regions. Its actually a dispute about how they form, but its what I could find quickly and it illustrates that science accepts that they form.

    The Miller-Urey experiment is an example of a demonstration showing polymerization in nonbiological organic systems. Now let’s see if you trot out the old “it was done in a lab, ergo it’s designed” trope.

    Here is a link on autocatalysing nonbiolological systems. Again, better rerfeences are certainly out there, this is just what I could find in a few minutes.

    what you’re saying is that you must believe in something asinine until something better comes along.

    But scientists aren’t in the position of “must believe in something asinine.” First, as I’ve pointed out, there is a lot of evidence that nature can in fact do all the chemical reactions needed to produce replicating organic polymers. Its in no way asinine to think that the reactions we can observe occurring occurred in the past too. Second, scientists think earth-based abiogenesis is the best supported hypothesis. We don’t have any sort of ideologically-driven committed belief in it. We’ll keep testing it, and if we find evidence that it’s wrong, we’ll accept the better supported hypothesis. The problem with IDers is, you have none. You have no better supported hypothesis. You don’t have anything with even a shred of positive evidence behind it. But since you are strongly committed to the idea – you believe it, you’re reduced to arguing negatives (‘you don’t have enough support to accept that’) and trying to use false dichotomies (‘since it’s not that, I infer design’) to try and support your position. If you had a strongly supported hypothesis, you’d just point to the positive evidence for it. If you were really being scientific about it, you’d admit its not the best current hypothesis but you’d participate in science activities (like developing and testing specific hypotheses). But the ID movement has no interest in doing real science, or gathering positive evidence for design. Because its ultimately an evangelical, religious movement with the goal of putting God back in school science classes.

    Let me illustrate the difference between ID and a real hypothesis (or, IDers and real scientists). There are some scientists who think life originated in outer space or on other planets. This is not the mainstream hypotheis. But you don’t hear them arguing that we should reject earthly abiogenesis becasue of insufficiency of evidence. They don’t argue that since we can’t demonstrate how it happened on earth, a space origin is to be inferred. No, what they do is investigate meteorites for signs of life. They’ve come up with a prediction that – if it turns out to be true – would support their hypothesis and undermine the earthly abiogenesis one, and now they’re looking for evidence to support that prediction. That is the way real scientists with a non-mainstream position work. These ID arguments about insufficiency…it’s an indication of pseudoscience.

    So my challenge to you as an IDer would be: stop using negative arguments. Form a testable ID hypothesis about some thing we should find if ID is true (not a negative, not a ‘you won’t find this’), and then go out and look for it. A precambrian rabbit. A billion-year-old genetic laboratory. A moon monolith. These would be evidence supporing various differen types of design hypotheses. “You don’t know how abiogenesis occurred” is not evidence supporting any design hypothesis.

    Actual science should scrutinize ideas on their own merit. There is nothing noble about the poorest in a poor collection.

    Earthly abiogenesis is not the poorest in a poor collection, though. Its the best supported; ID is the poorest. Whatever argument you’re going to make about why we shouldn’t accept the mainstream theory because there isn’t enough evidence for it, goes infinitely more for ID, because there is zero evidence for ID.

  24. #24 eric
    October 16, 2014

    ack, html fail. Sorry about the formatting, but I think it’s still understandable.

  25. #25 Sean T
    October 16, 2014

    Phil,

    Despite our attempts, it still seems you are hung up on the notion of evolution being a completely random process. It is not. It is an unguided process without a teleological goal, but it is not random. It is not random in precisely the same sense that the interaction of molecules, the interaction of charged bodies, or the interaction of massive bodies via gravitation are not random. All are governed by physical laws.

    As for your ID “hypothesis”, it needs some work. How can you look at a system and tell that design is necessary to explain it? Low probability means nothing. The sheer weight of numbers would argue against low probability arguments. For instance, you cite the “low probability” of a mutation occurring in a gamete. To defeat this argument, let’s consider only the male human population. Let’s further limit the discussion to a single day and only men in their reproductive years. The current human population is roughly 7 billion. To a good approximation, roughly half are men. Let’s assume about 30% of those are in reproductive years, all of which yields a total of about 1 billion men in their reproductive years. Each of them produces 250 million sperm in a given day. That’s a total of 250 quadrillion sperm – or in scientific notation 2.5 x 10^17. Given current estimates of mutation rates, it is expected that a mutation will occur in a given replication of a cell’s DNA with probability of about 10^-10. Given that probability, we would expect that approximately 10 million mutant sperm are produced by potentially reproductive men EACH DAY! That does not factor in any of the other organisms (there are far more bacteria than humans, for example) or the vast amount of time over which mutations have occurred.

    Even if this were not the case, and the probability really was low enough that the numbers don’t work out, it is certainly possible that ignoring the role of physical laws and natural selection leads you to assign overly low probability to the necessary processes. To illustrate, let’s consider an analogy. You run across a table. On that table are 100 pennies. All of them are sitting with the “heads” side showing. Is this evidence of design? Did someone intentionally place the pennies in that orientation? It certainly is possible that someone just tossed all those pennies on the table unthinkingly and they all happened to wind up heads, but that is not likely. (If that person did this once per second for a few million years, it becomes much more likely, BTW). You would personally conclude that someone must have set them up this way. However, there is a third alternative. The person could have just randomly placed the pennies. They could then have left the heads pennies alone, picked up the tails pennies and randomly replaced them. Some of these (about 50%) would have wound up on heads. Repeating this process a few times would likely lead to the observed state.

    Now, this third option is akin to natural selection. Yes, the occurrence of a given mutation is indeed random. It’s survival in the population at large, however, is not. A mutation that is neutral (as are most) will randomly survive or not. However, a beneficial one would be more likely to survive. A harmful one will not. In this way, it looks like design – we only see beneficial mutations, never harmful ones. We think of beneficial ones as “heads” and harmful ones as “tails” in the previous analogy. We see only “heads” and conclude that all heads are unlikely to occur with a random process. However, the differential survivability acts as a selection process that weeds out the “tails” and acts in much the same way as the person selecting the “tails” pennies to be reflipped in my analogy.

    Therefore, there is no logical necessity for design. We can provide an explanation based only on natural events without the need for a designer. To gain acceptance for design, you must propose some experiment or observation that would be different depending on whether or not there is a designer. At the very least, you must give evidence that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that design is true, not just argument from incredulity.

    I’ll leave you with just such an example of evidence, except that such evidence argues against design. Most organisms possess a gene that allows them to produce vitamin C, and thus alleviate their need to obtain this substance from their diet. Humans, primates, and a few other mammals lack the ability to synthesize this substance. Why would a rational designer include this ability in his/her/its design for just about all organisms, but leave it out of the primates and a few other mammals? Design features are incorporated into designed systems to improve functionality. How does a lack of ability to synthesize vitamin C improve the functionality of humans? It is akin to an architect designing 100 skyscrapers. In the first 99 of them, he incorporates and elevator to help people get to their destinations, but in the last, he decides to leave out the elevator.

    Please note that vitamin C loss is easily explainable in evolutionary terms. The loss of the vitamin C gene requires only a single mutation, so it can be expected to occur with reasonably high probability. Further, the loss of vitamin C can be accommodated by diet, so it’s not fatal to the organism. Therefore, it’s reasonable to propose an evolutionary mechanism. for it.

  26. #26 eric
    October 16, 2014

    Most organisms possess a gene that allows them to produce vitamin C, and thus alleviate their need to obtain this substance from their diet. Humans, primates, and a few other mammals lack the ability to synthesize this substance. Why would a rational designer include this ability in his/her/its design for just about all organisms, but leave it out of the primates and a few other mammals?

    Well, creationists allow for de-evolution because of The Fall. ID creationists don’t speak publicly in those terms but they arrive at the same conclusion (suprise surprise): structures can break, but not improve.

    Of course Dembski has also asserted that “information” (by whatever definition he’s using – it doesn’t seem to be a standard one) is conserved. He even calls it a law. Now if it was a conserved quantity it couldn’t decrease either, but this discrepancy doesn’t seem to bother them.

  27. #27 Sheldon Cooper
    October 16, 2014

    So where’s the second instalment?

  28. #28 Michael Fugate
    October 16, 2014

    Didn’t read the articles, huh Phil?

    No designer needed to create new genes – another one of your pet little idiocies debunked. But, like every other good apologist you will just move on to some other nit-pick that you don’t think scientists have answered like the origin of life. then when that is answered you will move on again. Science will never affect your belief, because your belief is not about science.

    How would you tell a “designed” mutation from an undesigned one? It would seem that your only criterion for determining this is if it increases fitness god did it, but if it decreases fitness then nature did it. But how does “nature” “know” to only cause mutations that lead to decreases in fitness? Won’t randomness sometimes lead to mutations in the “right” spot? Low probability does not mean no probability and even very small increases in fitness can be enough for selection to preserve a new mutation.

    Another epic fail for ID among all their other epic – talk about low probabilities – you would think by random chance you might get something right, but no.

  29. #29 eric
    October 16, 2014

    Try this; If you’re in a room with your computer, look around and try to find something that is not the result of planning, effort, deliberation, and purposeful decisions.

    The room pressure. Its the result of an uncountable number of essentially random interactions. The specific conformation of molecules and their momenta is highly improbable.

    The air composition. Again, lots of basically random interactions there, and at the molecular level, a highly improbable conformation.

    If you show high school students the realities about mutations, they easily comprehend the problems.

    That’s funny. Michael Behe himself showed his own probability numbers to Judge Jones. And you’re right, the Judge had no problem making sense of them…but didn’t see any problem.

  30. #30 Michael Fugate
    October 16, 2014

    Here’s the problem Phil – you have never calculated the probabilities of any thing that you assume to be random, have you?

    Let’s see the comparisons of probabilities for chance and designed events. I bet we won’t be able to tell the difference.

  31. #31 Phil
    October 19, 2014

    Michael Fugate,

    “Here’s the problem Phil – you have never calculated the probabilities of any thing that you assume to be random, have you?”

    Michael, proteins are normally sensitive to substitutions. This is why you can find so much about mutations resulting in damage and disease, and not a damn thing about good news on the mutations frontier.

    Zimmer wrote:
    “It takes only a modest mutation to non-coding DNA to get a cell to read some non-coding DNA and treat it like a gene. The protein the cell makes may be a complete mess, or it may be harmless”.

    So, between complete messes and neutral results, what is the big evolutionary news? I’m trying to catch up on the new genes in Drosophila papers, and will get back to you, but I’m not seeing anything so far that supports your perception.

    I’m pressed for time, and will address the comments above, but in response to your inquiry about probabilities, you can rely on the steady results of the routine data we all live with: accidents do not result in organization and increased complexity or sophistication.

  32. #32 Michael Fugate
    October 20, 2014

    Accidents result in organization every time you cool water to form ice. Are you saying that any increase in order or any low probability event is due to a god’s agency?

    Once again how do you distinguish between a mutation that a god did and one that happened by chance?

    There has never been a mutation – ever – that has resulted in higher fitness in any organism at any time? You can’t be serious Phil. Ideology blindness – there is a cure.

    The Zimmer article indicates that brand spanking new coding regions can arise and can be incorporated in the genome – you are just unwilling to admit it. Another piece of your apologetic arsenal shot down and you won’t give it up – worked too long for you, huh? The schtick honed to perfection? Pretty soon you are going to need calculus – as the gap for god approaches zero….

  33. #33 eric
    October 20, 2014

    There has never been a mutation – ever – that has resulted in higher fitness in any organism at any time? You can’t be serious Phil.

    IIRC, last “round” I cited a paper in which random mutations were shown to produce greater mobility in flagellar organisms by producing more flagella. The researchers had done a genetic analysis of parents/daugters to show exactly where the mutations had happened, AND that multiple different mutational pathways could lead to the same phenotypic result…and he somehow handwaved that away.

    Another example I would use to support your point about ‘how do you distinguish’ (but I’d be hard-pressed to find in the literature) would be cases where a genome works “best” with a certain number of sequence repeats. Too few, it doesn’t work as well, too many, it doesn’t work as well. In such a case, it is easy to see how the exact same mutation – the addition of a new repeat unit – could be beneficial in some organisms in a population but deleterious in others.

  34. #34 Michael Fugate
    October 20, 2014

    The lactose-tolerance mutations in human populations confers an advantage – the European changes are different from the African changes. This is relatively recent in herding cultures. Of course, Phil will probably claim it is a regulatory change and therefore not the same, but so. If it is not switched off – it confers a cost if milk is not available from goats, sheep, yaks, reindeer, cattle, etc. I wonder what Phil thinks about skin color – adaptive?

    The whole analogy to human design is so inapt – it makes for good theater in a revival meeting, but it is crap biology. As the articles on forming new coding regions indicate – you can drop a change into a genome and the genome will function just fine – sometimes a little worse, oft-time about the same, and on occasion better. This is because biological systems have built-in redundancy – something that few human machines have.

    Another thing is relative fitness – something that creationists refuse to understand – (is it the engineer thing?). Dennett discusses this in terms of boats in fishing cultures – you only copy the ones that make it back. It doesn’t matter if it is the optimal form only that it is better than the other forms.

    And again, the whole ability to trace genes back through ancestors – this is easily done and the basis of genetics – shows the evolution is the only logical explanation. That I or anyone else can go on genbank and find the same gene in a variety of organisms is pretty clear evidence that organisms are related both within and across taxonomic ranks.

    All this makes it clear that the objections are not based on science, but on ideology – they simply don’t want evolution to be true. What would the world be like if it turned out we were actually animals and there was no ultimate authority figure to dole out punishment – perish the thought! Or maybe we would need to think for ourselves…..

  35. #35 Phil
    October 21, 2014

    eric,

    “..scientists think earth-based abiogenesis is the best supported hypothesis. We don’t have any sort of ideologically-driven committed belief in it. We’ll keep testing it, and if we find evidence that it’s wrong, we’ll accept the better supported hypothesis”

    First, not all scientists think that at all. There is no shortage of scientists who have retained the ability to distinguish between things that are realistic and possible, and things that are neither. The loss of this ability is completely attributable to ideology…people believing what they like, regardless of the data. There is absolutely no evidence that something as complex as ribosome could ever be the result of accidents.

    “There are some scientists who think life originated in outer space or on other planets. This is not the mainstream hypotheis. But you don’t hear them arguing that we should reject earthly abiogenesis becasue of insufficiency of evidence. They don’t argue that since we can’t demonstrate how it happened on earth, a space origin is to be inferred. No, what they do is investigate meteorites for signs of life.”

    An incomplete collection of chiral amino acids does not constitute signs of life.

    “They’ve come up with a prediction that – if it turns out to be true – would support their hypothesis and undermine the earthly abiogenesis one, and now they’re looking for evidence to support that prediction.”

    They could just as easily come up with a hypothesis that says Elvis is running a boutique on Saturn, and wait and see if that turns out to be true. The reason people don’t predict things like that is because it is outside the realm of possibility. The only evolutionary concept I can think of that recognizes the limits of plausibility is the idea of a single common ancestor, because it just couldn’t happen multiple times.

    “..because there isn’t enough evidence for it, goes infinitely more for ID, because there is zero evidence for ID”

    Complexity is its own argument. There is nothing in science to support the idea that extreme organization, coordination, integration and purposeful function can result from random events. The verdict is in, and continues to pour in, on mutations.

    ===

    Sean T

    “[evolution] is not. It is an unguided process without a teleological goal, but it is not random………..natural selection.”

    Natural selection has been elevated into something that it is not. It is not an ethereal presence. Natural selection is organisms ill-suited to their environment dying. It is a real thing, but it is not an organizing, discriminating deity that favors or chooses. The only ‘power’ that can be associated with it is removal of infirm specimens. You can often see the corruption of the concept in articles that mention selection pressure. No amount of environmental influence or circumstance can cause helpful random DNA replication errors to occur just because the need is there. Evolution, in its current context, is definitely random.

    “How does a lack of ability to synthesize vitamin C improve the functionality of humans?…. The loss of the vitamin C gene requires only a single mutation, so it can be expected to occur with reasonably high probability.”

    So, why was this gene loss naturally selected?

    ===

    Michael Fugate,

    “The Zimmer article indicates that brand spanking new coding regions can arise and can be incorporated in the genome – you are just unwilling to admit it.”

    Yes, but as I pointed out, the results don’t amount to spectacular evidence for evolution. And there is lots to read about the detrimental accumulation of mutations.

    I’ve read several articles and papers about this, and can thank you for bringing it to my attention. This one is recent and very interesting, also long and heavily referenced, but it might dim your hopes if you’re expecting great evolutionary strides.

    http://elifesciences.org/content/3/e01311
    “Orphans are genes restricted to a single phylogenetic lineage and emerge at high rates. While this predicts an accumulation of genes, the gene number has remained remarkably constant through evolution. This paradox has not yet been resolved. …. We show that orphans are not only emerging at a high rate, but that they are also rapidly lost. Interestingly, recently emerged orphans are more likely to be lost than older ones…but reflects lineage-specific functional requirements”

    I’m not sure what to make of that last notation, but I can see where animals with lineage-specific functional requirements might resist evolving quite vigorously, like this one:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141003135130.htm
    “As a marine creature that hasn’t changed in 450 million years, the skate is a living fossil that provides a snapshot of what animals were like a very long time ago.”

    “the whole ability to trace genes back through ancestors – this is easily done and the basis of genetics – shows the evolution is the only logical explanation”

    Well, I’m glad to hear that it is that easy. So, if human DNA sequences are around 50% identical to banana sequences, what was the common ancestor?

  36. #36 eric
    October 22, 2014

    Phil:

    There is no shortage of scientists who have retained the ability to distinguish between things that are realistic and possible, and things that are neither.

    Human intuitions about what is realistic and possible are a lousy guide to how nature acts. QM, relativity, the 20th century is pretty much choc full of us having to revise what we thought was realistic and possible. So your implication that we should recognize evolving complexity as an impossible thing just shows you are bound to your bias, unwilling to consider the thought that your intuitions may be wrong.

    The loss of this ability is completely attributable to ideology…people believing what they like, regardless of the data.

    What data is there for ID? You’ve given none. Please, show me a precambrian rabbit. Or a billion-year-old genetics lab. Or a moon monolith.

    There is absolutely no evidence that something as complex as ribosome could ever be the result of accidents.

    Nobody is claiming ribosome popped up suddently in a pool of organics 3 billion years ago. The abiogenesis hypothesis is that some organic self-replicating system arose abiologically, and with imperfect replication it slowly changed into what we see today. I already gave you evidence for that hypothesis: we know organics can arise abiologically. We know replicators can arise abiologically. We know polymers can arise abiologically. So hypothesizing some organic replicating polymer arose abiologically is not much of a stretch.

    An incomplete collection of chiral amino acids does not constitute signs of life.

    Yes, and that’s why the polyspermia hypothesis isn’t leading.
    But you seem to have completely missed the point, which is that it’s supporters make predictions, then actually do research looking for positive evidence of their claims. IDers do not. That is one reason why the former is accepted as a scientific hypothesis and the latter is not.

    Complexity is its own argument.

    Its the argument from incredulity, which is a logical fallacy and rejected as illegitimate by both scientists and philosophers. IDers will have to develop a testable hypothesis that makes positive predictions before they have something close to an “argument.”

    And your post is nothing much more than bald assertion. You give no evidence for ID. You give no counter-argument to my point that you have no evidence or testable hypothesis. The entirety of your response is just “evolved complexity…nuh uh!”

  37. #37 Michael Fugate
    October 22, 2014
  38. #38 Sean T
    October 22, 2014

    Phil,

    The loss of vitamin C persisted because it was not fatal to the organisms that possessed this mutation. That’s the point. If organisms were designed, we would not expect to see some organisms with beneficial characteristics while other organisms lack them. This is precisely what we expect to see from an evolutionary model.

  39. #39 Phil
    October 23, 2014

    eric,

    “the 20th century is pretty much choc full of us having to revise what we thought was realistic and possible”

    Yes, but those things, like relativity, were developed on paper, and proven by experiment. Everything currently known that is related to origins is pointing the opposite direction. The ideas are just religious notions, not science.

    “What data is there for ID?”

    In regards to origins, there is a world full of data. Every biological thing that has ever lived, comes from something living. There are no known exceptions.

    “Please, show me a precambrian rabbit….”

    An early cambrian vertebrate fish should suffice. No antecedents for the cambrian phyla is evidence in and of itself. Skates, and numerous other organisms, not evolving for tens or hundreds of millions of supposed years should tell you something is wrong with the evolutionary narrative. But it doesn’t. This is not about data, evidence or science.

    “Nobody is claiming ribosome popped up suddently in a pool of organics 3 billion years ago. The abiogenesis hypothesis is that some organic self-replicating system arose abiologically, and with imperfect replication it slowly changed into what we see today.”

    There is not a speck of any kind of evidence that even suggests, much less demonstrates, that this could occur. Endless accidental, top-shelf miracles would be necessary for this. Nobody can point to a single one.

    The Wikipedia article on ribosome, in regards to its biogenesis says:
    “In eukaryotes, the process takes place both in the cell cytoplasm and in the nucleolus, which is a region within the cell nucleus.The assembly process involves the coordinated function of over 200 proteins in the synthesis and processing of the four rRNAs, as well as assembly of those rRNAs with the ribosomal proteins.”

    “..we know organics can arise abiologically. We know replicators can arise abiologically. We know polymers can arise abiologically.”

    I never bring up 2LTd in discussions about evolution, because of the sun-is-shining canned response. But any kind of supposed prelife assembly is always going to be subject to entropy. Decay and disorganization are the iron-clad rule. Even the most farfetched accidental miracle will be dismantled before another one can come along. At the molecule level, there are no preservatives and no selection fairies. No exceptions.

    “[Complexity is] the argument from incredulity, which is a logical fallacy and rejected as illegitimate by both scientists and philosophers.”

    I’m not sure, but I think the incredulity thing originated at Talk.Origins. It is another passed-around escape hatch that admits that an idea is really poor, but it should nevertheless be accepted. Incredulity is called for if there is a reason for not accepting a proposal, and lack of evidence is such a reason. In regards to abiogenesis, it is only one of many reasons. I’m incredulous about abiogenesis for the same reason I would be if you told me you could run a mile in 11 seconds.

    You know, if I believed the things you believe, I think I would never concern myself with any of this stuff. First, I would have to accept that my conclusions are being drawn with a brain that is the accidental result of DNA replication errors, and completely unreliable. And I’d have to realize that nothing really matters. But we are trimmed out with all kinds of sensitivities and sensibilities that don’t easily square with all the ideas about mutations, even beneficial ones. I reckon that is one of the reasons I’m a creationist.

    ===

    Michael Fugate,

    “Phil in a nutshell…”

    That made me wince…like watching a child playing with dynamite caps would. Really uncomfortable.

    ===

    Sean T,

    “The loss of vitamin C persisted because it was not fatal to the organisms that possessed this mutation. That’s the point…. This is precisely what we expect to see from an evolutionary model.”

    What? That can’t be the point. The whole show is slight changes being retained and spread through a population because they are advantageous. That’s how evolution works. The loss of a hard-won, functional gene in entire species is the complete reverse of that. You’re rewriting the script.

    “If organisms were designed, we would not expect to see some organisms with beneficial characteristics while other organisms lack them.”

    Nonsense. If organisms are designed, they are proprietary, and subject to nothing but the whims and choices of the designer.

  40. #40 eric
    October 24, 2014

    Everything currently known that is related to origins is pointing the opposite direction. The ideas are just religious notions, not science.

    The fact that organic molecules can form from inorganic molecules without intelligent intervention points towards abiogenesis. The fact that replicators can form without intelligent intervention points toward the same. The fact that polymers can form without intelligent intervention points toward the same. You seem to really, really want to just ignore these points. I give you evidence, and the very next post you’re back to exclaiming that nobody has given you evidence.

    Every biological thing that has ever lived, comes from something living. There are no known exceptions.

    So that rules out God as the IDer, right? If you’re saying that its impossible for a biological thing to arise from a nonbiological thing, then you rule out God as the designer.

    Of coure we both know you’re going to carve out an exception for God. What you really want to argue here is that it is impossible for biological systems to arise from nonbiological systems except in the case of one particular immaterial spirit with magic powers. What a scientific argument that is.

    An early cambrian vertebrate fish should suffice. No antecedents for the cambrian phyla is evidence in and of itself.

    No, a rabbit would be evidence because evolution makes a clear prediction about when it evolved, and it’s not in the precambrian. Bony fish show a succession of forms back through the cambrian, so finding one earlier in the cambrian just pushes the date back, it doesn’t pose a challenge to the theory. You’ve been reading too much ENV and not enough real science.

    There is not a speck of any kind of evidence that even suggests, much less demonstrates, that this could occur. Endless accidental, top-shelf miracles would be necessary for this.

    Tell me what miracle is required to produce organics from inorganics. Tell me what miracle is required for polymerization. Tell me what miracle is required for autocatalysis.

    But any kind of supposed prelife assembly is always going to be subject to entropy. Decay and disorganization are the iron-clad rule.

    For closed systems, net over time. Funny how you say you’re not going to bring up the 2LOT and then you do.

    Look, my genetic code clearly stays undecayed long enough for me to pass it on intact but with mutations, because I have a kid. That’s all the evolution requires. Are you saying that me having healthy sperm is some 2LOT-breaking miracle?

    Even the most farfetched accidental miracle will be dismantled before another one can come along

    Well obviously not. My grandparents had me and I have some mutations they don’t have. I passed those onto my kid, who has additional mutations I don’t have. So my mutations were not dismantled before a second set came along.

    First, I would have to accept that my conclusions are being drawn with a brain that is the accidental result of DNA replication errors, and completely unreliable.

    You’re ignoring selection again. The brains around today are not some random sampling of mutational processes, they are the descendants of those brain-carrying orginisms that were most successful at survining. So some reliability is to be expected under the TOE, and you are arguing against some wierd strawman version of evolution when you imply that a TOE-accepter must think brains are completely unreliable.

  41. #41 eric
    October 24, 2014

    Ack, my parents had me. I think I meant to say “my son’s grandparents…”

  42. #42 Michael Fugate
    October 24, 2014

    Let’s say I had 1000 bacteria all descendants of a single individual. Each of these bacteria has exactly one random single base-pair mutation somewhere in the genome. So that each differs from the “parent” and from each other by a single change.
    If we measure the fitness of each of these clones and find any “offspring” has higher fitness than the “parent”, then has your God intervened Phil in the mutations leading to higher fitness, but not in the others? What if we change the environment and get different fitness values? Does God’s action change?

    First, I would have to accept that my conclusions are being drawn with a brain that is the accidental result of DNA replication errors, and completely unreliable.

    We know our sensory systems can be unreliable (optical illusions are an easy demo) – this is why common sense is not science. If your belief were true that a God created your brain, then this God created an unreliable brain.

  43. #43 Phil
    October 26, 2014

    eric,

    “The fact that organic molecules can form from inorganic molecules without intelligent intervention points towards abiogenesis. The fact that replicators can form without intelligent intervention points toward the same. The fact that polymers can form without intelligent intervention points toward the same.”

    I can tell you’re sold out on this, so there’s no need to counter with the details and disconnects. But you should notice that the sources who are painting the rosy pictures about abiogenesis are consistently ungenerous in pointing out the monumental problems involved. It is a kind of degenerative evolution in thought. It was not so long ago that even evolutionists had sense enough to comprehend the severity of the barriers, and would draw a line between origins and development.

    “You seem to really, really want to just ignore these points.”

    No, I’m just aware of the obstacles. They are not insignificant.

    “Bony fish show a succession of forms back through the cambrian, so finding one earlier in the cambrian just pushes the date back…”

    Yes, closer to the point where there are no ancestors. But of course, that’s not a problem. There really are no problems for a theory that can invoke evolutionary tinkering. Evolution is smarter than us, and it always finds a way.

    “it doesn’t pose a challenge to the theory.”

    Of course if doesn’t. Only the mildest affronts are permitted and published, and only on a very limited basis. The clergy is not there to allow challenges to the orthodoxy or insults directed towards the dogma.

    “Funny how you say you’re not going to bring up the 2LOT and then you do.”

    No, I was clearer than that. I don’t waste keystrokes about it in regards to development. But with origins, entropy is a definite player. Any fantastic accidental molecular assembly is going to eventually disintegrate. The more time you throw at it, the more likely the disintegration. If this were not true, then all the intermediate fantasy formations would still be around or easily aroused in controlled experiments.

    But don’t be discouraged…you’re covered. It is like the Roman arches. The scaffolding has all disappeared, but the architecture remains. No further thought is necessary or appreciated.

    “You’re ignoring selection again.”

    Pardon my irreverence.

    “some reliability is to be expected under the TOE”

    I’m sure, and this shouldn’t be questioned. We know that humans are the beneficiaries of DNA replication errors which provided us something like 100 billion neurons. We also know that “the adult human brain is estimated to contain more than 1014 (100 trillion) synapses, with a density of approximately one billion synapses per cubic millimeter of cerebral cortex”*.

    So we can can rest comfortably in the limitless authority of errors diligently scrutinized for value by natural selection. I’m surprised someone hasn’t developed a religion that could adore the divinity of accidents.

    *http://cshperspectives.cshlp.org/site/misc/the_synapse.xhtml

    ===

    Michael Fugate,

    The problem with your inquiry is that according to accepted science, bacteria have only changed in terms of strains in millions of supposed years. They don’t appear to be evolving at all, only adapting.

  44. #44 Sean T
    October 27, 2014

    Phil,

    I suspect I am wasting keystrokes here, but I’ll try one more time. You are the one who is misunderstanding evolution. There is no purpose to it and no direction. Most mutations are NOT beneficial, yet they get carried through to descendant populations anyway. There is an overall tendency toward more functional organisms, but individual mutations need not improve functionality to be carried through by descendant populations. Mutations that do not lead to lessened ability to reproduce do not get weeded out by natural selection. My example of the vitamin C loss in primates is one such example. The population in which this mutation occurred had ample access to dietary vitamin C, so this mutation was not detrimental.

    That’s another point I think you miss. The terms “harmful” and “beneficial” are not absolute terms. Whether a particular mutation is harmful or beneficial depends on the organism’s environment. A mutation that causes vitamin C loss would be very harmful to an organism that lives in an area where dietary sources of vitamin C are scarce. Such a mutation would certainly be weeded out. The very same mutation among organisms that feed primarily on citrus fruits would be neutral.

    Finally, why would you expect an INTELLIGENT designer to leave out a fully functional, beneficial feature from a designed system? Why would, for instance, you expect an architect to design two 40 story skyscrapers, but only put an elevator in one? If you are correct that only the whim of a designer guides these issues, then your design idea is quite useless as science. If that’s really the case, then there’s no way that design can be tested. We cannot say, “here’s an observation that would look one way if design is true and another way if design is false.” ALL observations would be consistent with design. That might seem like a strength, but in reality it is a fatal weakness.

  45. #45 Sean T
    October 27, 2014

    BTW Phil, you keep going on about the origin of life. Evolution has NOTHING to do with the origin of life. Evolution works just as well with a designed starting point as it does with abiogenesis. Once a system capable of making imperfect copies of itself exists, evolution can take place. It makes no difference where that system comes from.

    Also, another misconception you have – you seem to make a distinction between evolution and adaptation. No such distinction actually exists; adaptation IS evolution. Evolution is defined as the changing of allele frequencies in the gene pool of a population. Modern bacteria have evolved just as much as other organisms. The fact that these evolutionary changes have not produced macroscopically detectable differences is irrelevant – evolution in these bacteria has occurred just the same.

  46. #46 eric
    October 27, 2014

    Phil:

    I can tell you’re sold out on this, so there’s no need to counter with the details and disconnects.

    You keep telling us there are disconnects and improbabilities, but you never detail them. You’re handwaving becaues you have no calculation, you have no actual disconnects to discuss.

    Yes, closer to the point where there are no ancestors [for bony fish]

    What do you expect to see, half a bone? There are many examples of preserved edicarian life forms. No bony fish, because we think bony organisms evolved in the cambrian. We could be wrong abotu that, but the general point is not hard to understand: the fact that we don’t find bony fish in the precambrian is not a challenge to the theory because we are not precisely sure when bony fish evolved, but we think it was around the beginning of the cambrian.
    OTOH a precambrian rabbit would be a challenge to the theory because we predict that rabbits are the descendants of species that didn’t come along until hundreds of millions of years after the cambrian explosion.

    Any fantastic accidental molecular assembly is going to eventually disintegrate.

    Sure. But you have to show that it would disintegrate before replicating, and the presence of imperfect replicators that replate before disintegrate demonstrates that your 2LOT argument is a farce. Its transparently incorrect, because the things you claim cannot exist do in fact exist.

    So we can can rest comfortably in the limitless authority of errors diligently scrutinized for value by natural selection.

    Argument from incredulity again. Okay, I get that you can’t imagine it. I really do. I understand that the thought of selection working on mutations to produce new strings of genes seems incredibly against the odds to you.

    Do you get that this is not a credible argument against it?

    They don’t appear to be evolving at all, only adapting.

    When a daughter organism is born with a mutation that gives it an adaptation the parent did not have, that *is* evolution. Adaptation is evolution.

  47. #47 Michael Fugate
    October 28, 2014

    Despite protestations, ID cannot be science – when you propose that a all-powerful god designed and created everything, then a subatomic particle is just as designed as a human. It is circular. We can detect human design – humans haven’t designed everything in the environment – a piece of clay or a flaked stone can be analyzed for characteristics of known human-made artifacts. We know how humans design and create and can even infer the reasons for the design and creation – not so with a god.
    Hence ID is at best wishful thinking and nothing more.

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