Brownback on evolution

Shorter Sam Brownback: Science and theology don’t conflict, but when they do, science is wrong.

Even shorter Sam Brownback: Vote for me. I’m the real conservative.

What fun we had when Sam Brownback, Tom Tancredo and Mike Huckabee distinguished themselves from the pack of Republican candidates for the presidency by declaring that they didn’t believe in evolution. Many were surprised that only 3 out of the legion of candidates took that bold stand against science and empirical evidence.

In today’s New York Times, Kansas Senator and protector against manimals Sam Brownback is trying to walk that back. He begins his Op-Ed with a sentiment familiar to theistic evolutionists:

The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two. The scientific method, based on reason, seeks to discover truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths. The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God.

Most people who take that view conclude that religion goes beyond its role when it is used to refute scientific evidence about evolution in populations or the origins of new species or higher orders. Not our Sam, though. Later, he writes:

Biologists will have their debates about man?s origins, but people of faith can also bring a great deal to the table. For this reason, I oppose the exclusion of either faith or reason from the discussion. An attempt by either to seek a monopoly on these questions would be wrong-headed. As science continues to explore the details of man?s origin, faith can do its part as well.

In the biological evaluation of human origins, the issues at play are “truths about the nature of the created order [sic], and how it operates.” That is, by Brownback’s own admission, entirely the realm of science.

He concludes:

While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man?s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.

This is roughly how we got to war with Iraq. We looked under a bunch of stones, found no evidence of ongoing WMD programs, concluded that any evidence which undermined the truth President Bush already knew “should be firmly rejected,” and now our troops are stuck in the middle of a civil war.

If we treat Brownback’s analogy seriously, it would go something like this. We look under a bunch of rocks for evidence about human origins. We find a lot of fossils that look like humans to varying degrees. Some (the more recent ones) have a lot of traits in common with modern humans, and older ones have fewer and fewer of those traits, with those unique traits forming a nested hierarchy. This is exactly what we would predict if more ancient primates had evolved over time, acquiring characters which were then tested by time, nature and other primates. Over time, those traits accumulated along one line of descent until we reach modern humans.

Under none of the rocks to we find God. Some people conclude that if God existed, we’d find him/her/it under one of those rocks, so God must not exist. Others conclude that we just haven’t found the right rock, but there are still a lot of rocks to look under, and some suggest that the rocks themselves are some sort of atheistic hoax. A third group believes in a God that can’t be found under rocks, and think that what’s under the rocks is interesting enough.

Brownback is clearly trying to reach out to that third group with his opening paragraphs, but by the time we get to the end, we see that his opening platitudes are not his true feelings. He is squarely in the second group, only interested in looking under rocks that show him what he wants to see, and to attack anyone who tells him about the other rocks.

This attitude permeates the essay, as it has run through his career. As an Agriculture Secretary in Kansas, he ignored scientific evidence of the dangers of atrazine, preferring research funded by the agriculture companies. He lost that office when a court ruled that a system in which regulated industries literally selected their own regulator with no input from elected officials was unconstitutional. He then served in the House, and now the Senate. As a Senator, his science advisor has been David Prentice, a stem cell research opponent who tries to claim that we don’t need to fund embryonic stem cell research because adult stem cells can do so many things. As evidence, he claims that adult stem cells have treated at least 65 human diseases. When scientists evaluated the list of diseases, they found that one was included because of an anecdote in a newspaper article, others only because of statements in Congressional testimony, and many of the cited references do not actually support any claim of a treatment.

Brownback has surrounded himself with rocks he’s comfortable looking under, and relies on people like Prentice to keep him from seeing the other rocks. This is the same approach taken by the creationist museum that just opened, which will undoubtedly attract similarly blinkered people, some of whom will vote for Brownback.

Why does he, or the creationist museum’s patrons, regard evolution as so troubling? He gives hints, but they all seem sufficiently oblique or contradictory as to be meaningless. He writes, “the unique and special place of each and every person in creation is a fundamental truth that must be safeguarded,” as if some scientific theory would make anyone less unique. Evolution works on exactly that uniqueness; it doesn’t just support Brownback’s point, it requires it. What theory is it that he thinks would “undermine man?s essential dignity and unique and intended place in the cosmos”?

His inconsistency is even clearer when he tries to actually engage with what the science says:

There is no one single theory of evolution, as proponents of punctuated equilibrium and classical Darwinism continue to feud today. Many questions raised by evolutionary theory ? like whether man has a unique place in the world or is merely the chance product of random mutations ? go beyond empirical science and are better addressed in the realm of philosophy or theology.

Set aside that punctuated equilibrium builds on classical evolutionary biology, and that the feud seems to have died down. Biologists studying evolution do not ask the question of “whether man has a unique place in the world.” Products of random chance can, after all, have a unique place in the world, and uniqueness is much easier to generate from randomness than from non-randomness. His concluding sentence stands as an effective critique of his own article. This inconsistency and inconstancy is a deep and dangerous character flaw. It speaks to more than his antagonism toward (or at least misunderstanding of) science. It speaks to a worldview which embraces the inherent biases of our unique minds, rather than seeking to create something stronger than one flawed individual.

Comments

  1. #1 brianrw00
    May 31, 2007

    I thought only weasels could weasel like that.

  2. #2 J-Dog
    May 31, 2007

    brianrw00 – Nothing like a Kansas Weasel aka Weaselus Brownbeckius ignoramus. Let us all hope that he is kept within his current area and does not infect the entire country.

  3. #3 Rob Knop
    May 31, 2007

    Tree sloths also are unique and have a unique place in the world.

    Let us not forget that.

    I’m a group-three-er myself : “A third group believes in a God that can’t be found under rocks, and think that what’s under the rocks is interesting enough.” I like that description within your analogy. And I think that Brownback is a blowhard who’s not quite as clever as the Discovery Institute at hiding his religious motives.

    -Rob

  4. #4 Mousie Cat
    May 31, 2007

    Brownback! Jeez, please don’t keep making Kansas look like the armpit of the intellectual universe! What I want to know (and what no creationist has ever revealed) is: what stops microevolution (they define as “variation within species”) from becoming macroevolution (they define as “emergence of new species”)?

    All it takes for a new species to form is geographical isolation. Population A becomes isolated from Population B due to formation of a new (take your pick) mountain range/river/whatever. Population A then becomes a gene pool, evolving in response to its unique environment, Population B becomes a gene pool evolving in response to its unique environment. Before too long, Population A evolves so many genetic differences from Population B that the two populations can no longer interbreed. Voila! Speciation! Two species where one once existed! Easy to understand, hard to reconcile with the Bible.

    Sammy, you’re an idiot. And you’re our idiot. More’s the pity.

  5. #5 mainstream
    June 1, 2007

    Creationists are threastened by evolution because it does not mention or include God. By excluding God, in their way of thinking, you are endorsing atheism.

  6. #6 Lee Bowman
    June 1, 2007

    What I want to know (and what no creationist has ever revealed) is: what stops microevolution (they define as “variation within species”) from becoming macroevolution (they define as “emergence of new species”)?

    I’ll answer that as an ID advocate rather than a ‘creationist’. Microevolution is evolution, clearly a ‘designed in’ mechanism for (1) adaptability to a changing environment, and (2) for diversity. Analogously, cars roll of a production line with occasional engineering changes to correct discovered flaws, and in various models, colors and trim packages.

    Macroevolution by a series of successive small changes (RM/NS) is the philosophical theory proposed by Darwin, and taken to the bank by science, but unfortunately never cashed. Punctuated Evolution was an attempt by Gould to make it viable, but was never universally accepted by scientists, and so the beat goes on.

    Yes, if true, the Darwinian mechanism is a wonderful explanation for biologic life. It’s major flaw is that the requisite successive modifications needed to for the vertebrate eye for example have no intermediate benefit (Dawkins’ 37% eye is absurd), and would therefore offer no RSA (reproductive success advantage).

    By way of my admittedly crude analogy, this is tantamount to seeing not only ‘safety improved’ and variations in trim/ color/ accessory cars come off the line, but at some point a totally new, re-engineered model. True, biologic systems are the result of embryogenesis (the biologic production line), but the formation of new, complex structures require a ‘look ahead’ ability, and engineering in both scenarios, e.g. the input of design, rather than simply adaptability within narrowly available parameters.

    This answers your question, but regarding Sammy, I’ll give him this: There is no quick or simple answer to the question. Maybe he should have kept his hand at his side.

  7. #7 Jesus
    June 1, 2007

    Don’t worry. Brownback will never be president.

  8. #8 Norman Doering
    June 4, 2007

    I discovered a name for the fundamentalist style of thinking that Brownback uses; it’s been called “logical preposterism.”

    And it’s not just in Iraq. Every distortion of science Chris Mooney wrote about in “The Republican War on Science,” from lying about embryonic stem cells lines to denying climate change, has it’s origin in this style of thinking. Chris Mooney even touched on this style of thinking in his book and he called it Lysekoism, which is attempting to distort science in order to bring it into line with political orthodoxy.

    I’ve got a little more on that here:
    http://normdoering.blogspot.com/2007/06/brownback-mountain.html

  9. #9 MPW
    June 4, 2007

    Lee Bowman: I’ll answer that as an ID advocate…

    Let us know when you get around to that, Lee. Your irrelevant car analogy, your beating of the “half-an-eye” dead horse, and your uninformed abuse of Punctuated Equilibrium – all standard-issue creationist arguments – don’t count.

    …rather than a ‘creationist’.”

    Let us know when any substantive difference is identified.

  10. #10 Science Avenger
    June 4, 2007

    This is roughly how we got to war with Iraq. We looked under a bunch of stones, found no evidence of ongoing WMD programs, concluded that any evidence which undermined the truth President Bush already knew “should be firmly rejected,” and now our troops are stuck in the middle of a civil war.

    This point needs to be emphasized over and over and over again. The exact same epistemological deficiencies that lead goofballs like Brownback to deny evolution (presuming his stated views are sincere) are what got us ensnared in Iraq. There is no compartmentalizing the results.

    Thus, as much as I hate one-issue voting, it is absolutely reasonable to eliminate from one’s consideration for president ANYONE who denies evolution. They are either blatantly lying to garner the fundie vote, or they are woefully misinformed about an issue that anyone leading this country ought to understand at least well enough to know how scientifically solid it is.

  11. #11 Science Avenger
    June 4, 2007

    Lee Bowman dissembled thusly: Macroevolution by a series of successive small changes (RM/NS) is the philosophical theory proposed by Darwin, and taken to the bank by science, but unfortunately never cashed.

    [yawn] I love the internet. It makes it so easy to expose creationist lies. All anyone has to do is click here to see that speciation is not a philosophical argument at all, but is solid empirically demonstrated science. And in case he wasn’t lying, and was merely poorly informed, my apologies, and you’re welcome.

    Of course let’s not forget that the micro/macro argument suffers from the fatal flaw Mousiecat identified and Lee of course failed to answer: the creos have no explanation at all of how it would function, and no evidence at all that any such “genetic limit” exists. It is just something they made up because the concept of speciation offended their religious sensibilities with regard to Biblical “kinds”.

    Their argument is analogous to admitting I am capable of walking across the room, but somehow maintaining that it is impossible for me to walk across the street, without identifying what exactly is going to stop me from putting one foot in front of the other long enough to get there. This concept of cumulative emergent properties eludes them, which leads them to draw comparisons to nonregenerative processes like car assembly. There is no faster way to identify someone as not understanding what they are talking about.

  12. #12 Lee Bowman
    June 4, 2007

    “Your irrelevant car analogy…”, In summation, ‘common descent’ could well equate with ‘common designer(s)’. And what would be wrong with that? Must it rather be that humankind are the supreme intelligencia of the universe?

    “your beating of the “half-an-eye” dead horse…”, Uh oh. Don’t tell Dawkins it’s dead; he still trots it out. The point is that it’s pointless to consider intermediate eye forms. The iris forming for example wouldn’t work until it was completed, and with no ‘look ahead function’, Evo could not/would not move in that direction.

    Also, have you looked at the complexity of the retina?!
    http://webvision.med.utah.edu/
    Multifunctional, and with a complex maintenance and image processing support system, it would not evolve stepwise. Dawkins says it would, but he’s no engineer and probably couldn’t wire a lamp socket.

    “and your uninformed abuse of Punctuated Equilibrium…”, No one abused it more than Evo story teller Richard Dawkins. For anyone not familiar with it, here’s an overview, with Dawkins’ stated position given.
    http://www.istheory.yorku.ca/punctuatedequilibriumtheory.htm

    … so it’s not me but Richard Dawkins actually, who opposes the concept of PE, and “who is often viewed as the chief antagonist of the late Stephen Jay Gould …” (article citation)

    I view Macroevolution as the dead horse.

  13. #13 Lee Bowman
    June 4, 2007

    “the creos have no explanation at all of how it would function, and no evidence at all that any such “genetic limit” exists.”

    Nor does anyone else. Regarding ‘limit’ probabilities, John Haldane proposed limits. Mathematician Walter ReMine debates the subject. (click on link). Computer simulations will further demonstrate limits of favorable mutations and coopted functions, and their viability.
    http://home.austarnet.com.au/stear/encounter_with_remine_rr.htm

    “It is just something they made up because the concept of speciation offended their religious sensibilities with regard to Biblical “kinds”.”

    I think you’re referring to YEC’s like Ken Ham. I’m an engineer and a promoter of science, and not Biblical literalism. Sor-ry….
    My objection to speciation by RM/NS means is with regards to its non-viability, not some personal agenda as many of the true creationists have. In my posts, I try to address issues, rather than ad homs, although I sometimes see where a commenter is coming from, and may comment on it.

    Many if not all molecular researchers today are deeply invested in Darwinian evolution. If they dare to deviate from the accepted paradigm, they’ll be censored, smeared, and may face losing tenure. MacroEvo being valid, there’s no need for this. The argument that they are protecting upcoming scientists (and even lay people) from becoming bigoted ignorami (is that the plural of ignoramious I wonder …). To be honest, however, it appears they fear that the end is near, or that a major shift in thinking and research will upset the applecart. That not being true, then why the vociferous opposition to even considering alternate theories? Oh yea, religion coopting science! That will never happen.

    It’s said that 95% of scientists believe in Darwinian Evolution. Might be interesting to circulate a guaranteed anonymous poll to see if that number is valid. I say it’s not, for the reasons (loss of career) stated above.

    As I stated, I fully support science. I see what’s happening in academia (the persecutions and authoritarian and even fascist behaviors by its leaders) as doing more to discredit and possible even bring about the demise of science, much more than Ken Ham could ever do. Let’s work to make science truly ‘open inquiry’. If ID is false, it presents no threat. And if true, science goes on as before, since so called ‘creation events’ from the past would be history anyway.

  14. #14 Dan S.
    June 5, 2007

    Creationists are threastened by evolution because it does not mention or include God. By excluding God, in their way of thinking, you are endorsing atheism.

    Which, of course, is rather silly, unless one wants to insist that bridge-building, gravity, and weather-forecasting, by not mentioning God, endorse atheism. Hopefully we’ll get to that same point re: evolution soon, and this waste of time will be done. I’m not especially confident that we will, though: not only is it one of the literalists’ last redoubts (the final fallback for meddlesome-and-incompetent-god-theism after evolution is universe-creation and cosmic fine tuning (where many of the Discovery Institute folks have retreated to), there’s that visceral I CANT BE RELATED TO A MONKEY I”M SPECIAL AND IMPORTANT!! bit.

    Religious motives are the driving force, here, but it’s helpful to try to dig out the little cognitive quirks that help the creationists:

    Evolution works on exactly that uniqueness; it doesn’t just support Brownback’s point, it requires it. What theory is it that he thinks would “undermine man�s essential dignity and unique and intended place in the cosmos”?

    I think there’s a parallel here with some folks’ insistence, in the arguments over nontheistic morality, that morals and ethics have to be given from some superior source, the ‘you can’t have [moral] laws without a lawgiver’ fixation. We can’t, in their minds, have value, dignity, and meaning in and of ourselves, intrinsically – it has to be handed down from some higher power. It would be interesting to see if this sort of thing tends to correlate with authoritarianism, or at least general hierarchical thinking . . .

    Their argument is analogous to admitting I am capable of walking across the room, but somehow maintaining that it is impossible for me to walk across the street, without identifying what exactly is going to stop me from putting one foot in front of the other long enough to get there.

    We may well be natural born essentialists, but I think there’s an additional factor here that makes people even more at-risk from creationism (one I’ve not seen mentioned elsewhere, probably not looking hard enough). Most folks, quite reasonably enough, have very superficial knowledge of a handful of medium-large animal species, and a few smaller ones, with most of the rest either blurred together or completely unknown. Given this dim and fragmentary tree of life, it’s not entirely unreasonable to get the impression (esp. since evolutionary biology is barely covered – if at all – in most classrooms) that the gaps are deep, wide, and uncrossable. Start becoming familiar with the dizzying diversity just of current life (to say nothing of the fossil record), where that barren tree is revealed to be bursting with variations and in-between-looking forms; dive into anatomy (to say nothing of genetics!) and it becomes hard to imagine that evolution hasn’t happened. I don’t think this is a determining factor, esp. for core creationists (like Brownback and the AiG people say, any science that challenges their worldview must be wrong), but out towards the open-minded fringes, and at the time when people are forming adult views of the world . . .

  15. #15 Dan S.
    June 5, 2007

    I’m an engineer . . .

    Yep.
    The Salem Hypothesis rears its ugly head again . . .

    Is anyone here a) still reading, and b) regarding Lee’s comments as troubling, or thought-provoking, or anything other than the same old dreck? I’m too tired and have too much to do to address them otherwise . .

  16. #16 Lee Bowman
    June 5, 2007

    In a sense, academic credentials don’t really mean a lot. More important are the actual foundational arguments given for a point of view, along with the individual’s research, and/or work in the area of their advocacy. You could argue the point that most of what we see here is “the same old dreck”, since it seems to go around endlessly.

    And yes Dan, if we go on endlessly debating these issues with the same time worn arguments (most dating back to the days of Aristotle, actually), we’d never get anything else done.

    But I’ll tell you why I do it.

    1) I clearly see, and therefore feel the need to proffer what I see, as I feel it is important, and

    2) While those with opposing viewpoints will seldom change their position, there are lurkers out there who will, and they are my cause célèbre.

  17. #17 Lee Bowman
    June 5, 2007

    Since the accent marks don’t print here, to clarify what I said it was ” … and they are my cause celebre.

  18. #18 MPW
    June 5, 2007

    Lee, you’ve managed to continue on for four more posts – two of them rather lengthy – without answering the question you said in your first sentence here you would answer (i.e., what mechanism supposedly stops microevolutionary genetic changes from accumulating into macroevolution?). You’ve simply offered more unsupported assertions, oft-debunked creationist claims, and conspiracy theories, none directly addressing the issue. (OK, and a link to one online article about a creationist who supposedly answered the question, without the slightest effort to restate or expand upon the information in your words to show you understood it or even read it.)

    And incidentally, you don’t even know how to properly use the term cause celebre.

  19. #19 Lee Bowman
    June 6, 2007

    “what mechanism supposedly stops microevolutionary genetic changes from accumulating into macroevolution”

    You say I didn’t answer that question, however it was never posed. Nor did Charles Darwin go into detail on the mechanics of the process. Since he postulated it, and science adopted it as a valid hypothesis, the burden of explaining the process is placed there.

    With the progression of genetic knowledge, the term has become Neo-Darwinism, and bases its claims on population genetics, the study of allele frequency distribution, how heritable traits are passed on, and how information leading to vertical alterations in species come about. Since you go along with that, the ball is in your court to explain it. You might start with yeast populations.

    I’ll restate my position, that evolutionary changes are limited to minor changes at or below the species level, for:

    1) adaptability, i.e. adaptation to a changing environment due to a random mutation that is selected, resulting in a ‘survival advantage’, and producing offspring with that heritable trait, that may eventually become dominant in that population.

    2) diversity, i.e. producing a variance in physical appearance, demeanor, cognitive skills, etc. In RPG’s (role-playing games), characters are rated by these six characteristics: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Constitution, Dexterity and Charisma. At least in higher taxa like hominids, you could say that these are among a set of characteristics varied by microevolution.

    These are observable today in the general population, and in controlled lab experiments. Aquired drug resistance by bacteria would be another example.

    Now across the broad range of diverse existing taxa, and with extinct taxa from the fossil record added, we see similarities that would indicate ancestral lineages. I do not deny that. What I take exception to is the way in which one species led to another. You and others say it was by NS of RM. I say it was probably gene ‘tweaking’, similar to what we can do today within the field of genetic engineering. Accidental and ‘favorable’ mutations occur infrequently, and stacking them by purely naturalistic means to lead to a particular innovative species change is unlikely. Common Descent or Common Designer(s)? I say the latter is more likely, but if you disagree, explain to me the process of stepwise information adding to produce innovation. The wall you run into with that is that these intermediate alterations offer no enhanced survival advantage, and therefor would have no reason to become selected.

    Kenneth Miller has tried to introduce the concept of ‘coopted functionality’ for intermediate evolved changes that do give a reproductive advantage, and therefore would be selected, later reverting to a new function in the new species or organ structure. His favorite example is the ‘micro-syringe’ function (Type III Secretory System), that would later become a component of the flagellar motor of the cell. Problem is, that even if that instance occurred (and it’s purely conjectural, not having been empirically demonstrated), how many events like that would have to regularly occur during the evolutionary progression to create a kind of ‘artificial’ reproductive advantage? Monkeys typing Shakespeare is more plausible.

    I’ll rephrase the question you posed above regarding major genetic changes and toss it back your way. It’s not what stops it from happening, since there is no evidence that it ever did happen, but rather, “how can microevolutionary changes accumulate to produce macroevolutionary changes.” Maybe give a few examples where this has occurred.

  20. #20 Richard J. Fox
    June 6, 2007

    “Now across the broad range of diverse existing taxa, and with extinct taxa from the fossil record added, we see similarities that would indicate ancestral lineages. I do not deny that.”

    Lee, it’s nice to hear you concede that there is evidence for common descent. Interestingly, you believe there is an alternative hypothesis:

    “Common Descent or Common Designer(s)? I say the latter is more likely?

    This seems like a rather unparsimonious hypothesis given the molecular evidence. For example, most higher animals can synthesize vitamin C; however humans and other primates cannot because their copy of a gene used for the biosynthesis of vitamin C have all been crippled in exactly the same way: by a deletion at position 97 compared to the same gene in rat (Ohta and Nishikimi BBA 1472:408, 1999).

    The probability that humans and other primates would share exactly the same crippling mutation, if it occurred separately through random mutation, is vanishingly small. Can you propose a hypothesis as to why a common designer would do this? Isn’t common ancestry a far more compelling hypothesis in this case? I suspect you might propose that the “disabled” gene actually serves some other function that we are not aware of. However, it might interest you to know there are many other examples like this (including experiments where large stretches of “junk DNA” have been removed from mice genomes with no observable impact on mouse survival or fecundity). I can point you to these articles if you are interested.

    Incidentally, I take umbrage with the Salem Hypothesis floated by Dan S. Though I am formally trained with a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering I have spent the last 7 years applying the principles of directed molecular evolution to optimize proteins for human therapeutic, agricultural and industrial uses (we use the same algorithm nature does in order to create new or improved protein functions). While an engineering degree may predispose someone to look for a designer in complex systems, I think if you’re exposed to the evidence from molecular evolution, it’s extremely fanciful to infer intelligent/common design.

  21. #21 Science Avenger
    June 6, 2007

    Lee dissembled thusly: You say I didn’t answer that question [what mechanism supposedly stops microevolutionary genetic changes from accumulating into macroevolution], however it was never posed.

    See post #4 above from Mousecat, as well as many followup posts, including my own.

    Nor did Charles Darwin go into detail on the mechanics of the process.

    He couldn’t, since we didn’t even know about DNA at that time. But this is what makes evolution scientific and the alternatives not. Darwin’s theory predicted there must be a mechanism for passing on variations, and indeed years later that very thing was found. It is this process of prediction, investigation, and confirmation of theories that is anathema to evolution’s pseudoscientific challengers.

    Since he postulated it, and science adopted it as a valid hypothesis, the burden of explaining the process is placed there.

    Yes, and it has been explained: by the discovery of the myriad ways genetic variation can occur, be passed on, and the mapping of the genome of humans and chimps showing evidence that these sorts of changes happened in our history. And of course there are all the coincidentally nested independent hierarchies the fundies are so fond of ignoring.

    Now, are there details yet to be filled in about the process? Sure, there always are in cutting edge science. But one can be reasonably sure a process occurred without being able to explain every single detail about how and when, in the same way I can be reasonably sure the rockies exist, and were created by natural processes, without being able to explain each and every formation. My ignorance of some of the details does not make the competing theory that the rockies were created by Paul Bunyan and his ox Babe valid, just like modern science’s ignorance about some of the details of evolution doesn’t make the POOF Goddidit hypothesis valid.

    Bottom line: the mechanisms for speciation via natural processes have been identified, and the evidence of their occurrence is high in both in volume and quantity. If someone is going to claim it didn’t happen that way, the burdon of proof is on them to show why, which leads to the question Lee and other evolution-deniers don’t want to touch: what is the mechanism that would prevent genetic change from occurring to an extent sufficient for speciation? They don’t answer because they can’t. It’s just something they made up to protect their belief in the biblical concept of “kinds”.

    Personally I love it when creationists claim something is impossible that has been empirically observed. It shows how unscientific they truly are.

  22. #22 Science Avenger
    June 6, 2007

    My evidence link above should reference this fascinating discussion by Ken Miller of the discovery of the fused ape chromosomes that make up human chromosome #2, confirming common descent through modification. This is the sort of exercise evolution-deniers never do.

  23. #23 Josh Rosenau
    June 6, 2007

    Lee asserts “that evolutionary changes are limited to minor changes at or below the species level.”

    “Limited” by what? Darwin didn’t propose some novel force driving evolution above the species level because he argued that evolution was evolution, that there aren’t different phenomena operating at those higher taxonomic levels. The common ancestor of all dogs and the common ancestor of all cats share a single ancestral population. That ancestral population split in two, and those populations speciated by normal means, means that Lee Bowman so helpfully explained. Those populations continued to diverge by those same mechanisms. In time, the divergence was large.

    You ask “how can microevolutionary changes accumulate to produce macroevolutionary changes?” as if you were somehow surprised that the combination of a process that produces genetic novelty over short periods of time would produce larger genetic novelties over longer periods of time. That’s why the question is “how could microevolutionary changes fail to accumulate?” Barring some external limit, they have to accumulate, and you have to get “macroevolution,” however you define the term.

  24. #24 Lee Bowman
    June 7, 2007

    … it’s nice to hear you concede that there is evidence for common descent.” As does Mike Behe and other researchers who clearly see the evidence of ‘intervention’ along the way, and are wedded to science as the process of discovery, rather than adherence to religious beliefs. A brief aside: It’s often said that ID advocates are basically fundamentalist Christians who have religious motives in proffering ID. True, there are ‘fundies’ out there who fit that description. But I, Behe and most others who are pursuing the ID hypothesis today are doing so based on logic derived from the design inferences they see. In addition, many ID advocates lack science degrees, and while that may be viewed as a hindrance to both knowledge and the further pursuit of knowledge (as they would lack the tools and resources to do so), objective thought, free from science imposed bias in favor or evolution, offers more of a clean slate. Don’t debate me on this: I’m merely stating that to objectively consider origins, freedom from prior agendas of either ilk (evolution or religion) may be a good thing.

    I suppose it could be then argued that a degree in Engineering might make one predisposed to a teleological perspective, and therefore be unobjective. Perhaps, but if design in nature, (and implementation by successive genetic modifications over time) is true, it may make it easier to perceive it.

    Yes, I not only concede common descent, but acknowledge it vigorously. As Richard Fox points out, how can one deny his example of the common loss of vitamin C synthesis ability among certain closely related primates, or even that we share genes and proteins with worms and fruit flies? But do those kinds of similarities point to descent by naturalistic modification? Only if you couch it correctly. And just how would one do that, you might ask?

    Quoting from a publication in Nature Genetics, “Genomic sequencing has made it clear that a large fraction of the genes specifying the core biological functions are shared by all eukaryotes.” The authors go on to say that “all biologists now acknowledge that there is likely to be a single limited universe of genes and proteins, many of which are conserved in most or all living cells.”

    Returning to my ‘junkyard analogy’, you find that same thing there. All are constructed with common materials, although later vintages may include materials synthesized at a later date, i.e. new alloys and plastics, heretofore unknown. Also, there are ‘novel’ invocations, such as the first vehicle computer system, with onboard diagnostics (OBD I & II). Major innovations like this are comparable to quantum leaps in ‘evolution’, such as new circulatory systems, clotting for those systems, and vertebrate eyes, but akin to man’s technology, nature may well utilize similar means to innovate, i.e. guided evolution.

    Regarding Richard’s question of “Can you propose a hypothesis as to why a common designer would do this?” (pass on crippling mutations). I can. First, we use a method of design similar to having a genetic sequence that is evolvable. Microprocessors have evolved, and are so complicated today that no human mind can look at the whole structure, except piecemeal. When we design a new one, we use the vast computer coding that produced that last one, but make the requisite modifications needed to produce innovation. We then run the program, which handles the grunt work of adding data on the fly, with the requisite re-routing many thousands of pathways that no human could do manually in a lifetime. When the program executes without errors, a function simulation is run. Then, a trial chip is produced and tested.

    Let’s compare that with modifying an existing genome. The designer makes the changes by gene tweaking, embryogenesis (the biologic production line) occurs, and the modified life form is born, and it may or may not turn out as intended. I would venture that further mods would follow as needed.

    Back to the hypothesis as to why a common designer would pass on defects. When we make a modification to a microprocessor, we don’t necessarily address non-fatal, but perhaps limiting defects in certain areas of the chip. My proposal: When a ‘cosmic designer’ (or team of designers) designs in innovations over time leading perhaps to a new species, he/they/it may not correct existing minor defects. Creationists assume that God is perfect, therefore anything he created would be too. Defects caused by genetic accidents would of necessity be corrected in any new species. That is faulty logic, based on an inflated view of if not a designer/creator’s ability, and perhaps he/she/they/it’s inclination to start over from scratch each time. It’s illogical to conclude it would have to work that way. Evolutionary phylogenic progressions occur, and I feel, have been guided. The prime example of eyes (all of them) being so complex and multifunctional as to be non-evolvable by naturalistic means is unequivocal evidence of a designer. Intermediate stages of development would only happen if guided, since they would offer no partial functionality in most cases. Evolution has no look ahead capability, coopted functions are rare, most mutations are not beneficial, and ID addresses those issues. Life is designed. Period.

    I agree with your point about the Salem Hypothesis, and feel that it reflects a disdain for engineering types meddling with evolutionary theories. There’s some truth to both theorems, but I would somewhat disagree that your thoughts that if you’re exposed to the evidence from molecular evolution, ” …it’s extremely fanciful to infer intelligent/common design.” Since we know that gene ‘tweaking’ is possible (genetic eng.), and if we take down the ‘omniscient’ requirement, creation by divine fiat, and for that matter all Biblical references, ID now truly fits science’s requirements. The day will come when new species are created in a petri dish, with genetic coding mods likely arrived at by trial and error, since computer modeling still has a long way to go. This will help to validate the means. But the question of who, why and when may never be answered.

    And now, after 1000 words of blather, I need a cup of coffee …

  25. #25 Lee Bowman
    June 7, 2007

    You say I didn’t answer that question [what mechanism supposedly stops microevolutionary genetic changes from accumulating into macroevolution], however it was never posed.

    What I meant was, I hadn’t answered it since the question wasn’t directed at me. I then go on to answer it broadly, nonetheless, by stating that that the first is a means of adaptability and diversity, the second innovation. Linked together so that the empiricity of the first attempts to validate the second, it utterly fails to do so. The first is a known mechanism. The second, in its presently hypothesized form is conjectural. For that matter, macroevolution is not empirically testable, and so fails Karl Popper’s requirement.

    It’s well know that Darwin had not the knowledge we have today, and mentioned that proof of his theory would come later, with the conjectured find of intermediate fossils, and details of the process. Just as you ask and answer, “are there details yet to be filled in about the process? Sure, there always are in cutting edge science. But one can be reasonably sure a process occurred without being able to explain every single detail about how and where”. Darwin stated the same.

    You say that the mechanisms for speciation via natural processes have been identified, but the problem is that the choices for selection are limited, and the order of choices to produce novelty undefined. Simple changes that affect ‘reproduction success’ do in no way progress toward major innovative changes. Sorry, but chance doesn’t work that way. Nature, with no motivations, achieves via natural selection enhanced survival in some cases, extinction in others, but not a vertical progression. That’s it.

    Also, although it would be nice and would probably gain somebody a science award , I have to disagree with your last sentence. Macroevolution has not been empirically observed, just ask a fruit fly.

  26. #26 Lee Bowman
    June 7, 2007

    “My evidence link above should reference this fascinating discussion by Ken Miller of the discovery of the fused ape chromosomes that make up human chromosome #2, confirming common descent through modification. This is the sort of exercise evolution-deniers never do.”

    Fits my hypothesis of ‘guided evolution’ just fine. I believe our closest ancestors are indeed chimps, and along with chromosome 2 there’s ample evidence of that.

    GEv is my theory. Some of my arguments for that possibility are given in post #24.

  27. #27 Lee Bowman
    June 7, 2007

    Hi Josh,

    Finally got your attention I see. Enjoyed your post on Sam Brownback. Which one is the real conservative? I really don’t care since I’m staunch liberal.

    All of you guys (and the National Academy of Science, et al) believe that, as you state, “Barring some external limit, [microevolutionary changes] have to accumulate, and you have to get “macroevolution,” however you define the term.” (emphasis mine)

    I guess we can agree to disagree, after all Darwin Day is coming again, and please, don’t get me wrong, I respect Charles Darwin. But if further evidence shows that there’s any substance to ID, look for an increase in adherents. You don’t have to be wed to it to investigate it, either. Just don’t mention the term until after tenure is granted, and be sure to get it in writing!

    Check out one of my links. Westlab is my company, and it just might happen (the film).
    http://westlabmultimedia.com/

    Best regards,
    Lee

  28. #28 Josh Rosenau
    June 7, 2007

    Lee, you write that “All of you guys (and the National Academy of Science, et al) believe that, as you state, ‘Barring some external limit, [microevolutionary changes] have to accumulate, and you have to get “macroevolution,” however you define the term.'”

    To say I “believe” that is like saying that I “believe” that an object at motion tends to stay at motion unless acted upon by some force. Or, more simply, that n+1 must be greater than n, no matter what n might be. We can call that uniformitarianism an assumption, but it’s such a trivial assumption, and one so amply documented every moment of our lives, that I prefer to consider it a simple and obvious truth.

    You say you disagree, but don’t actually provide any reason to do so. You assert that “Mike Behe and other researchers clearly see the evidence of ‘intervention’ along the way,” but don’t actually say what that evidence is, or indeed what it possibly could be. The problem with ID is that it is not science. It doesn’t make falsifiable predictions. There is no possible way to produce evidence for it because it is impossible to produce evidence against it. It is meaningless.

    FWIW, Darwin’s birthday is in February. It’s true that, unless some force acts to stop time, adding more small changes in time will eventually bring another February around, but it seems inconsistent of you to claim that that is inevitable, while other applications of uniformity are not.

  29. #29 Lee Bowman
    June 7, 2007

    Macroevolution is microevolution accumulated, the difference being merely time and scale. I only said that most science majors (at least those who speak out) accept Darwinian evolutionary thought. The term ‘believe’ doesn’t necessarily have a negative connotation, like ‘faith based belief’ might have to some, but you could also say accept, embrace, hold to, advocate, etc.

    As far as providing a rationale for ID, I did that. As far as empirical evidences of ID (or macroevolution), genetic engineering experiments and computer simulations may qualify.

    If we’re talking integers, n+1 will always be greater unless n=inf.

  30. #30 Science Avenger
    June 8, 2007

    Lee Bowman dissembled thusly: I have to disagree with your last sentence. Macroevolution has not been empirically observed…

    Just keep chanting that easily falsified mantra. It only adds to the evidence that, well, you guys aren’t interested in the evidence.

    Simple changes that affect ‘reproduction success’ do in no way progress toward major innovative changes. Sorry, but chance doesn’t work that way. Nature, with no motivations, achieves via natural selection enhanced survival in some cases, extinction in others, but not a vertical progression. That’s it.

    Assertion, assertion, assertion. Who says? Supported by what data? All you are doing is finding newer and more wordy ways of restating your assertion. You still have not begun to explain what the barrier is that supposedly stops microevo from becoming macroevo, or supplied any experimental data as evidence of such a thing, or how it works.

    [the fusion of chimp chromosomes in humans] fits my hypothesis of ‘guided evolution’ just fine.

    Everything conceivable fits the hypothesis of ‘guided evolution’ just fine, which is why it isn’t worth a bucket of scientific spit. It is, however, very handy for clinging to cherished beliefs in the face of contrary evidence.

    Ken Millers response: “How would intelligent design explain this? Only one way, by shrugging and saying ‘that’s the way the designer made it.’ No reason, no rhyme. Presumably there’s a designer who designed human chromosome #2 to make it look as if it was formed from the fusion of a common ancester. I’m a Roman Catholic, I’m a theist, in the broadest sense I believe in a designer, but I don’t believe in a deceptive one. I don’t believe in one that would do this to try to fool us, therefore I think this is authentic and tells us something about our ancestry.”

  31. #31 Lee Bowman
    June 8, 2007

    Actually, I love evidence, but the conclusions drawn from data are subjective. In Ken’s presentation he breathlessly presents the chimp/hominid chromosome data with the conclusion that they evolved from a common ancestor, since that defect must have been passed on. What I had alluded to in #24 (but not clearly, perhaps) is that when the modifications were done for the hominid species, the gene defect was left unchanged. We know we’re descended, but genetic tweaking is still a viable means. Hey, it won’t be long before we may try it ourselves. We already have to a limited degree, but extra drosophila wings or a misplaced eye don’t count.

    Or, similar to what Dr. Miller says, you could put the shoe on the other foot, shrug and say, “Hey, that’s just the stupid way it evolved.”

    Back to your thots about a ‘designer’ deliberately deceiving us by making it look like the fused gene was from a common ancestor when it wasn’t, or inserting ‘vestigial’ organs needlessly, or combining an air passage with a food passage to make us choke, or (fill in the blank). I’ve heard ‘em all.

  32. #32 Science Avenger
    June 9, 2007

    Or, similar to what Dr. Miller says, you could put the shoe on the other foot, shrug and say, “Hey, that’s just the stupid way it evolved.”

    Yes, except for that niggling little detail that we have actually demonstrated that variation and natural selection exist and result in changes. We DON’T know any such thing about any designer. That’s the big part of the picture you guys don’t get. You ASSUME the designer, you haven’t demonstrated there is such a thing. Throwing your hands up in the air and declaring a thing unevolvable doesn’t make it so, and it sure as hell doesn’t make your designer any more plausible.

    If the flowerpot falls over, and the only being in the room was the cat, I don’t care if you don’t see how the cat did it, and you don’t get to make up intelligent flowerpot breakers either. The cat did it, period, whether we know the details or not.

  33. #33 windy
    June 10, 2007

    “Hey, that’s just the stupid way it evolved.”

    So? Nobody claimed evolution had foresight, so “stupid” but viable solutions are completely consistent with evolution.

    What I had alluded to in #24 (but not clearly, perhaps) is that when the modifications were done for the hominid species, the gene defect was left unchanged. We know we’re descended, but genetic tweaking is still a viable means.

    The human and chimp genomes are available online. Feel free to point to any sequences that are likely candidates for such “tweaking”.

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