# The Steps of the Puzzle

By Carl Zimmer | September 22, 2005 1:42 am

My brother Ben is now a respectable consultant for the Oxford English Dictionary, but when he was a kid, he was a puzzle freak, pure and simple. In fourth grade he’d spend hours paging through a big unabridged Webster’s, looking for obscure words that he could use to create a fiendish rebus. Little did I know that one day one of his favorite puzzles–the doublet–would become useful to me in thinking about evolution.

The challenge of a doublet is to turn one word into another. You are allowed to change one letter at a time, but each change must produce a real word. Here’s a doublet that suits a post on evolution: Change APE to MAN.

Give up?

APE

APT

OPT

OAT

MAT

MAN

Now imagine that having solved the APE-to-MAN puzzle, you tell a friend about your triumph.

Your friend scoffs. "That’s ridiculous," he says. "I don’t believe you’ve found a missing link between APE and MAN. It doesn’t exist."

You furrow your brow. "Wait," you say. "No, I think maybe you didn’t hear how the puzzle works–"

"I mean, what comes in between?"

"Well, there’s APT, and then–."

"APT? Please! That’s nothing like MAN. They don’t have a single letter in common. It’s just a completely separate word on its own."

"But then there’s OPT–"

"OPT? Are you kidding me? That’s just as irrelevant. You can’t just go from APE to MAN through OPT."

"But what about MAT? That’s a lot like MAN."

"Sure," your friend says, rolling his eyes. "But what on Earth does it have to do with APE?"

Is he really not getting it, you might ask yourself, or is he just pretending not to understand what I’m saying? That’s how I felt when someone sent me an email to tip me off about an attack at the creationist web site Answers in Genesis. It is based on either a misunderstanding or a misrepresentation of what evolution is all about. And doublets help to explain why.

The attack concerns an interview I gave recently to an Australian radio talk show. The Aussies called me up to talk about President Bush’s endorsement of discussing Intelligent Design in schools. Along the way, I explained why creationism has failed to win support in the scientific community. For one thing, creationists often base their arguments on supposed gaps in evolution, such as "missing links" in the fossil record. I talked about how creationists used to talk about the absence of intermediate fossils that would show how whales had evolved from land mammals. But once paleontologists began to find walking whales, the creationists no longer made that argument, moving on to some other gap.

I guess the creationists in Australia were listening to me that day, because now Mark Looiy of Answers in Genesis is here to tell you that in fact "creationists have been devoting many a printed (and web) page—and public lectures—to assertively debate the evolutionary whale claim."

Let’s set aside the fact that scientific debates take place at conferences of scientific societies or in the pages of peer-reviewed biology journals. What exactly are the creationists offering in these pages and lectures? They claim that the fossils of early whales don’t support the argument that whales evolved from land mammals, but their claims are unfounded for a number of reasons.

For one thing, Looiy’s article (and a book by Jonathan Sarfati that he links to as evidence that creationists are still on the whale evolution case) are simply riddled with factual errors. To choose just one example, Sarfati claims that the fossil of Ambulocetus, an alligator-like whale with big feet, is "(conveniently) missing" the pelvis and other parts that are supposedly crucial to establishing the transition from land to sea. I imagine here a paleontologist gasping at the sight of a pelvis that disprove evolution and smashing it with his rock hammer. In fact, Hans Thewissen, the paleontologist who discovered Ambulocetus in Pakistan, has gone back year after year and has now found its pelvis and almost every other bone in this creature. And the complete skeleton supports his initial conclusion that this whale used its legs to kick through the water like an otter.

But there’s a more fundamental problem with Looiy and Sarfati’s take on whales. They look at individual fossils of whales and declare that each one tells us nothing about how whales evolved into marine mammals. The oldest whale, the goat-like Pakicetus, had fully terrestrial legs, so it tells us nothing. Much later, the fully aquatic whale Basiolosaurus retained tiny legs complete with ankles, but since it was completely marine, it also tells us nothing.

What they either don’t know or don’t want to explain is that scientists reconstruct evolutionary history by looking not at one species, but as many species as they can. They draw evolutionary trees by analyzing fossils or DNA, and they look at the traits that are shared by species on different branches of the tree. Pakicetus does look to have been very terrestrial, but it also had peculiar structures in its skull that are only found in whales. Over time, whale legs appear to have changed as whales adapted to the water–first becoming otter-like in the case of Ambulocetus, and then more seal-like in the case of Rodhocetus. Basilosaurus was much further along in this evolution, with much reduced legs that offered no help in swimming at all. And today, whales carry vestiges of hips.

No one species bridged the entire transition from land mammal to marine whale, just as no word bridges the transition from APE to MAN. What’s more, many of these early whale fossils–while related to living whales–did not give rise to them directly. They’re more like aunts and uncles to today’s living whales. In some cases, such as a group called remingtonocetids, walking whales branched off in weird directions of their own, in some cases evolving bizarre heron-shaped heads. A couple years ago Thewissen summarized all the information available on fossil and living whales with this tree–a tree that continues to support the evolution of whales from terrestrial ancestors. It may not be the full solution to the doublet LAND MAMMAL to MARINE WHALE, but it’s a very good start.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution

1. linguist

consultant for the Oxford English Dictionary

I’m pea green. How does one land that job?

2. This reads like you were tagged by the same mob that targetted Richard Dawkins. Some creationist bludgers from Oz duped him into thinking they were serious documentary filmers. When they entered the house, however, they deluged him with questions about “flaws” in Darwinism.

It’s all in “The Devil’s Chaplain”.

3. I am not APT to OPT out of your blog any time soon. I’ll try to APE your style. Does that make me less of a MAN?

4. inwit

The evolution of APE to MAN does not end there.

MAN

MOD

GOD

5. Jason Malloy

Here’s a condensed version of that cetacean evolution chart with pictures:

And a more detailed illustration for the legs > Otter-like > Seal-like > flipper transition:

Is Mesonychids out?

6. Jason Malloy

Ok, that was just lazy. First chart. Second chart.

7. Timothy Chase

Some time ago, Michael Behe (perhaps the leading “theorist/intellectual” of the Intelligent Design movement) argued that there way no way that whales could have evolved from land mammals. Only three months later, Pakicetus and (more importantly) the Ambulocetus which Carl Zimmer mentions were discovered. Didn’t take long to fill-in those gaps!

8. lara

Great post. And to Jason Molloy, thanks for the links — I was thinking as I read that I’d love to see illustrations.

This is totally off-topic, but still science-related. I just came across it. Harpers has posted a sample of the edits made by a white house staffer to a report on global warming:
http://harpers.org/SilentSpring.html

9. Doug

Useless trivia: Doublets was (were?) invented by Lewis Carroll in 1877.

Haven’t thought of the game in years. Good analogy to the whale-land mammal situation.

10. I’m having my students in “GENE 3000: Evolutionary Biology” read At the Water’s Edge. I hope the book will be very enlightening to them.

(Okay, I’m just a TA and the profs are having the students read ATWE, but it was my idea.)

11. Aaron Stafford

I think that most people, even those who accept evolution, have a fundamental misunderstanding of how natural selection and branching work. I know that I had a hard time grasping this completely until very recently.

My initial thoughts were that if we are the result of a series of distinct species, why are the no other descendants of those species?

It wasn’t until I understood the issue of geographic isolation that I began to understand that these distinct species that we have discovered may have been a side branch and not really our direct ancestors, or they could very well have been our great-[…]-great grand parents. They were just the ones who happened to be fossilized, providing a temporal snapshot of where a small collection of the human species was at that time and place, as what “Human” was continued to change.

Just looking around us, the fact of genetic variation should be completely obvious. Every one of us is slightly (or greatly) different from everyone else. The effects of isolation should be just as obvioius, using people who have lived in extreme environments as a very clear example. Siberian reindeer herders have a very distinct body style from the Aboriginal people in Austrailia. Their environments are the ‘obvious’ reason.

This new point of view allowed the falacy of ‘race’ to sink in as well. Given enough time and geographic isolation, people from different parts of the world would definately evolved into different post-humans. Without the isolation and time, we’re all just minor variations along the human spectrum.

12. Mark Paris

The doublet analogy is really very nice.

13. Huckleberry Finn

Basically, if you decide not to use logic, you can make yfuiwhuiweiuhksak turn into jahdlksakhakjlhsa if you work at it long enough. Yes, these are the same people who say that snakes and lizards evolved into geese and chickens. APE, APT, OPT, OAT, MAT, MAN. The problem is, we have seen lots of fossils of APES and many fossils of MEN, but EVOLUTIONISTS have yet to find the APT, OPT, OAT, and the MAT, or anything remotely resembling “them”. Nope, just fancy pictures of some dumb gorilla guy walking around with his big club, just waiting for some unsuspecting pig or wolf. Almost as good as the land “whale” which looks a lot more like an ALLIGATOR.
Maybe Carl should ask his brother, Ben, who is a >> consultant for the Okford English Dictionary, for the definition of a whale, then the definition of an alligator, and ask him if they should maybe put a new word in the next edition. Whaligator. Almost as good as “aks”. I’m-uh aks yoo a keschun ’bout dems whaligatuhs. Till next time.

14. David Holland

Huckleberry Finn said:
“The problem is, we have seen lots of fossils of APES and many fossils of MEN, but EVOLUTIONISTS have yet to find the APT, OPT, OAT, and the MAT, or anything remotely resembling “them”.”
What is ER 1470 and why do so many creationist disagree whether it is a man or an ape? What about ER 1813? Are they related to each other?
Compare ER 1470 and ER 1813

15. Eugene Lai

Carl wrote:
“Is he really not getting it, you might ask yourself, or is he just pretending not to understand what I’m saying?”

then Huckleberry wrote:
“The problem is, we have seen lots of fossils of APES and many fossils of MEN, but EVOLUTIONISTS have yet to find the APT, OPT, OAT, and the MAT, or anything remotely resembling “them”.”

Bible is not the only book that can predict…

16. Huckleberry Finn is still waiting for someone to show him a DAT or a COG. Not gonna believe evilution till you show him one.

17. VKW

Here’s a somewhat relevant quote from the real H. Finn:
“It’s lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky, up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made, or only just happened—Jim he allowed they was made, but I allowed they happened; I judged it would have took too long to make so many.”
ATTRIBUTION: Mark Twain [Samuel Langhorne Clemens] (1835–1910), U.S. author. Huck, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, ch. 19 (1885).

18. Timothy Chase

Along this vein, here is a pdf which may be of interest (technical):

Phylogenetic relationships among cetartiodactyls based on insertions of short and long interspersed elements: Hippopotamuses are the closest extant relatives of whales
Masato Nikaido, Alejandro P. Rooney, and Norihiro Okada
Vol. 96 pp. 10261-10266, August 1999
http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/96/18/10261

… and a similar analysis for humans:

Constructing primate phylogenies from ancient retrovirus sequences
Welkin E. Johnson and John M. Coffin
Vol. 96, pp. 10254-10260, August 1999
http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/96/18/10254

19. brent

After all of this time it is still amazing to me that someone can write such a post which points out in an incredibly straightforward way just how the typical creationist argument misses the point and the very first comment from a creationist (huck) misses the point almost entirely. Its absolutely breathtaking and at some point one has to wonder if there is really even any point in arguing with these individuals.

Huck demonstrates with his very first utterance that he doesn’t even fully understand your basic analogy despite its simplicity. Can we really expect him to understand the more complex science it is intended to clarify? At the end of it all, it seems that the real message of everything creationists write and say is that there is nothing that you could write or say that will get them to even engage in the debate in a useful way, let alone anything that could actually change any part of their thinking. Incredible really.

20. Timothy Chase

Since letter-substitution may be a little too complicated for Huck, here are a couple of links with some pretty colors…

Ring Species and Clinal Variation
http://www.origins.tv/darwin/rings.htm

ring species

However, this may be a little too much for him:

Incipient species formation in salamanders of the
Ensatina complex

… but others might find it of interest.

21. Doug Rebok

The doublet analogy is ridiculous. That so many here herald it as such a triumpant comparison, is a bit disturbing. It brings to mind a favorite song from the 80’s “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”. I’ll leave it to the curious reader to determine why.

Now if you could honestly make the claim that you closed your eyes, randomly struck your keyboard, and opened your eyes to find that the experiment worked; your analogy might come a little closer. If the fact that it worked did not surprise you, then you really are an evolutionist at heart.

You see, an intelligent agent began with the word Ape and the goal of acheiving the word Man. An intelligent agent deduced the path of APT–>OPT–>etc. This is similar to the famous analogy of the evolving Corvette.

The other failure of the analogy, and more to the point, is that it implies that APT and OPT can be compared to the fossils on the tree depicting the evolution of whales. If on your tree: Dorudon, Ancalecetus, Zygorhiza, Saghacetus etc. were all on the same branch the analogy would make a little more sense, however in the tree you provided all the fossils are the very end leaves of the branches, therefore they can not be compared to OPT and APT because for whatever reason they’re not actually considered transitional. This is what creationary scientists mean when they claim that transitional fossils have not been found. A transition is inferred based on an evolutionary interpretation of the evidence, but is not actually represented by a fossil.

——————————–

In regards to the pictorial representation of the tree, provided by Jason, what really would be interesting would be an accurate representation of the fossils rather than the artistic rendition of what may have been.

BTW thanks for not being lazy I wish everyone was so considerate with their links.

22. Eugene Lai

Doug Rebok wrote:
“The doublet analogy is ridiculous”

23. Tom Allen

Doug Rebok says, using an old creationist trope:

>>Now if you could honestly make the claim that you closed your eyes, randomly struck your keyboard, and opened your eyes to find that the experiment worked; your analogy might come a little closer. If the fact that it worked did not surprise you, then you really are an evolutionist at heart.

Of course, this entirely leaves out the mechanism of natural selection. In the case of the word doublet, a word would survive if it appeared in, say, the Oxford English Dictionary (or some other reference of choice that defines a real word.)

So one can take APE and alter it into APA, APB, APC, APD, and so on. Most of these are not words, and will be eliminated. Of those that survive (APE, APT, ACE, ADE, AGE, and many others), these can again be altered and checked against the dictionary “survival mechanism”.

Note that this form of natural selection does not imply (any more than evolution does) that APE can only become MAN. I quibble not only because ape and man are common descendants; ape is not the ancestor of man, as we know. I also quibble because, as a wordplay geek, I can show that APE can also transform into PIG.

APE -> APT -> ART -> ARM -> AIM -> DIM -> DIG ->PIG.

Nonetheless, I find the analogy — well, APT — because of its resemblance to the phylogenetic tree diagrams I often see. A very well-made point, Carl.

24. inwit

Michael Shermer also invokes Ambulocetus in a Scientific American article from earlier this year:

The Fossil Fallacy

Nineteenth-century English social scientist Herbert Spencer made this prescient observation: “Those who cavalierly reject the Theory of Evolution, as not adequately supported by facts, seem quite to forget that their own theory is supported by no facts at all.” Well over a century later nothing has changed. When I debate creationists, they present not one fact in favor of creation and instead demand “just one transitional fossil” that proves evolution. When I do offer evidence (for example, Ambulocetus natans, a transitional fossil between ancient land mammals and modern whales), they respond that there are now two gaps in the fossil record.

This is a clever debate retort, but it reveals a profound error that I call the Fossil Fallacy: the belief that a “single fossil”–one bit of data–constitutes proof of a multifarious process or historical sequence. In fact, proof is derived through a convergence of evidence from numerous lines of inquiry–multiple, independent inductions, all of which point to an unmistakable conclusion.

[…]

The creationists’/IDolators’ view of the doublet would be:

APE GAP APT GAP OPT GAP OAT GAP MAT GAP MAN

25. Bayesian Bouffant, FCD

Nice job on the APE > MAN doublet. But can you get from MAN to WOMAN by passing through RIB?

26. Doug Rebok

I’m not sure that the question is relevant but, that the analogy has stood the test of time (no pun intended), suggests something about its validity. Oh, and I don’t think He was blind. Furthermore Dawkins’s attempt to redirect the analogy fails. His examples are similar to the dublet analogy. They fail to represent reality and suffer from oversimplification…there’s that song again, stuck in my head…
————————

Of course, this entirely leaves out the mechanism of natural selection.

Natural Selection is irrelevant. I love the way evolutionists seem to cower at the suggestion that evolution is a random process. They must genuinely see the whole idea of randomness as a serious obstacle. Whenever it is interjected into an argument they hold up the shield of Natural Selection in attempt to hide evolution’s only creative tool – Random Mutations.

————————-

man
ran
rid
rib
bib
bid
bed
red
med
men
omen
women
woman
roman
rowan
rowen
rower
lower
loner
liner
linger
singer
singers
sinners

27. inwit

Your wish is my command, Bayesian Bouffant:

MAN RAN RAB RIB RIE RYE EYE EVE

Note that this evolutionary chain requires the “irreducibly complex” EYE as an intermediary step.

28. jyh

Doug Rebok

Natural Selection is irrelevant. I love the way evolutionists seem to cower at the suggestion that evolution is a random process. They must genuinely see the whole idea of randomness as a serious obstacle. Whenever it is interjected into an argument they hold up the shield of Natural Selection in attempt to hide evolution’s only creative tool – Random Mutations.

I like how in that same link you reference, it says: “…whether a particular mutation happens or not is unrelated to how useful that mutation would be.” Random as mutations might be, natural selection still ends up playing a part in determining its usefulness – whether it benefits the organism, harms the organism, or has little to no effect whatsoever on the organism.

Random mutations as evolution’s “only” creative tool is an absolute falsehood, since that only deals with the emergence of traits, and not the survival of traits, which is where other mechanisms such as the “irrelevant” natural selection, gene flow, genetic drift, etc. come in.

And yes, I do cower at the suggestion that evolution is random, because whoever is making that suggesting obviously doesn’t know that evolution isn’t.

29. Hi, Carl —
I figured I’d take the challenge with the phrase I see popping up on creationist/ID sites, “goo-to-you”, which I’ve always found really encapsulates that central fallacy (“but evolution is obviously ridiculous!”) so nicely. But SHOCKINGLY when I found what seemed to be the simplest transformation from GOO to YOU, somehow GOD inserted himself (with his SON, no less) into the process. Certainly this coincidence, this divine fingerprint, cannot be overlooked, and even you will admit that this provides perhaps the most solid platform yet for Intelligent Design: GOO to YOU, through GOD and SON. And, um, through SOD.

GOO
GOD
SOD
SON
YON
YOU

30. Tried to post this last week, but for some reason it did not work. Perhaps this time…

We’ve had APE to MAN, and MAN to GOD. So now it’s GOD to APE:
GOD
GAP (hey, it’s the God of the Gaps!)
NAP
NIP
NIL
AIL
AWL
AWE
APE

Enjoy,

31. Doug Rebok

natural selection, gene flow, genetic drift, etc. are not creative processes. They may contribute to the retention and spread of a mutation but they create nothing. These mechanisms of genetics are just as important and significant in creationary science as evolution.

Just so we’re clear on what is meant by a creative process, consider one of Carl’s articles. Carl spends a few late nights putting the finishing touches and making final edits. He then submits it to Time Magazine. Time’s editors approve and select the article to be included. It’s sent to press and to the web team. It’s distributed all over the world in planes, trucks, newsstands, mailboxes, waiting rooms. It’s linked to search engines and picked up by cooperative news sources. Out of all of this the only part that is creative, in the sense of this discussion, is Carl’s writing of the article. Everything else is duplication or distribution, but not creative.

Now in this scenario, it is very unlikely that the writing of the article is random. We can be pretty sure that the subject will be “science” and it will likely discuss some kind of evolutionary aspect. It is also probably written at the request of the publisher. If Carl chose to discuss how to read a wiring diagram for an 87 Vette that would seem pretty random, especially if he submits it to Good Housekeeping.

In genetics, the mutations, the only source of new genetic information, are random. This rarely comes across in the writing. If you read At the Water’s Edge, you’ll need to continually remind yourself. In this sense, Carl’s no different than any other author on the subject. The tone of the book suggests that the fish really wants to walk and the dog really wants to swim. Or as if the environment is acting like the publisher and calling the fish’s reproductive process and saying “hey mutate something that get’s us out of this swamp!” Of course this doesn’t happen. The mutation is random and by chance it has to be the right mutation. If the random aspect of evolution would be a stumbling block to your continued indoctrination, I suggest you take a good look.

Evolutionists and creationists both embrace natural selection, genetic drift, gene flow, etc. No one disagrees that the only source of new genetic information is from random mutation. The heart of the argument is that evolutionists believe that a very small fraction of mutations are beneficial and information adding. Creationists believe that fraction is even more minuscule, and likely zero. Creationists recognize beneficial mutations but assert that they are the result of a loss of function and/or corruption of information(ie. antibiotic resistance). Evolutionists believe that given enough time, and the mechanisms discussed in this entry, this small fraction of mutations adds up into the vast genetic diversity we see around us. Creationists see this as infeasible since this would be like adding zero to itself over and over.

32. Nick

Doug Rebok said:
“natural selection, gene flow, genetic drift, etc. are not creative processes. They may contribute to the retention and spread of a mutation but they create nothing.”

Natural selection is a creative process, in the sense that it retains and spreads many mutations over long periods of time which can then result in new organs/functions which did not previously exist.

Doug Rebok said:
“These mechanisms of genetics are just as important and significant in creationary science as evolution.”

All of these mechanisms were discovered by evolutionary scientists and fit into evolutionary theory. They’re only “important and significant in creationary science” because they’re obviously real and observable in real time, and creationists would be perverse to pretend they didn’t exist.

33. jyh

“natural selection, gene flow, genetic drift, etc. are not creative processes. They may contribute to the retention and spread of a mutation but they create nothing.”

Well, Nick beat me to it, but mechanisms that deal with the emergence of novel traits doesn’t mean it can’t be a creative process. An example of this is in convergent evolution, how very different organisms develop similar traits for similar purposes. When you see the similar sleek design of a penguin as a dolpin, you don’t say that’s purely from random mutations; the survival of traits is just as important as their emergence.

34. Doug Rebok

I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on this point. There is no doubt that all of the mechanisms of the discussion are important in explaining the world we see around us.

Can you point to an observable example of Natural Selection(NS) retaining and spreading mutations only to be assembled at a later time into some complex novel function? I doubt it. First NS only works on mutations that provide an immediate benefit. Therefore any mutations that are neutral are ignored by NS. I believe these mutations may be kept around and propogated by genetic drift but not by NS. Second evolution operates so slowly that nothing complex has ever been observed to originate. The origin of functions may be interpreted through an evolutionary worldview and attributed to the mechanisms above but its only an interpretation not scientifically provable and of such low probablity that it may be considered impossible.

Every time I help someone move I end up with a few things that they don’t want and I think maybe I’ll use someday. Over time they sit in the garage and collect dust waiting for the day that I might put them to use. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Next time your wife tells you to clean out the garage, tell her that a creative experiment is taking place and you don’t want to disturb it. You’re hoping that after the next couple additions some novel creation will emerge that makes you all rich.

Finally,
All of these mechanisms were discovered by evolutionary scientists and fit into evolutionary theory. They’re only “important and significant in creationary science” because they’re obviously real and observable in real time, and creationists would be perverse to pretend they didn’t exist.

This is as ignorant as it is irrelevent. The father of genetics, Gregor Mendel, was a creationist. More importantly, should we begin dividing discoveries so that only scientists with a worldview compatible to that of the discoverer can apply them? Of course not. Genetic mechanisms are necessary for creationists to explain the vast genetic diversity of all species beginning from a relatively few created “kinds” (maybe 10,000 give or take).

35. jyh

Doug Rebok

Can you point to an observable example of Natural Selection(NS) retaining and spreading mutations only to be assembled at a later time into some complex novel function? I doubt it.

Well doubt something else; you’re thinking about transformed organs, homologous features whose features change from species to species. Example: flies, unlike most flying insects, have one pair of wings instead of two. However, the second pair didn’t disappear, they instead become halteres, that they use for stability and direction.

Every time I help someone move I end up with a few things that they don’t want and I think maybe I’ll use someday. Over time they sit in the garage and collect dust waiting for the day that I might put them to use. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Next time your wife tells you to clean out the garage, tell her that a creative experiment is taking place and you don’t want to disturb it. You’re hoping that after the next couple additions some novel creation will emerge that makes you all rich.

Not quite. What your analogy needs is for these things in your garage to be dynamic, in some way, to resemble life. You don’t see living beings just sitting there gathering dust! Using tools to assemble and combine these things in interesting ways would strengthen your analogy, not as an example of creation or design, but as a means of introducing energy into the system instead of just having static objects. They also require natural selection. Just having things sitting somewhere, never changing, is nothing like the natural world. If you include natural selection in the system, that implies also that the objects are dynamic (like you were building something), and that there’d be some incentive to survive (like storage space).

All of these mechanisms were discovered by evolutionary scientists and fit into evolutionary theory. They’re only “important and significant in creationary science” because they’re obviously real and observable in real time, and creationists would be perverse to pretend they didn’t exist.

This is as ignorant as it is irrelevent. The father of genetics, Gregor Mendel, was a creationist. More importantly, should we begin dividing discoveries so that only scientists with a worldview compatible to that of the discoverer can apply them? Of course not. Genetic mechanisms are necessary for creationists to explain the vast genetic diversity of all species beginning from a relatively few created “kinds” (maybe 10,000 give or take).

Who ever said that genetics wasn’t discovered by a scientist regardless of what his beliefs were? The last time I checked, creation wasn’t mutally exclusive with genetics or evolution, and science wasn’t mutally exclusive with religion. What Nick is saying is different. He isn’t saying that non-scientists can use scientific mechanisms, he’s saying that non-scientists accept those mechanisms as true because they so blatantly are. You see examples of this all the time, when creationists try to split evolutionary theory into two different theories, microevolution and macroevolution (it’s perfectly acceptable in coversation, when referring to evolution over a period of time, but keep in mind there are no formal theories of microevolution or macroevolutoin, just the one theory of evolution), saying “I’ll believe in bacterial resistance, but I won’t believe humans share the same descendant as chimpanzees (actually most just say ‘man came from ape’).” One of them is obvious-it’s why you need to get new shots every year-the other not so obvious. Opinions vary from person to person, but I’d be interested in hearing if there are any non-realtime mechanisms (as in not observable in your lifetime) of evolution creationists accept as true.

36. jyh

Doug Rebok

Evolutionists and creationists both embrace natural selection, genetic drift, gene flow, etc. No one disagrees that the only source of new genetic information is from random mutation. The heart of the argument is that evolutionists believe that a very small fraction of mutations are beneficial and information adding. Creationists believe that fraction is even more minuscule, and likely zero.

Here’s my question: for what reason must a mutation be information adding? I’m trying to think of reasons myself, but I can’t without rebutting myself:
Most mutations don’t lengthen the DNA at all, but information can still be added. For example, there are 26 letters in the alphabet, but you can form 4.03*1026 26 letter words out of it.
Lengthier gene sequences don’t correlate with greater complexity. There are fish and butterflies with hundreds of chromosomes.
It is possible to add new genetic material, through gene duplication and chromosome duplication, and it is possible to reproduce under those circumstances.
If by “information adding,” you don’t mean adding genetic material, then the manipulation of already existing material (like the 26 letters of the alphabet) would count as “corruption” of data, as you put it, which you say creationists “recognize.”
In short, either information is “added” in a) new genetic material, or b) through the loss/manipulation of already existing material. Both are entirely possible, and one of them you say creationists recognize, so do explain how going one way or another amounts to 0+0.

37. I made up a fairly elegant doublet (I call them “word ladders”) connecting the two standard extreme four-letter English swear words. I posted it here:
http://precision-blogging.blogspot.com/2005_03_01_precision-blogging_archive.html#111133395873470645
– The Precision Blogger
http://precision-blogging.blogspot.com

38. Nick

Doug Rebok said:
“natural selection, gene flow, genetic drift, etc. are not creative processes. They may contribute to the retention and spread of a mutation but they create nothing. These mechanisms of genetics are just as important and significant in creationary science as evolution.”

I said:
“All of these mechanisms were discovered by evolutionary scientists and fit into evolutionary theory. They’re only ‘important and significant in creationary science’ because they’re obviously real and observable in real time, and creationists would be perverse to pretend they didn’t exist.”

Doug Rebok said:
“This is as ignorant as it is irrelevent. The father of genetics, Gregor Mendel, was a creationist.”

Mendel discovered the law of inheritance and, you’re right, is the father of genetics. The mechanisms you specifically mentioned were all discovered by evolutionary scientists.

I assume you’re calling Mendel a creationist because he believed in God. But today the word “creationist” has a more narrow meaning, wouldn’t you agree? Ken Miller believes in God, but is he a creationist? I would say no, and I think you and most everybody would agree, because today the word “creationist” is used synonymously with “anti-evolutionist.” And since Mendel did his work before Darwin, it seems wrong to label him a creationist. Is Thomas Paine also a creationist?

Science is inherently progressive. Biologists today accept common ancestry because the theory of evolution works, and has stood the test of time. Wouldn’t it be silly for someone today to reference Johannes Kepler to try to bolster the plausibility of astrology? Or Isaac Newton for alchemy? I’m sure many people do, but they’re only persuading themselves.

When was the last time a creationist made a contribution to our understanding of the natural world that biologists had to incorporate into evolutionary theory? If by creationist we broadly mean someone who believes in God, then obviously many have been made while simultaneously working within evolutionary theory. But if by creationist we mean anti-evolutionist, then the contribution dwindles to nil.

When you’re dealing with science, you have to ask yourself how useful or plausible a “theory” is when it contributes nothing to our knowledge and understanding of the natural world.

Also, in an earlier post Doug Rebok said:
“The doublet analogy is ridiculous.”

Since you later went on in that post talking about randomly striking keys on a keyboard, I don’t think you understood the point of the analogy. The analogy has nothing to do with natural selection, or “blind” evolution, or intelligent design. It has to do with fossils, specifically how creationists deal with hominid fossils (or ancestral whale fossils, or any intermediary fossils, really).
Words following closely after “APE” would be labeled by doublet creationists as being of the APE “kind.” Words closely preceding “MAN” would be labeled by doublet creationists as being of the MAN “kind.” The words closer to the middle might be more confusing for the doublet creationists, and they wouldn’t label them as consistently as the others, with some opting to lump them in with the APE “kind,” and others in with the MAN “kind.” But the doublet creationists would never acknowledge that the words were intermediary between APE and MAN.
That is all the analogy is meant to illuminate.

39. drakvl

H Finn:

Dynamical systems is a much better mathematical model for evolution than probability alone. See, reproduction is an iterative process — each generation has offspring like itself. To provide an example, look at the chaos game.

Pick any three noncollinear points on a given sheet of paper (a nice, big, equilateral triangle works best for showing the results, but any triangle will work). Pick a random point on that piece of paper. Pick a random vertex of the triangle, and draw the point halfway between this vertex and that randomly chosen point on the sheet; this represents the probability related to evolution. Keep picking a vertex at random, and drawing the point halfway between that vertex and the last-drawn point; this represents reproduction and natural selection. This probabilistically defined process has been shown always to produce the same, highly ordered image. Or, to appeal to the scientist’s aesthetic: the idea is so incredibly beautiful, how can it possibly not be true?

40. Doug Rebok

By “creationist” I’m referring to someone that believed or believes in the creation account of the bible, taken literally, with marginal compromise. Mendel was a contemporary of Darwin and was certainly familiar with “The Origin of Species” as his own copy was underlined throughout. At the same time that Darwin was claiming that creatures could change into other creatures, Mendel was showing that even individual characteristics remain constant. While Darwin’s ideas were based on erroneous and untested ideas about inheritance, Mendel’s conclusions were based on careful experimentation.

Please understand that when I claim your argument is from ignorance it isn’t meant as a personal attack. Its been my experience that very few debaters have any real understanding of the creationist methodology.

As for the common claim that creation scientists make no contributions to science, I believe the easiest way to see the flaw in this common attack would be to flip it around. What contributions have modern scientists made to creationary science. It’s kind of a silly question. Evolutionary scientists are not actively trying to contribute to the opposing field. Any contribution that is made is inadvertant. While many creation scientists do contribute to the mainstream in their specific field of research, it stands to reason that much of their contributions to evolutionary science is anti-evolutionary. You must keep in mind that we are dealing with two opposing worldviews. Research in support of one worldview will not be published in the journals of the opposing worldview. As an example, if research on radio halos shows strong evidence for a young earth do you think it is likely to appear in the evolutionist journals? Of course not because it refutes the evolutionary worldview which requires vast amounts of time.

An actual example is this submission to the journal “Theoretical Population Biology” about the Cost Theory of Substitution. The reviewers acknowledged its validity but rejected it “on the grounds that it is not sufficiently new or different from what was known by themselves and some of their colleagues in the 1970s. However, they never communicated this knowledge to the greater scientific community, nor to the public at large.” I believe the real basis for rejection is that the argument of the paper would be devastating to many evolutionary hypotheses

As for my critique on the analogy I made two statements. The statement I made regarding the evolution tree for whales that Carl provided in the opening entry was more to the point of the analogy’s intent (as I implied with the word’s “more to the point”). Perhaps no one read that paragraph as it has not been addressed.

41. Nick

Doug,
Am I to assume from your comments that you believe creationism and evolution share similar status in the scientific community?
I would also like to point out that if you define creationism as “…believes in the creation account of the bible, taken literally, with marginal compromise,” then creationism is not only at extreme odds with biology, but also geology, astronomy, and physics.
Do you think science is inherently progressive? Is it a major blow to modern biology, geology, astronomy, and physics that one of the greatest scientists of all time, Isaac Newton, was, according to your definition, a creationist?

Also, as I read Genesis, there seem to be two mutually exclusive creation accounts. Which one do creation scientists take literally, and why? Or how do they fuse the two accounts into one “theory” of creation? Is there a consensus among creationists, or just personal preference/opinion?

42. Tom Allen

Gosh, I wonder why modern scientific research doesn’t support young-Earth creationism? Perhaps because we can find no evidence for it?

Doug Rebok puts forth radiohalos as evidence for a young Earth. Yet when I look at the Institute for Creation Research’s info concerning radiohalos (spherical shells of discoloration in rocks, such as granite…”) I find assertions such as the following:

From the Institute for Creation Research “What then is the significance of these radiohalos, discovered in this first ever systematic search in these granitic rocks? The presence in them of so many dark, fully-formed U and Th radiohalos clearly implies that at least 100 million years worth of radioactive decay at today’s rates must have occurred in these granitic rocks since they formed. However, these granitic rocks evidently formed only recently during the Flood year, so this implies that at least 100 million years worth of radioactive decay at today’s rates must have occurred during the Flood year, when geologic processes were operating at catastrophic rates. Thus the rates of radioactive decay had to have been accelerated during the Flood year and therefore conventional radioisotopic dating of rocks, which assumes constant decay rates, is unreliable and conventional “ages” are grossly in error.”

It’s certainly convenient, when all evidence points against your theory, to posit that conventional radioisotopic dating, rather than your theory, is in error. After all, if the data don’t support your hypothesis, throw out the data, right?

43. Doug Rebok

Am I to assume from your comments that you believe creationism and evolution share similar status in the scientific community?
I’m not under any mistaken impression. I know how creationists are regarded by the mainstream scientific community. I also know that very few, especially those not directly interested or involved in the debate have taken any time to learn creationist arguments. Those that do take the time seem to rely on sites such as talkorigins for an understanding of creationist ideas. That’s like asking Bush to describe Kerry’s views.

I would also like to point out that if you define creationism as “…believes in the creation account of the bible, taken literally, with marginal compromise,” then creationism is not only at extreme odds with biology, but also geology, astronomy, and physics.

First let me rephrase slightly. When I say creationists interpret the Bible “literally” I really mean they subscribe to a “plain reading” of the Bible. The obvious and intended meaning of the creation days are that they are 24 hour days. When the Bible speaks of Adam’s day it means during the life of Adam (like when your granddad says “back in my day”) When it says the sun rose it doesn’t imply that the sun orbits the earth any more than your local weatherman.

There is no doubt that creationary science is at complete odds with much “historical science”. Creationists recognize two classes of science, operational and historical. Operational science is the highly reliable repeatable science that has a tremendous reputation. It’s the science of medicine, aviation, computer chips etc. Historical science isn’t repeatable because it deals with events in the past. Evolution, radiometric dating, etc. deal with reconstructing the past. So they requires quite a few assumptions to fill in the gaps.

The current focus of the debate is the evolution controversy, however no scientific field exists in a vacuum. All sciences within each worldview are very intertwined. One’s worldview effects the interpretation of virtually all historical science because the assumptions on which historical science is built are rooted in one’s worldview. The vast amount of time required for evolution influences geologic, and astronomic interpretations of the universe. For example creationists interpret geology within the flood methodology while mainstream geologists subscribe to a uniformitarian worldview.

Do you think science is inherently progressive? Is it a major blow to modern biology, geology, astronomy, and physics that one of the greatest scientists of all time, Isaac Newton, was, according to your definition, a creationist?

Many “fathers” of modern science would be considered creationists. They had no problem with a recent creation, basically as described in the Bible. The fields credited to them are in the “operational science” category and therefore exposing them as creationists is not a blow to the vast majority of scientific research.

Also, as I read Genesis, there seem to be two mutually exclusive creation accounts. Which one do creation scientists take literally, and why? Or how do they fuse the two accounts into one “theory” of creation? Is there a consensus among creationists, or just personal preference/opinion?

There is no conflict between Genesis 1 and 2. I believe this excerpt from the linked article describes it well.

Between the creation of Adam and the creation of Eve, the KJV/AV Bible says (Genesis 2:19) `out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air’. On the surface, this seems to say that the land beasts and birds were created between Adam and Eve. However, Jewish scholars apparently did not recognize any such conflict with the account in chapter 1, where Adam and Eve were both created after the beasts and birds (Genesis 1:23-25). Why is this? Because in Hebrew the precise tense of a verb is determined by the context. It is clear from chapter 1 that the beasts and birds were created before Adam, so Jewish scholars would have understood the verb `formed’ in Genesis 2:19 to mean `had formed’ or `having formed’. If we translate verse 19 as follows (as one widely used translation1 does), `Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field .’, the apparent disagreement with Genesis 1 disappears completely.

The question also stems from the wrong assumption that the second chapter of Genesis is just a different account of creation to that in chapter 1. It should be evident that chapter 2 is not just `another’ account of creation because chapter 2 says nothing about the creation of the heavens and the earth, the atmosphere, the seas, the land, the sun, the stars, the moon, the sea creatures, etc. Chapter 2 mentions only things directly relevant to the creation of Adam and Eve and their life in the garden God prepared specially for them. Chapter 1 may be understood as creation from God’s perspective; it is `the big picture’, an overview of the whole. Chapter 2 views the more important aspects from man’s perspective.

Finally, creationists find a higher authority for their worldview and approach to science, in the Bible. Specifically the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This one event in history withstands scrutiny better than virtually any other. As works of antiquity are judged, the Bible has been more reliably preserved than the works of Shakespeare. Because a man died and rose Himself from the dead and because it was prophesied hundreds of years before hand, this event is enough to convince Christians that Jesus is God. Because of this faith in Jesus, His words are held in the highest possible esteem. Jesus made reference to the creation account as recorded in Genesis. Jesus made reference to the flood account in Genesis. “Its His world were just livin’ in it!”

44. Tim Janke

Doug Rebok: “nothing complex has ever been observed to originate”.

Well, Doug, nothing complex has ever been observed being created (by an intelligent designer). You have ZERO evidence to point to, showing a Creator in action.

45. Nick

So the seeming contradiction between the two creation accounts is neatly fixed by assuming a mistranslation in the first story of the first book of the Bible, which “has been more reliably preserved than the works of Shakespeare?” And the mistranslated line itself was put there to remind us of the creation of animals that is mentioned just a few lines up?

46. Doug

This may come as a shock to you, but the original text of the Bible was not English. In any case I don’t think the implication is that it was mistranslated but that translations do not always convey the original meaning exactly as intended. Meanings of words also change over time which can alter the understanding in the present day. Perhaps you should continue this conversation with Carl’s esteemed brother who is probably well versed in the evolving meanings of words and the difficulty in preserving the original intent during translation. He may even know something judging the reliability of archaic documents.

I believe it would be very arrogant and insulting to Jewish scholars of the past 3000 years to presume that you understand the meaning of the first two chapters of their sacred religious text better than they.

47. Nick

Doug,
I am aware that translated texts do not always convey their original intended meanings and that the meanings of words change over time. I also did not mean any disrespect to you or Jewish scholars or whomever.
In earlier posts you seemed to imply that the Genesis account of creation is the source of the creationist’s scientific “theory.” Given the changing nature of language and the inherent uncertainty surrounding the meanings of the original texts, why base a scientific theory on it? Why not go directly to nature instead?

48. Jason Malloy

“Second evolution operates so slowly that nothing complex has ever been observed to originate.”

Ahem . . .

I’ve been reading about the MRL mouse, a lab-bred strain which has been discovered to have an unusual property: amazing powers of regeneration. They weren’t bred for that, though; instead, they were selected for large size . . .

One way to mark individual mice is by punching small holes in their ears (it sounds cruel, I know?fathers with teenage daughters also think it is a terrible thing to do). The mice of the MRL strain do something remarkable, though, as you can see to the right: they heal right up. There is no detectable scar tissue, either?these mice regenerate.

Regrowing ears might be a very big deal to a mouse, but not so much to us. However, their powers of regeneration go deeper. Damage their livers, their kidneys, and many other tissues, and they grow right back. They can regrow lopped off toes and tails. Here’s the big one: take a fine wire, stick it in their heart, and burn a hole in it with extreme cold, a process called cryo-damage which mimics the damage of a myocardial infarction, and in the MRL mouse, heart tissue regenerates.

Whoa.

Truly a miracle of Intelligent Design! Now those of us with any intellectual integrity left will realize its time to convert to Doug’s scientifically proven One True Faith: the western branch of American Reform Presby-Lutheranism!

Seriously though, if you knew a small part of the science or a fraction of the voluminous extant literature this is hardly miraculous, and in the age of genetics, when we have a molecular record of big predictions made almost 150 years ago, where we can determine your relatives and deeper ancestry by the forensic record left in your DNA, where we can track our closest animal relatives using the same method, where we can count off the difference between us and our closest animal relative nucleotide by nucleotide, new mutation by new mutation, where we can, assuming genetic descent, predict the details of our animal ancestor’s genome in advance, where we can track natural selection operating on some these very same genes since the advent of modern man, let’s just say your little ten-cent ignorant lies about natural selection and mutation wells up quite a sick feeling inside me.

I know there are things you’d like to believe about mutation and the unremarkableness of new alleles, there are things you’d like to believe about new genetic variation, there are things you’d like to believe about the evolution of complex traits and speciation, unfortunately these beliefs are not tenable. In fact they are rude, ignorant and insulting when it takes less than 5 minutes of Googling to see that you are pulling lies right out of your ass, in the name of an allegedly moral philosophy!

49. Doug says: “Creationists recognize two classes of science, operational and historical. Operational science is the highly reliable repeatable science that has a tremendous reputation. It’s the science of medicine, aviation, computer chips etc. Historical science isn’t repeatable because it deals with events in the past.

[snip]

The current focus of the debate is the evolution controversy, however no scientific field exists in a vacuum. All sciences within each worldview are very intertwined. One’s worldview effects the interpretation of virtually all historical science because the assumptions on which historical science is built are rooted in one’s worldview.”

You keep using the word “science”, but I don’t think it means what you think it means.

The problem that everyone is running into here is that it is not reasonable to argue with fanatics. Fanatics are, by their very nature, immune to changing their opinion based on evidence; if they were, they wouldn’t be fanatics. Eventually you have to kill them or ignore them to shut them up. Not all fanatics are inherently dangerous (that is, you can safely ignore many of them) so long as they are given no power to enact their agendas. (And this include some whose basis for their fanaticism is in badly-interpreted science, such as the social darwinists.)

So here is an experiment, and I would be delighted to see an honest answer from both sides: what would it take for you to change your mind and decide that your opponent was correct? And I do not mean the impossible (“God stopped by the house and created something for me” or “I saw a new creature evolve”). I also don’t mean something that would just cause you to modify your opinion to take account of the argument – science, properly carried out, requires an almost constant modification of what you believe as new evidence becomes available – but something that fundamentally invalidates your theory.

Here’s mine: the creationists will convince me if they can do one of two things:

1) Find an example of a creature that does has several features not shared with any creature that went before; that is sufficiently complex and capable of survival that it and its ancestors would have certainly left at least some evidence; and for which there are no demonstrable or conceivable ancestors either in existence or in evidence.

2) Disprove so many parts of the interlocking theories of evolution, biology, geology, astronomy and radiometry that it is no longer possible to hold the theory together.

As an example of the first, a Wyvern would be insufficient, because it is simply a large flying reptile with four limbs, and all of those features are of known provenance, requiring only the addition of fire breathing (and not even necessarily that, depending on the documentary source you use for what a Wyvern is). But a dragon would convince me, because there is no evidence of anything like a dragon, which is six-limbed as well as breathing fire or some similarly noxious substance (acid, gaseous vapor, etc).

As an example of the second, you would have conclusively to overturn – using reasoning, logic and evidence rather than assertion or appeals to authority – several of radiocarbon dating, the existence or meaning of fossils of creatures that do not currently live upon the earth, the basic laws of physics, plate tectonics, genetics, animal husbandry and so on.

I would not, in either case, necessarily adopt creationism, but I would have to concede at that point that evolution was too flawed to be useful.

50. Doug says: “Creationists recognize two classes of science, operational and historical. Operational science is the highly reliable repeatable science that has a tremendous reputation. It’s the science of medicine, aviation, computer chips etc. Historical science isn’t repeatable because it deals with events in the past.

[snip]

The current focus of the debate is the evolution controversy, however no scientific field exists in a vacuum. All sciences within each worldview are very intertwined. One’s worldview effects the interpretation of virtually all historical science because the assumptions on which historical science is built are rooted in one’s worldview.”

You keep using the word “science”, but I don’t think it means what you think it means.

The problem that everyone is running into here is that it is not reasonable to argue with fanatics. Fanatics are, by their very nature, immune to changing their opinion based on evidence; if they were, they wouldn’t be fanatics. Eventually you have to kill them or ignore them to shut them up. Not all fanatics are inherently dangerous (that is, you can safely ignore many of them) so long as they are given no power to enact their agendas. (And this include some whose basis for their fanaticism is in badly-interpreted science, such as the social darwinists.)

So here is an experiment, and I would be delighted to see an honest answer from both sides: what would it take for you to change your mind and decide that your opponent was correct? And I do not mean the impossible (“God stopped by the house and created something for me” or “I saw a new creature evolve”). I also don’t mean something that would just cause you to modify your opinion to take account of the argument – science, properly carried out, requires an almost constant modification of what you believe as new evidence becomes available – but something that fundamentally invalidates your theory.

Here’s mine: the creationists will convince me if they can do one of two things:

1) Find an example of a creature that does has several features not shared with any creature that went before; that is sufficiently complex and capable of survival that it and its ancestors would have certainly left at least some evidence; and for which there are no demonstrable or conceivable ancestors either in existence or in evidence.

2) Disprove so many parts of the interlocking theories of evolution, biology, geology, astronomy and radiometry that it is no longer possible to hold the theory together.

As an example of the first, a Wyvern would be insufficient, because it is simply a large flying reptile with four limbs, and all of those features are of known provenance, requiring only the addition of fire breathing (and not even necessarily that, depending on the documentary source you use for what a Wyvern is). But a dragon would convince me, because there is no evidence of anything like a dragon, which is six-limbed as well as breathing fire or some similarly noxious substance (acid, gaseous vapor, etc).

As an example of the second, you would have conclusively to overturn – using reasoning, logic and evidence rather than assertion or appeals to authority – several of radiocarbon dating, the existence or meaning of fossils of creatures that do not currently live upon the earth, the basic laws of physics, plate tectonics, genetics, animal husbandry and so on.

I would not, in either case, necessarily adopt creationism, but I would have to concede at that point that evolution was too flawed to be useful.

51. Sorry for the double post; I’m not sure how that happened.

52. Doug Rebok

“In earlier posts you seemed to imply that the Genesis account of creation is the source of the creationist’s scientific “theory.” Given the changing nature of language and the inherent uncertainty surrounding the meanings of the original texts, why base a scientific theory on it? Why not go directly to nature instead?”

The world that exists now must be interpreted based on certain assumptions. These assumptions are derived from the worldview of the interpreter. Interpretations contrary to this foundation are deemed incorrect on the basis that they violate the axioms of the worldview.

Naturally, both evolutionists and creationists are effected by their worldviews. If evidence arises that appears contrary to their worldview, it must somehow be interpreted or explained so that it may be accommodated by their worldview. In my experience, creation scientists are very open about the foundation for their beliefs and their unwillingness to violate it. They openly reveal that their foundation is rooted in the Bible, which they consider the inerrant word of God. Evolutionists, while probably not intentional, are not as open about their desire to strictly adhere to their worldview. I believe this is because the foundation of the evlutionist’s worldview is less obvious and they are indoctrinated to believe it rests on firm irrefutable science rather than a bed of unprovable assumptions.

Consider the recent example of the soft-tissue of the T-rex. If a scientist went in with no prior assumptions, I believe they would be interested in carbon dating the sample. Since it appears somewhat “fresh”, it is logical to assert that it may still contain C14. Because of a prior commitment to a worldview that requires that dinosaurs be extinct for 60 million years, there will be no attempt at carbon dating. Because the T-rex was dated as 70my old based on the strata in which it was found, there will be no test. Unfortunately the strata is dated based on “index” fossils. The “index” fossils are dated, ultimately, based on where they fit in to the assumed evolutionary lineage.

Creationists base their foundation in the Bible. Their trust in the Bible does not stem from its application to science, however, beyond the creation story, and the flood, there is little discrepency between mainstream science and the Bible. The historical accuracy and the incredible record of fulfilled prophecy give credibility to the Bible. But the real reason for the unwavering faith in the Bible comes from the personal relationship with Jesus Christ that each creation scientist has. Because they “know” Jesus and they know Jesus is God, they have every reason to trust His word.

The interpretation of nature is constantly changing. New radioactive dating methods emerge that give, supposedly, firmer more accurate dates(usually older). The new dates replace the older dates that were deemed firm and accurate in their initial publication. Fossils are found that don’t fit the current evolutionary timeline, so it is revised to accomodate. Yes the interpretation of nature evolves to accomodate new discoveries, but the worldview, built on axioms that, by definition, can not be challenged, is never shaken.

No worries about any unintended disrespect. I think I do it in about half of my posts, the other half contain some sort of apology. Its difficult in this medium to control the way a post is received, plus once the post button is clicked, you can’t take it back.

53. Mark

What would be an example of a concrete piece of evidence would convince me that evolution has not occurred? I can give you one that we might have discovered that would do the job very readily.

In the 1960s or so, we unravelled the genetic code — that is, the code that the ribosomes in our cells use to translate triplets of DNA base pairs into amino acids in proteins. And it so happens that all living organisms on Earth use the same genetic code: apparently we all have ribosomes that are built the same way.

So here’s the piece of evidence that would instantly convince me: if we had discovered that human ribosomes and ape ribosomes use a radically different genetic code, or even a slightly different genetic code, then I would agree that it would be absolutely impossible for us to have evolved from them. Because the moment the ribosome changes in such a way as to use a different genetic code, the DNA that has already evolved would be untranslateable. End of story.

If it had turned out that each species used its own genetic code, evolution would be defunct as a plausible theory. If you were to discover even one species anywhere on Earth that uses something very different from the standard genetic code, I would consider it highly unlikely that that species had evolved on Earth.

Also, I suppose there are still things we have to learn about molecular biology. Perhaps there’s some other possible molecular tag (mitochondrial DNA? or something like that?) that we evolutionists assume all life on Earth must have in common due to our common origin; and if you found any species without that common tag, that would tend to refute evolution.

54. Nick

Why do you think science is, by its nature, tentative in its conclusions and amenable to change? What’s keeping scientists from embracing creationism or any other pseudoscience is strict adherence to the scientific method, not an “evolutionary worldview.” The “evolutionary worldview” has so much scientific evidence in support of it, from so many diverse fields of scientific study, that virtually all scientists regard it as true.
Why do virtually all physicists regard general relativity as true? Is it because they have a dynamic universe worldview? Or did the scientific study of nature lead them to a dynamic universe woldview?
Where did the theory of evolution come from? Wasn’t Darwin previously a creationist?
I understand that scientists are human and have biases that affect their work, but to the extent that you’re suggesting is ludicrous.

55. Doug Rebok

Jason,
The mouse example is an interesting discovery, however, it really demonstrates that you don’t understand the criticism of evolution. According to the article you linked, the mouse regeneration stems from a loss of the ability to produce scar tissue, which leaves the wounds open for regeneration (it also leaves the wound open to infection). While possibly beneficial, in some situations, this doesn’t do anything to show the novel emergence of a function, quite the opposite. The rest of your links also do nothing to address any of the criticisms of evolution.

I’ve never attempted to mislead or misinform in a post. If I post something that is incorrect it’s an honest mistake. Resorting to a personal attack on my character only demonstrates your own insecurity.

———————–
Jeff,

1) Find an example of a creature that does has several features not shared with any creature that went before; that is sufficiently complex and capable of survival that it and its ancestors would have certainly left at least some evidence; and for which there are no demonstrable or conceivable ancestors either in existence or in evidence.

I know you won’t accept this but how about the first living organism. While only hypothesized, it certainly would be very complex by anyone’s standards. It would be required to have all the systems in place to survive and reproduce. Its only recently, and therefore after much of the foundation for evolution was in place, that molecular biologists have discovered how truly complex that “first life” must have been. Every time I try to bring up abiogenesis on this blog, its pointed out that its not part of evolution (evolution can have such a slippery definition).

I’m sure you won’t pay any mind to my second proposal either, but it’s the first thing that comes to mind and I’d be curious to read your thoughts, the Platypus. I realize that all the features that make it an anomaly exist in other animals but it definitely raises some questions.

I’d also appeal to the fossil record. When fossils of modern animals are found they are in just about their present form. For example, the earliest bat fossils have fully formed wings and show evidence for fully functional and very complex echolocation systems. Certainly the amount of time between the originating wingless insectivore through the proto-bat to the bat must have occurred over millions of years. Why did none of those bat predecessors leave a trace in the fossils.

2) Disprove so many parts of the interlocking theories of evolution, biology, geology, astronomy and radiometry that it is no longer possible to hold the theory together.

This is really what creation scientists do. As I said before, the focus is on the evolution controversy but the debate would be more accurately described as the Creationism/Naturalism debate.

———————–

Mark,

In my opinion your argument is flawed. When I write a post on this blog or a chapter in a novel, I write in English. Everything I’ve ever published has been in English. If you find something written in another language, that should be your first clue that I didn’t write it. (now please don’t attack this analogy with multilingual authors, as it’s not the norm and my point is very clear) If the design argument were combined with Greek mythology and pointed to multiple designers your argument would have a foundation. As it stands the common language shared by all living creatures is an equally strong argument for design.

If life just arose out of a non-living primordial soup, why wouldn’t it happen more than once? Each occurrence accompanied by a new complex code. In fact I would go as far as to say that if another coding system were found, completely different and independent of DNA but similar in function, that would be incredible evidence for in favor of evolution.

————————-
Nick,
Science is a dynamic field, constantly changing as new discoveries emerge. The scientific method applies to observations that can be tested and repeated. This is not possible for one-time events of the past. The best that can be done for past events, especially those before recorded history, is an interpretation of the data. An interpretation requires certain assumptions. These assumptions are fallible. I tried to relay this point in my previous post differentiating between operational science and historical science.

I don’t think its at all ludicrous to suggest that scientists let their biases effect their work to a very large extent. There are many examples of dating discrepancies. A fossil is independently dated at an age that is too young or too old for its supposed position in the evolutionary scenario. The date is rejected on the basis of bias not science.

In his research, Einstein came to the conclusion that the universe was simultaneously expanding and decelerating. This seemed to point to an explosion which led to the inevitable conclusion that there was a beginning. To Einstein, if there was a beginning there must have been a beginner. This so disagreed with his worldview that he introduced the “cosmological constant” so that his equations would allow for a static universe. He later cited this as “the biggest blunder of his career.”

The end of the story is that recently the “cosmological constant” is of interest again after findings that the universe may be accelerating. Even so this does nothing to alter the fact that Einstein allowed his worldview to add bias to his research.

56. I know you won’t accept this but how about the first living organism. While only hypothesized, it certainly would be very complex by anyone’s standards. It would be required to have all the systems in place to survive and reproduce. Its only recently, and therefore after much of the foundation for evolution was in place, that molecular biologists have discovered how truly complex that “first life” must have been. Every time I try to bring up abiogenesis on this blog, its pointed out that its not part of evolution (evolution can have such a slippery definition).

I do tend to think of evolution as covering what happened after the first life arose. However, I can think of plausible ways that life could have come into existence in its original complexity without an outside agent. For example, take a simple single-celled organism. In actual fact, that cell consists of multiple parts, and it’s quite possible that those parts existed independently as forms of bacteria or something similar (semi-living, but simple enough to be created by entirely chemical processes) prior to the first single-celled living organism. Now consider the possibility that these parts were quite fragile, but quite easily made, but if they combined with each other, they became less fragile because each covered the fragile parts of the other with the strong parts of itself. Together, this produced a single celled organism.

Did it happen this way? No clue. Not only am I an engineer instead of a scientist, but it’s entirely impossible to know how life arose, even if particular methods could be demonstrated in a lab. Equally, it is possible that the first life was in fact created by an external agent, or set of external agents; that is, a god or gods. That cannot be known either. We can speculate, but that’s all it is.

However, I do reject this as disproof of evolution under test one, as it fails on its face to show a change from one creature to another creature. I did not include the origin of life because it is not demonstrable.

I’m sure you won’t pay any mind to my second proposal either, but it’s the first thing that comes to mind and I’d be curious to read your thoughts, the Platypus. I realize that all the features that make it an anomaly exist in other animals but it definitely raises some questions.

Actually, this is the first thought I had as to a possible counterexample. My understanding is that the platypus is quite likely to be a descendant of some kind of therapsid – mammal-like reptile. Given that mammals evolved from reptiles (for the moment, let’s just accept that; there seems to be a fair bit of evidence), it is quite plausible that the platypus, along with certain spiny anteaters is a survival and evolution of therapsids, since there is such a large shared set of features (cloaca, pectoral girdle, fur, laying eggs). Unfortunately, Australia for some reason is not very conducive to fossilization, so the fossil record there is very incomplete. Nonetheless, there are things like Steropodon galmani to contend with in demonstrating the platypus as evidence of a failure of evolution to explain.

I’d also appeal to the fossil record. When fossils of modern animals are found they are in just about their present form. For example, the earliest bat fossils have fully formed wings and show evidence for fully functional and very complex echolocation systems. Certainly the amount of time between the originating wingless insectivore through the proto-bat to the bat must have occurred over millions of years. Why did none of those bat predecessors leave a trace in the fossils.

So, for example, the various smilodons (sabre-toothed tigers) are what now? Evolution is not animation; the fossil record only gives us snapshots. We can compel evolution in the lab amongst fast-breeding critters like fruit-flies, and get an animation, but that doesn’t happen in nature. Bats, sadly, are critters with very fragile and thin bones, so there’s not much of a fossil record. Thus bats fail of the “would have certainly left at least some evidence” part of the test.

[Disproving many parts of different branches of science] is really what creation scientists do. As I said before, the focus is on the evolution controversy but the debate would be more accurately described as the Creationism/Naturalism debate.

I must have missed that entirely. I’ve seen creationists critique science (hint, by the way: if you have to call it a science, it isn’t one), and I’ve seen creationists offer speculation in lieu of science, but I’ve not seen anyone using the scientific method to argue in favor of creationism. I’d appreciate references.

Might I offer a slight critique of creationism, myself? Creationists would have a far easier time of it if they accepted the science as-is, and argued instead that science only tells us how, rather than why. As a result, Creationism is an attempt to offer an explanation of why life exists, while science can explain how living things change. It’s a much more powerful argument. By accepting science’s premises, but saying that they are wrong, Creationism is at a disadvantage: you have to disprove science from within the realm of science. It would be as if early scientists had to prove that science worked not by showing that their methods led to accurate predictions, but that their methods were documented in the Bible. Much harder to do.

I personally think that there must be some form of Deity extant, though I cannot share the Abrahamic religions’ characterization of the form and nature of that god. But I cannot accept any appeal to such a god as scientific, unless it follows the scientific method to arrive in that place. That, by the way, would put paid to ever having scientific evidence of a transcendent god, though it does leave open the idea of an imminent god. If such a god exists, presumably science could discover and explain it as it could discover and explain any part of what is observed in nature. We are a long way off from that point being even reasonably debatable, though: we just don’t know enough yet.

57. Jason Malloy

I’ve never attempted to mislead or misinform in a post. If I post something that is incorrect it’s an honest mistake. Resorting to a personal attack on my character only demonstrates your own insecurity.

Can we cut with the martyr BS? The sheer bias in your reasoning, the zealous close-mindedness, the audaciously specious and false nature of your claims, the clear bad faith and repetitiveness and rigidity of your errors mark you as an incorrigible troll and opens you to much justified abuse. And, no, your Behe-Dembski creationist talking points don’t make me “insecure”, but your religious fundamentalist fractured logic and smug ignorance regarding the fast paced and exponentially exploding literature of the biological sciences makes me livid.

The mouse example is an interesting discovery, however, it really demonstrates that you don’t understand the criticism of evolution. According to the article you linked, the mouse regeneration stems from a loss of the ability to produce scar tissue, which leaves the wounds open for regeneration (it also leaves the wound open to infection). While possibly beneficial, in some situations, this doesn’t do anything to show the novel emergence of a function, quite the opposite.

Doug, you are truly a vapid and ideological little broken record; all you are willing to see with novel genetic variety, and novel combinations there-of, is so-called “loss of function”, and that’s an idea you are clearly so mired in that I obviously can’t help you. Your disgraceful ass-kicking by Engineer Poet here not three short months ago on mutations providing Fusidic acid resistance in Staphylococcus aureus should have shut you up on this sad little lie, but clearly it hasn’t . . . and yet you have the nerve to complain when we opinionate on your character??

But I’m willing to compromise and work with you just the same; perhaps there’s no need for you to cross this devastating metaphysical valley. How about you stay over there in “loss of function” land, and let’s just agree that the line of descent from Pakicetus to Basiloterus and from Australopithecus to Homo Sapiens was just one long history of “loss of function”. I’m willing to look at it through that obscure lens if that’s what will facilitate your acceptance of the factual natural record of descent with modification and the factual mechanisms of mutation and natural selection. Basioterus lost the ability to be a Pakicetus along with all of its Pakicetusy forms and functions. Homo Sapiens lost the ability to be a Australopithecus along with all of its Australopithecusy forms and functions. In the latter case new alleles that made the brain a little bit bigger, were a loss of function, because the brain “lost the function” of being a little bit smaller. New alleles that made our bodies a little less hairy were certainly a loss of function. And alleles allowing slight modifications in the shape of the face, the hands, the hips, etc., were all losses too. APE to MAN, as it were, and not one of those objectionable little “gains of function” on the whole trip.

Agreed? If no, I don’t see why not. So far your ideas about “loss of information” appear little more than a metaphysical bugaboo, so they should be easily correctable as such. To illustrate the logical problem with “loss of function” as some sort of “refutation” of natural selection and new genetic variety, I’ll use the words of a wise teacher:

When an idea carries so much perceived explanatory power yet remains so flexible that it can be twisted and adapted to conform to seemingly contradictory evidence, there is a problem.

Quite true. For instance, let’s pretend for a minute that in some outlandish alternative universe (I know its kar-aazzy, but bare with me) that wild mice originally had this gene combination allowing the ability to regenerate hacked digits and internal organs, because it was advantageous in their particular ecological niche, but as a result of this genetic configuration the mice were open to the risk of greater wound infections. Then some Bizarro scientists accidentally bred some lab mice, which were less open to infection at the expense of all their regeneration ability. In this Bizarro world, what do we predict Bizarro Doug will say about this fantastic newly bred ability to fight off infection? Could it be he would claim this was just an example of “loss of function”?

The answer is ‘yes’ – but how can it be a “loss of function” both ways? It can’t – that’s why it’s only a difference in function, and why your one-trick pony “argument” against evolution and genetics collapses in on itself. It was characteristically disingenuous on your part, anyway, to even try to use the increased risk of infection in the MRL mice to argue for a “loss of function”, because in the Staphylococcus aureus argument link above you were still convinced of “loss of function”, even when additional mutations compensated completely for the functional costs of the first mutation. So we can be sure that you’ve immunized yourself from accepting any inconvenient evidence – existing or potential – with some slippery rhetorical catch-alls.

No, Doug, the rest of my links do in fact devastate any of your so-called “criticisms” of evolution. The fact of the matter is that modern genetics provides both the detailed record of and the mechanism for evolutionary descent. The life-sciences and the biological literature provide an interlocking puzzle of consistent observations, novel predictions, and constant and rapid discoveries generated by evolutionary theory (good examples in those links). Intelligent Design is a crankish historical oddity (like its equally curious and short-lived Creationist predecessors) that exists only as a political movement focused on forcing religion in the public schools and generates and guides no scientific research and natural discoveries. I can thumb through hundreds of journals and find thousands of papers dealing with novel discoveries guided by evolutionary predictions and that support the reality of common descent and reveal a dynamic, fluid and ever-changing natural world. But I see so-called “Intelligent Design” religious “science” providing nothing but fragile and false critiques of this scientific behemoth it feels it can topple with a few empty theological “god of the gaps” speculations. If “Intelligent Design” is the dynamic competitor to evolution that it sees itself perhaps it should prove itself by, I dunno, actually generating novel observations of and insights into the natural world. But a look in any of numerous biology journals will show anyone with a good-faith curiosity that right now evolution appears to be the only theory capable of doing this, let alone by any professional standards of consistency and productivity.

58. Nick

Doug Rebok said:
“Even so this does nothing to alter the fact that Einstein allowed his worldview to add bias to his research.”
Right. But how can you ignore the fact that he, and his fellow cosmological scientists in the following decades, did alter their worldview precisely because the scientific evidence pointed them in a different direction? This is why I think you have overblown your assessment of how much bias affects scientists’ work and conclusions. The way you describe biologists’ worldview preventing them from acknowledging creationism as science, you would expect that most cosmologists today would still be pushing the steady state theory. Yet none of them do. Why?

59. Doug

I know its not worth engaging with you Jason. I admit I may sound like a broken record, but that’s because the whole debate is a broken record. My claim is that the examples you cite, the regenerating mouse being the latest, do nothing to address the criticism. You use a lot of mean-spirited 10 cent words and a couple bedtime stories to try to distract from the apparent fact that you have no answer for me. The mouse’s ability to regenerate was not something that evolved in this lab experiment. It had that ability all along, however, it was limited by the formation of scar tissue. When mutations occurred that blocked that scar tissue from forming, the ability to regenerate was unhindered. Why is it so difficult for you to see why this is not the same as the novel emergence of the ability to regenerate.

The rest of your discussion is a just-so story. Its an interpretation of the fossil record based on evolutionary assumptions. It is not testable, not repeatable, not provable and riddled with anomalies that are rationalized based on the “sketchy” fossil record.

Like the majority of evolutionists, you are unwilling to engage in the debate. You’d rather focus on your opponents personal character. Like the ostrich, who “evolved” the incredible defense mechanism of burying his head in the sand, you shout “we have hundreds of journals, full of thousands of examples!” But before you can show a single one, your mouth fills with sand.

At least engineer-poet gave it a fair shot. His example wasn’t nearly as obviously defeatable. But alas it involved acquiring the already existing function from another organism. And generally he kept the debate on the issue, only attempting to “get my goat” by referring to me as dougie.

60. Jason Malloy

The mouse’s ability to regenerate was not something that evolved in this lab experiment. It had that ability all along, however, it was limited by the formation of scar tissue. When mutations occurred that blocked that scar tissue from forming, the ability to regenerate was unhindered. Why is it so difficult for you to see why this is not the same as the novel emergence of the ability to regenerate.

At least 20 different genes are involved in the regeneration ability of the MRL mouse. This is a very complex characteristic, not one we’re going to figure out how to turn on in ourselves next week.

How does the mouse do it? Among the factors that block regeneration in us is the formation of scar tissue and the secretion of a basement membrane around reforming tissues in the wound site.

What happened wasn’t exactly simple – an entire healing system was rejiggered, in ways that we haven’t even entirely figured out. There are a number of problems with your comment brought to your attention in my comments above that you have just ignored. For instance that it would also need to be a “loss of information”, in your opinion, if we started with the regeneration and moved to the infection ability. And yet how could it be defined as “a loss of information” in each direction? Secondly you would describe regeneration as a “loss of information” even if the infection ability was compensated entirely with further mutations (as you did with Staphylococcus aureus), and yet how can an entirely new ability be considered “a loss”? You have not responded to either of these objections even though they have been brought up (in one form or another) in every Zimmer post where you have repeated this line of nay-saying (i.e. alomst every Zimmer post).

“The rest of your discussion is a just-so story. Its an interpretation of the fossil record based on evolutionary assumptions.”

We have a DNA record too! Obviously you ignored “the rest of my discussion”.

“It is not testable . . .”

When scientists announced last month they had determined the exact order of all 3 billion bits of genetic code that go into making a chimpanzee, it was no surprise that the sequence was more than 96 percent identical to the human genome. Charles Darwin had deduced more than a century ago that chimps were among humans’ closest cousins.

But decoding chimpanzees’ DNA allowed scientists to do more than just refine their estimates of how similar humans and chimps are. It let them put the very theory of evolution to some tough new tests.

If Darwin was right, for example, then scientists should be able to perform a neat trick. Using a mathematical formula that emerges from evolutionary theory, they should be able to predict the number of harmful mutations in chimpanzee DNA by knowing the number of mutations in a different species’ DNA and the two animals’ population sizes . . . Sure enough, when Lander and his colleagues tallied the harmful mutations in the chimp genome, the number fit perfectly into the range that evolutionary theory had predicted.

“. . . not provable and riddled with anomalies that are rationalized based on the “sketchy” fossil record.”

What are these “anomalies”? Did somebody find that hominid fossil in the pre-Cambrian? We have a DNA record, not just a fossil record.

“Like the majority of evolutionists, you are unwilling to engage in the debate. You?d rather focus on your opponents personal character.”

The “majority of “evolutionists”” are just ordinary scientists studying nature and performing experiments without much desire to waste time on revisionists and such.

“Like the ostrich, who “evolved” the incredible defense mechanism of burying his head in the sand, you shout “we have hundreds of journals, full of thousands of examples!” But before you can show a single one, your mouth fills with sand.”

You have immunized your silly “argument” against falsification (see above).

“At least engineer-poet gave it a fair shot. His example wasn’t nearly as obviously defeatable. But alas it involved acquiring the already existing function from another organism”

Neither example was “defeated”, rather contradicted with a nonsensical argument (see above). I also don’t get what “already existing function” you are talking about – the Fusidic acid resistance was a new ability through a new mutation.

61. david

Jason you are an elitist egocentric pseudo intellectual with an insular attitude. You resort to derision and obfuscation as opposed to civilized debate. One must either consider you a gadfly or a tyro.

62. mauro

A very interesting site of puzzles:
Oscar’s Puzzles

63. You see, an intelligent agent began with the word Ape and the goal of acheiving the word Man. An intelligent agent deduced the path of APT–>OPT–>etc. This is similar to the famous analogy of the evolving Corvette.

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### The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.