Pharyngula

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A creationist, Rob McEwen, left me a little comment here which lists a number of his objections to evolution. It?s a classic example of the genre, and well illustrates the problem we have. The poor fellow has been grossly misinformed, but is utterly convinced that he has the truth. I?m not going to dismantle his entire line of blather (thanks to Loren Petrich, who has already briefly pointed out the flaws in his thinking), but I do want to show what I mean with one example.

Here?s what Mr McEwen says:

Mutations have NEVER produced additional DNA structures. NEVER! Even as scientists study mutations in fruit flies or viruses? the mutations sometime just scramble existing DNA? but MORE OFTEN, they DELETE DNA structures. Certainly, ?survival of the fittest? is a means by which nature purges the gene pool of bad mutations, but NO evolution occurs here. (This alone is a DEATH BLOW to Evolution.) I repeat? not a SINGLE scientist in the entire world has EVER recorded a mutation which produced additional DNA structures or material…. but DELETIONS are recorded ALL THE TIME!!!

Wow. He certainly is emphatic, isn?t he?

And here?s the scary thing: for all his certainty, which he almost certainly got from common sources in the creationist literature, he is absurdly, absolutely, trivially, unforgivably wrong.  That paragraph is one solid block of lies. This is what biologists have to deal with all the time, people who rant falsehoods, either out of maliciousness or simple purblind ignorance, and the mobs of people who gullibly believe them.

The truth is that many kinds of mutations very commonly produce additional DNA structures. One very common and frequently observed method is unequal crossing over. Anyone with a little background in genetics or cell biology will be familiar with the idea of crossing over: during meiosis, homologous chromosomes line up side by side, and swap bits of their DNA at points of contact called chiasmata. Here?s what they look like:

i-8065e67d31208e2ed34ccdaeaf2169dd-chiasmata.jpg

Normally, crossing over occurs between homologous regions of DNA, so there is no net gain or loss of DNA in either chromosome. However, it can occur by error between nonhomologous regions. When that happens, you do get a loss of DNA in one chromosome, and a gain in the other. Take a look at this diagram, which illustrates what goes on in an unequal crossing over event:

i-0c39834b0529daaa214495e889c578f8-crossoverduplication.jpg

As you can see, the end result is that chromosome number 2 has suffered a deletion and has no copies of gene C, while chromosome 3 has gained an extra copy of gene C. Quite contrary to Mr McEwen, every unequal crossing over event produces an equal number of gametes bearing duplications and deletions. If gene C is essential, however, the gamete bearing a deletion is unlikely to be viable, while the duplication may have no or little effect; in viable progeny, therefore, you are more likely to see duplications than deletions.

There are also additional well-documented mechanisms that can produce additional DNA, such as insertions and translocations. People design experiments all the time that make use of duplications. We can sequence the relevant region of the chromosome and explicitly identify duplicated stretches of DNA. You can open up catalogs of mutations and find long lists of lines that carry identified duplications; you can even send a little money to a stock center and they?ll send you back flies or fish or mice that carry such mutations.

I went to the Flybase database, for instance, and did a search for any duplicated alleles. It came back with a long list of them, and here is just the first one, an allele called abd-AUab-G1, which happens to be a Hox gene in the bithorax complex. Here?s the short description.

Head to head duplication of the starting P{(-FRT)lacZ.HP}UbxHC148A element, so that two copies (P{(-FRT)lacZ.HP}UbxHC148A and P{(-FRT)lacZ.HP}abd-AUab-G1) are present in abd-AUab-G1. (Bender and Fitzgerald, 2002)

You want the full citation so you can go look up the details in the peer-reviewed scientific literature? Yeah, we can do that:

Bender and Fitzgerald (2002) Transcription activates repressed domains in the Drosophila bithorax complex. Development 129(21): 4923-4930.

Let me remind you what Mr McEwen claimed. ?Mutations have NEVER produced additional DNA structures. NEVER!? Well, that?s certainly not true, is it? How about his claim that ?not a SINGLE scientist in the entire world has EVER recorded a mutation which produced additional DNA structures or material?? I think I certainly have shown that scientists have recorded such things. Want a few thousand more? I wonder if Mr McEwen even realizes that when he says such things to a scientist, the first thing that pops into their heads is a plethora of counter-examples and trivial mechanisms that trivially refute all of his points without even a moment?s hesitation…

I wouldn?t be at all surprised to learn that Mr McEwen is a decent, sincere person in addition to being a fervent believer in his religious dogma. However, he has been consistently misled. His sources have lied to him. And he is working hard to propagate those same lies to more people. That?s the real tragedy of creationism, that it is a fabric of outright dishonesty that persuades good people to do wrong, all in the name of their religion.

Comments

  1. #1 Slacker Ninja
    March 28, 2007

    The sad thing is that Cognitive Dissonance will only make him cling to the lies he’s been fed more tightly, rather than face up to the fact that he’s been wrong.

    This is why I’m trying to rid myself of this idea of ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ an argument. When someone has the intellectual honesty to look at what their ‘adversary’ had been saying, discover and admit that they’ve been mistaken, we all win. I just wish more people were able to see that.

  2. #2 Michael Kingsley
    March 28, 2007

    See also this recent PhysOrg article about research at Newcastle University in England, regarding mutations and its beneficial effects in the genome. Drs. Marion Petrie and Gilbert Roberts publish their research today in the peer-reviewed journal, Heredity.

  3. #3 nat
    March 28, 2007

    You could also mention CAG expansions. People suffering of Hungtington desease should be very happy to learn that mutations never produce extra sequences…

  4. #4 paul
    March 28, 2007

    Gene duplication can be bad for an organism as well. Neurospora crassa has a neat method to ‘eliminate’ duplicated regions of DNA. This could be for dosage reasons or as a defense mechanism against transposable elements.

    http://scienceweek.com/2003/sc031010-3.htm

  5. #5 Bruce
    March 28, 2007

    The intensity of Christians’ belief in what they are told always amazes me. The majority I’ve spoken with believe that the arguments which are handed to them (belief is a big part of their world view) are excellent refutations of evolution. When you point out that they are mistaken on such and so, they either get louder or go get another bag of ideas to bring back to the argument.
    Bookmarked your exchange under critical thinking, evolution; thanks.

  6. #6 Dunc
    March 28, 2007

    You think that’s bad? Today I saw a letter in the local free rag which insisted the evolution is wrong because it violates the third law of thermodynamics, which the writer thought dictated that the amount of matter must decrease over time.

    I actually laughed out loud on the bus reading that. I mean, when you can’t even get your pre-digested and utterly false talking points right, what can you get right?

  7. #7 PM
    March 28, 2007

    The same denial sets in when you talk to religious fanatics about errors in the Bible. There’s a small but impressive library of books pointing out such errors, scientific improbabilities and impossibilities, Biblical forgeries, etc. “No, no, the Bible says the Bible is true.” That’s a typical response. Or, “you’re just looking for writers who agree with you.” Unfortunately for the dogmatic view, there are hundreds of serious scholars, many teaching in universities, who know “the inerrant word” was written by a bunch of old men with axes to grind, and are interested in the historical and sociological reasons the “divinely inspired” bible turned out the way it did.

  8. #8 Jojo
    March 28, 2007

    I’d like to tell this guy, “Just because your kids don’t look like you does not mean the principle of genetic inheritance is invalid… maybe your wife, not science, is the culprit.”

  9. #9 Jim RL
    March 28, 2007

    There has been a small Evolution-ID debate in the campus newspaper here. Previously, I would have shook my head and let it go. But, my reading of Pharyngula and the other SciBlogs made me realize these people shouldn’t be given an inch of cover. My response is the third one on this page. I won’t let any university that I am associated with be associated with this stuff.

  10. #10 Neito
    March 28, 2007

    The better part is when they try to weasel out of arguing by claiming “opinion”.

    Sorry, guys. But opinions can be wrong. And yours is.

  11. #11 Molly, NYC
    March 28, 2007

    Offhand, have y’all ever heard of any evolution-deniers who weren’t particularly religious?

  12. #12 MartinC
    March 28, 2007

    Its a simple question of science versus sophistry.
    All creationism/design arguments fail when forced into the scientific arena since the evidence falls entirely on our side of the fence. That is why there are no peer reviewed scientific papers published that support creationism/ID. Not that the scientific literature is something natural to these people anyway, you really get the impression that, to some, the only thing that counts as scientific evidence is that reported on cable news TV.

  13. #13 dhonig
    March 28, 2007

    Yesterday a co-worker came into my office while I was perusing Pharyngula. This guy is not a moron- he has a college education and a law degree. He immediately started in, saying “I don’t believe Jesus rode a dinosaur, BUT … evolution is just a theory and it can’t be proved. There’s no way to explain the human eye. … [here’s the kicker, I promise you’ll love it] … How could something know it needed an eye, that there was light, before it had an eye in the first place?”

    Now, where do you go from there? I teed off, telling him that his very premise was moronic, and everything went down hill from there. ‘No,’ I said, ‘the organism didn’t DECIDE to grow an eye. A light sensitive spot grew, gave one organism an advantage over another, and everything went from there.’

    “But where,” he asked, “did it find a mate with an eye, to pass the trait on?”

    Well, you can see how that conversation went. He promised to bring me articles PROVING evolution couldn’t work, citing the human eye and, you guessed it, bacterial flagella. Gee, I can hardly wait.

    The truly eye-opening event in my recent years has been the realization that the crazies are not a fringe element easily ignored, or an ignorant few, but the mainstream doctors, lawyers, and indian chiefs with whom we rub shoulders every day. And THAT, more than anything, scares the crap out of me.

  14. #14 CalGeorge
    March 28, 2007

    Why is it always the creationists who come up with reasons not to accept evolution?

    That’s kind of odd, isn’t it?

    You would think, if the arguments against evolution were in any way worthy of consideration, that the complaining would not be limited to a bunch of petulant creationist kookballs.

  15. #15 ernestog
    March 28, 2007

    Hi All,

    I have been reading and enjoying this blog for a while. I haven’t posted before because I have a really slow brain and need time to think about things. In keeping with the theme of PZ’s post I would like to add the following. We had one of these creationist dweebs come to our university about 2 weeks ago. It was amazing how evasive they can be when describing data (usually someone else’s). To be fair he seemed like a nice person, but the excessive blabbing, hand-waving and pontificating made me want to shake him. He always talked around his topic.

    My attitude towards religious people in general has however changed. Perhaps my reasoning is patronising (or worse, flawed), and I was wondering what other people thought. Our Gods certainly appear to have changed as our societies changed from hunter gather (animal, elemental worship) to cities (male dominated gods). I have started to wonder whether religion arose as a coping mechanism to deal with a very complex world? Perhaps it is more subtle than that. As our brains got bigger and we became more self-aware … would our ancestors have experienced an information overload. I wonder whether religion arose as a solution to this. Maybe the rise of religion today is precisely because our world is becoming more and more complex. This increasingly complex, connected world is being driven by science/technology. Scientists only make up a small percentage of the total population human population. Where does this leave everyone else? How do they cope? So, I have started to see religion at best, as training wheels, helping people cope with their worlds and with their lives. We certainly won’t get them to give up their beliefs if it has some use for them … no matter how much we reason with them. So I have become more tolerant of people who believe in god.

    I am not however tolerant of some of the religious nut-cases like the IDiots at UD or those people that want to blow up air-planes etc. There is something quite cynical about the way they go about their business. It almost as if they don’t believe in the crap they say, these just want to get something out of the deal: money, fame whatever.

  16. #16 tristero
    March 28, 2007

    A book PZ mentioned, Sean Carroll’s The Making of the Fittest, also makes mincemeat of that fellow’s argument. Rob McEwen could do us all a favor by reading it. It’s really not that difficult at all for a layperson to understand.

  17. #17 DaveX
    March 28, 2007

    Good stuff. But did anyone contact him with it? I think it would be interesting for this happen.

  18. #18 George Cauldron
    March 28, 2007

    PZ:

    A masterful takedown, but why 4 years after Rob’s post?

    Someone needs to take Rob aside and tell him that putting every tenth word in all caps makes you look like a loony.

  19. #19 amph
    March 28, 2007

    Amplification of genes leading to resistance of tumor cells against chemotherapy is an obvious example of a relevant mechanism. It is not real evolution, although one could look upon it as evolution in a nutshell, in that the fittest tumor cells (unfortunately) survive. Anyway, it shows that DNA amplification can quickly change a cell’s properties. (e.g., D.G. Albertson (2006) Trends Genet., 22, 447-455).

  20. #20 Ian
    March 28, 2007

    Ha ha,
    I know this is kind of like correcting someone’s spelling because it’s totally beside the point, but I still find it amusing:

    “The chances of just A SINGLE protein coming together by chance is roughly 1 over 10 to the 60th power. To put this in perspective:

    (number of atoms in the universe)
    X
    (number of seconds universe existed)
    X
    (number of metabolic processes in a cell per second)

    …is a number with about ONLY about 125 zeros.”

    ONLY? ONLY? a number with 125 zeros is about 10^65 times LARGER than the supposedly incredibly large 10^60. If this is supposed to be some back-of-the envelope calculation of the probability of producing life spontaneously, the argument here implies it should have happened 10^65 times already. (okay, it’s only an average, let’s say 10^65 +- 10^32) For crying out loud, you can make up whatever numbers you want for a strawman argument like this, why not pick ones where you don’t have to make a math error to prove your point?

  21. #21 Kimpatsu
    March 28, 2007

    Dhonig:
    I’m not surprised that it was a lawyer who raised the objection that he did. In “A Devil’s Chaplain”, Richard Dawkins was faced with much the same question from a lawyer. The problem is that lawyers are trained to compartmentalise; either a creature is species A or species B. Biologists, however, view species (or adaptations, such as an evolving eye) on a seamless continuum. Michael Shermer also mentioned the problem lawyers have with grasping scientific methods in “Science Friction”. Two books well worth reading, BTW.

  22. #22 RAM
    March 28, 2007

    ernestog, you might find the excellent book “The Power of Myth” by Joseph Campbell very enlightening in explaining the reasons and seeming need for religion by people now and in the past. As noted many times above, modern religious belief has been bumping heads with scientific reality since the Age of Enlightenment. Mr. Campbell predicted that mainstream religion will have a revolution soon to accommodate new knowledge, and morph into something like a Universal God, instead of the little middle eastern sky god named Ya that christians now have.

  23. #23 sparc
    March 28, 2007

    According to

    Cordaux R, Hedges DJ, Herke SW, Batzer MA. Relat Cordaux R, Hedges DJ, Herke SW, Batzer MA. (2006) Estimating the retrotransposition rate of human Alu elements. Gene. 373:134-7

    the Alu insertion rate is as high as

    one new Alu insertion every approximately 20 births. So it is not that unlikely that Mr McEwen experienced such a mutation himself (leaving the recombinations that took place in his parents gametes aside)

  24. #24 Andrew Cooper
    March 28, 2007

    My all time favourite quote is ‘Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question’. These guys simply aren’t interested in asking beautiful questions. The only question they ask is along the lines of ‘How can I strengthen my belief in a creator god?’ As Slacker points out, cognitive dissonance is a powerful force. It not only enables to filter out any information which doesn’t produce the right answer to their question, it also forces them to invent information that doesn’t exist.

    Most creationists simply don’t understand this. They are locked into a world view which simply doesn’t enable them to think properly and they deserve our pity. But there are others, I’d bet my bottom Pound Sterling, who do know that they are willfully misleading others. Those ‘others’, in my view, are just plain evil and deserve our absolute scorn.

    Well, IMHO anyway!

  25. #25 Torbjrn Larsson
    March 28, 2007

    Weren’t copy number variations found to be rather common in humans? Which makes McEwen even funnier.

    Molly, CalGeorge:

    You are essentially right, but as in all walks of life there are a few oddballs or nuts. Some professed atheists are creationists, and DI loves to point them out.

    A blog example is “charlie wagner” (not to confuse with Charlie Wagner commenting at times), now banned from Pharyngula and The Panda’s Thumb due to misbehaving. It is believed by some that he is “realpc” now trolling the later blog. He is easy to find, and you may enjoy watching him distort threads.

  26. #26 Torbjrn Larsson
    March 28, 2007

    Weren’t copy number variations found to be rather common in humans? Which makes McEwen even funnier.

    Molly, CalGeorge:

    You are essentially right, but as in all walks of life there are a few oddballs or nuts. Some professed atheists are creationists, and DI loves to point them out.

    A blog example is “charlie wagner” (not to confuse with Charlie Wagner commenting at times), now banned from Pharyngula and The Panda’s Thumb due to misbehaving. It is believed by some that he is “realpc” now trolling the later blog. He is easy to find, and you may enjoy watching him distort threads.

  27. #27 Russell
    March 28, 2007

    The interesting thing, with the religious, is that they really don’t care about error. I have seen the same religious advocate assert an erroneous claim, admit it was erroneous when presented with evidence of that, then blithely continue in its use in later discussion. It is more important to them to adhere to their ideology than it is to find out how things actually are.

  28. #28 Kseniya
    March 28, 2007

    Poor Jim RL (#9), brainwashed by the Darwinsists. Whatever shall we do? He’s lost to us now.

    What I mean to say is: Good for you, Jim. 🙂

    The unsupported but insidiously seductive “logic” of ID and Creationism, which I believe can be summarized as “This couldn’t have happened by chance!” is slowly penetrating the conscious and subconscious American mind. The anecdote posted by dhonig (#13) vividly illustrates this.

    Anyway, back to Jim. Just as I accept (rather than believe in) Evolution as the only viable theory explaining the process and mechanisms behind the propogation of life on earth, I accept the Don’t Give An Inch philosphy practiced and promoted by Dr. Myers others as the only responsible reaction to Creationist propaganda and disinformation. After all, if the rising tide of ignorance is going to be driven back, it’s not going to happen by chance!

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Mr McEwen is a decent, sincere person in addition to being a fervent believer in his religious dogma. However, he has been consistently misled. His sources have lied to him. And he is working hard to propagate those same lies to more people. That’s the real tragedy of creationism, that it is a fabric of outright dishonesty that persuades good people to do wrong, all in the name of their religion.

    This is generously stated, profoundly true, and nicely complements a statement made a few months ago by Blake Stacey, OM: “This is what you have to do when the idea you defend is fundamentally untrue… [T]he simplest way to defend an untruth is to lie. If you adopt methods of dishonesty as your career, then I can only imagine that you inure yourself to worse sins in all aspects of your life. Creationism breeds immorality.”

    Insightful, yes, but it’s important to also note, as PZ has done here, that there are a lot of Rob McEwens out there who honestly believe they’re fighting the good fight. Of those, it’s the ones who refuse to learn who trouble me most.

  29. #29 S
    March 28, 2007

    1-George, this is a re-post from the Pharyngula archives (the icon to the right of the post. So, PZ didn’t wait 4 years to take this on. He’s just re-posting it now.

    2-Wow, it’s amazing to see someone so positive and so wrong about such a large part of my thesis. Fantastic. Does wonders for the ego.

  30. #30 Gary F
    March 28, 2007

    Thanks for the great article, PZ. I really enjoyed it, and I don’t think I’ve seen an electron micrograph of DNA chiasmata up until now. The only thing I worry about is that creationists will simply fall back into saying that you’re not making a new DNA structure, simply rearranging DNA that’s already present. They’ll demand an example of mutations leading to a fully formed eye or wing or something. A good example of a new structure is the evolution of nylonase, a sequence of enzymes that breaks down nylon, in Flavobacterium outside of a nylon plant, and in Pseudomonas in a lab. Flavobacterium actually produced a series of three new enzymes that work together to degrade nylon; this should seem sufficiently impossible to indicate the role of natural selection in forming improbable structures, considering the long odds creationists like to calculate for bacteria and such arising out of nowhere.

  31. #31 shewie
    March 28, 2007

    I think a what confuses the creationists who use this argument is that they don’t understand the relationship between DNA sequence and protein structure and function and, ultimately, phenotype of the organism.
    They would probably respond to PZ’s examples of new DNA information (insertions, crossing over, etc) with “Ah ha, those are just rearrangements of EXISTING DNA.” They don’t seem to realise that if an already existing stretch of DNA from another part of the genome is placed in the middle of the coding region of a protein, it can have huge, new, effects on the protein.
    They seem to be looking for something like “ACGTA” changing to “WXQV5”.
    At least that’s only explanation I can come up with.

  32. #32 Glen Davidson
    March 28, 2007

    A masterful takedown, but why 4 years after Rob’s post?

    Someone needs to take Rob aside and tell him that putting every tenth word in all caps makes you look like a loony.

    Good points, both, but you missed it by a year (it’s three years after).

    I guess what I’m wondering is, did PZ somehow stumble on it without noting which year it was written in? Or did he simply want to expound on gene duplication, and found something to which he could “respond” and thus discuss it?

    Anyway, what really is interesting is how taking down their arguments upon which their “conclusions” are supposedly based, has no effect upon those “conclusions”. ID and creationism are perpetually producing the evidence that conclusions are chasing arguments in their “science”, and the mere demonstration that their “facts” are completely wrong most of the time, and substantially wrong in at least one link of the ‘chain of reasoning’ in every case, is entirely irrelevant to their “science” (that is to say, their religion–I know, it’s hard to believe that such sciencey stuff could really be religion).

    And the caps, well, they’re more or less understandable when one considers what a strain being all sciencey is when you can never demonstrate the rightness of your beliefs. The emotions creating the caps are real enough, mainly because the “facts” that they’re highlighting are tenuous in their own minds, trivially wrong to those who have to endure yet another litany of false statements.

    On another topic:

    It is believed by some that he is “realpc” now trolling the later blog. He is easy to find, and you may enjoy watching him distort threads.

    Yes, but if you’ve read enough of him beforehand, you’re likely to be bored with his incapacity to say anything new, even anything new that’s so very wrong. Why can’t ID-types not constrained by the evidence ever have any real imagination?

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

  33. #33 Glen Davidson
    March 28, 2007

    1-George, this is a re-post from the Pharyngula archives (the icon to the right of the post. So, PZ didn’t wait 4 years to take this on. He’s just re-posting it now.

    OK, well that explains it. Who reads the words in the icons, though?

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

  34. #34 sparc
    March 28, 2007

    Unfortunately in comment #23 my second blockquoting went wrong. It should have finished after

    one new Alu insertion every approximately 20 births.

    BTW, could anyone give Mr McEwen some information on A-, B-, Z- and H-DNA, because he is not aware of the difference between sequence and structure.

  35. #35 PZ Myers
    March 28, 2007

    If you read this new post, all will be clear on why this one was reposted.

    We’ve been explaining this simple mechanism for over 3 years now, and the Discovery Institute is still lying and pretending we haven’t.

  36. #36 Carlie
    March 28, 2007

    I didn’t even notice the repost icon until it was pointed out! To follow on that, though, I’ve been meaning to say I do like the drawings next to the posts. Now that I realize they’re symbols that actually mean something (like what is written on the word RIGHT ON THE PICTURE, my bad) I’m even more enamored of them.

  37. #37 Howard
    March 28, 2007

    In talking with people who profess creationist beliefs, I’ve had some success getting through their certainty by an emotional approach. For instance, “I understand you don’t believe in evolution, but let me ask you this, ‘Has your child ever been sick enough to require antibiotics? You know that some work and some don’t. That’s because the bacteria have adapted to the drugs. That’s why we constantly need new ones to combat resistant bacteria. Bacterial resistance or adaptation is evolution at work. So you’ve seen it yourself.'” Sometimes I throw in a kicker, “You wouldn’t withhold medication from a child, or an adult because you don’t believe in evolution, would you?

    This kind of approach can open a hole in the wall of certainty.

  38. #38 Krystalline Apostate
    March 28, 2007

    Dunc:
    You think that’s bad? Today I saw a letter in the local free rag which insisted the evolution is wrong because it violates the third law of thermodynamics, which the writer thought dictated that the amount of matter must decrease over time.
    That is just so weird…I did a post on the 3rd law, using it to disprove the existence of gawd.
    I keep doing this: I did a post last year on how the March of the Penguins was a strong argument against creationism, then I stumble across some creationist wackinoid who says otherwise. I did a post on ligers and tiglons helping to prove evolution, then stumble across an AIG that says otherwise.
    If I were superstitious, I’d be hearing that weird X Files whistle in the background, hehehehe.

  39. #39 garth
    March 28, 2007

    molly NYC: my friend is a vehement evolution-denier, who’s non-religious…sort of. he believes (and trust me i’m paraphrasing from a long-ass, exhausting blatherfest) that crazy aliens dropped us here. which i’m sure many people believe, but since it’s not a mainstream state-sanctioned kookiness like the church they’re less likely to say it out loud.

  40. #40 Molly, NYC
    March 28, 2007

    Torbjrn: Thanks for the answer, although – is this “realpc” guy really a creationist or is he just some jerk-off with nothing better to do than try to incite flamewars on other people’s blogs? (There should be a word for these people.)

  41. #41 Neito
    March 28, 2007

    “is this “realpc” guy really a creationist or is he just some jerk-off with nothing better to do than try to incite flamewars on other people’s blogs? (There should be a word for these people.)”

    There is. 4channers.

  42. #42 Curt Cameron
    March 28, 2007

    Not being a biologist, some of the concepts have taken a while to sink into my cranium. But something I’ve been thinking more about lately is how the susceptibility of our genes to making an error is pretty much ideal: genetic circuitry that never made an error would forever be saddled with a fixed biology, and would therefore be out-competed by genes that do occasionally make errors. On the other hand, too many errors and too many of the offspring aren’t viable enough to support the population.

    I’ve often been amazed that life evolved for billions of years, before being able to then perform the kind of complex arrangements that have largely happened since the (relatively) recent Cambrian explosion. It’s like nature took billions of years to get the fundamentals down of how to duplicate genes, which is an enormously complex process, even including the just-right amount of errors, then when that foundation was built, the variety of life forms has exploded.

    Is my layman’s view of it supported by the science?

  43. #43 Glen Davidson
    March 28, 2007

    is this “realpc” guy really a creationist or is he just some jerk-off with nothing better to do than try to incite flamewars on other people’s blogs?

    One is not exclusive of the other.

    But Charlie claims not to be creationist or even IDist, nor religious. Yet he argues using about the same flaming idiocy we get from the IDists, “Darwinist”, “materialist”, etc. To him, if we can’t show that there are no teleological changes, then we’re biased if we simply utilize the evidence we do have and explain via non-teleological processes.

    He perhaps is more New Age than traditionally religious, however (it’s hard to believe anything he says, so I don’t think we can know for sure). Evidently, he’s an old jerk-off flaming around the boards, killing time, but dumb enough to think that a “possibility” without any evidence for it has to be included in any scientific model along with the evidenced phenomena.

    Virtually none of the present crop of IDists/creationists on the net fails to be doing it partly for reasons of having trollish characteristics (vs. many who believe and really aren’t jerks about it). And I think that most of what we call trolls probably have some sense that their specialized ignorance really does trump knowledge. As far as I can tell, Charlie’s (and realpc’s, on the off-chance that he’s someone different) behavior stems from his sense of inadequacy which he fills with New Age-y dreams of competence in some “alternative” form of knowledge. He’s not trolling just to be an ass, he’s trolling because he doesn’t know how not to be an ass.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

  44. #44 VancouverBrit
    March 28, 2007

    Bummer – those 4 years of postdoctoral research were obviously a huge waste of time. My peer reviewed papers on the regulatory functions of endogenous retrovirus insertions have apparently ceased to exist.

  45. #45 Glen Davidson
    March 28, 2007

    Not being a biologist, some of the concepts have taken a while to sink into my cranium. But something I’ve been thinking more about lately is how the susceptibility of our genes to making an error is pretty much ideal: genetic circuitry that never made an error would forever be saddled with a fixed biology, and would therefore be out-competed by genes that do occasionally make errors. On the other hand, too many errors and too many of the offspring aren’t viable enough to support the population.

    Yes, essentially DNA and the rest of the replicative machinery is what was predicted by (one might say) the neo-Darwinian synthesis (and later theory, depending on what you think ND is).

    I’ve pointed this out on these sorts of forums once or twice, but, well, all congruences with reality by evolution mean nothing to Luskin, and all non-congruence of reality with ID is also as nothing compared with his religious “truth”. Of course, that’s the problem with religious truth, it claims to trump everything else, thus the IDists don’t have to consider any alternative to their “truth”.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

  46. #46 Steve_C
    March 28, 2007

    I may be fuzzy on timing… or prehistory…

    But didn’t the cambrian explosion also occur because the atmosphere took a billion years to build up adequate oxygen levels and an ozone layer that allowed life to diversify?

  47. #47 JBL
    March 28, 2007

    Steve_C, as far as I understand the Earth has had “approximately modern” atmostpheric oxygen levels for around 2 billion years, whereas the Cambrian explosion was a “mere” 540 million years ago. So, oxygen was probably a prerequisite, but it wasn’t a proximate cause.

  48. #48 Steve_C
    March 28, 2007

    I was under the impression it took at least a billion years for the cyanobacteria and stromatolites to do their work to create an oxygen rich atmosphere. Which would get us close to the Cambrian.

  49. #49 Sean
    March 28, 2007

    John Davidson comes to mind when thinking of nonreligious evolution deniers. Unfortunately mental instability can strike even those with higher educations, and sometimes it manifests itself as batshit insanity. Until mankind completely masters neurochemistry, there will always be a subclass of deranged folk who will rail against some accepted portion of reality — evolution, vaccines, moon landings, falling flares not being alien starships…

    Oh, and then there is DaveScot from Uncommon Descent. He opposes evol^H^H^H^Hdarwi^H^H^H^H^Hneodarwinism. And he is an agnostic! At least that is what he claims when he is not referring to the Creation, the Fall, or the inerrant Bible.

    But then again, he probably would be accurately covered by paragraph number one.

  50. #50 Glen Davidson
    March 28, 2007

    Here’s a source, Steve C, one I could find quickly (other than Wiki–which there seems little point in linking to) and has further links:

    http://en.allexperts.com/e/c/ca/cambrian_explosion.htm

    JBL is right about the time when the atmosphere was considered to have become “oxidizing” (geologists debate exactly when, and if the evidence shows oscillations or local variations in oxygenation), however, the levels are thought to have remained far below today’s level until around the time of the Cambrian “explosion”.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

  51. #51 Steve_C
    March 28, 2007

    Thanks Glen. I was pretty sure I had read that it took a long time for oxygen and ozone to build up and then become regulated and for the atmosphere to stabilize.

  52. #52 Ian Gould
    March 28, 2007

    At least in the section quoted, “DNA structures” isn’t defined.

    Given the tendency of creationists to use vague nontechnical language and to redefine terms as they see fit, I suspect that if challenged McEwen would claim that by “DNA structures” he didn’t mean individual genes but chromosomes.

  53. #53 Margaret
    March 28, 2007

    That’s the real tragedy of creationism, that it is a fabric of outright dishonesty that persuades good people to do wrong, all in the name of their religion. — PZ Meyers

    Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction. — Blaise Pascal (Pensees, 1670)

  54. #54 frog
    March 28, 2007

    Curt,

    Lem Stanislaw does a beautiful riff on directionality in evolution in Imaginary Magnitudes, where the problem becomes actually one of beautiful adaptation early on, and then gross refinement later; specifically, how the quantum engineering of catching a single photon compares to adding limbs, or changing orifice location. As if evolution rested after it’s greatest work, and now just mumbles out variations on the same nonsense. But since God rested on the seventh day, I guess you can cut evolution some slack for the last billion years – it’s much more deserving of a vacation.

  55. #55 Jonathan Vos Post
    March 28, 2007

    Anyone who is married eventually rids themself of this idea of ‘winning’ an argument. Either that, or face nearly certain divorce.

    I analogize this to the situation when one is Married to the Truth, or married to Jesus.

    Or both…

  56. #56 Kevin Whitefoot
    March 28, 2007

    >Molly, NYC | March 28, 2007 10:14 AM
    >Offhand, have y’all ever heard of any evolution-deniers
    >who weren’t particularly religious?
    Yes. I won’t name the person because he is someone for whom I have, excepting this one lacuna, the greatest respect.

    I suspect that he is simply one of many who simply don’t believe it.

    I don’t think that only the religious right and creationist fundamentalists have trouble with evolution, they just make a lot more noise; perhaps because for them it is also a moral argument.

  57. #57 paul
    March 28, 2007

    >At least in the section quoted, “DNA structures” isn’t >defined.
    >
    >Given the tendency of creationists to use vague nontechnical >language and to redefine terms as they see fit, I suspect >that if challenged McEwen would claim that by “DNA >structures” he didn’t mean individual genes but chromosomes.

    If he argues chromosomes, throw the Muntjac deer at him.

  58. #58 Bill
    March 28, 2007

    Maybe Rob McEwen has been quietly pulled to the side by Creation scientists by now, and has had it explained to him that he has misunderstood the argument. As the argument is:
    NEW genetic information that would be needed to allow the build up of new complex organs has never been observed!
    Information is not a property of matter; it just uses matter as transport to get around. You can tell someone you love them (which is information)…By letter, over the phone, through the computer, in big words in the sky, or by Morse code if the other person knows it. But none of those mediums ARE information. Information is from intellect.
    Biological systems contain information. They are not information; neither did they evolve it through material or natural mechanisms. Information is a property of intellect (thought), and therefore needs intellect to bring it into being. And information needs to be present at the VERY beginning of life…& the universe (Or we would still be a homogenous gas expending in the universe)
    Information(DNA)in organisms would not only have had to evolve, but the translation system(RNA) would have had to have prior knowledge/understanding of the coding sequence used by DNA, or the information would be gobiligoke(ie: telling your girl you love her in Morse code, or Japanese for example means nothing to her, if she doesn’t understand Morse code, or Japanese.(hence its not information, even if you send it through the same mediums : letter, phone, computer …etc).
    So both DNA & RNA would have to evolve at roughly the same time to be of any use….But yet neither can exist without the other! A chicken and egg Scenario!!
    Maybe you should have made sure McEwen had the story right, before lumping all Creationists under the same definition….There are certainly enough books out there by Creation scientists…Why not pick one up and hear the argument first hand.

  59. #59 bill
    March 28, 2007

    the Earth has had “approximately modern” atmostpheric oxygen levels for around 2 billion years, whereas the Cambrian explosion was a “mere” 540 million years ago. So, oxygen was probably a prerequisite, but it wasn’t a proximate cause.

    Oxygen was required for the evolution of aerobic metabolism, which occured in uni-cellular organisms. The Cambrian explosion was a much later event invovling an expansion in the number of multi-cellular (animal) body plans. These animals were aerobic, having evolved from those uni-cellular aerobes.

  60. #60 Torbjrn Larsson
    March 28, 2007

    is this “realpc” guy really a creationist

    Glen made an excellent description. I especially liked “He’s not trolling just to be an ass, he’s trolling because he doesn’t know how not to be an ass.”

    If “realpc” is “charlie wagner”, the later has sometimes looked like a stealth creationist. But the one time I called it on him he had plausible deniability. 🙂

    Anyone who is married eventually rids themself of this idea of ‘winning’ an argument.

    I hear that some married men speculate that arguments are used primarily for socializing. Quaint – and wasn’t this why blogs were invented anyway?

    Bill:

    lumping all Creationists under the same definition.

    Oh, the definition for a creationist is that he/she believes in creation events. And since all creationists behave the same we can usually conflate their arguments.

    For example, as McEwen you don’t explain why information is important in a basic theory of biology. (Or even define it.)

    And as all creationists, you don’t see that the answers to most of your questions is accessible. In your case, in this thread even, see for example comment #29. You would seem more lucid if you tried to follow the actual arguments and commented accordingly.

    Meanwhile, evolution observes and explains observable characters of life.

  61. #61 Torbjrn Larsson
    March 28, 2007

    is this “realpc” guy really a creationist

    Glen made an excellent description. I especially liked “He’s not trolling just to be an ass, he’s trolling because he doesn’t know how not to be an ass.”

    If “realpc” is “charlie wagner”, the later has sometimes looked like a stealth creationist. But the one time I called it on him he had plausible deniability. 🙂

    Anyone who is married eventually rids themself of this idea of ‘winning’ an argument.

    I hear that some married men speculate that arguments are used primarily for socializing. Quaint – and wasn’t this why blogs were invented anyway?

    Bill:

    lumping all Creationists under the same definition.

    Oh, the definition for a creationist is that he/she believes in creation events. And since all creationists behave the same we can usually conflate their arguments.

    For example, as McEwen you don’t explain why information is important in a basic theory of biology. (Or even define it.)

    And as all creationists, you don’t see that the answers to most of your questions is accessible. In your case, in this thread even, see for example comment #29. You would seem more lucid if you tried to follow the actual arguments and commented accordingly.

    Meanwhile, evolution observes and explains observable characters of life.

  62. #62 dcb
    March 29, 2007

    I think a what confuses the creationists who use this argument is that they don’t understand the relationship between DNA sequence and protein structure and function and, ultimately, phenotype of the organism.
    They would probably respond to PZ’s examples of new DNA information (insertions, crossing over, etc) with “Ah ha, those are just rearrangements of EXISTING DNA.” They don’t seem to realise that if an already existing stretch of DNA from another part of the genome is placed in the middle of the coding region of a protein, it can have huge, new, effects on the protein.
    They seem to be looking for something like “ACGTA” changing to “WXQV5”.
    At least that’s only explanation I can come up with.
    -shewie #30

    This is a novel insight to me and it makes a lot of sense. However ingraned it is to us, many people don’t understand the concept of mutation or what exactly the implications of swapping bits of DNA around the genome might be.

    I’m going to keep this in mind for future discussions with ceationists!

    (Still doesn’t let IDers off the hook, they know better — or at least they should.)

  63. #63 AnInGe
    March 29, 2007

    Previous commentors have pointed out the standard creationist response to examples of genetic changes:

    The only thing I worry about is that creationists will simply fall back into saying that you’re not making a new DNA structure, simply rearranging DNA that’s already present.
    and
    They would probably respond to PZ’s examples of new DNA information (insertions, crossing over, etc) with “Ah ha, those are just rearrangements of EXISTING DNA.”

    Of course, Shakespeare’s plays were merely rearrangements of prior existing English letters, and thus contain no new information. It takes just a few minor point mutations, insertions and deletions to create: ‘tube of rot tuby’. Einstein’s papers were no more than rearrangements of the letters in prior German and Greek missives. No new information there.

    Actually, I pray to god that McEwen is right, for that would mean that no children are born with Down’s syndrome (caused by trisomy of chromosome 21). But, unfortunately, none of us would have a Humoral Immune Response (based on B-cell produced antibodies) so that we would all probably be dead. I wonder if McEwen is at all aware that his blood is full of antibodies, resulting from random shuffling and restructuring of segments of certain DNA fragments, that contain detailed information on his medical history, in particular, the various infections that he has suffered and survived.

  64. #64 Ichthyic
    March 29, 2007

    I wonder if McEwen is at all aware that his blood is full of antibodies, resulting from random shuffling and restructuring of segments of certain DNA fragments, that contain detailed information on his medical history, in particular, the various infections that he has suffered and survived.

    awww, now if you had been paying attention in IDiot class, you would know that the Right Reverend Behe has “proved” the immune system to be a perfect example of something that is irreducibly complex (get those stacks of journal articles out of my face, you heathen!). So McEwen, of course, need not have known about it at such a “pathetic level of detail”.

    He can simply say *poof*, there it is, information be damned.

    Isn’t religion, er I mean SCIENCE, wonderful?

  65. #65 Bill
    March 29, 2007

    It’s ok to say Creationists will just put that example of the Nylonase (Gary-# 29) down to DNA re-sequencing…but if it was DNA re-sequencing, what else are we supposed to put it down to! It sounds to me like it was a SPECIFIED mutation induced by its surrounding environment. We have no problem with that, its adaptation. It wasn’t random. Although the probability argument, (well one of them anyway) from Creationists, that a random point mutation building on itself, mutation after mutation has the odds weighed to heavily against it to have happened….But that’s a different argument than the information argument.
    If the example of the Nylonase, is simply DNA re-sequencing then it already had the information to re-sequence, to handle the problem it was facing (adaptation). The problem still stands as to WHERE did it get the information in the first place to tell it to produce that structure, it isn’t in the material of the Enzymes…or the bacterium.
    The “blue print” on DNA (the amino acid sequence) is not information to the RNA, unless there is an already specified “agreement” as to the meaning of the sequence.
    As I said earlier, the Morse code ( dots, dashes and spaces…just like the amino acid sequence….but nowhere near as complicated)) is not information to another person unless both sides have an understanding of what those dots, dashes and spaces mean.
    This is what I mean by saying: Information is not a property of matter. See my last post, # 57

    AnInGe:
    You seem to be missing the concept of information…Although it’s in your own examples of Shakespeare and Einstein’s work.
    It is not true that there is no new information in each of their works…Or what good would they be! Each of Shakespeare’s writings tells a different story (new information).As does Einstein’s. But you hit on the point….the information is not in the alphabet or numbers that they use. It is in their intellect (thought).Meaning it takes intelligence to produce information, to shape matter.

  66. #66 mark
    March 29, 2007

    Clearly, the “structures” referred to are all of those wee Evinrudes, turbines, and other things. Have not Behe and his colleagues taught us that cells are full of teeny-weeny machines, just like a factory? As everybody knows, factories are run by people, so the cellular factories must contain itsy-bitsy people; and those itsy-bity people have cells, which must have factories run by even smaller people, and so on, ad infinitum.

  67. #67 David Marjanovi?
    March 29, 2007

    Amplification of genes leading to resistance of tumor cells against chemotherapy is an obvious example of a relevant mechanism. It is not real evolution

    Why not? Descent with modification by mutation, selection and drift — that fits precisely, doesn’t it?

    So both DNA & RNA would have to evolve at roughly the same time to be of any use….But yet neither can exist without the other! A chicken and egg Scenario!!

    Wrong. One word for you: ribozyme.

  68. #68 David Marjanovi?
    March 29, 2007

    Amplification of genes leading to resistance of tumor cells against chemotherapy is an obvious example of a relevant mechanism. It is not real evolution

    Why not? Descent with modification by mutation, selection and drift — that fits precisely, doesn’t it?

    So both DNA & RNA would have to evolve at roughly the same time to be of any use….But yet neither can exist without the other! A chicken and egg Scenario!!

    Wrong. One word for you: ribozyme.

  69. #69 David Marjanovi?
    March 29, 2007

    Amplification of genes leading to resistance of tumor cells against chemotherapy is an obvious example of a relevant mechanism. It is not real evolution

    Why not? Descent with modification by mutation, selection and drift — that fits precisely, doesn’t it?

    So both DNA & RNA would have to evolve at roughly the same time to be of any use….But yet neither can exist without the other! A chicken and egg Scenario!!

    Wrong. One word for you: ribozyme.

  70. #70 David Marjanovi?
    March 29, 2007

    Amplification of genes leading to resistance of tumor cells against chemotherapy is an obvious example of a relevant mechanism. It is not real evolution

    Why not? Descent with modification by mutation, selection and drift — that fits precisely, doesn’t it?

    So both DNA & RNA would have to evolve at roughly the same time to be of any use….But yet neither can exist without the other! A chicken and egg Scenario!!

    Wrong. One word for you: ribozyme.

  71. #71 Daniel Martin
    March 30, 2007

    Way back at #11:

    Offhand, have y’all ever heard of any evolution-deniers who weren’t particularly religious?

    Off the top of my head, Scott Adams comes to mind. I’m not sure what the Raving Atheist’s evolutionary views were before he converted, but given his rationales for pro-life activism, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that his view of evolution was at least a bit at odds with the current scientific consensus.

  72. #72 fish
    March 30, 2007

    Might as well toss in the fact that the reason ray-finned fishes have incredible morphologic and physiologic diversity is that a while back they duplicated the whole freakin genome. 25% of which is still there. All those “extra” genes gave evolution a huge playground…

  73. #73 Kamchatka Bear
    March 30, 2007

    “People design experiments all the time that make use of duplications. We can sequence the relevant region of the chromosome and explicitly identify duplicated stretches of DNA.”

    -Can you define Intelligent Design? lol

    “…they’ll send you back flies or fish or mice that carry such mutations.”

    -useful mutations carried on to kiddies? I can’t wait to see cat eating mouse.

    “That’s the real tragedy of creationism, that it is a fabric of outright dishonesty that persuades good people to do wrong, all in the name of their religion.”

    -as soon as you document (since you already have it all figured out) how evolution produced life, including transition from chemical to biological structure please send your work to Harward. They’ve got a bit check with your name on it. You are so smart… you show those Harward sponsored idiots… you go tiger lol
    http://www.livescience.com/othernews/050815_ap_life_origin.html

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