Wednesday, December 2, 2009

De Novo Genes: Criticism From Nick Matzke

On a day when President Obama once again called for civility and unity I am reminded how difficult this is to achieve in the origins debate. Intellectual discussions with evolutionists are about as likely as intellectual discussions with the Wizard of Oz. Rarely have I been able to cajole an evolutionist into reasoned discussion of the scientific evidence. Instead the evolutionist mischaracterizes science and deploys metaphysical justifications while accusing the skeptic of all manner of misdeeds. This infinite loop was replayed again last week on an evolutionary blog when Nick Matzke criticized recent posts here, here and here on T-urf13. I explained that the de novo gene T-urf13 is unlikely to have blindly evolved. I concluded the chances of that occurring are substantially worse than one in ten million. In return I received several pages of bizarre and irrelevant vitriol which managed to avoid the science at hand.

This is a genre that evolutionists seemed to have honed, and I was quickly reminded of it in Matzke's opening where he labelled me as a "young-earth creationist." Not only am I not a young-earth creationist, I have never even written about the topic. But accuracy and truth are not prominent in this genre.

For evolutionists the "young-earth creationist" label carries immense rhetorical value which outweighs any loss of credibility that may result. After all, the evolutionist can always respond to correction with taunts of secrecy, denial, and so forth. Indeed, I am routinely labelled as a "closet young-earth creationist."

And if I am hiding a secret religious belief then, of course, whatever I have to say in response to such charges is nothing more than a tired cover-up to which no one should pay heed. The verdict has been rendered: The evolution skeptic is an unscientific, religious zealot and therefore evolution remains a scientific fact. As Matzke pronounces:

as with many creationists, Hunter thinks his ridiculous little trope is actually a silver bullet that can be used to effortlessly kill any evolutionary evidence, thus saving his tender innocent brain the trauma of actually having to come up with a better explanation than the evolutionary one.

So much for truth and accuracy. And of course the fact of evolution stands firm:

Well, how does Hunter react to this empirical evidence on the origin of a new gene? He simply ignores the overwhelming sequence evidence right in front of him, and instead claims, based on typical creationist “it must have come together all at once from completely random sequence” assumptions, that the natural origin of T-urf13 is too improbable to be believed.

Matzke misrepresents both the science and my points. Far from ignoring the sequence evidence, it is precisely that evidence that is problematic for evolution. Protein coding sequences are extremely unlikely but here we find a significant part of one in a non-coding region.

And Matzke's quote is a silly and fictitious strawman. Of course the de novo gene arose from the pre existing sequences rather than "all at once from completely random sequence." The problem is that evolutionists are now claiming from unclear evidence that evolution is clearly capable of producing de novo genes.

Yes, some sequences came together to form a new gene. But that does not automatically demonstrate evolution any more than would a population responding to an environmental shift. Sure we can imagine how these sequences came together, but the elephant in the room is "how do lengthy protein coding sequences arise in non coding regions?"

Evolution predicts this should not happen and does not explain it. We may find an answer to this question, but for now it is not immediately obvious. At best it appears that evolution will be left with the usual "new proteins arise from the cutting, copying and pasting of pre existing proteins, with a few mutations thrown in here or there." But that hardly makes a de novo gene, such as T-urf13, evidence that evolution creates new proteins.

12 comments:

  1. I think you hit a nerve, Dr Hunter.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nick Matzke is a political activist, so distortions and half truths are not only permitted but expected.

    ReplyDelete
  3. You are exactly right.

    Evolutionists never really get at the real evidence for "macroevolution". Why?

    The rage now being covered by SOME of the media is "climategate". This scandal shows that even cherished "PEER REVIEWED!" science can be agenda driven and not evidence driven.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This has also been my experience as I have interacted for several months at the “Science and the Sacred” blog of the BioLogos Foundation. Although I am not equipped to deal with scientific details, I did challenge them Biblically and philosophically. Their pleasant facades soon dissolved into personal attacks and “bait-and-switch” tactics, shifting the discussion in young-earth-creationism – something I had never broached.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Dr. Hunter,

    I have 2 questions for you,

    1) Are ORFan genes related to de novo genes?

    2) Wouldn't ORFans produce novel proteins for the species that have them?

    ReplyDelete
  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  7. CWest,

    I think that Hunter is trying to get you, I, and others to question why there must be an explanation coexistant with description all the time.

    It really does sound like you are saying "So what if my explanation is flawed, at least I have one!" Maybe I am reading you wrong on this.

    Hunter's pointing out that this must-have-explanation idea is not a scientific one, but a philosophy about how science should be done. He does not share the same philosophy. He thinks you can have a desciption and not a coexistant explanation. In others words, he wants to learn more, before committing to the modern evolutionary synthesis. So for the time being, description sans explanation. You have to admit, once a scientist commits to a model, it is near impossible to dislodge it (hence Popper).

    ReplyDelete
  8. Nick Matzke said: "as with many creationists, Hunter thinks his ridiculous little trope is actually a silver bullet that can be used to effortlessly kill any evolutionary evidence, thus saving his tender innocent brain the trauma of actually having to come up with a better explanation than the evolutionary one."

    I don't know whether Matzke is right to call Cornelius a creationist. But on the other hand Cornelius is so completely oblique about what he thinks (other than of course criticize evolution), it is hard to say.

    I think Matzke's point about Cornelius not coming up with an better explanation is a valid one - and one that numerous people bring up on this very blog all the time. It seems the best "alternative" Cornelius can come up with is to say that evolution of the T-urf13 gene is "highly unlike". That seems about it.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Steve said: "It really does sound like you are saying "So what if my explanation is flawed, at least I have one!" Maybe I am reading you wrong on this."

    I think I'm comfortable with there not being an adequate explanation. After all it is better to say "I don't know" rather than just make something up.

    What is exasperating with Cornelius is his utter reluctance to even offer a way forward - either through a speculative hypothesis (and after all scientists speculate all the time), or perhaps some ideas for further research to move in a different direction.

    Science does not move forward or make progress simply by making a vacuum. The history of science is replete with examples of Incorrect and bad theories are not just simply removed, but are placed with ones that work better.

    ReplyDelete
  10. "What is exasperating with Cornelius is his utter reluctance to even offer a way forward - either through a speculative hypothesis (and after all scientists speculate all the time), or perhaps some ideas for further research to move in a different direction."


    The "way forward" is for you to take your religion home. That is my suggestion. Your theory is not a "fact," you are not contributing to science, and you are consuming our tax dollars. Real science does just fine without your silly theories of origins. It is astonishing that evolutionists use this "you haven't solved our problem for us" canard. They ought to be returning the taxpayer's money.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Cornelius said "he "way forward" is for you to take your religion home. That is my suggestion. Your theory is not a "fact," you are not contributing to science, and you are consuming our tax dollars. Real science does just fine without your silly theories of origins. It is astonishing that evolutionists use this "you haven't solved our problem for us" canard. They ought to be returning the taxpayer's money."

    I guess by "you" and "your" you are lumping me into the general category of evolutionists (or probably "Darwinists" which is your preferred term I think). But I'm actually not a scientist, just a curious bystander. So I'm personally not consuming any taxpayer money. And besides, don't many evolutionary biologists work for private universities?

    As to "Real science" - can you give us an example of what you think qualifies here? Perhaps even an example of the kind of science that you do? (other than highlight text in bold font?)

    ReplyDelete