Fact Checking the Evolutionistsprevious post I discussed Joel Velasco’s claim, in his recent debate with Paul Nelson, that biological designs fall into a nested hierarchy. Velasco is by no means alone in making this bizarre claim. It is not controversial that it is not true, yet evolutionists routinely insist that, as Richard Dawkins once put it, genes across a range of species fall into a “perfect hierarchy, a perfect family tree.” If, like many, your first question is “what are they thinking?” then go to the [1:33:21] mark in the Nelson-Velasco debate where for the final few minutes of his response segment, Velasco sheds light on the closing of the evolutionary mind.
Nelson had brought up the problem of ORFans—genes that are unique to a particular species. They contradict common ancestry’s nested hierarchy model and when they were first discovered evolutionists figured they would go away as more genomes were decoded. But that didn’t happen. We now have an explosion of genomic data and, yes, more and more ORFans have been discovered.
Velasco addressed this problem with several arguments. First, Velasco reassured the audience that there isn’t much to be concerned with here because “Every other puzzle we’ve ever encountered in the last 150 years has made us even more certain of a fact that we already knew, that we’re all related.” In other words, evolution has a track record we can rely on.
Unfortunately that too is not true. In fact practically every major prediction of evolution has failed. For example, one of those puzzles was the finding of long stretches of identical, unconstrained DNA in otherwise distant species. Such a finding, an evolutionist had told me years earlier, would falsify evolution, period. His point was that evolution was falsifiable. That was yet another false claim. The finding of identical, unconstrained DNA did not so much as put a dent in the evolutionist’s certainty (and yes, he is still believes in evolution).
When their expectations turn out to be false, evolutionists respond by adding more epicycles to their theory that the species arose spontaneously from chance events. But that doesn’t mean the science has confirmed evolution as Velasco suggests. True, evolutionists have remained steadfast in their certainty, but that says more about evolutionists than about the empirical science.
In fact Velasco’s appeal here to “all that other evidence” (my paraphrase) is typical. Yes, you can raise minor issues around the edges that have not yet been resolved, but we’ve got this mountain of rock solid, compelling, overwhelming evidence proving evolution beyond any reasonable doubt.
This is yet another form of theory protectionism. It shifts attention away from a theoretical failure, appealing to a mythical, non existent, list of proof texts. Aside from the problem that no such set of compelling evidence exists, it is irrelevant. The question in hand is how evidence X (in this case unique genes) bears on the theory, regardless of the other evidence.
Velasco’s next argument was to suggest that this ORFan problem was really nothing more than a semantic misunderstanding—a confusion of terms. Because these are unique genes, ORFans also go by the name of “orphans.” It is, according to Velasco, nothing more than a clever homophone that creationists have surreptitiously exploited to confuse people. As Velasco explained: “first of all, it’s important to understand, Paul says, ‘Oh these are genes without any ancestors.’ Well, no. It’s like, ‘Oh the name implies it.’ Well, this is one of these cases of scientists, sort of, thinking it sounds cool and, sort of, just playing into the hands of creationists.”
Sorry but this has nothing to do with creationists. And no, there is no such confusion of terms. The play on words is not misleading. Do these genes have ancestors? Velasco’s response (“Well, no”) is a misrepresentation of the empirical science. Of course we don’t find ancestors. That’s why evolutionists were surprised, and that’s why they figured the problem would go away as more genomes were decoded. But that too was false and we cannot now just assert “Well, no.”
But Velasco continued with his denial of the empirical evidence: “So the things that we label ORFAN genes, don’t necessarily actually have no relatives. They’re actually just open reading frames that, right now, you can’t get significant homology.” (Note that Velasco here means “identity” not “homology.” Homology either is or is not. Like pregnancy, you can’t be a little bit homologous.) Velasco’s argument here is guilty of what he just finished criticizing the creationists of—confusing the terms. He says there is no problem here because, after all, these data are really just open reading frames for which, right now, there is no “significant homology.”
Huh? That’s the point. Velasco can spin the terms, but that doesn’t change the evidence. That these are open reading frames without similarities is what evolutionists did not expect. It doesn’t fit the theory.
Velasco’s next argument was to give a misleading example of ORFans arising from distantly related species: “First of all, lots of it is just the lack of information. Right. So you sequence this bacteria species which is very distantly related from other bacteria, and it has this gene that you don’t recognize any of its relatives. Why? Well it might have shared a common ancestor a billion years ago, with anything else you’ve discovered. So, it could have changed a lot in that time.”
This is not at all representative of the ORFan data. In fact, we find ORFans not only between neighboring species, but between different variants of the same species. By raising this example of “very distantly related” species, Velasco trivializes the ORFan problem and misrepresents the science.
Velasco next continued along this line, arguing that the ORFan problem is nothing more than a gap in our knowledge. For the more we know about a species, the more the ORFan problem goes away. And which species do we know the most about? Ourselves of course. And we have no ORFans: “Well what about humans, we know a lot about humans. How many orphan genes are in humans? What do you think? Zero.”
Again this is a misrepresentation of the science. First, our overall knowledge of a species is irrelevant. ORFans come from genomic data, period. One could know nothing at all about a species except its genome and nonetheless be perfectly accurate in knowing its ORFans.
Second, dozens of unique genes have been found in the human genome. And that could be just the tip of the iceberg for, as Nelson adroitly pointed out, early work on the human genome downplayed long stretches of unique human DNA because it didn’t fit the theory of evolution.
Next Velasco argued that while new ORFans are discovered with each new genome that is decoded, the trend is slowing and is suggestive that in the long run relatives for these ORFans will be found: “In fact if you trend the absolute number going up, as opposed to the percentage of orphan genes in organisms, that number is going down.”
But so what? This is what one would expect if unique genes were common. Velasco seems to concede some uncertainty here, but in typical fashion concludes triumphantly: “I can make some bets though. I think in 50 years this will not be seen as a problem, in fact it’s not seen as a problem now.”
So there you have it. One failed defense after another resulting in complete and utter victory. Not only are ORFans not at all likely to be a problem 50 years from now, in fact they are not even a problem now. As usual, evolutionists lose every battle but always win the war. I guess the species really do fall into a nested hierarchy after all.