|Feature Article - August 2002|
|by Do-While Jones|
Scientific American claims to have “15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense”. Last month we examined the first seven of their claims. This month we will look at the remaining eight.
Let’s just pick up where we left off last month.
8. Mathematically, it is inconceivable that anything as complex as a protein, let alone a living cell or a human, could spring up by chance.
Chance plays a part in evolution (for example, in the random mutations that can give rise to new traits), but evolution does not depend on chance to create organisms, proteins or other entities. Quite the opposite: natural selection, the principal known mechanism of evolution, harnesses nonrandom change by preserving "desirable" (adaptive) features and eliminating "undesirable" (nonadaptive) ones. As long as the forces of selection stay constant, natural selection can push evolution in one direction and produce sophisticated structures in surprisingly short times. 1
It would be a much more convincing argument if they could give any example whatsoever where natural selection has ever produced “sophisticated structures in surprising short times.” We would even settle for “sophisticated structures in rather long times.” But they didn’t give any examples because there aren’t any. Existing structures can, to a limited degree, change shapes. But new, sophisticated structures (eyes, for example) cannot be produced by mutation and natural selection.
The best Scientific American can do is to offer a computer simulation.
As an analogy, consider the 13-letter sequence "TOBEORNOTTOBE." Those hypothetical million monkeys, each pecking out one phrase a second, could take as long as 78,800 years to find it among the 2613 sequences of that length. But in the 1980s Richard Hardison of Glendale College wrote a computer program that generated phrases randomly while preserving the positions of individual letters that happened to be correctly placed (in effect, selecting for phrases more like Hamlet's). On average, the program re-created the phrase in just 336 iterations, less than 90 seconds. Even more amazing, it could reconstruct Shakespeare's entire play in just four and a half days. 2
First of all, the 13-letter sequence wasn’t produced randomly. Richard Hardison DESIGNED the program to produce that 13-letter sequence, and no other. He just intentionally wrote the program to be very inefficient by using a random letter generator. If Richard Hardison had randomly set bits in memory, and it produced an executable program that printed out “To be, or not to be?”, it would have shown that, at least on one occasion, random processes can produce a functional program. Of course, it still isn’t analogous because someone had to design the computer, and the printer, and the cable that connects them.
An E in the fourth position of the string has no intrinsic “survival benefit” unless the rest of the string is pretty close to the target. In the same way, an optic nerve has no intrinsic survival benefit unless it is connected to a functioning eyeball and a brain that is programmed to do image processing. So, natural selection isn’t going to favor any part of an incomplete eye in the absence of the rest of the rest of the eye.
The reason why the computer simulation saved an E in the fourth position is because the program designer had the phrase, “To be, or not to be?” in mind when he wrote the program. The premise behind the theory of evolution prohibits a designer who has a goal in mind, causing natural selection to favor an optic nerve that isn’t connected on either end.
It seems like nearly every movie made in the twenty-first century includes some very convincing scenes that have been created by computer simulations--but the things depicted in those scenes didn’t really happen, no matter how convincing the simulation.
Hardison’s computer simulation does not represent anything that happened in the real world. It doesn’t even represent naturalistic evolution because it was designed, and is goal-oriented.
9. The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that systems must become more disordered over time. Living cells therefore could not have evolved from inanimate chemicals, and multicellular life could not have evolved from protozoa.
This argument derives from a misunderstanding of the Second Law. If it were valid, mineral crystals and snowflakes would also be impossible, because they, too, are complex structures that form spontaneously from disordered parts. 3
This is the “stupid argument about snowflakes” that we have referred to in a past newsletter.
If the Second Law really said that snowflakes could not occur naturally, then the first snowfall disproves the Second Law. If, on the other hand, the Second Law doesn’t say that it is impossible for snowflakes to occur naturally, it proves that the editor of Scientific American is using an irrelevant argument.
In fairness, we have to admit that most creationists don’t do a very good job of explaining the argument to people like the editor of Scientific American. We have been working on an essay on the Second Law for many months, but have not published it because we have been driven by current events. If Gould hadn’t died, and Scientific American hadn’t published their nonsense article, we probably would have published it by now. We need to tell you about Sahelanthropus (“A new hominid from the Upper Miocene of Chad, Central Africa”), and the August National Geographic is making a big deal about the Dmanisi skull found in the (formerly Soviet) Republic of Georgia. Current issues like these may keep the thermodynamics essay on the back burner for several more months.
The editor of Scientific American, like many other evolutionists, claims that the Second Law doesn’t apply because the Earth is an open system. He claims that adding energy from an outside source will solve the problem.
More important, however, the Second Law permits parts of a system to decrease in entropy as long as other parts experience an offsetting increase. Thus, our planet as a whole can grow more complex because the sun pours heat and light onto it, and the greater entropy associated with the sun's nuclear fusion more than rebalances the scales. 4
Many people saw the Twin Towers collapse on September 11. It took about 9 months to clean up the rubble. It would have been a lot quicker to detonate a small nuclear device in the center of the rubble. The rubble could have grown more complex, completely rebuilding the Twin Towers, because the greater entropy associated with the nuclear blast would have more than offset the decrease in entropy as the Twin Towers reassembled themselves. Why didn’t any scientists suggest that?
Of course, you know intuitively that an explosion can knock down a tower, but an explosion won’t build one up. But do you know why that is true? You will know, when we finally get a chance to publish our Second Law essay.
10. Mutations are essential to evolution theory, but mutations can only eliminate traits. They cannot produce new features.
On the contrary, biology has catalogued many traits produced by point mutations (changes at precise positions in an organism's DNA)--bacterial resistance to antibiotics, for example. 5
Not the bacteria nonsense, again! We’ve already dealt with that in our October, 2001, essay on The PBS Evolution Series.
Mutations that arise in the homeobox (Hox) family of development-regulating genes in animals can also have complex effects. Hox genes direct where legs, wings, antennae and body segments should grow. In fruit flies, for instance, the mutation called Antennapedia causes legs to sprout where antennae should grow. These abnormal limbs are not functional, but their existence demonstrates that genetic mistakes can produce complex structures, which natural selection can then test for possible uses. 6
The genetic mistake did not produce a new complex structure. It just made an existing complex structure appear in a place where it would not work. We want to see a Hox gene make functional legs or wings appear on a worm. Is that a “frustrating request” or “an unreasonable burden”? What makes it unreasonable? It is unreasonable because everybody knows it can’t possibly happen. But, for the theory of evolution to be true, it has to happen often. Reptiles had to grow breasts to become mammals, didn’t they? Every internal organ of every living creature is a complex structure that had to be produced by a genetic mistake, if the theory of evolution is true.
11. Natural selection might explain microevolution, but it cannot explain the origin of new species and higher orders of life.
Evolutionary biologists have written extensively about how natural selection could produce new species. For instance, in the model called allopatry, developed by Ernst Mayr of Harvard University, if a population of organisms were isolated from the rest of its species by geographical boundaries, it might be subjected to different selective pressures. Changes would accumulate in the isolated population. If those changes became so significant that the splinter group could not or routinely would not breed with the original stock, then the splinter group would be reproductively isolated and on its way toward becoming a new species. 7 [emphasis in the original]
Science fiction writers wrote extensively about how, by the end of the twentieth century, robots would do all our work, and people would travel about wearing jet packs. They wrote their opinions, but it didn’t happen that way. Writing about something doesn't make it happen.
Yes, biologists have written extensive speculations about how a splinter group could be “on its way toward becoming a new species.” But, despite all the breeding experiments man has done (in which he has been able to produce different kinds of roses), nobody has never turned a rose into an orchid. Nobody has ever bred a greyhound into a cheetah.
The creationist statement, “Natural selection might explain microevolution, but it cannot explain the origin of new species and higher orders of life,” isn’t nonsense. It is a plain statement of fact. The suggestion that either artificial selection or natural selection can produce higher orders of life is the nonsense.
On the surface, their next point appears to be a rehash of their third point (evolution isn’t observable), but they take it in a different direction.
12. Nobody has ever seen a new species evolve.
Speciation is probably fairly rare and in many cases might take centuries. Furthermore, recognizing a new species during a formative stage can be difficult, because biologists sometimes disagree about how best to define a species. The most widely used definition, Mayr's Biological Species Concept, recognizes a species as a distinct community of reproductively isolated populations--sets of organisms that normally do not or cannot breed outside their community. In practice, this standard can be difficult to apply to organisms isolated by distance or terrain or to plants (and, of course, fossils do not breed). Biologists therefore usually use organisms' physical and behavioral traits as clues to their species membership. 8
Except for one sentence, everything he says is true. Nobody has seen a new species evolve. It is hard to define a species, especially for fossils (as we pointed in our April, 1997, essay “Sex and the Single Bone”). Therefore biologists do use subjective judgment to classify critters into species, and families, and orders, etc.
The key sentence, however, is the one that says, “Speciation is probably fairly rare.” For evolution to be true, speciation has to be very common. Not only that, the kind of speciation that has to be very common is the kind that allegedly produces radically new features (like feathers and eyes) rather than slight modifications of existing structures (differently shaped beaks, for example).
How many species are alive in the world today? That is a question that nobody can answer precisely because nobody has been able to catalog them all. Suffice it to say that there are a whole lot of them. Not only that, the fossil record shows that the number of species living today is only a small fraction of the species that have ever lived. There had to be at least one speciation event for every species alive today. Since there are so many species alive today, speciation had to happen very many times, so it cannot accurately be called a rare occurrence, which is the foundation of Scientific American’s argument.
But the problem is even worse than that for the evolutionists. Clearly, there had to be innumerable speciation events for every species alive today (and every species that is now extinct). Take people, for example. Modern humans allegedly evolved from Eosimias (a small primate about the size of your thumb, known only from two bones the size of grains of rice) through a series of hominid ancestors over a period of 45 million years. How many speciation events did that take? Of course, for the theory of evolution to be true, Eosimias had to evolve from something. Allegedly it came from a single cell, which changed into a worm, which became a fish, which became an amphibian, which became a mammal, which became a primate. How many speciation events did that take?
At the molecular level, the human genome is the instruction manual for building human bodies. Human DNA consists of about 3 billion base-pairs. That makes it something like an instruction manual with 3 billion letters in it. Even if the letters were added in large bunches at a time, it takes an awful lot of successful random additions of bunches of letters to change the instructions for building a single cell creature into instructions for building a person. Each one of those successful changes to the DNA sequence would be a different species.Scientific American’s position that “speciation is rare” is inconsistent with the frequent speciation demanded by the theory of evolution. But Scientific American went on to say,
Nevertheless, the scientific literature does contain reports of apparent speciation events in plants, insects and worms. In most of these experiments, researchers subjected organisms to various types of selection--for anatomical differences, mating behaviors, habitat preferences and other traits--and found that they had created populations of organisms that did not breed with outsiders. For example, William R. Rice of the University of New Mexico and George W. Salt of the University of California at Davis demonstrated that if they sorted a group of fruit flies by their preference for certain environments and bred those flies separately over 35 generations, the resulting flies would refuse to breed with those from a very different environment. 9
Remember, they are trying to refute the creationist statement that “speciation has never been observed.” The best they can do is come up with fruit flies that won’t mate with other fruit flies. But they are still fruit flies. Are they really a different species?
There are some people who refuse to breed with people of other races. Does that prove that people of different races are different species?
When you strip away the rhetoric, Scientific American is saying that because certain fruit flies won’t mate with certain other fruit flies, it proves that amphibians can evolve into reptiles.
The creationist argument is that nobody has ever observed new kingdoms, phyla, classes, orders, or even families, evolve. The only evolution that occurs is the evolution of varieties--people with lighter or darker skin, finches with longer or shorter beaks, dogs of various sizes, horses of different stature and color, etc. In other words, only microevolution has been seen to occur.
The creationist position is that macroevolution has never been observed. Scientific American actually confirms that. They can’t point to a single instance of something new evolving. All they offered as evidence to refute the creationist claim was a group of racist fruit flies.
13. Evolutionists cannot point to any transitional fossils--creatures that are half reptile and half bird, for instance.
Actually, paleontologists know of many detailed examples of fossils intermediate in form between various taxonomic groups. One of the most famous fossils of all time is Archaeopteryx, which combines feathers and skeletal structures peculiar to birds with features of dinosaurs. A flock's worth of other feathered fossil species, some more avian and some less, has also been found. A sequence of fossils spans the evolution of modern horses from the tiny Eohippus. Whales had four-legged ancestors that walked on land, and creatures known as Ambulocetus and Rodhocetus helped to make that transition. 10
This is absolutely laughable. The “sequence of fossils spans the evolution of modern horses from the tiny Eohippus” was disproved by (evolutionist) George Gayload Simpson in 1951, and was rejected by other evolutionists shortly thereafter. In our December, 2001, newsletter you can see a picture we took of the exhibit, “Once we told the horse story wrong” at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. We then addressed, in detail, their admission that horse evolution was wrong in the February, 2002, newsletter.
Furthermore, we examined the “evidence” that whales had “four-legged ancestors that walked on land” in our August 1999 essay, “In A Whale of Trouble”, and again in November, 2001, with our essay, “Whale Tale Two”. In December, 2001, we were delighted to print “Whale Evolution Correction” which was an email from an evolutionist pointing out all the errors in the August 1999 essay. We were delighted because the evolutionist was refuting what other evolutionists had said about whale evolution, not what we had said.Of course, Archaeopteryx was originally touted as the missing link between birds and dinosaurs because it had both reptilian and birdlike features. But then evolutionists found fossil birds with no reptilian features that they dated as being older than Archaeopteryx, so evolutionists have rejected Archaeopteryx as the ancestor of birds.
Creationists, though, dismiss these fossil studies. They argue that Archaeopteryx is not a missing link between reptiles and birds--it is just an extinct bird with reptilian features. They want evolutionists to produce a weird, chimeric monster that cannot be classified as belonging to any known group. Even if a creationist does accept a fossil as transitional between two species, he or she may then insist on seeing other fossils intermediate between it and the first two. These frustrating requests can proceed ad infinitum and place an unreasonable burden on the always incomplete fossil record. 11
Creationists don’t dismiss fossil studies. They accept the obvious explanations, rather than some contrived explanation of how the fossils could possibly show evolution. Creationists don’t demand a weird, chimeric monster that doesn’t fit in any group. Everybody already knows about the duck-billed platypus, which fits into a known group only because it was forced into it. (The platypus, by the way, is no problem for creationists, but doesn’t fit with evolutionary theory at all.)
The transitional fossil issue is much more complex than finding “creatures that are half reptile and half bird.” Nobody considers a bat to be a transitional form just because it is half way between a mouse and a robin. We examined the criteria for determining if a fossil is transitional in our October 2001 essay, “Parent of the Apes - Part 2”. Bats fail the transitional test partly because they don’t appear in the fossil record at the proper time, and mainly because they don’t fit with evolutionary prejudice. (Reptiles, not mammals, are supposed to have evolved into birds. So no half-mammal, half-bird, could possibly be transitional, no matter how “intermediate” it looks.)
The reasonable criteria for transitional forms are that you would need to find a series of fossils that could be positively dated, in contiguous geographic areas, showing a definite, gradual, change in shape over time. Nothing meeting these criteria has ever been found.
One might find a part of an ape’s skull, and a human leg bone some distance away, and call these two bones “Java Man”, and claim to have found a missing link between apes and humans. This discovery might be presented to school children as a transitional form that proves evolution. In fact, this was done. But that doesn’t mean that transitional fossils have been found, no matter how loudly anyone says it.
Although it doesn’t seem to us that an argument about molecular biology really belongs in a discussion of transitional fossils, Scientific American said,
Nevertheless, evolutionists can cite further supportive evidence from molecular biology. All organisms share most of the same genes, but as evolution predicts, the structures of these genes and their products diverge among species, in keeping with their evolutionary relationships. Geneticists speak of the "molecular clock" that records the passage of time. These molecular data also show how various organisms are transitional within evolution. 12
The creation model predicts similar genes, too, so similarity of genes in diverse living things doesn’t support evolution any more than it supports creation.
The molecular clock is yet another example of circular reasoning. How does one calibrate a molecular clock? Well, we know the genetic distance between apes and humans, and we “know” that apes and humans shared a common ancestor about 5.5 million years ago. Therefore, we can compute the rate of molecular mutations. Knowing the mutation rate, and the number of differences, we can determine when apes diverged from humans. (It should be no surprise that the answer turns out to be 5.5 million years.)
Ironically, the molecular clock came under fire from evolutionists some years ago because it showed that “Mitochondrial Eve” lived about 6,000 years ago 13. Since that time fits so closely with Biblical Eve, it made most evolutionists very uncomfortable, and they tried to discredit it.
Occasionally, molecular data does confirm evolutionary prejudice. But, in many cases, it does not. We have written about the many contradictions between genetic analysis of the relationships between various kinds of animals and the tradition evolutionary relationships. You may want to refer back to our Evolution in the News column, “The Failure of Genetics” (March, 1998) or our feature article, “The DNA Dilemma” (July 1999). Since we had just written about the subject in March, 1998, we didn’t comment on some of the articles that appeared in the 1 May, 1998, journal Science. These articles had great titles like, Genome Data Shake Tree of Life (subtitle - New genome sequences are mystifying evolutionary biologists by revealing unexpected connections between microbes thought to have diverged hundreds of millions of years ago) 14 and Genes Put Mammals in Age of Dinosaurs 15 which began,
The long-standing view from the fossil record is that our furry ancestors first appeared 225 million years ago as small shrewlike creatures … But a new genetic study is challenging that view …
For several months now we have planned to run an essay on why analysis of the protein cytochrome C is inconsistent with the theory of evolution. Unfortunately, like the thermodynamics essay, the cytochrome C essay keeps getting bumped off the editorial calendar by time-critical essays like this one, and the death of Stephen Jay Gould.
The creationist view is that since evolution did not create all the different kinds of animals, one should not expect any more than accidental agreement between the fictitious evolutionary history based on fossils and the fictitious evolutionary history based on genetics, which is exactly what the data shows.
14. Living things have fantastically intricate features-at the anatomical, cellular and molecular levels-that could not function if they were any less complex or sophisticated. The only prudent conclusion is that they are the products of intelligent design, not evolution.
This "argument from design" is the backbone of most recent attacks on evolution, but it is also one of the oldest. In 1802 theologian William Paley wrote that if one finds a pocket watch in a field, the most reasonable conclusion is that someone dropped it, not that natural forces created it there. By analogy, Paley argued, the complex structures of living things must be the handiwork of direct, divine invention. 16
Of course, that is exactly right. What makes this “creationist nonsense”? Not only that, it has been known since 1802.
Darwin suggested that even "incomplete" eyes might confer benefits (such as helping creatures orient toward light) and thereby survive for further evolutionary refinement. Biology has vindicated Darwin: researchers have identified primitive eyes and light-sensing organs throughout the animal kingdom and have even tracked the evolutionary history of eyes through comparative genetics. (It now appears that in various families of organisms, eyes have evolved independently.) 17
Biology has not vindicated Darwin. Who does Scientific American think has “tracked the evolutionary history of eyes?” Nobody today has any idea how an eye could possibly have evolved. What survival benefit would a lens provide without an optic nerve?
The statement that “eyes have evolved independently” is based on the fact that there are so many different kinds of eyes in so many diverse creatures that they could not all have evolved from one critter with a primitive light-sensing organ. Since they could not possibly all have evolved from the same primitive eye, evolutionists are forced to state, without any proof whatsoever, that it is easy for an eye to evolve, and that it has happened many times.
The argument that an eye can evolve by chance is just wishful thinking on the part of the evolutionists.
15. Recent discoveries prove that even at the microscopic level, life has a quality of complexity that could not have come about through evolution. 18
Scientific American really can’t answer this observation. They make some vague statements, like this:
The key is that the flagellum's component structures, which Behe suggests have no value apart from their role in propulsion, can serve multiple functions that would have helped favor their evolution. The final evolution of the flagellum might then have involved only the novel recombination of sophisticated parts that initially evolved for other purposes. Similarly, the blood-clotting system seems to involve the modification and elaboration of proteins that were originally used in digestion, according to studies by Russell F. Doolittle of the University of California at San Diego. 19
If you have seen the video, “Unlocking the Mystery of Life”, which we showed at our June meeting, you would see how foolish this argument is. There is absolutely no evidence that the flagellum’s rotor would have any survival benefit without a stator, or any of the other parts of the motor. It is ridiculous to think that a protein designed to promote digestion would somehow turn into a necessary part of a complex blood-clotting system. It is just more wishful thinking.
Researchers into nonlinear systems and cellular automata at the Santa Fe Institute and elsewhere have demonstrated that simple, undirected processes can yield extraordinarily complex patterns. 20
There is a tremendous difference between a complex pattern and a functional machine. There are computer programs that draw very complex patterns called “fractals”. They are beautiful, complex, patterns, but they don’t do anything. Snowflakes are beautiful, complex patterns. But snowflakes are a far cry from a cardiovascular system.
Here is a quick recap of what we said last month and this month.
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John Rennie, Scientific American, July 2002, “15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense”, page 81
2 ibid. pages 81, 82
3 ibid. page 82
4 ibid. page 82
5 ibid. page 82
6 ibid. page 82
7 ibid. page 82
8 ibid. page 82
9 ibid. page 82
10 ibid. page 83
11 ibid. page 83
12 ibid. page 83
13 Ann Gibbons, Science, 2 January 1998, “Calibrating the Mitochondrial Clock” page 29 (Ev)
14 Science, Vol 280, 1 May 1998, pages 672 - 674 (Ev)
15 ibid. page 675
16 John Rennie, Scientific American, July 2002, “15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense”, page 83
17 ibid. page 83
18 ibid. page 84
19 ibid. page 84
20 ibid. page 84