Evolution


The Best Schools interviewed leading Intelligent Design theorist, Bill Dembski.  At one point he was asked, “You have stated that ‘design theorists oppose Darwinian theory on strictly scientific grounds.’ But then why is the ID movement so heavily populated with religious believers? Could we not expect more of the scientific community to support ID if your statement were true? Why do the majority of the world’s leading scientific bodies oppose ID and claim that it does not qualify as science?”

This is a valid question, and I’m sure it is on the minds of many people who are interested in the debate.  I like Dembski’s answer:

As for why religious believers tend to be associated with design, I could turn the question around. If Darwinian evolution is strictly scientific, then why is that field so heavily populated with atheists? In one survey of around 150 prominent evolutionary biologists, only two were religious believers (as I recall, Will Provine was behind this survey). I see a scientific core to both intelligent design and Darwinian evolution. And I see no merit in questioning their scientific status by the company they keep. The character of the proposals that both approaches make is what really ought to count.

 

HT: Uncommon Descent

For many famous historical figures, a distinction often needs to be made between the man and the myth that surrounds him.  This is no less true for Charles Darwin.  While the mythical features of a man are often later creations by others, in the case of Darwin, he created some of his own myths through his autobiography.  In his book The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin, Benjamin Wiker takes a critical look at the historical Darwin: the man, the myth, and his contribution to evolutionary theory.

Wiker documents several myths have arisen regarding Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution:

  1. That Darwin thought up the theory of evolution.  The notion that animals in the present evolved from earlier forms was not a novel idea.  The idea can be traced back to the ancient Greek philosopher Lucretius in the 1st century BC, and it was particularly in vogue among the intelligentsia in Darwin’s day.  In fact, his very famous grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, wrote a widely acclaimed book titled Zoonomia (1794) in which he laid out his own theory of evolution more than 60 years before Charles wrote On the Origin of Species.  In medical school, Darwin studied under a radical evolutionist by the name of Robert Grant.  He also read the works of other evolutionists.  Darwin did not come up with evolution.  He merely popularized the theory by providing a plausible, naturalistic mechanism by which it might work, backed up by some empirical observations.

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Mobile DNA has published an article by Georgia Tech Professor of Biology John McDonald, who led a team investigating why chimps and humans are so different seeing that our genes are nearly identical.  What they discovered is that the regions adjacent to the genes often differ greatly in their DNA sequences (retrotransposons).  Previously retrotransposons have been considered leftover junk from the evolutionary process, but now it is believed that such regions serve as regulators of gene expression, and it is differences in gene expression that determines the differences between chimps and humans.

This is just one more finding in a long list of findings that show supposed junk DNA (which makes up 98% of our genome) actually has a biological function.  This is something Intelligent Design theory predicted, but is quite surprising from a Darwinian evolutionary point of view.

Whale evolution is supposed to be one of the best documented cases of gradualism in the fossil record.  No doubt, when you stack the fossils up next to each other, you can see what appears to be a morphological transition from a terrestrial mammal to an aquatic whale (see the graphic below).   (more…)

Recently an article appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences[1] which concluded that observed changes in biological populations are usually short-lived, and typically fail to spread through the entire species.  According to lead author and zoologist Josef Uyeda (Oregon State University), “Rapid evolution is clearly a reality over fairly short time periods, sometimes just a few generations. But those rapid changes do not always persist and may be confined to small populations. For reasons that are not completely clear, the data show the long-term dynamics of evolution to be quite slow.”  He and his team concluded that it takes approximately one million years for a biological change to take root in a population.

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Just up at the Institute for Biblical Studies: “The (In)adequacy of Darwinian Evolution.”

Back in March I blogged about new research which called into question whether life has existed on this planet for 3.5 billion years.  A fossil believed to be a bacteria is now thought to be a hermatite (a mineral), making the oldest life form 2 billion years old.  Now a 3.4 billion year old extremophile fossil has been discovered inAustralia.  The organism is thought to have been sulfur-based rather than oxygen-based.

Such is the nature of science.  Life gets a 1.5 billion year age reduction in a single day, and then a few months later, it ages quickly to just 100 million years short of its original mark.

HT: Uncommon Descent

Discovery News & Views has a good post on the problem sex presents for Darwinism.  No, not the act of sexual intercourse, but the origin of sexual organisms (male and female).  Asexual organisms have the ability to produce offspring at twice the rate as sexual organisms, and they never fail to reproduce on the grounds that they can’t find a mate.  Given these clear biological advantages of asexual reproduction, how did sexuality ever evolve?  How did it come to dominate in the struggle for survival?  Sexuality should have been outcompeted very early on.  Even more intriguing is the question of how asexual organisms could gradually evolve into sexual organisms without dying out in the process.  A partially formed reproductive system does not result in progeny.  Even if we find a way to hurdle the problem of a gradual transition, what is the likelihood that random mutations would create two different, and completely complimentary reproduction systems?  And what is the likelihood that this would happen at the same time?  Apparently chance is just really lucky.

A couple of new Darwinian explanations have been offered to solve this long-standing Darwinian conundrum.  The post explores these explanations and shows how they fall short of explaining what needs to be explained.  Check it out.

In 2010 Jerry Fodor, a philosophy professor at Rutgers University, and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, a biophysicist, molecular biologist, and cognitive scientist at the University of Arizona, published What Darwin Got Wrong.  Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini (FPP) are, by their own admission, died-in the-wool atheists and committed to a fully naturalistic account of evolutionary development.  And yet, they admit that they do not know how evolution proceeds.  One thing they are sure of is that Darwin’s account of natural selection cannot be it.  Natural selection fails as an explanation on both scientific and philosophical grounds.

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Darwinists believe that evolution advances primarily via natural selection acting on genetic mutations.  The more genetic variation there is, the more room there is for evolutionary advancement.  Evidence against the neo-Darwinian synthesis is mounting every day.  It is simply not borne out by the data.  Here is another case in point.

Alfie Clamp is a two year old boy who has been diagnosed with having an extra strand of DNA on chromosome seven.  Did this additional genetic information help Alfie in the struggle for survival?  No.  It caused him to be born blind, he has to take a cocktail of drugs every day so his body will absorb nutrients from his food, and he has stopped breathing multiple times.  It seems as though regular mutations are too few and too slow to produce novel biological change, and large novel mutations are detrimental to an organism.  Either way, evolution will not proceed.

Those aren’t my words (although I concur with them).  Those are the words of John Horgan, a science journalist and former editor of Scientific American.  Horgan recently published an article in Scientific American discussing the dismal state of origin-of-life research.  He describes the research as being at an “impasse,” and resorting to “far out…speculation” as exemplified by the theory of panspermia (life originated in outer space and was brought to earth).

Just one week prior to the publication of Horgan’s article, science writer Dennis Overbye published an article in the New York Times on the same subject.  He reported on an origin-of-life conference at Arizona State University in which two dozen top-ranking scientists from a variety of disciplines converged to discuss the problem.  While Overbye touted the RNA World hypothesis, he noted that “one lesson of the meeting was how finicky are the chemical reactions needed for carrying out these simple-sounding functions,” and “even if RNA did appear naturally, the odds that it would happen in the right sequence to drive Darwinian evolution seem small.”

It’s not often that the public is made aware of the fact that scientists have no adequate naturalistic explanation for the origin of life, so it’s refreshing to see this being discussed by ideological opponents in venues as important as the New York Times.

Ponce de Leon may not have discovered the fountain of youth, but life just got younger nonetheless.  Scientists have long held that life has existed on Earth for 3.5 billion years based on what was thought to be fossilized bacteria discovered in a rock in Australia.  That research has been called into serious question by new research.  Geologists at the University of Kansas have concluded that the structures in question are hematites (a mineral), not bacteria.  If their findings are confirmed, then life will be downgraded from 3.5 billion years old to 2 billion years old.

This is both good and bad for materialists.  (more…)

In a previous post I addressed the “lottery” objection to the probabilistic argument against a naturalistic origin of life: “Just as the odds of winning the lottery are low, and yet people win the lottery all the time, so too the odds of forming life by chance may be low, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible.”  I argued that unlike a lottery, the probabilistic resources available to form life are so unfathomably low that there is no reason to expect a winner in chance’s game of life.  To prove my point, I compared the number of possible events in the whole history of the universe (10139)—the probabilistic resources—to the probability of a 250 gene organism forming by chance (1:1041,000).  The odds of life forming by chance came up trillions upon trillions upon trillions of times short, and thus there is no rational basis on which to affirm that life originated by chance.  What I didn’t realize then was that I had severely over-estimated the odds.

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A new Gallup poll reveals Americans’ views on creation:

  • 40% believe humans were specially created by God 10,000 years ago (creationism)
  • 38% believe God used evolutionary processes to create human beings from less advanced life forms over millions of years (theistic evolution)
  • 16% believe humans developed from less advanced life forms over millions of years without any aid from a divine being (naturalism/atheism).

The number of theistic evolutionists has not changed much over the past 30 years, while there has been a slight decrease in the number of creationists (down from 47% in 1993) and a slight increase in the number of naturalists/atheists (up 7% from 1982).

One of the weaknesses of this poll is that it presents these three views as if they were the only options.  Jay Richards wrote a short post elaborating on this point.  Nevertheless, it does illustrate an important point: the vast majority of Americans do not buy into the materialistic paradigm of Darwinism.

In a previous post I argued that chance cannot account for the origin of the first living cell because the odds are too low to have any reasonable chance of being met.  The odds of a single, functional protein forming by chance is 1 in 10164.  That’s 1 chance in 100 trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion.  But the simplest life form would need at least 250 different proteins, lowering the odds to 1 in 1041,000!

While the numbers appear staggering, many people will immediately raise the “lottery objection”: Just as the odds of winning the lottery are low, and yet people win the lottery all the time, so too the odds of forming life by chance may be low, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible.  While I understand the analogy, are the lottery and the OOL truly analogous?  No, not by a long shot.

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Darwinists routinely put forth the fossil record as the best, most objective evidence for evolution (common descent).  They find it so compelling that they think it proves evolution happened, even if they cannot be sure of the mechanism by which it happened.  As Jerry Coyne writes in Why Evolution is True, “[T]he issue is not whether macroevolutionary change happens – we already know from the fossil record that it does – but whether it was caused by natural selection, and whether selection can build complex features and organisms.”[1]

Critics of Darwinism have often responded by asking a rhetorical question: “How do you that life evolved if you do not know how life evolved?”  In the absence of a plausible mechanism to propel macroevolutionary changes in organisms, how can Darwinists be so sure that organisms have experienced macroevolutionary changes?  As Sean McDowell wrote:

I am amazed at how frequently Darwinists admit that there is debate about HOW life evolved but not THAT life evolved. … If there is debate about the how of evolution, then what right do Darwinists have to claim that we evolved with such confidence…? Evolution is a theory specifically about how life developed. The significant debate (and lack of evidence) for the mechanism of evolution undermines the theory itself.[2]

On the face of it this line of reasoning is compelling.  I myself found it persuasive for quite some time.  When I came to examine the logic a little more deeply, however, I found the response to be fallacious.  To see the fallacy let me spell out the response in syllogistic form:

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The chimp Y chromosome has now been fully sequenced, and the results are astounding.  A study in Nature reveals that the chimp Y chromosome is radically different than the human Y chromosome.[1]  The chimp’s Y chromosome has only two-thirds the number of distinct genes/gene families, and 47% of the protein coding regions compared to its human counterpart.  Furthermore, more than 30% of the entire chimp Y chromosome has no counterpart in humans.  Even those segments that do have counterparts in the human Y chromosome are often located in different regions of the chromosome. 

One the lead researchers, David Page, told Nature News that “it looks like there’s been a dramatic renovation or reinvention of the Y chromosome in the chimpanzee and human lineages.”[2]  Of course, this reinvention has to be explained in terms of common descent, so they speculate that the chimp Y chromosome experienced a loss of DNA, while humans experienced a gain.  The surprise of the scientists involved, however, demonstrates that this find is counter-intuitive to Darwinian expectations.

HT: Evolution News & Views


[1]Jennifer F. Hughes, David Page, et al, “Chimpanzee and human Y chromosomes are remarkably divergent in structure and gene content”; Nature 463, 536-539 (28 January 2010) | doi:10.1038/nature08700; Received 3 August 2009; Accepted 24 November 2009; Published online 13 January 2010; available from http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v463/n7280/full/nature08700.html; Internet; accessed 30 April 2010.
[2]Lizzie Buchen, “The Fickle Y Chromosome”; available from http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100113/full/463149a.html; Internet; accessed 30 April 2010/

(Note: Read Part 3a of the series before reading this post)

Viruses

The HIV virus mutates at the evolutionary speed limit: 10,000 times faster than most cells such as malaria.[1] And its genome is rather small (nine genes versus thousands in malaria).[2] Its small size combined with a short generation time (1-2 days) and super-rapid mutation rate means every single nucleotide in the HIV genome will mutate 10,000 to 100,000 times in every infected person every day, and thus double point mutations like the one that made malaria immune to Chloroquine occur in every person every day.  In fact, over the past several decades every possible combination of up to six point mutations has occurred in HIV somewhere in the world.  If RM drives macroevolutionary changes in organisms, then we should observe macroevolution in the HIV virus since it experiences more mutations than any other organism.  But we don’t.  HIV has run the gamut of all possible mutations to its genome, and yet with all of these mutations in a population of 100 billion billion viruses, no new cellular machinery has been created, and no new organism has developed! HIV is still HIV.  It still contains the same number of proteins, still performs the same function, and still binds to its host the same way it always has.  There have been no significant biochemical changes.  Even gene duplication has failed to produce any new biological information.

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(Read parts 1 and 2 in the series)

The heart of the neo-Darwinian synthesis is that evolution advances via the process of natural selection working on random mutations (RM+NS).  Natural selection itself lacks any creative power – it only eliminates what doesn’t work.  Eliminating the unfit, however, does nothing to “explain the origin of the fit”![1]  The burden falls entirely on RM to create the biological novelties required by Darwinism to drive evolution forward.  It must be asked, then, whether RM has the creative power required by Darwin’s theory.  Can RM produce the new biological information necessary to drive evolution forward and explain the diversification of all life?  What exactly can RM do? 

When the neo-Darwinian synthesis was set forth some 70 years ago, answers to these questions could not be ascertained.  While the theory was plausible on a conceptual level, there was no real way of testing its biological plausibility.  Over the last 30 years, however, we have been able to observe both the power and limits of RM+NS at the biological level.  What have we discovered?  We discovered that while RM can produce variability within an organism, it is not capable of producing the kind of changes required by Darwin’s theory.  RM is severely limited in what it can accomplish. 

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(For part 1 in the series, click here)

If macroevolution occurs, it must do so at the biochemical level.  Additional genetic information is needed to build the new proteins and biological systems required for large-scale changes.  Where does the new biological information come from?  Mutations?  No.  Point mutations such as inserting, inverting, or substituting nucleotides in existing genes cannot increase the information content of DNA even if they occur in protein-coding regions, and even if the mutations are beneficial to the organism.  At best they can only replace existing information/function with different information/function, so that the overall information content is merely preserved.[1]  For macroevolution to occur a net increase of information is required, not just a change in existing information. 

The origination of new genetic information requires new proteins, which requires hundreds of additional nucleotides arranged in a highly specified order.  How likely is it that chance processes can get the job done?  Next to none.  The chances of producing a functional amino acid sequence of a mere 150 nucleotide bases (which would sequence one of the smallest proteins) is 1:10164.[2]  To put this number in perspective, consider that there have only been 10139 events in the entire universe since the Big Bang.[3]  So even if every event in the history of the universe was devoted to building a single functional protein, the number of sequences produced thus far would be less than 1 out of a trillion trillion of the total number of events needed to give it even a 50% chance of success!  Any reasonable person must conclude, then, that it is beyond the reach of chance to create even the smallest amount of new biological information in an organism.  Add to this the fact that many new proteins are needed to produce new biological systems, and the scenario becomes all the more fantastical.  If chance alone cannot produce the gene for even one protein—yet alone many—macroevolution becomes impossible. 

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