Pharyngula

Creationist FUD refuted

If you’re looking for a meaty weekend read, look no further than Paul McBride’s thorough dismantling of Science and Human Origins, the new bad book from the Discovery Institute, by Gauger, Axe, and Luskin. It’s in 6 parts, taking on each chapter one by one: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, a prediction about what will be in chapter 4 before reading it, Part 4 (prediction confirmed!), and Part 5.

The creationists are howling. McBride’s evisceration, with Carl Zimmer’s detailed description of the evidence for chromosome fusion, all discrediting what they thought would be a hot new text on the scientific evidence for creation, has made them so furious that they’re even lashing out at me in email — I just linked to the evidence, so I imagine Zimmer and McBride must be seeing some entertaining spectacles in their inboxes. I do so love to see the creationists dancing in the flames of their own immolation.

I will say this, though: I did get one very polite email from a creationist, who told me that he was not a scientist, but that he’d read a couple of articles that sounded impressively sciencey to him, and asked if they didn’t represent a legitimate criticism of the chromosome fusion idea? And he very nicely sent along the two papers for me to read. Here they are:

Bergman J, Tomkins J (2011) The chromosome 2 fusion model of human evolution—part 1: re-evaluating the evidence. Journal of Creation 25(2):106-110.

Tomkins J, Bergman J (2011) The chromosome 2 fusion model of human evolution—part 1: re-evaluating the evidence. Journal of Creation 25(2):111-117.

Two things jumped out at me: it’s by batty Jerry Bergman, no credible source at all, and it’s published in the inbred in-house journal of the Institute for Creation Research. These are not legitimate science papers, although they do throw around enough science terms and techniques, and follow the form of a real science paper, to generate confusion in the mind of the naive reader. They’re beautiful examples of cargo cult science by creationists. Would you like to read them, or use them as bad examples? Here you go, download it for entertainment purposes only.

I read them anyway. I’m not going to bother with a detailed refutation, but I’ll give you the gist. The fundamental confusion in both papers is the nature of the evidence for an ancestral chromosome fusion, and a focus on irrelevant details that are not central to the argument.

The story is this. At some time after the separation of the human and chimpanzee lineages, two ancestral chromosomes, #12 and #13 in the chimpanzee, fused end-to-end to form a single chromosome, #2, in humans. Chimpanzee chromosome 13 forms the short arm (2p) and part of the long arm (2q) of human chromosome 2, while chimpanzee chromosome 12 forms most of the long arm (2q) of chromosome 2.

The primary evidence for this fusion is the comparative genetic content of these chromosomes. That is, most of the genes in chimpanzee chromosome 13 are found in human 2p, and most of the genes in chimpanzee chromosome 12 are in human 2q. The chromatin binding patterns line up, the sequence analysis confirms, and there have been some lovely FISH studies that show the correspondence.

What has since been done is that a prediction was made that there ought to be fragments of telomeres (the end caps of chromosomes) in the middle of chromosome 2, at the fusion site. Which has been examined. And the prediction has been confirmed.

Bergman and Tomkins ignore every single bit of that. Instead, what they do is focus on just the region of the fusion, and complain that it is a tangled mess and hard to interpret — that it is a degenerate telomeric region, rather than a complete and intact telomere, which is what they demand be present. This is an unrealistic expectation, given that every paper on the structure of the fusion region makes the point that it is degenerate.

An analogy: imagine a red Ford Mustang and a blue BMW X6 are in a head-on collision, and both have totally wrecked front ends, with bumpers and radiators and headlights interlocked and everything about their grilles in tangled confusion, and with bits and pieces torn loose and flung about. You’d be able to look at the crash and still tell by everything in and behind the engine compartment that Car #1 was a Mustang and Car #2 was an X6.

Bergman and Tomkins are the bewildered and incompetent investigators who ignore every other factor in the crash, look at a few particularly mangled bits of the wreckage, and declare that they can’t identify it, therefore…the two vehicles were assembled at the factory in this particular configuration, and no crash occurred. But they use lots of sciencey language to explain this at tendentious length, which is sufficient to convince non-scientists that the interpretation of an obvious historical event has been refuted. And that’s all they need to do to accomplish their goals: fling about unfounded fear, uncertainty, and doubt to win over the ignorant.

Comments

  1. #1 frank
    Ireland
    July 22, 2012

    Remarkable that creationists ask “was anyone there to see it?” about those events with overwhelming evidence but blithely accept improbable events with no such reservations.

  2. #2 Don
    New Haven CT
    July 22, 2012

    I offer up for comment my own essay on what I’ve labeled as “Massively Complex Synchronicity”. Care to look at it?

    http://ayearningforpublius.wordpress.com/2012/06/25/the-origins-of-the-universe-simple-or-complex-part-2-the-problem-of-massively-complex-synchronicity/

  3. #3 Don
    New Haven Ct
    July 22, 2012
  4. #4 Don
    New Haven CT
    July 22, 2012
  5. #5 Don
    New Haven CT
    July 22, 2012
  6. #6 betsmcgee
    July 22, 2012

    Don your an just because you have a computer does not make you an authority on anything. yes scientist will continue to rebut creationist claims because like your they have lots of words and say nothing. what the fuck does baseball have to do with evolution? never has a scientist implied we know what happen before 10^-32 seconds after the big bang with any degree of certainty to say otherwise is dishonest. and finally you “evolutionist are not all that smart.” well that great but that doesn’t mean you are not a fucking moron.

  7. #7 chris
    ohio
    July 23, 2012

    Evolution is a fact. Whether or not you like it is immaterial.

  8. #8 Dae
    Chicago
    July 23, 2012

    Don,

    your first link — you know, the one about the whole “if there is design, then there must be a designer” deal… What makes you think there was just *one* designer? What about a nice 50-person team of those guys working together? How would the whole “the God of the Bible, and His Son Jesus Christ” part fit into that? Were they perhaps the project leaders? If so, what evidence can you produce to support that idea?

    In other words, all I’m asking is this: does Creationism = Biblical Monotheism? Furthermore, how does Creator/Designer = Personal God?

    Also, speaking of “irreducible comlexity”… The god of the Bible seems to be pretty irreducibly compex, so who created him?

    And about that Anthropic Principle business… What makes you think that the constants evolve to suit the needs of organisms, and not vice-versa? Sure, I agree, if you changed a few of those super-important constants, the life — as we know it — would most likely cease to exist. What about all other forms of life that may have evolved with a different set of those onstants present?

    Oh, sorry, I forgot you’re not buying the whole Theory of Evolution deal… At least, in that case, you can explain to me why you believe there was only *one* irreducibly complex, uncreated creator.

  9. #9 Will
    dallas
    July 23, 2012

    With regards to PZs last sentnece.
    There are over 5,000 religions in the world, creationoids.
    Have you picked the right God?
    Your laws of improbabilty suggest that statistically, you are screwed, figuratively speaking.
    So complexly specifically I’m thinking there’s another problem for you guys to explain away. No worries, you can do it.
    Just sayin…

  10. #10 Bill
    July 24, 2012

    Pathetic Don. Just pathetic.

  11. #11 Patrick
    Earth
    July 24, 2012

    I think they also overlooked chimpanzees inability to synthesize vitamin C, much like us; but unlike most other mammals. I guess we were built with flaws…

  12. #12 Steve Greene
    July 24, 2012

    @Frank, you wrote, “Remarkable that creationists ask ‘was anyone there to see it?’ about those events with overwhelming evidence but blithely accept improbable events with no such reservations.”

    That’s because God was “there to see it”, and God told us about it.

    Please ignore the fact that that argument is circular, indeed designed for the very purpose of ignoring dealing with actual evidence in the first place.

  13. #13 Henry
    Brooklyn
    July 24, 2012

    Don, I’ve enjoyed your work for many years. However, since leaving Miami Vice you have really gone downhill. First the infamous bearer bonds incident and now this “blog” with the mind-numbing, deranged, incoherent rants – the baseball one was particularly bad (what about a golf analogy? – a game which I think you at least understand well). These smell of incipient schizophrenia to me. I know the phone isn’t ringing anymore and you have time on your hands but geeze Brah, get a grip and some self respect back.
    Sincerely, A Fan.

  14. #14 Narad
    July 25, 2012

    Chris, are you the same “chris” from over at orac’s site? The person with no chromosomes?

    No, evolution is a fraud and darwin was just a life support system for a hairy face who was turned into this diety of worship by the culture of corruption.

  15. #15 Windchaser
    July 30, 2012

    “Diety”?

    I guess that makes sense. Atheists don’t worship a god, so they certainly are on a “diet of worship”. And we know Darwin was an atheist communist Muslim, so he fits right in with the “culture of corruption”.