Friday, May 30, 2014

The Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve is Actually Really Complex

A Ham-Handed Creator?

In Charles Darwin’s one long argument against final causes, teleology, separate creation, independent creation or as he sometimes simply put it, the “ordinary view,” he complained, among other things, that notions of independent creation were tantamount to rejecting “a real for an unreal, or at least for an unknown, cause.” Furthermore, separate and innumerable acts of creation amounted to a tautology, “only re-stating the fact in dignified language.” And echoing Descartes’ criticism of Aristotelianism (the qualities themselves are in need of explanation), Darwin complained that viewing nature as revealing the plan of the Creator is vacuous and “nothing is thus added to our knowledge.” In summary, Darwin argued that independent creation was a vacuous tautology that appeals to unknown or unreal causes. The problem, as usual, is that the evolutionist’s criticism of other points of view is, in fact, a perfect description of evolution itself.

Consider, for example, one of Jerry Coyne’s favorite “proofs” of evolution, the recurrent laryngeal nerve. Coyne informs his readers that “It’s a prime example of ‘bad design,’ that is, of the ham-handedness of any creator that was responsible for designing organisms” because “It’s much longer than it need be, taking a tortuous route several feet longer than the direct path from brain to neck.”

But, according to Coyne, with evolution it all makes perfect sense. You see in the fish, the nerve lined up with a blood vessel, with both the nerve and blood vessel servicing the gills. But when the population of fish turned into a population of humans, and the blood vessel migrated rearwards, the nerve had no choice but to go along for the ride for it was looped around the vessel. The result is a nerve that winds its way along a circuitous route from the brain, down into our chest, and then back up to larynx.

Of course the nerve interacts with tissue along the way, but so what? It’s obviously a bad design. And what’s even more obvious is that there must be an untold number of such geometric constraints and puzzles as evolution shuffled the insides of the species it created. It can’t even reroute a little nerve cell and so as evolution began creating species the set of future species it could possibly create must have rapidly narrowed. It’s truly amazing that evolution could do much at all given all these constraints.

And yet there it is. Evolution created millions of species, each with their own design treasures. A biological universe filled with mechanical, electrical and chemical wonders. Somehow evolution did it all, even though it is so limited.

In fact one of those wonders is the recurrent laryngeal nerve itself. You see nerve cells are not little wires or hollow tubes carrying little electrical charges. They are incredibly fine-tuned, ingenious biological signal carriers that operate by a chemical choreography sending charged ions back and forth across its membrane to produce an action potential that progresses along the nerve.

And as nerves get longer, they get even more complex. That is the case with the recurrent laryngeal nerve. In the giraffe it is about 15 feet long. And in whales and dinosaurs they are much longer still. This creates significant design problems, such as how the nerve would transport necessary molecules, both large and small, from one end of the nerve to the other. It would take too long so evolution must have come up with some creative solutions. Pretty amazing stuff for the blind watchmaker that couldn’t reroute the nerve.

So what exactly is evolution telling us here? The history of evolutionary thought is full of failed claims of bad design. Over and over evolutionists have been convinced that nature’s designs were meaningless claptraps, only later to be shown up by scientific discoveries revealing clever function. But all the while evolutionists remained unfazed. At first, the meaningless claptrap reveals there was no designer. And later, the discovered function reveals an adaptation. One way or another, evolution did it.

Furthermore, evolutionists remain unfazed when amazing new mechanisms and structures are found. Whether the nerves are restructured, or the body plan is redesigned, evolutionists are sure that evolution created it. After all, it was selected for.

The recurrent laryngeal nerve is just another one of these stories. Evolutionists have no idea how it could have evolved. They have no idea how any nerve cell could have evolved for that matter. But they are sure it must have. Nor do they have any idea what are all the functions of the nerve.

Their certainty has little to do with evolutionary mechanisms and pathways, which are usually quite speculative. Rather, their certainty has to do with the quality and aesthetics of the design. It doesn’t work, or if it does work it doesn’t look right. They are making non scientific, metaphysical judgments about the biological world. And their theory consists of so many just-so stories, immune to empirical data and removed from the realities of science. We might say it is a vacuous tautology that appeals to unknown or unreal causes. But that would be quote mining.

Religion drives science, and it matters.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Evolution Professor: I Was Not Talking About Teleology

They Can’t Have it Both Ways

Evolution is interesting because while it is based on religious beliefs, evolutionists insist it is all about science. Consider, for example, PZ Myers as he writes in the Los Angeles Times that God would not have created this world, while nonetheless claiming that he’s just following the scientific evidence. Or consider Jerry Coyne who goes into great detail about how this world would not have been intended by a creator, and in the next moment claims that these are scientific results. This sort of thinking goes back to Darwin and before, and it is foundational to evolutionary thought. It runs all through the evolution literature, but it doesn’t work. You can’t claim the high ground of scientific empiricism while relying on metaphysics to make your case.

A recent example of how evolutionists claim the high ground of empiricism, while literally at the same moment making metaphysical claims, came in the Nelson-Velasco debate. As we have seen Joel Velasco employed the standard metaphysical claims about how nature’s inefficiencies and dysteleology prove that it wasn’t designed and so must have arisen spontaneously.

Yet Velasco claims he was doing no such thing. In the middle of his list of nature’s flubs, Velasco explained to the audience that usefulness is irrelevant to his argument:

[39:48] There are many traits—some are useful, maybe some are not, but I don’t need to argue about whether they are useful or not. What matters is that they’re records of the past. 

This was after he discussed useless yolk sacks and embryonic arches, and before he discussed birds that that can’t fly and cave dwellers with eye sockets. As Darwin remarked, approvingly quoting Richard Owen, “There is no greater anomaly of nature then a bird that cannot fly.”

Velasco follows the long tradition of evolutionary thought which insists this world would never have been intended by any being wise and powerful enough to create it. It is all metaphysical, but according to Velasco and the evolutionists, it’s just science. As he commented here, more recently, “I was not trying to rule out design or talk about teleology at all.”

But that is, in fact, exactly what Velasco talked about. Of course he was trying to rule out design and talk about teleology. That is why he showed the audience his long list of broken designs.

So why are evolutionists so confused about their own position? The answer is that it is a tendency of rationalistic thought to take your own axioms and assumptions, not as axioms and assumptions but as truisms. Evolutionists do not view their religious convictions as religious convictions because, for evolutionists, these convictions are just so obviously true. That’s why they are convictions, after all.

It is ironic that those who are most beholden to their metaphysics are those who are most oblivious to their metaphysics. As Alfred North Whitehead observed, people take their most crucial assumptions to be obvious and in no need of justification. These underlying assumptions are unspoken and undefended because, as Whitehead put it, “Such assumptions appear so obvious that people do not know what they are assuming because no other way of putting things has ever occurred to them.”

That’s how Jerry Coyne can say, in all honesty, that it is a scientific conclusion that “No form of creationism/intelligent design can explain these imperfections.” He really believes it.

And while there is nothing wrong with holding such beliefs, what Coyne and the evolutionists fail to understand is that it is a belief. None of this comes from science.

From a scientific perspective evolution isn’t even wrong. But from a religious perspective evolution must be true.

Religion drives science, and it matters.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Evolution Professor: The Same Infection, In the Same Place, In the Same Gene

The Proofs of Evolution

In recent posts I have reviewed several problems with evolutionary thinking as evident in the Nelson-Velasco debate, including non scientific claims that only evolution can explain biology, arguments from authority, appeals to unknown or unlikely evolutionary mechanisms and pathways such as in the hypothetical evolution of the recurrent laryngeal nerve and ALUs, false claims about the empirical scientific evidence, such as with the ORFans and the so-called nested hierarchy, and appeals to a fictional track record of success of the theory of evolution. All of these problems are typical but if you stop there then you don’t really understand evolution. For while these may seem to be serious problems, they are dwarfed by the proofs of evolution.

In his debate with Paul Nelson, Joel Velasco argued that the recurrent laryngeal nerve is a powerful evidence for common descent and evolution. As Velasco explained, it is “one of my favorite examples,” but in fact it is quite challenging to figure out how evolution possibly could have evolved the nerve, whether in the fish or in the giraffe.

But that misses the point. The point is that its design, in giraffes for example, makes no sense. Therefore it would not have been created or designed. As Velasco explained:

[40:35] Now this is one of my favorite examples, this is a great picture here, this laryngeal nerve. There is a nerve that goes from your brain to your larynx. And if you look at a human it goes all the way down and wraps around the aorta, and then back up to the larynx. You might think, “Boy, that’s kind of weird.” Yes, it’s not that big of a deal. It seems like it’s kind of weird, it goes out of place. Now if you were a giraffe and that was 15 feet long you would really care.

In other words, in the giraffe this nerve is not a good design. Another popular example is the pentadactyl pattern found in so many species. Velasco explains that this design is not a useful trait:

[28:16] How do you predict this nested hierarchical structure? What does this have to do with evolution? Well only an evolutionary process—only descent with modification can possibly explain why when you look at different traits you get the same classification, over and over and over again. It’s not that having five fingers is a useful trait so the designer wanted a lot of things to have five fingers.

According to evolutionists, the pentadactyl pattern is not a rational design, for why would the same design be used for so many different purposes? It would not have been intended by a creator or designer. As Darwin had put it:

What can be more curious than that the hand of a man, formed for grasping, that of a mole for digging, the leg of the horse, the paddle of the porpoise, and the wing of the bat, should all be constructed on the same pattern, and should include similar bones, in the same relative positions?

Then there is the human tail which makes no sense, as Velasco explains:

[38:56] We have a tailbone. Now, it’s true, the tailbone is useful, you need it, you don’t want to lose it, but some people’s tailbone still have the tail muscle attached. The muscle to what? There’s no tail. Now that’s not quite right, many embryos do have tails. Usually it gets sucked back in and absorbed. It comes out in the babies first, you know the merconium it comes out, but actually some humans are born with tails. But the rest of us don’t have a tail, but we have a muscle that could move it if we had one. What’s that all about?

Here Velasco uses a rhetorical question to convey the hopelessness of rationalizing the design. The use of rhetorical questions is a common technique in the evolution genre. This is because evolutionists cannot actually demonstrate why any of these claims are true. Velasco has never been a giraffe so he doesn’t know how they feel about their 15 foot long laryngeal nerve.

Likewise Velasco has never created a pentadactyl pattern, much less an entire organism that has this design. Nor has he created tails or humans. In fact evolutionists would have a difficult time explaining just why these are such bad designs. So they shift the burden of proof to the creationist, using the rhetorical question.

And of course these cannot be extremely bad designs, because in that case they would never have evolved. Evolutionists are sure these are bad designs, but not real bad. And they offend our common sense. They may function, but they are not rational. No designer or creator would have done it that way. As Richard Dawkins explains, “it is the principle of the thing”:

Like any nerve, the optic nerve is a trunk cable, a bundle of separate “insulated” wires, in this case about three million of them. Each of the three million wires leads from one cell in the retina to the brain. You can think of them as the wires leading from a bank of three million photocells (actually three million relay stations gathering information from an even larger number of photocells) to the computer that is to process the information in the brain. They are gathered together from all over the retina into a single bundle, which is the optic nerve for the eye.

Any engineer would naturally assume that the photocells would point towards the light, with their wires leading backwards towards the brain. He would laugh at any suggestion that the photocells might point away from the light, with their wires departing on the side nearest the light. Yet this is exactly what happens in all vertebrate retinas. Each photocell is, in effect, wired in backwards, with its write sticking out on the side nearest the light. The wire has to travel over the surface of the retina, to a point where it dives through a hole in the retina (the so-called “blind spot”) to join the optic nerve. This means that the light , instead of being granted an unrestricted passage to the photocells, has to pass through a forest of connecting wires, presumably suffering at least some attenuation and distortion (actually probably not much but, still, it is the principle of the thing that would offend any tidy-minded engineer!).

Then there are those irrational designs that repeatedly appear in neighboring species, such as broken genes. It is the so-called “shared-error argument”:

[42:10] Why don’t we smell very well. Well if you know something about biology you might think, “well we don’t have enough genes that get expressed as olifactory receptors,” you know we have about 400, but mice have a thousand. Four hundred is actually not that much. But actually we have 800 olifactory receptor genes, 400 are just broken. That is, we still have the genes inside our body, but there is just some mutation that has turned it off or messed with it. In fact, all the primates have the same broken genes, in the same place, broken in the same way. That’s why primates don’t smell as well as dogs. Dogs have the same genes we do, ours are just broken. [42:50] Most mammals don’t need to eat fruit. They can make their own Vitamin C. They can metabolize it. But actually the primates can’t. Now here, interestingly, there’s one other group—the fruit bats can’t. That’s not a result of common descent. That’s a separate break. In fact when you look at the details, it’s broken in a different place. But all the primates have the gene for making Vitamin C broken in exactly the same way. In exactly the same place. Why? Because it was broken in the ancestor mammals, and just got passed on.

And retro viruses:

[45:50] Now normally this wouldn’t get passed on, but every once in awhile, it inserts itself into a sperm or an egg cell, that gets passed on. So there is a record of viral DNA. When we look at your DNA, here’s a string, maybe a hundred base pairs, from a virus. You’re like, wow, that’s weird. You have 30,000 of them. It’s about 1% of your genome, is viral DNA, from retro viruses. And in fact, when we look, we share the retro virus infection—so there are some that all humans have. But actually there are some that the great apes have—humans, chimps, gorillas. You think, why do the three of us have the same infection, in the same place, in the same gene? Answer: Because actually the thing that was infected is the ancestor of the great apes.

And useless genetic markers:

[~48:00] We share lots of things in common, but when you look at the molecules, you look at the molecular markers inside, the case is overwhelming. We have markers that serve no purpose, they come from viruses.

Of course the similarities between species are many. One could make a long, long list of all the similarities between different species. So why do evolutionists focus on those similarities that don’t look right? Why does Velasco list off the similarities that are inefficient and broken?

Indeed these make evolution less likely. If Velasco was trying to explain why the evidence makes evolution more probable then he chose the wrong set of data. But evolution is all about contrastive thinking. The point is not to prove evolution but to disprove the competition. Evolution is more probable not because these broken designs raise its probability, but because they lower the probability of the alternatives.

From a scientific perspective the idea that the species arose spontaneously is absurd. Evolutionists do not have anything close to a scientific explanation for their ridiculous idea. Indeed, science flatly refutes evolutionary theory. Evolution can’t even create a single protein, much less millions upon millions of species.

But this isn’t about science. It never was. Evolution is no different from ancient Epicureanism. It is a non scientific belief system that mandates a strictly naturalistic origins theory.

Religion drives science and it matters.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Evolution Professor: “None of these facts would make sense, if we weren’t related”

The IFF Statement

In his 1924 classic The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science E. A. Burtt explored the non scientific ideas that motivated and influenced the scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. But the story doesn’t end there and today non scientific ideas drive science as much as ever. Of course there is nothing wrong with non scientific, metaphysical reasoning, per se. Indeed science would be unable to proceed without a metaphysical basis. So the problem is not that science is driven by metaphysics, but rather that science is driven by bad metaphysics. Consider the recent Nelson-Velasco debate where professor Joel Velasco relied on the if-and-only-if reasoning that underlies evolutionary thought.

If there was any doubt about evolution’s reliance on metaphysics before the debate began, it was quickly dispelled when Velasco began his segment with what has effectively become the motto of evolution: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” This motto comes from the title of a famous paper written by evolutionist Theodosius Dobzhansky and it is none other than an if-and-only-if statement. For example, if-and-only-if evolution is true, then we should observe X. Here is a sequence of equivalent statements to illustrate this:

● Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.
● Everything in biology makes sense only in the light of evolution.
● Only with evolution does anything in biology make sense.
● Only evolution can explain anything in the entire biological world.
● If-and-only-if evolution is true, then we should find what we find in the entire biological world.

But a scientist, qua scientist, cannot know that a particular theory is the only explanation for a particular observation (much less the entire biological world). That knowledge simply cannot come from science.

As I have discussed many times (here, here, here and here, for example), this if-and-only-if statement (or IFF for short), is bad metaphysics. It cannot be known to be true, and yet evolutionary reasoning entails just this. It is practically the official motto of evolution and, true to form, was a constant theme for Velasco. No less than ten times in the debate Velasco made this non scientific claim. Here are some examples, in Velasco’s own words:

[23:15] Now I’m going to tell you how I know that [all life is related via common ancestry] is true. So, the basic reason is the following. Now, Theodosius Dobzhansky was an important geneticist, he passed away in 1975, but before he did, in 1974, he penned an essay called, “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution.” Now he was a committed Russian Orthodox Christian, who in the actual article defended theistic creationism, he said, “Well, God got it started and then evolution,” but I’m not going to talk about that part. I’m just going to talk about the basic fact that he was right. [23.50] Nothing in biology makes any sense unless you believe in evolution, and then it does. That’s the basic argument.

[28:16] How do you predict this nested hierarchical structure? What does this have to do with evolution? Well only an evolutionary process—only descent with modification can possibly explain why when you look at different traits you get the same classification, over and over and over again.

And you know what? There are transposon elements, ALU elements, in exactly the same place in the chimp genome as in the human genome. With exactly the same sequences. Why? I’ll tell you why. Because actually, when the transposon jumped, it was in an ancestor of humans and chimps, and then just got passed on. That’s why. [49:05] None of these facts would make sense, if we weren’t related. It would be a massive coincidence.

[52:35] So common ancestry explains all the similarities we share with the other apes, and not just similarities—it’s not like “well we’re bound to be close to something,” similarities in precise ways. That only can be explained by common descent. But common descent leads to puzzles. If we’re related, how can you get there from here? Lots of times we don’t know. But we can still see the effects. Here, now, we know.

[53:02] Nothing else could explain this data other than a fusion, and the fusion answers the puzzle of how we got there from here. So I want to just say that there is so much evidence, that backs this up. Now I don’t have time to go through it all, but in fact it’s the same kind of reasoning that goes all the way through, all of life. I know Paul wants me to say that because that’s what he’s going to focus on, but everything is related. We see the effects throughout our bodies, throughout our fossils, throughout all life. We see the effects of common descent, nothing else can explain it. Thanks.

[1:32:59] And they started in one place. Why are there penguins in South America and Antarctica, and the bottom of Africa? Well because they’re all in one place. Well you might say, “They’re not in one place.” Well 150 MYA that was one place because it was connected. Common descent explains these facts, nothing else does, even if you don’t know the origin of the penguins.

This repeated theme is not a slip of the tongue. It was a consistent, underlying and crucial theme for Velasco, as it has been for evolutionary thought in general. Indeed, Velasco canonizes it as “the basic argument.” This is the type of reasoning that proves evolution is a fact.

Religion drives science, and it matters.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Taede Smedes on Special Divine Action

More Warfare Thesis

If you attend Taede Smedes talk at Trinity College this Thursday on “Why is Special Divine Action a Probem?” beware that his use of the term “theological naturalism” falls into the Warfare Thesis category. As Smedes explains:

As I will argue in this lecture, the problems surrounding the plausibility of SDA are mainly theological and philosophical in nature. The main problem is what I will call “theological naturalism” and that depicts the tendency to conceptualize theological ideas using ideas and ways of thinking taken from the natural sciences, which results in a distortion of the theological concepts involved. Rather than defending a particular view or even “theory” of SDA, this lecture aims at a philosophical diagnosis that aims at clarifying some of the conceptual confusion surrounding the concept of SDA. Perhaps SDA remains a problematic concept, but not for the reasons that are so often given.

It would be interesting to know what are the reasons from the natural science against SDA “that are so often given” because, in fact, I don’t know of any. There are, on the other hand, a plethora of reasons against SDA, that are often given, from theology. Here is how I discussed “theological naturalism” in Science’s Blind Spot:

There are, as it were, theological ground rules imposed on science. And although these theological concerns are varied, they all funnel toward a similar consequence. Put simply, the primary theological ground rule is that scientific explanations must be purely naturalistic. The term naturalism can take on different meanings when used by historians and philosophers of science. Here it is used to refer to this restriction of science to naturalistic explanations for religious reasons. I use a new term, theological naturalism, to clarify this and avoid ambiguity.
This term theological naturalism reminds us that the assumption of naturalism in science is neither a result of atheistic influence nor an empirically based scientific finding. It is a consequence of metaphysical reasoning, and the implications for science are profound. Theological naturalism provides science with well defined universal criteria to which it conforms. Instead of merely following the data where ever it may lead, science has a framework already in place. The answer, to a certain extent, is already in place.

Nonetheless the Warfare Thesis continues to attract adherents from all sides.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Evolution Professor: Contradictory Evidence Doesn’t Matter Because We’re Still Evolutionists

Staking Claims

One of the most bizarre defenses of evolution, which I first encountered years ago, is that contradictory evidence doesn’t matter because it was investigated by an evolutionist. Like planting your flag on the Moon, or like a trademark or patent, the first one there, or the first one with the idea, gets to claim it for their own. Evolutionists discovered ORFans, for example, so ORFans cannot be contrary to evolution.

Another interpretation of this pretzel logic is that since the discoverer of the new evidence is still an evolutionist, that means that the evidence must not be truly contrary to evolution. It is as though the discoverer of the new evidence has some deeper understanding of the evidence, or unique ability to interpret the evidence and incorporate it into the larger body of scientific information.

This leaves us in a real bind because you can imagine what evolutionists would say if we quoted from creationists or ID scientists. Those scientists are not legitimately scientific because, unlike evolutionists, religion drives their thinking.

So for evolutionists, it’s “heads I win, tails you lose.”

If you think such obviously fallacious reasoning is restricted to the chat room hackers, think again. It is common amongst evolutionists and it was on display recently when Joel Velasco debated Paul Nelson. For instance, Nelson rightly pointed out the problems with the iconic evolutionary tree of life. Here is how Velasco responded around the [1:27:30] mark:

Yeah, I’m in that group. I was on the grant that questioned the tree of life. I presented at those conferences. I refereed papers for those journals. And I don’t know a single person in that group that denies common ancestry. So I’m really not sure what’s going on.

Similarly regarding ORFans Velasco responds to Nelson around the [1:33:20] mark:

I was a referee on that paper. And I don’t think he’s questioning common ancestry at all. Ah, I certainly don’t and I approved the paper.

What counts is the scientific evidence, not the opinion of scientist who developed or discovered the evidence. This is not to say scientific opinion is not important. But philosophers well understand that particular findings can usually be easily assimilated into the over-arching paradigm, even if they are contradictory. Furthermore there are enormous social, career and financial pressures to conform. It means little that the person who published the evidence is still an evolutionist.

We need to examine each evidence carefully without shielding it with protectionist arguments such as “Well all the other evidence confirms evolution,” or “Well the scientist doesn’t question evolution, so the evidence can’t be a problem.”

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Evolution Professor: The Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve and ALUs

Fact Checking the Evolutionists

In his recent debate with Paul Nelson, evolutionist Joel Velasco appealed to several evidences in making his case for evolution. In my previous posts I examined Velasco’s claims about the nested hierarchy and ORFans (here and here). Here I will examine two more of Velasco’s evidences: the recurrent laryngeal nerve and a common genomic element known as an ALU.

In both these examples Velasco makes suggestions that are at odds with the facts. For the recurrent laryngeal nerve, Velasco sets up the problem with the claim that in fish the heart is in between the head and the gills. And for the ALU DNA sequences, Velasco suggests they are identical in different species. But Velasco is moving through a large amount of material, and speaking for about an hour. Not everything is going to be spot on, and that’s understandable.

And even more importantly, these misstatements do not affect the overall argument for evolution that Velasco makes in these two cases. So the problem here is not the miscues, but rather the overall arguments themselves. And the problem with these arguments, from a scientific perspective, is that both crucially rely on the flawed premise that similarity implies common ancestry.

If that were true then evolution would have been proven long ago. And indeed, it has been so proven, in the minds of evolutionists. But similarity does not imply common ancestry. There is no demonstration or proof that would establish such a bizarre claim.

Furthermore, not only is the argument not sound from a scientific perspective, but each argument raises substantial problems. For instance, the recurrent laryngeal nerve runs from the brain to the larynx. Evolutionists like to show examples in fish and in the giraffe. The idea is that as fish evolved into the giraffe, the nerve continued all the while to innervate the larynx, even though it became longer and longer as the neck became longer.

But such a long nerve raises all kinds of thorny molecular biology problems. Certainly the simpler, more direct route would have been selected for. The only thing evolutionists can say is that such a design was not possible. But they give no concrete reason. As Velasco put it:

Now as we evolved, the heart moved farther down and we grew necks. But the nerve, generation after generation after generation, got stretched longer and longer and longer. It can’t just reroute itself to go straight to the larynx.

Why not? Such special pleading is common in evolutionary thinking. They say evolution can create all kinds of amazing things. It can spontaneously morph a fish into a giraffe. It can create everything from a rose to a bald eagle. It created the incredible cell with its astonishing molecular machines and instructions. In fact, evolution created the entire biological world. And of course evolutionary thinking is by no means limited to biology. The cosmos evolved also. Evolution created everything.

And yet, when it comes to maintaining the simpler, more efficient, higher fitness path for the recurrent laryngeal nerve, evolution mysteriously fell short. For some unknown reason, the mastermind creator of the universe couldn’t maintain a simple nerve arrangement. Evolutionists can’t explain why, but they’re sure of this story.

The ALU argument also relies on the flawed claim that similarity implies common ancestry. In this case, ALU sequences are related to an RNA gene that helps to form a molecular machine known as the signal recognition particle that helps to govern the movement of protein traffic in the cell. Evolutionists have no explanation how that machine could have evolved.

Furthermore retrotransposons such as ALUs are inserted into the DNA with the help of the reverse transcriptase protein which constructs the DNA segment from the RNA copy. But, again, evolution has no credible explanation for how the complex reverse transcriptase protein could have evolved.

So the very presence of ALUs does not comport with evolutionary theory. This hardly makes for very good supporting evidence.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Evolution Professor: Orphans Not a Problem for Evolution

Fact Checking the Evolutionists

In my previous 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.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Evolution Professor: Biological Designs Fall Into a Nested Hierarchy

Fact Checking the Evolutionists

To support their high claim that the spontaneous origin of the species is a fact, evolutionists enlist all kinds of scientific evidence. But inevitably their scientific evidence isn’t quite right. One problem that surprised me when I first began studying evolution is the downright misrepresentation of the evidence. Sometimes these misrepresentations are exaggerations that convert otherwise ambiguous evidence into supporting evidence. Other times the misrepresentations are starker. In any case, to marshal evidence for the fact of evolution misrepresentation is required. And so it was not too surprising that in his recent debate against Paul Nelson, evolutionist Joel Velasco continued this unfortunate tradition.

One of Velasco’s themes in the debate was that biological designs fall into a nested hierarchy. The idea is that the common ancestry model predicts and requires such a pattern and that the finding of this hierarchy in biology is an extremely powerful proof text for evolution. But if this were true then evolution would be false by modus tollens, for the actual scientific evidence, as we have discussed many times here, is not so simple. And so we will repeat once again, phylogenetic incongruence is rampant in evolutionary studies. Conflicts exist at all levels of the evolutionary tree and throughout both morphological and molecular traits.

This paper reports on incongruent gene trees in bats. That is one example of many. These incongruences are caused by just about every kind of contradiction possible. Molecular sequences in one or a few species may be out of place amongst similar species. Or sequences in distant species may be strangely similar. As one paper admitted, there is “no known mechanism or function that would account for this level of conservation at the observed evolutionary distances.” Or as another evolutionist admitted, the many examples of nearly identical molecular sequences of totally unrelated animals are “astonishing.”

An even more severe problem is that in many cases no comparison is even possible. The molecular sequence is found in one species but not its neighbors. When this problem first became apparent evolutionists thought it would be resolved as the genomes of more species were decoded. No such luck—the problem just became worse. Not surprisingly evolutionists carefully prefilter their data. As one paper explained, “data are routinely filtered in order to satisfy stringent criteria so as to eliminate the possibility of incongruence.”

Short genes that produce what are known as microRNA also contradict Dawkins’ high claim. In fact one evolutionist, who has studied thousands of microRNA genes, explained that he has not found “a single example that would support the traditional tree.” It is, another evolutionist admitted, “a very serious incongruence.”

Another paper admits that “the more molecular data is analysed, the more difficult it is to interpret straightforwardly the evolutionary histories of those molecules.”

And yet in public presentations of their theory, evolutionists present a very different story. Velasco’s claim is typical. For example, Richard Dawkins explained that gene comparisons “fall in a perfect hierarchy, a perfect family tree.” This statement is so false it isn’t even wrong—it is absurd.