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Feedback archiveFeedback 2002

CMI misunderstands evolution?

3 June 2002

Yet another email from ‘professional biologist’ Dr Richard Meiss, Speedway, IN, who gave permission for his full name to be used. In his letter, printed below, he accuses AiG/CMI of failing to understand evolution in several specific areas. His letter is reprinted (indented dark red), with point-by-point responses by Dr Jonathan Sarfati, showing that it’s often the evolutionists themselves who are guilty of the misapprehensions Dr Meiss points out, and that he has some misunderstandings himself.


Your article of May 23, entitled ‘A teacher comments on Ohio’s proposed science standards,’ along with Ken Ham’s radio message of the same day, reveals several misconceptions perpetuated by creationists. I will mention three of them here.

First of all, it seems that creationists use the term ‘vestigial’ to apply to an organ with no supposed function. They should look up the word ‘vestige’ to see what it really means — a trace of a former entity. In this light, the bones of our middle ear are vestiges of the jawbones of creatures that preceded us in time. This lineage is amply documented in the fossil and embryological record, and furthermore, these bones, while they no longer serve their earlier function, are certainly not useless in their present location and role. Discovering a function for an organ with a clear evolutionary history and then pronouncing it non-vestigial in no way a refutation of its biological origins nor of the processes whereby it gained its present function.

Secondly, evolutionary theory does not treat ‘natural selection’ as synonymous with ‘evolution’, and I think that Mr. McClay knows this. It is well established that it is natural selection, acting in concert with new information arising from spontaneous or induced mutations, that acts to produce variation in populations. By holding up a fragment of a theory as its totality, creationists are purposely misrepresenting the situation to their credulous following.

Finally, Ken Ham repeats the old saw that evolution must be defined as an increase in genetic information (however creationists wish to conflate that concept). But evolution is descent with modification; parasitic forms, with less complex and highly modified body plans and reduced physiological capabilities, are the descendents of more complex free-living ancestors. Their evolution may have occurred with a decrease in genomic information (or at least, its expression), but it is evolution nevertheless.

The rallying cry ‘let the students decide’ implies that in a few days or weeks, high school children will be able to master a highly complex subject that has taken scientists lifetimes to comprehend. Students are not in a position to be able to do this on short order — this is precisely why teachers are entrusted to bring to students those concepts that have been tested and found reliable by the scientific community. We don’t waste time teaching the phlogiston theory in chemistry, nor do we any longer argue about a geocentric solar system in astronomy classes. Creationism has much in common with these discredited dogmas, and it deserves to share their absence from the classroom.

Sincerely,
Richard A. Meiss


Your article of May 23, entitled ‘A teacher comments on Ohio’s proposed science standards,’ along with Ken Ham’s radio message of the same day, reveals several misconceptions perpetuated by creationists. I will mention three of them here.

First of all, it seems that creationists use the term ‘vestigial’ to apply to an organ with no supposed function. They should look up the word ‘vestige’ to see what it really means — a trace of a former entity.

That’s exactly what we’ve done! The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1993) defines ‘vestigial’ as ‘degenerate or atrophied, having become functionless in the course of evolution.’ The World Book Encyclopedia 2000 says: ‘Vestigial organs are the useless remains of organs that were once useful in an evolutionary ancestor’ (emphasis added). This was clearly the understanding of evolutionary zoologist Scadding. He pointed out ‘…vestigial organs provide no evidence for evolutionary theory’, precisely because it is impossible in principle to prove that an organ has no function; rather, it could have a function we don’t know about [S.R. Scadding, ‘Do vestigial organs provide evidence for evolution?’ Evolutionary Theory 5:173–176, 1981].

Some evolutionists, like Dr Meiss, now want to re-define ‘vestigial’ to mean simply ‘reduced or altered in function’. Thus even valuable, functioning organs (consistent with design) might now be called ‘vestigial’. CMI isn’t going to let evolutionists change the rules at their whim when they are losing the argument.

In this light, the bones of our middle ear are vestiges of the jawbones of creatures that preceded us in time. This lineage is amply documented in the fossil and embryological record, …

If Dr Meiss believes that the lineage is documented in embryology, it looks like he accepts the discredited ‘ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny’ theory.

… and furthermore, these bones, while they no longer serve their earlier function, are certainly not useless in their present location and role.

Dr Meiss lacks qualifications in both paleontology and audiology—he is a layman in these fields—and he simply repeats the evolutionary party line. Evolutionists assume reptiles evolved into mammals, and this assumption entails that the jawbones became earbones, despite a lack of transitional forms or plausible explanations as to what function the bones had while migrating See Mammal-like reptiles: major trait reversals and discontinuities. Note that natural selection can only select traits that have a ‘selective advantage’. It cannot select functionless or even degraded function intermediate ‘limbo-land’ forms between two functional forms. The noted evolutionist John Maynard Smith said, ‘Evolutionary biologists … have therefore concluded that the origin of major groups has been a stepwise process, with each genetic change being an advantage on its own. … If there is no stepwise path up the mountain, natural selection won’t climb it.’ (Nature 403:594, 2000)

Discovering a function for an organ with a clear evolutionary history and then pronouncing it non-vestigial in no way a refutation of its biological origins nor of the processes whereby it gained its present function.

Actually, it was the evolutionists who used vestigial organs (as defined by the Oxford Dictionary and World Book Encyclopedia 2000, not Dr Meiss) as ‘proof’ of evolution. From what Dr Meiss says above, it’s now the assumption of evolution that’s being used to ‘prove’ organs as vestigial! But if the organ has a useful function, and the ear bones certainly do, it makes sense from a design perspective. See Q&A: Vestigial organs. Also, genuine loss of function would be an expected result of the Fall. What evolutionists need are nascent organs, those acquiring new functional information.

Secondly, evolutionary theory does not treat ‘natural selection’ as synonymous with ‘evolution’, and I think that Mr McClay knows this.

As does CMI—we have frequently pointed out that natural selection is NOT evolution but is rather an important part of the Creation/Fall model. See Q&A: Natural Selection.

By the way, evolutionists often use ‘natural selection’ as a synonym for evolution. In fact Darwin did this—it was in the full title of his book ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Of course he knew nothing of genetics, otherwise he might not have been so keen on his transformist ideas. Modern evolutionists also speak of natural selection as if it were the same as evolution. In most contexts we interpret that to include mutations as a supposed source of novel genes. But for propaganda purposes evolutionists will portray evolution as simply natural selection. The peppered moths (see below) have been (mis)used in this way—demonstrate natural selection and therefore ‘evolution’ is proven. So I hope Dr Meiss spends some of his time correcting his evolutionary colleagues about the misuse of natural selection as a synonym of evolution. It would certainly not suit our argument to leave mutations out of the debate because random changes in complex coded genetic information are hardly an adequate means of getting lots of new functional genes. In fact the whole evolutionary rationale depends on the adequacy of mutations, which are manifestly inadequate.

It is well established that it is natural selection, acting in concert with new information arising from spontaneous or induced mutations, that acts to produce variation in populations.

We are perfectly aware of the role of mutations in evolutionary theory, and have said so many times — see Q&A: Mutations.

By holding up a fragment of a theory as its totality, creationists are purposely misrepresenting the situation to their credulous following.

If anyone is misrepresenting anyone, it’s the evolutionists! So many alleged proofs of ‘evolution’, for example the peppered moths (leaving aside the recently proven faked, or (euphemistically) ‘staged’ photos) and many instances of antibiotic resistance, are really proofs of natural selection, which we accept happens.

Finally, Ken Ham repeats the old saw that evolution must be defined as an increase in genetic information (however creationists wish to conflate that concept).

But this is hardly a uniquely creationist concept. Richard Dawkins has also said that evolution has to be able to increase information, and he has tried to solve the problem — but in vain — see The Problem of Information for the Theory of Evolution: Has Dawkins really solved it?

But evolution is descent with modification; parasitic forms, with less complex and highly modified body plans and reduced physiological capabilities, are the descendents of more complex free-living ancestors. Their evolution may have occurred with a decrease in genomic information (or at least, its expression), but it is evolution nevertheless.

This is another example of an evolutionist playing bait’n’switch with definitions of evolution, otherwise called equivocation. Interesting that the leading evolutionist Dr Ernst Mayr, in his new book What Evolution Is, ‘objects to the definition of evolution as changes in gene frequency’ [Mark Ridley noted this in his review, ‘A popular evolution’, Nature 417(6886):223–4, 16 May 2002)]. In any case, since when has CMI ever denied that things change, and that sometimes this change may decrease information? For example, we have discussed the beneficial losses of information in flightless beetles on windswept islands and fish in caves with shrivelled eyes. We have also hyperlinked to an article pointing out that parasitism in mycoplasmas probably arose via genomic information loss, e.g. for protein synthesis.

But we have pointed out that none of these has the slightest relevance to the real problem of the goo-to-you-via-the-zoo theory — obtaining new information. Switching definitions of evolution to include informationally horizontal or downhill changes will not make information go uphill.

The rallying cry ‘let the students decide’ implies that in a few days or weeks, high school children will be able to master a highly complex subject that has taken scientists lifetimes to comprehend.

If it’s that difficult, then why teach them at all? But if it’s simple enough to teach school students, then let’s give them all the relevant information about evolution, warts and all.

Students are not in a position to be able to do this on short order — this is precisely why teachers are entrusted to bring to students those concepts that have been tested and found reliable by the scientific community.

Oh, you mean like the textbooks containing staged pictures of peppered moths and the indusputably forged diagrams supposedly demonstrating embryo similarities, the Miller–Urey experiments with the now-discredited methane-ammonia atmospheres as proof of chemical evolution

And you did say ‘tested’! Quite so — this is precisely why untestable conjectures about the unobservable past such as evolution should not be taught dogmatically! Rather, evolutionary dogma is ultimately based not to science but a meta-scientific philosophical decision to embrace materialism and reject a designer a priori — see The Rules of the Game.

We don’t waste time teaching the phlogiston theory in chemistry, nor do we any longer argue about a geocentric solar system in astronomy classes.

I’ve already explained the difference between geocentrism and creation to Dr Meiss — see Is evolution as scientific as the Earth revolving around the sun? The phlogiston theory also violates operational science, which shows that ordinary combustion entails combination with oxygen. It’s also worth noting that both geocentrism and phlogiston theories were once ‘establishment’ theories, so by Meiss’ ‘reasoning’, they should both have been taught without dissension.

Also, it is actually instructive to teach both those theories to show why the geokinetic and oxygen theories make sense of observations in the present. It’s notable that the evolutionist G.A. Kerkut advocated teaching students the problems with evolution, as a matter of good educational policy — see Dogmatism.

Evolution is fundamentally a theory about history and so is a pretender to scientific legitimacy. It’s one of the ironies of our scientific age that evolution is defended with such vigour as displayed by Dr Meiss as ‘science’ when it is history. The bits that are testable science — mutations, natural selection, changes in gene frequency — we have no problem with, but they do not demonstrate, or even imply, that life made itself, or that that first chance life form transformed itself into all the living things on Earth, including you and me.

Creationism has much in common with these discredited dogmas, and it deserves to share their absence from the classroom.

Such censoriousness has far more in common with the Aristotelian defenders of Ptolemaic cosmology v Galileo. And just as that establishment censorship impeded the development of science in those days, so does the censorship of criticism of evolution impede science today. See How evolution harms science. Furthermore, as the evolutionary dogma has taken root in societies, it has brought about untold misery. See How has evolution contributed to enormous violence, bloodshed and misery in the world? As one who has professed to be a Christian, Dr Meiss could do well to consider Is evolution ‘anti-religion’? At its core, evolution is a materialistic philosophy. I am saddened that he persists in defending it with such vigour.

Sincerely,
Richard A. Meiss

Sincerely
Jonathan D. Sarfati

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