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Feedback archiveFeedback 2007

Is evolution really essential for biology?

pic of Carl Wieland

Carl Wieland

The following email was received from university professor Richard Meiss concerning the debate Clash Over Origins in which CMI’s Dr Carl Wieland debated University of Georgia professor Mark Farmer. Dr Jonathan Sarfati replies.

Dear Dr Wieland

I read with some interest the text and annotation of your debate with Dr Mark Farmer. While I could raise many points, I will confine myself to the passage quoted below:
‘Has the evolutionary paradigm been the great benefit to mankind that is claimed? MF quoted Dobzhansky as saying how important it is to biology. However, Dr Marc Kirschner, founding chair of the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School states: “In fact, over the last 100 years, almost all of biology has proceeded independent of evolution, except evolutionary biology itself. Molecular biology, biochemistry, physiology, have not taken evolution into account at all.” (quoted in the Boston Globe 23 October 2005). For the Philip Skell quote cited by CW, see Why Do We Invoke Darwin? Evolutionary theory contributes little to experimental biology.’
Here you have lifted a quote (I suspect to engage in a little bit of ‘arguing from authority’)

Not really. We have discussed this before.

from someone whose luster you wish to borrow. However, when you appropriate someone else’s words for your own purposes, you become at least partially responsible for them. And in this case, Dr. Kirshner is flat-out wrong when he says categorically that ‘Molecular biology, biochemistry, physiology, have not taken evolution into account at all.’ I did my graduate work in the area of comparative physiology, working under one of the most noted men in the field—who, incidentally, had strong Australian ties. I can assure you that evolutionary theory is integral to the study of comparative physiology (a field in which I am still working).

As Dr Skell answered in a reply to critics:

‘Comparative physiology and comparative genomics have certainly been fruitful, but comparative biology originated before Darwin and owes nothing to his theory. Before the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859, comparative biology focused mainly on morphology, because physiology and biochemistry were in their infancy and genomics lay in the future; but the extension of a comparative approach to these sub-disciplines depended on the development of new methodologies and instruments, not on evolutionary theory and immersion in historical biology.’

Without this unifying and explanatory framework, the field would become a patchwork of useless and unrelated ‘factoids’ whose inter-relationship could not be discerned or exploited for further research.

Again, how was it that pre-Darwinians managed OK without it, as Dr Skell argues? Italian paleontologist and structuralist Prof. Roberto Fondi of the University of Siena argues that Darwinism was a dead end, so it would be much more fruitful to return to the pre-Darwinian morphology of Aristotle, Linnaeus, Cuvier and Goethe (see clip, right, about five minutes in).1

Even if you were right about ‘useless factoids’, design could still be a better inference from the specified complexity of life. Similarly, the pagan chemistry of the ancient Greeks had only four elements; the Father of Chemistry, the creationist Robert Boyle, realized that there were many more. It took centuries before this was unified by Mendeleyev then explained by modern atomic theory. So a more complex theory can be the right one if it explains the specific data correctly, even if it seems to have less unity, for the moment.

It’s also notable that evolution has plenty of anomalies itself. E.g.

  • Common structures that can’t be explained by common ancestry are called homoplasies, and are common in the alleged transitional series. But appeal to homoplasy is really explaining away evidence that doesn’t fit the paradigm, and indeed such explaining away is ubiquitous. One paper admitted:
  • ‘Disagreements about the probable homologous or homoplastic nature of shared derived similarities between taxa lie at the core of most conflicting phylogenetic hypotheses.’2

    Homoplasies are said to be the result of ‘convergence’ or, increasingly commonly, caused by ‘lateral gene transfer’. It is no less vacuous to explain them by a common designer.

  • If a protein has an identical sequence in many different types of creature, it is called ‘highly conserved’, e.g. osteocalcin. Evolutionists attribute this to natural selection weeding out deviations from this sequence which is constrained by physicochemical laws—in osteocalcin’s case, the need to match up with the crystal lattice of hydroxyapatite. Creationists attribute this to a Designer aware of exactly these constraints. This is not surprising, since in the biblical model, the ‘laws’ are our descriptions of the regular way the Creator upholds the universe (as explained here). But practical research would be concerned with the fact that highly conserved sequences point to some constraints to be discovered, regardless of how the conserved sequence arose.

However, we support not just ‘mere design’, which might be vulnerable to a charge of ‘useless factoids’. Rather, we support a particular subset of ID: the biotic message theory, as proposed by Walter ReMine in The Biotic Message. That is, the evidence from nature points to a single designer, but with a pattern which thwarts evolutionary explanations.

Further, we support a subset of that, that the designer is the God of the Bible. And in this model, and indeed to most cultures that have ever existed, common features, whether homologous or homoplastic, would have brought honour to the Creator and would also indicate the Creator’s authority over and mastery of His creation (see ‘Not to Be Used Again’: Homologous Structures and the Presumption of Originality as a Critical Value).

The same is true for critical areas of biochemistry, especially in the tracing and construction of enzyme families (for example, mapping the cellular kinases) or in the sorting out of protein isoforms (an area with considerable medical relevance). And to say that molecular biology does not take evolution into account at all demonstrates a serious lack of knowledge of the subject.

OK, what molecular biological discoveries would be invalidated if we really didn’t come from a single cell that itself came from an inorganic source?

I have also had the occasion to correspond with Philip Skell on this topic (part of the exchange was published in The Scientist). He, too, despite his impressive credentials in a field well outside of biology,

Comparative physiology and comparative genomics have certainly been fruitful, but comparative biology originated before Darwin and owes nothing to his theory.—Dr Philip Skell.

This might have been to his advantage, in that he could look at the subject with fresh eyes. I.e. a leading scientist in his field hears the mass hysteria about how abandonment of goo-to-you evolution would lead to the end of science, and a return to the ‘dark ages’ (which modern historians point out were actually not so dark).

And he probably could see through the common equivocation, where any change was called ‘evolution’. Then a bait’n’switch trick was pulled where this word was also equated with goo to you. These shell-gamers hope their audience won’t realize that the cited changes are actually going in the wrong direction for goo-to-you evolution (that’s if they even grasp this elementary point themselves).

could not see a role for evolution in biology, even after is was pointed out to him by numerous practitioners of the science exactly how it fit in and was used as a working tool. His knowledge of the workings of the modern biological sciences is woefully naïve.

More likely, he could see the fallacies invoked more clearly. E.g. many claim examples of natural selection as a proof of evolution, whereas creationists discovered natural selection before Darwin, and it is an important part of the Creation model.

Some examples are evolutionary propagandists claiming that creationists could not cope with ‘evolved’ antibiotic resistance, although the changes have nothing to do with turning bacteria into biologists (see Anthrax and antibiotics: Is evolution relevant?). Another common ‘proof’ is sickle-cell anemia, although one of the world’s leading experts on the disease firmly rejects this. Still another is Darwin’s finches, where a cyclical variation in beaks is alleged to prove goo-to-you evolution, and the peppered moths which at best showed natural selection in action and at worst was based on staged photos.

Dr Skell may also have been rightly annoyed at the misleading examples in text books, such as Haeckel’s forged embryo diagrams and implications that the Miller–Urey experiments proved chemical evolution. And after that, shooting the messenger for pointing out these errors.

Related to that might be a good memory for the evidence he may have been taught that is no longer believed even by the evolutionist. I’m not that old, and remember being taught in high school that Ramapithecus was a human ancestor (now regarded as an Orangutan ancestor) as well as the textbook errors above. Derek Ager remained an evolutionist, but admitted:

‘It must be significant that nearly all the evolutionary stories I learned as a student, from Trueman’s Ostrea Gryphaea to Carruthers’ Zaphrentis delanouei, have now been ‘debunked’?. Similarly, my own experinece [sic] of more than twenty years looking for evolutionary lineages among the Mesozoic Brachiopoda has proved them equally elusive.’3

He may have also seen direct evidence how evolutionary presuppositions have harmed research, e.g. dismissing DNA that doesn’t code for proteins as ‘junk DNA’, whereas it’s this term that should be junked:

Researchers the world over are confirming that non-coding DNA holds critical clues to a vast range of diseases; breast cancer, HIV, Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, ovarian and skin cancer … the list is growing daily. A leading figure in world genetics, Prof. John Mattick, recently claimed that, ‘the failure to recognise the implications of the non-coding DNA will go down as the biggest mistake in the history of molecular biology’.4

So even if you were right, you can’t blame Dr Skell for thinking that the evolutionists have cried wolf far too often.

Creation science thrives because its lay audience is largely ignorant of biology, chemistry, geology, etc.
pic of Mark Farmer

Mark Farmer

This is elephant hurling. There is no evidence that the lay audience of evolutionists is any better qualified. Indeed, our support groups (volunteer auxiliaries) comprise a number of scientists highly qualified in these disciplines.

And we are not sure why you bring up chemistry, since the origin of life by chemical evolution remains an intractable problem for materialists. But this doesn’t stop them accepting a naturalistic conclusion a priori by (blind) faith, and then spending millions of taxpayer dollars desperately trying to find evidence. However, this reminds me of an apostate geologist critic who claimed that I (a Ph.D. chemist) don’t understand simple chemistry.

and because its practitioners are content to build walls between their own little sandboxes, which they carefully keep isolated from science at large.

Actually, we make much use of real science, which belongs to everyone regardless of who discovered it, and show how the data best fits a biblical creationist perspective.

A case in point—the debate cites dozens of creationist sources, but at the end there is one lonely citation from the legitimate scientific literature.

This presupposes that creationist sources are not legitimate scientific literature, which is of course begging the question. And the cited creationist sources always cite primary sources that are from journals that evolutionists recognize.

If the truths of creation science were as plainly manifest and as crashingly obvious as its proponents claim, surely they could convince at least a few outside reviewers of their validity on scientific merit alone.

That has indeed happened. But then the establishment punishes said reviewers (see The Smithsonian/Sternberg controversy) or overrules them on ideological grounds (see Chemists in stew about intelligent design). So it is more common for creationists to be less obvious about their conclusions (see some of the papers documented in Do Creationists Publish in Notable Refereed Journals?), or to bypass the censorship completely in peer-reviewed creationist journals.

I’ve pointed out before:

Hmm, ‘peer review’ is merely an excuse to reject creationist arguments, as pointed out in a previous feedback, because some of them break the ‘rule’ that science must be materialistic. It really boils down to another stipulative definition with all that entails about circularity:

Creation isn’t real science because it isn’t peer-reviewed.
Creation isn’t peer-reviewed because it isn’t real science.

But peer review does have the merit of passing the Piltdown Man and Hwang Woo-suk’s embryonic stem cell claims … Also, while our Journal of Creation and even Creation magazine are peer-reviewed, it would be worth reading the interesting article Is Peer Review Broken?.5

You will probably get a lot of mileage out of the DVD of the debate— the choir desperately wants to be preached to.

What about Dr Farmer’s choir? This is a tacit admission that Dr Farmer’s preaching will not be as effective when opposition is actually allowed. And just look at the choir just lapping up the atheistic propaganda of the eugenicist Clinton R. Dawkins!

But you know, as well as I, that scientific truth is not arrived at by debates in which two people talk past each other,

Yes, we do know that, as you say—you must have been reading our site more than you let on ;)

but by honest scientists practicing their craft and engaging each other and their ideas in the normal channels of scientific exchange.

Yes, that would be nice. So why don’t evolutionists actually allow this?

Sincerely,
Richard A. Meiss, Ph.D.
Professor of Cellular and Integrative Physiology
IN, USA.

Sincerely
Jonathan Sarfati, Ph.D.
Physical chemistry / spectroscopy
Australia

Related Articles

References

  1. Interview in video Evolution: Fact or Belief. Return to Text
  2. Luckett, W.P. and Hong, N., Phylogenetic relationships between the orders Artiodactyla and Cetacea, J. Mammalian Evolution 5(2):130, 1998. Return to Text
  3. Ager, D.V., The nature of the fossil record, Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association 87(2):131–160, 1976. Return to Text
  4. Genius of Junk (DNA), Catalyst, Thursday, 10 July 2003. Return to Text
  5. McCook, Alison, The Scientist 20(2):26, Feb. 2006. Return to Text
Published: 28 April 2007 (GMT+10)

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