Saturday, 25 January 2014

Why David Pearce's "Evidence for Design" fails to disprove evolution - 4

Pearce, having shown that he is poorly uninformed on the evidence for large-scale evolutionary change in the fossil record, then proceeds to invoke yet another creationist argument, the 'living fossil' as disproof of evolution:
"How is it that fossil bees, preserved in resin and claimed by the scientists to be many millions of years old, are recognisable as close relatives of our honey makers today? Or the squid-like nautiloid dug up when they were building the Channel Tunnel between Britain and France, which was said to have been more or less unchanged for 500 million years! Why was there no appreciable change over such a long period?"
Once again, Pearce ignores the fact that evolution refers to fact (common descent and large-scale evolutionary change) and theory (the modern evolutionary synthesis). Evolution, as a science with a historical elements also refers to historical path. Unsolved questions about the specific details of natural history do not make the considerable evidence for common descent vanish.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Asyncritus, endogenous retroviruses and plagiarism

Poor arguments against evolutionary biology not only make special creationists look ignorant and intellectually dishonest, but make the scientifically informed person who is potentially interested in the Christian faith less inclined to investigate our message.

Appeal to authority and quote mining are two of the most commonly found logical fallacies in special creationist attacks on evolution. When you add plagiarism to the mix, it is easy to see why many non-theists regard special creationists with contempt.

One of the most powerful demonstrations of common descent is the presence of identical shared retroviral elements at identical locations in the genomes of species. As retroviruses insert randomly into the genome, the odds of the same retrovirus inserting into the same location in the genome purely by chance is billions to to one against. As the respected virologists John Coffin and Welkin Johnson point out:
Therefore, an ERV locus shared by two or more species is descended from a single integration event and is proof that the species share a common ancestor into whose germ line the original integration took place. Furthermore, integrated proviruses are extremely stable: there is no mechanism for removing proviruses precisely from the genome, without leaving behind a solo LTR or deleting chromosomal DNA. The distribution of an ERV among related species also reflects the age of the provirus: older loci are found among widely divergent species, whereas younger proviruses are limited to more closely related species. [1]

A former creationist comments on the forthcoming Bill Nye / Ken Ham debate

By now, everyone who keeps half an eye on the evolution-creation debate will be aware that science educator Bill Nye will debate YEC apologist Ken Ham on the subject "Is creationism a viable model of origins?” Personally, I think this is a bad idea as any debate with the YEC charlatans gives them the legitimacy they crave but do not deserve.

Former creationist David MacMillan has commented on the debate at the Panda's Thumb blog, and hopes that some good comes from it:
I hope Nye can cut through the accumulated falsehoods and teach about the actual evidence. I want people to be free to learn, free to understand, free to explore the fantastic mysteries of the universe without being tied down to phony dogma that wasn’t even part of Christianity until the last fifty years.
That's something that many YECs simply don't grasp - the view of reality that Ham and other science denialists peddle wasn't even normative for Christians until the mid-20th century, when the reheated views of Seventh Day Adventist George McReady Price peddled by Whitcomb and Morris infected evangelical Protestantism, and sadly, my faith community, the Christadelphians.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

How bad can creationist research get? Let Asyncritus show you

My recent post on Jerry Coyne's humiliating take-down of a creationist crank who goes by the nom de plume Asyncritus was initially meant to be a one-off event, to show the difference between a world-class scholar and the sort of crank who thinks that a sustained argument from personal incredulity is sufficient to overturn one of the best-demonstrated facts in science. However, it turns out that Asyncritus has a blog, a veritable bottomless pit of stupidity which illustrates just how ignorant your average creationist is.

Why David Pearce's "Evidence for Design" fails to disprove evolution - 3

One of the most readily-refuted creationist claims is the absence of transitional fossils. Transitional forms abound in the fossil record, and provide compelling evidence for large-scale evolutionary change. [1] Therefore, when Pearce declares that:
There are also enormous problems at the top end of the diagram. If life progressed steadily from simple forms to complex ones, where are the intermediate stages now? Why cannot their remains be found in the fossil rocks? [2]
not only is he showing that he fails to grasp the fact that evolution is not a linear progression from microbe to man, but a bushy branch as one would expect from a process of descent with modification, he is positively telegraphing his lack of understanding of palaeontology to his informed readers.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Jerry Coyne schools Asyncritus

Jerry Coyne is one of the leading evolutionary biologists in the world who quite literally wrote the book on speciation. Like all evolutionary biologists with a high profile, he also attracts his fair share of cranks and crackpots. In October 2013, he attracted the attention of yet another evolution denialist, who goes by the nom de plume Asyncritus. Coyne's destruction of Asyncritus is a work of art:

Why David Pearce's "Evidence for Design" fails to disprove evolution - 2

Pearce’s argument reveals its naiveté in its opening paragraph:

 Science teaching about the natural world invariably assumes acceptance of the theory that organisms changed by an evolutionary process from simple to complex by means of improvements taking place over long periods of time. The idea is so widely accepted that it is rarely challenged. It seems obvious enough in the biology textbook, a progression from microbe to fish, from sea creature to mammal, from fern to flowering plant. Yet looking at the diagram of the evolutionary tree, it is also clear that there are big gaps in the story. (Emphasis mine)[1]
Two things are immediately apparent. The first is his conflation of evolution as fact (reference to evolutionary tree) and evolution as theory (reference to cumulative change over time). Even if the modern synthetic theory was falsified tomorrow, the facts that it explains not only would not go away, but would need to be explained by the successor theory to the MES. Pearce’s failure to properly define evolution in his opening pages undermines the credibility of his attack – he is merely attacking a creationist parody of evolution.

Why David Pearce's "Evidence for Design" fails to disprove evolution - 1

David Pearce’s “Evidence for Design”[1] is one of two Christadelphian-authored works of pseudoscience that the Christadelphian Magazine and Publishing Association sells.[2] Given that the fact of evolution has not been in doubt for well over a century[3] it reflects both Pearce’s ignorance of the subject that he criticises, as well as a failure of the CMPA to maintain the quality of material that it sells.

Pearce’s thesis is simply the argument from design dressed up in modern clothing. At heart, it is an argument from ignorance:
I cannot imagine how X evolved. Therefore it never evolved.
The flaw in this argument is painfully easy to see. Just because Pearce cannot imagine a plausible evolutionary pathway for the evolution of a structure does not mean that one does not exist. Anyone with even a nodding acquaintance with the professional literature will be aware that the cumulative effect of mutation and selection is capable of producing design. In fact, evolutionary algorithms, which exploit this Darwinian mechanism are more than capable of producing design without a designer.[4]

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Common descent and the curious origin of human chromosome 2

Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, while the great apes have 24 pairs of chromosomes. Common descent would predict that one of the human chromosomes would owe its formation to a fusion event. This is indeed the case. Human chromosome 2 owes its origin to the fusion of two chromosomes homologous to ape chromosome. Special creationists are unable to deny this fact, and resort to quote mining technical papers on cell biology in a desperate attempt to cloud the issue.

Our understanding of the origin of chromosome 2 in a fusion event is not new. We've known about the close similarity between human and ape chromosomes as long as thirty years ago, with the researchers behind the seminal paper in Science in which this data was published noting:
"The telomeric fusion of chromosomes 2p and 2q accounts for the reduction of the 24 pairs of chromosomes of the great apes to 23 in modern man. [1]"
As one can see below, the similarities are striking:

Friday, 10 January 2014

Evolutionary Creationism: A Guide for the Perplexed - 3

Genesis 1 refers to functional origins, not material origins

To summarise what we’ve covered:

  • Special creationist (and many non-theist critics) make the mistake of reading the creation narratives either as a literal account of creation in six days 6000 years ago, or a strong concordist account which can be harmonised with natural history
  • This is false from both scientific and Biblical reasons, mainly because Genesis 1 reflects ancient cosmology, in which the Earth was flat, fixed and covered with a solid firmament
  • Genesis 1 accommodates this ancient worldview rather than waste time trying to teach modern science to an audience. Genesis was more concerned with declaring who created the universe, rather than obsess over mechanical details unintelligible to the original audience.

Evolutionary Creationism: A Guide for the Perplexed - 2

Genesis 1 is Ancient Cosmology, not Modern Science

I referred earlier to Genesis 1 being ancient cosmology and not modern science in my opening paragraph, and this is the fundamental reason why literalism / strong concordism are false. YECs claim that they are faithful to the literal word of the text. They are not.

Gen 1:6-8 refers to the creation of a firmament separating waters above from waters below. It also refers to the stars being set in the firmament and birds flying across the face of the firmament. The firmament cannot be the atmosphere as stars are not in our atmosphere. It cannot be outer space as birds tend not to survive in a vacuum. The word raqia’ translated as firmament is used in Ezekiel 1 to refer to the solid dome below which the living creatures flew, and above which was a throne on which a heavenly being sat. The lexical data also supports the idea: one of the leading Hebrew lexicons notes that “by [raqia’] was understood the gigantic heavenly dome which was the source of the light that brooded over the heavenly ocean and of which the dome arched above the earthly globe.”[1] YECs who claim to read the creation narratives literally are not consistent in their literalism, otherwise they would teach that the sky was actually solid. Such exegetical inconsistency makes a mockery of YEC claims for strict literalism. As Susan Piggott, Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew in the Logsdon School of Theology notes:
Most people who claim they read Genesis 1 “literally” don’t. They believe that what they believe about Genesis 1 is literal. But they aren’t reading Genesis 1 literally. If we read Genesis 1 literally, we come out with a very different picture than most literalists imagine. Indeed, we find ourselves firmly planted in the Hebrew worldview—an ancient worldview. And, if we know our history, we know that the Hebrews had no concept of a round earth that coursed around the sun. They believed the earth was flat, the sky was a dome, and the sun revolved around the earth.[2]

Evolutionary Creationism: A Guide for the Perplexed - 1


I’m aware of some confusion among both special creationists and non-theists about exactly what evolutionary creationism means. In my experience, both theist and non-theist make the mistake of thinking ECs believe that the creation narratives either explicitly refer to evolution as the mechanism of creation, or can be harmonised with an evolutionary natural history. This is wrong. You will find no reference to evolution anywhere in the creation narratives. However, you will find no unambiguous reference to heliocentrism, a spherical Earth or any other aspect of the modern world for the simple reason that Genesis 1 is ancient cosmology, not modern science, and serves both as a polemic against ancient Near Eastern creation mythology, a well as an account of functional origins (order from chaos) as opposed to material origins.