Cosmos by Neil deGrasse Tyson
Episode 2: “Some of the things that molecules do”
Propaganda for chemical and biological evolution
Published: 5 April 2014 (GMT+10)
Table of contents
In the review of Episode 1, I provided the materialistic background to Neil de Grasse Tyson’s reboot of Cosmos, probably even more materialistic than the 1980 series by Tyson’s mentor, Carl Sagan.
Evolution, bait-and-switch, and straw men
Right at the start, Tyson poses the question about where the variety of living creatures came from, and he makes it clear that the answer is goo-to-you evolution: “The answer is a transforming power that sounds like something out of a fairy tale or myth.” I would argue that it sounds that way because that’s exactly what it is, but Tyson disagrees.
However, to ‘prove’ his point, Tyson must resort to the evolutionists’ old faithful fallacy of equivocation or bait and switch. Basically, the fallacy in the argument of so many Apostles of Atheopathy, including Tyson and Dawkins, can be boiled down to the following argument:
- Evolution = change in allele frequency over time [an allele is a variant of a gene]
- Change in allele frequency over time is a fact
- Therefore goo-to-you evolution is a fact
- Corollary: biblical creation is wrong.
The absurdity of this should be discernable by Blind Freddie’s deaf guide dog: if evolution really meant ‘change in allele frequency over time’, then all of CMI would be evolutionists! Also, Dawkins would be wrong in his scaremongering that 40% of Americans deny ‘evolution’, since there probably would be none who deny ‘change in allele frequency over time’.
The straw man charge comes later—Tyson claims that in Darwin’s time:
The prevailing belief was that the complexity and variety must be the work of an intelligent designer, who created each of these millions of species separately.
This is a half truth. Indeed, this probably was the prevailing belief, but not that of biblical creationists! Rather, this belief in ‘fixity of species’ was the dogma of the old-age propagandist Charles Lyell, Darwin’s mentor and foil. To explain the limited geographical distribution of various species, Lyell proposed that each species had a ‘centre of creation’ in a habitat best designed for it. The species would sometimes go extinct as the habitat changed over the vast eons he advocated, so he proposed different creative episodes over time.1 In preparing for his famous Origin of Species,2 Darwin likewise frequently contrasted “Points for me” (transmutation) vs. “Points for Lyell” (fixity of species).3
However, pre-Darwinian creationist scientists had deduced from the account of Noah’s Ark and subsequent dispersion that many varieties, and even what we now call ‘species’, could have arisen from comparatively few animal kinds on the Ark. For example, in 1668, Anglican Bishop John Wilkins (1614–1672), the founder of the metric system and the first secretary of the Royal Society (formed 350 years ago this year), argued that all the varieties of cattle today, including the American ‘buffalo’ or bison, would have arisen from two (or probably seven) cattle ancestors on the Ark:
There being much less difference betwixt these, than there is betwixt several Dogs: And it being known by experience what various changes are frequently occasioned in the same species, by several countries, diets, and other accidents.4
His contemporary, German Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher (1602–1680), renowned in his day as ‘master of a hundred arts’, had much the same idea in his meticulously illustrated book on Noah’s Ark:5
Kircher expressed his belief that our modern species had developed by transmutation within definite series of forms.6
Modern biology provides further support: it is well known that mountains provide excellent places for speciation. That’s because they provide a strong geographical barrier to the dispersing small populations, enabling allopatric speciation.7
Furthermore, the Flood/Dispersion history of the world revealed in Scripture also explains one of Darwin’s strong points against Lyell. That is, why are creatures on islands similar to those on the nearest mainland? This indeed seems like special pleading on the Lyellian fixity of species/centres of creation model. However, it is perfectly explained by migration patterns from the Ark’s landing place.
Thus Darwin was not addressing the biblical Creation/Flood/Dispersion model at all, and neither is Tyson. See discussion of kinds, natural selection, and speciation from ch. 4 of Refuting Evolution 2.
Domestication of dogs
Tyson’s first example of ‘evolution’ is the domestication of dogs from wolves, and production of many varieties. Actually, this is hardly news to biblical creationists, as opposed to Lyellian advocates of fixity of species (such as modern long-age compromiser Hugh Ross). Creationists have often pointed out that Noah didn’t need to take wolves, foxes, coyotes, dingoes, chihuahuas, great danes, spaniels, dachshunds, etc. on the Ark, because it was sufficient to take a pair of wolf-like creatures with all the potential for diversifying into different varieties. And evolutionists now concede that domestic dogs came from wolves only a few thousand years ago, and are not really very different, although they insist on calling this ‘evolution’.8
One interesting demonstration occurred in Berlin, where a female wolf and (large!) male poodle were mated. The pups looked fairly similar to each other and nothing special, with genetic information from both parents. But the inbred ‘grand-pups’ were very different from each other: one was like its grandmother wolf in appearance and killer instincts, while the other looked clearly ‘poodle’ and still others were mixtures.9
This shows that:
- The poodle and wolf are the same kind, and even the same biological species.
- The first generation of pups had enough genetic variety to produce a wide variety of descendants.
- Therefore, it would have been possible in principle to have a single pair on the Ark with similar variation.
Note that one of the poodle’s most famous traits, the long hair, is caused by an information-losing mutation―loss of ability to shed hair.
Another example involved a Russian research group breeding a husky and a jackal to produce a ‘jacksy’. This takes advantage of the domestication of the husky and the sharp sense of smell of the wild jackal, sharper than that of any domestic dog. The jacksy is thus the ‘ultimate’ drug sniffer dog.10 This also suggests that the process which produced the husky from its original canine ancestor resulted in a loss of genetic information, such as reduction in smell sensitivity.
As for how domestication first began, Tyson argued that humans selected the tamest dogs. From the dog’s point of view, Tyson reasonably claimed that domestication of humans is an excellent survival strategy, or “survival of the friendliest”. He shows a bone on the ground close to a human, and says:
All the wolves want to get at the bone, but most of them are too frightened to come close enough. Their fear is due to high levels of stress hormones in their blood. It’s a matter of survival. Because coming too close to humans can be fatal. But a few wolves— due to natural variations—have lower levels of those hormones. This makes them less afraid of humans. Let the humans do the hunting, don’t threaten them, and they’ll let you scavenge their garbage. You’ll eat more regularly, you’ll leave more offspring, and those offspring will inherit your disposition. This selection for tameness would be reinforced with each generation until that line of wild wolves evolves into dogs. This wolf has discovered what a branch of his ancestors figured out some 15,000 years ago, an excellent survival strategy: the domestication of humans.
Actually, this is nothing that informed creationists need dispute. As I explained in my book The Greatest Hoax on Earth? Refuting Dawkins on evolution (pp. 47–48):
Dawkins provides interesting information on how wolves possibly diverged into dogs. Wolves will forage for food around humans, but will flee if humans approach closer than a certain distance, or won’t approach closer than this. This minimum is called the “flight distance”. Those wolves with smaller flight distances are of necessity “tamer”, and humans captured and bred from these, and progressively selected still tamer varieties (pp. 71–76 of his The Greatest Show on Earth).
But how did distinctive dog characteristics arise? Apparently by pleiotropy: where one gene controls more than one characteristic, as Dawkins says, “Presumably genes for floppy ears and piebald coats are pleiotropically linked to genes for tameness.” (p.76) This was shown by the fact that Russian geneticist Dmitri Konstantinovich Belyaev (Дми́трий Константи́нович Беля́ев, 1917–1985) produced many of the same changes while domesticating foxes; Dawkins shows pictures of Belyaev with some of his dog-like domesticated foxes (p. 75 of his The Greatest Show on Earth).
Thus foxes are also likely part of an original created Canid kind. Indeed, foxes have been claimed to hybridize with wolves.11
Artificial v natural selection
Tyson, like Darwin, asks, “If artificial selection can work such profound changes in only 10,000 or 15,000 years, what can natural selection do operating over billions of years? The answer is all the beauty and diversity of life.” The real answer, not what Tyson wants, is: not as much as he expects.
First, artificial selection, unlike natural selection, can have foresight (i.e. the end plan of the human selector), so it can tolerate less fit intermediate forms. Natural selection cannot know that these intermediate forms will evolve into something much better in a million years, and would instead eliminate them. A good example would be the alleged evolution from a reptilian ‘bellows’ lung to the avian one-way lung—one of the hypothetical intermediates would be a poor creature with a diaphragmatic hernia, i.e. a hole in the lung, which would be unlikely to survive. See Bird breathing anatomy breaks dino-to-bird dogma.
Second, artificial selection can be much stronger than natural selection. The strength is expressed by the selection coefficient s. If a mutation has s = 0.001 or 0.1%, a supposedly typical value, then the number of surviving offspring is 0.1% greater for organisms with the mutant than without it. In artificial selection, this can be 1: the selectors just refuse to breed from anything lacking the desired trait. However, for low s, natural selection is often swamped by randomness, or genetic drift, which have a very good chance of eliminating even a beneficial trait. Its probability of survival, assuming that this is the only factor under consideration, is only about 2 s, meaning that this beneficial mutation has only one chance in 500 of surviving.12 As explained in The Greatest Hoax on Earth? (pp. 50–51):
Slightly beneficial changes may not be the main factor for survival. For example, the fastest gazelle might by chance run into a waiting lioness while a slow one might escape while another finds a calf—and it wouldn’t help the calf much if it happened to have good genes for adult speed. And it would seem that many extinct creatures were very ‘fit’, so some prominent evolutionary paleontologists refer to “survival of the lucky”.13 Indeed, computer simulations have shown that there is a ‘selection threshold’ of about 10–4–10–3 below which a beneficial mutation will not be selected because random ‘noise’ swamps selective effects.14More advanced programs with realistic values for selection coefficients, genome size, reproductive and mutation rates show that Dawkins’ mutation/selection model would not work in real living creatures.15,16,17
Tyson gets down to the molecular level of life, into our message molecule, DNA. Tyson aptly calls this “The ancient Scripture of our genetic code, and it’s written in a language that all life can read.” However, he fails to make the obvious connection: any book requires an author!
In particular, the information in Scripture or other books is in the form of ink molecules on paper. But nothing in the ink molecules themselves made them form into the letters, words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs of the Scriptures. It certainly wasn’t produced by an ink spill. Rather, the information was imposed on the ink by an outside intelligent source (or a program ultimately programmed by an intelligent mind).
But here is the connection with living things. There is likewise nothing in the chemistry of DNA’s letters themselves that would make them join up in predetermined ways, any more than forces between ink molecules make them join up into letters and words. Michael Polanyi (1891–1976), a former chairman of physical chemistry at the University of Manchester (UK) who turned to philosophy, confirmed this:
As the arrangement of a printed page is extraneous to the chemistry of the printed page, so is the base sequence in a DNA molecule extraneous to the chemical forces at work in the DNA molecule. It is this physical indeterminacy of the sequence that produces the improbability of any particular sequence and thereby enables it to have a meaning—a meaning that has a mathematically determinate information content.18
Just as the Scripture had intelligent writers to produce its information, so it is scientific to believe that the information in the living world likewise had an original Writer.19
Furthermore, it is not much use without all the associated machinery, and Cosmos has very elegant animations of DNA unwinding and copying, and of proof-reading machines. DNA needs these machines for copying itself, but it also codes the instructions to build its own copying machines. But these instructions to build copying machines can’t be passed on without the copying machines already present.
Similarly, Evolution has a major problem in explaining proof-reading machinery. Natural selection requires that the information selected for can be reproduced accurately. But without an already functioning repair mechanism, the information would be degraded quickly. Furthermore, the instructions to build this repair machinery are encoded on the very molecule it repairs, another vicious circle for evolution. See New DNA repair enzyme discovered.
Cosmos also shows kinesins that are important for all life more complex than bacteria. See Incredible Kinesin! Biological ‘robots’ will blow your mind!
Tyson rightly points out that the DNA copying and proof-reading machines are not perfect, so copying mistakes arise: mutations. Tyson says: “most mutations are harmless, some are deadly.” Actually, most mutations are bad–near-neutral: very slightly harmful mutations that will not be eliminated by natural selection.20 So like tiny rust spots on a car, they accumulate through the gene pool. This contrasts with major damage that can be noticed and repaired, such as a flat tyre, smashed headlights, worn brakepads, or natural selection removing the very bad mutants. Eventually, as rust can eventually build up till it causes structural damage, these mutations would have resulted in genetic meltdown after even hundreds of thousands of years.21
These mutations are accumulating much faster than previously thought. The lead researcher in human mutation rates, evolutionary geneticist Alexey Simonovich Kondrashov (Алексе́й Симо́нович Кондрашо́в, 1957– ), based on his belief that humans have been around for that long, asked, “Why aren’t we dead 100 times over?”22 He thinks that the mutation rate could be even higher, as much as 300 per person per generation,23 although a more recent “Icelandic study found that on average, every newborn baby has 36 spontaneous new mutations, those not inherited from either parent.”25 This level, if confirmed, would still be a huge problem for the long-age viewpoint that Tyson dogmatically pontificates.
Polar bears and origin of whiteness
The information Tyson presented about DNA and mutations was basically correct as far as it went, although he failed to draw the right conclusions. He used it to explain how polar bears could ‘evolve’ whiteness. First, start with the gene for the pigment to make dark coloured fur. Then it undergoes a random mutation. Tyson gives the impression that all mutations are point mutations, or single letter ‘typos’, which is an oversimplification. Anyway, it’s rather hypocritical for evolutionists to complain that we don’t consider gene duplication for example (although we do!) when their leading propagandists don’t either.
This mutation destroys the information for pigment, leaving the fur white. However, this is one of a number of examples where an informationally downhill change provides an advantage. In a snowy environment, the bear is camouflaged, so can sneak up on prey better. So it has a better chance of reproducing, so passing on this defective gene. But evolutionists hardly have a monopoly on such explanations: informed biblical creationists even before Darwin have pointed out such natural selection in operation.26 See for example the old—but not out-dated—article Bears across the world. This also explains a feature of polar bears that Tyson thinks is ‘evolution’:
The polar bear’s partly webbed feet may have come from a mutation which prevented the toes from dividing properly during its embryonic development. This defect would give it an advantage in swimming, which would make it easier to survive as a hunter of seals among ice floes.
Tyson then moves on to claim that this new variety of bears became a different species. As stated, speciation is part of the biblical creationist model. But in this case, have they really speciated? Different varieties of bears hybridize readily, including polar bears with grizzlies, to form ‘pizzlies’ or ‘grolar bears’. See The Pizzly: a polar bear / grizzly bear hybrid explained by the Bible.
Common ancestry claims
Tyson makes the huge and unwarranted step from the common ancestry of dogs and that of bears to that of all life on earth. Tyson patronizingly tries to understand the motives of Bible-believers for rejecting common ancestry, claiming that it’s a knee jerk response to thinking we are related to apes. Well, evolutionary agitprop would be incomplete without ‘Bulverism’, a term that C.S. Lewis coined for a common type of logical fallacy:
You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he came to be so silly.
For more, see Is Belief in God a case of Christian wish fulfillment? as well as this explanation of the genetic fallacy: the error of trying to disprove a statement of fact by tracing it to its source.
The same could be thrown back at Tyson and his ilk: they want common ancestry to avoid the implications of a Creator owning them. Also, there are baneful consequences of denying the biblical teaching that humans were created separately from animals and uniquely bear God’s image, albeit now broken by sin. It might be argued that humans and other creatures should be treated equally, but this can happen in two opposite and equally absurd ways (compare Chesterton and the tiger).
- Elevating apes and even plants to the same level as humans, giving them equal rights. But note that the apes and plants themselves are not clamouring for equal rights!
- Downgrade human rights to the same level as we now treat animals. So the megademocides (killing of a million people by the government) by evolutionary regimes like Nazism and Communism are no different from an antibiotic wiping out millions of bacteria. Nor do human babies, whether born or unborn and able to think, have any special right to life—they can be used as heating fuel instead.
As alleged evidence for common ancestry, Tyson claims, “DNA doesn’t lie.” He’s right there: DNA is incapable of uttering a propositional statement, the only thing that can be true or false. But humans interpreting the DNA data are certainly capable of uttering false propositions to describe the DNA.
For example, similarity (homology) in DNA does not prove a common ancestor. Another reason could be a common designer under similar design requirements. Tyson inadvertently provided one example: life uses sugars for energy and DNA, so it should not be surprising that it has similar machinery with similar coding for it in the DNA. See Homology made simple.
Actually, as cited earlier, Tyson claimed that DNA was “written in a language that all life can read.” And later:
But differences between us and life found in even the most extreme environments on our planet are only variations on a single theme, dialects of a single language. The genetic code of Earth life.
Actually, this is not true, and Dawkins has often made the same mistake. Different codes are a big problem for evolution, because changing from one code to another would be like switching keys on a computer keyboard—the messages would become garbled. See Responses to our 15 Questions: part 1, under 2. How did the DNA code originate? Answer 3.
Then Tyson makes a proclamation about the huge variety of living creatures:
Biologists have catalogued a half a million different kinds of beetles alone. Not to mention the numberless varieties of bacteria.
Indeed, there are about 450,000 known species of beetles, but as we often point out, the created kind is much broader than today’s ‘species’ by most definitions of the term.
Then Tyson shows some amazing examples of mimicry, which again he attributes to natural selection. As we have stated, natural selection has a role in the creation model. It’s notable that Carl Sagan used mimicry in the old Cosmos series to prove unintentional artificial selection to explain the Heikigani. This is a crab with a shell with a superficial resemblance to a human face, in particular an angry Samurai of the Heiki clan, explaining both the Japanese name and the English nickname ‘Samurai Crab’. Sagan popularized the explanation of Julian Huxley, that human fishermen had thrown back crabs that bore a resemblance to a face, so they would have the best chance to reproduce.
In a very early debate, long before I joined CMI, Dr Carl Wieland faced an evolutionist who used that example as proof of evolution. Dr Wieland easily defeated that by agreeing with Sagan’s explanation, and reminding everyone that natural and artificial selection are not the sole property of evolutionists.
Actually, there is debate about whether this explanation is valid, since humans don’t eat Heikigani anyway, so the proposed artificial selection would not have occurred, and the shape of the ridges is good for muscle attachment.27 But this doesn’t change the point: even if the selection explanation were right, it would not threaten biblical creation. A similar case applies to the infamous peppered moths. For a long time, creationists pointed out that the selectionist explanation was no threat to biblical creation—sometimes black moths do better, sometimes white ones do, so what? But then some serious discrepancies in the story arose, as explained in More about moths and the linked articles.
However, even back in the 1930s, data had demonstrated serious limitations to the power of selectionist explanations of mimicry. Ornithologist McAtee amassed much data on the contents of bird stomachs, and found that their prey were taken in accordance with availability, and the so-called protective adaptations made no difference:
In other words there is utilization of animals of practically every kind for food approximately in proportion to their numbers. This means that predation takes place much the same as if there were no such thing as protective adaptations. And this is only another way of saying that the phenomena classed by theorists as protective adaptations have little or no effectiveness. Natural Selection theories assume discrimination in the choice of prey. The principle of proportional predation so obvious from the data contained in this paper vitiates those theories for it denotes indiscrimination, the very antithesis of selection.28,29,30
These were presumably already highly evolved ‘protective adaptations’, yet they make little difference. A fortiori, the alleged incipient stages would make even less difference, so selection would be weaker still.
Tyson first provides a summary of what he thinks his opponents, i.e. Design proponents, think, and it’s not too bad:
Living things are just too intricate, it was said, to be the result of unguided evolution. Consider the human eye, a masterpiece of complexity. It requires a cornea, iris, lens, retina, optic nerves, muscles, let alone the brain’s elaborate neural network to interpret images. It’s more complicated than any device ever crafted by human intelligence. Therefore, it was argued, the human eye can’t be the result of mindless evolution.
However, Tyson has a different idea:
Until a few hundred million years passed, and then, one day, there was a microscopic copying error in the DNA of a bacterium. This random mutation gave that microbe a protein molecule that absorbed sunlight.
Tyson makes it sound so simple. However, as we have pointed out before, Behe has shown that even a ‘simple’ light sensitive spot requires a dazzling array of biochemicals in the right place and time to function. He states that each of its ‘cells makes the complexity of a motorcycle or television set look paltry in comparison’ and describes a small part of what’s involved:
When light first strikes the retina a photon interacts with a molecule called 11-cis-retinal, which rearranges within picoseconds to trans-retinal. (A picosecond [10–12 sec] is about the time it takes light to travel the breadth of a single human hair.) The change in the shape of the retinal molecule forces a change in the shape of the protein, rhodopsin, to which the retinal is tightly bound. The protein’s metamorphosis alters its behavior. Now called metarhodopsin II, the protein sticks to another protein, called transducin. Before bumping into metarhodopsin II, transducin had tightly bound a small molecule called GDP. But when transducin interacts with metarhodopsin II, the GDP falls off, and a molecule called GTP binds to transducin. (GTP is closely related to, but different from, GDP.)31
GTP-transducin-metarhodopsin II now binds to a protein called phosphodiesterase, located in the inner membrane of the cell. When attached to metarhodopsin II and its entourage, the phosphodiesterase acquires the chemical ability to “cut” a molecule called cGMP (a chemical relative of both GDP and GTP). Initially there are a lot of cGMP molecules in the cell, but the phosphodiesterase lowers its concentration, just as a pulled plug lowers the water level in a bathtub.
The rest of Tyson’s explanation is similar to that popularized by Dawkins, so see the response at Eye evolution, a case study. But Tyson has a few quirks of his own, starting with “Another mutation caused a dark bacterium to flee intense light.” Again, so simple it sounds, as if a single genetic typo caused such a coordinated response to light. Then why should it be advantageous to flee?
Those bacteria that could tell light from dark had a decisive advantage over the ones that couldn’t. Why? Because the daytime brought harsh, ultraviolet light that damages DNA. The sensitive bacteria fled the intense light to safely exchange their DNA in the dark. They survived in greater numbers than the bacteria that stayed at the surface.
One wonders how blind bacteria survive today. But Tyson throughout this series acts as if explaining a reason why a feature is advantageous is enough to explain its origin, or with the added handwaving of ‘a mutation occurred’. See also Does biological advantage imply biological origin?
However, Tyson is inadvertently on to something very important: a severe problem for chemical evolution. It is true that UV is very damaging to DNA. This would have been an especially acute problem for the early oxygen-free atmosphere proposed by evolutionists, because without oxygen there would be no protective ozone layer. The chemical evolutionists’ dilemma is that oxygen would have prevented biomolecules forming in the first place. See 15 loopholes in the evolutionary theory of the origin of life.
Tyson continues his story-telling with:
Over time, those light-sensitive proteins became concentrated in a pigment spot on the more advanced, one-celled organism. This made it possible to find the light, an overwhelming advantage for an organism that harvests sunlight to make food.
OK, so before it was for fleeing light, now it’s for finding light. The plasticity of evolution is a phenomenon to behold, but it becomes impossible to test it if contrary explanations can both be invoked. See also Darwinian explanations are too flexible to be useful. Actually, although Tyson would not go so far, he hinted at the problems in a 2005 interview:
Darwin’s theory of evolution is a framework by which we understand the diversity of life on Earth. But there is no equation sitting there in Darwin’s Origin of Species that you apply and say, “What is this species going to look like in 100 years or 1,000 years?” Biology isn’t there yet with that kind of predictive precision.32
Then he continues that the further evolution of the eye “launched the visual equivalent of an arms race.” The screen portrayed an Anomalocaris (not identified) capturing a flat worm and eating it. The problem for his scenario is that Anomalocaris had incredibly sophisticated eyes, but evolutionists ‘date’ this extremely early, and there is no evidence for any eye evolution. Dr John Paterson of the University of New England, said:
[T]here was no evidence for eyes in organisms that lived before the Cambrian Explosion—a rapid increase in the diversity of life that began about 540 million years ago. The latest find showed sophisticated vision had evolved very rapidly. It came with a bang, in a geological blink of an eye.33
Also, Tyson’s whole scenario is about the origin of an eye like ours, while Anomalocaris had compound eyes, a very different design. See also Giant compound eyes, half a billion years ago? and Telling tales—how evolutionists ‘spin’ their story: ‘Early Cambrian’ arthropod fossils showing ‘exceptionally preserved eyes’ with ‘modern optics’ should be an eye-opener for evolutionists—but they resort to ‘spin’ instead.
Later, Tyson discusses another creature that evolutionists believe were contemporary with Anomalocaris:
Trilobites were armored animals that hunted in great herds across the seafloor.
They were among the first animals to evolve image-forming eyes.
But the problem with trilobite eyes, if anything, is even more acute than for Anomalocaris eye. The complex compound eyes of some types of trilobites, are among the most complex eyes of any creature that ever lived, although they were supposedly very early. They comprised tubes that each pointed in a slightly different direction, and had special lenses that focused light from any distance. The lens had a layer of calcite on top of a layer of chitin — materials with precisely the right refractive indices — and a wavy boundary between them of a precise mathematical shape.34 This is consistent with their being designed by a master physicist, who applied what we now know as the physical laws of Fermat’s principle of least time, Snell’s law of refraction, Abbé’s sine law and birefringent optics.35 The eye of this humble creature displays some pretty fancy physics!
Then Tyson attacks the efficiency of our eye design, starting by pointing out the refraction (bending) of light when it travels between air and water. Supposedly vertebrate eyes evolved in fish, in water.
But for land animals, the light carries images from dry air into their still-watery eyes. That bends the light rays, causing all kinds of distortions. When our amphibious ancestors left the water for the land, their eyes, exquisitely evolved to see in water, were lousy for seeing in the air. Our vision has never been as good since. We like to think of our eyes as state-of-the-art, but 375 million years later, we still can’t see things right in front of our noses or discern fine details in near darkness the way fish can.
But this is contrary to optical physics. Distortions are not an issue if the interface is smooth, and the very bending of light is how the eye focuses. The cornea, the transparent layer at the front of the eye covering the iris and pupil, does most of the focusing; the lens merely fine-tunes that. So an eye outside water would be better at close-up distances than one within water, where there is less bending. It’s actually the opposite to what Tyson claims: when we swim under water, everything looks blurry precisely because the refraction at the water/cornea boundary is so much less that our lens is incapable of focusing. It basically makes us extremely longsighted or farsighted. Swimming goggles avoid this by making sure there is air rather than water against the cornea.
Evolutionists believe in five mass extinctions, although as geologist and cave expert Dr Emil Silvestru explains, the evidence supports only one major geological catastrophe, consistent with Genesis 6–8 (see The Permian extinction: National Geographic comes close to the truth). The worst is claimed to be the Permian–Triassic (P–Tr) extinction, 251 million uniformitarian years ago:
Nine in ten of all species on the planet went extinct. We call it the ‘Great Dying’. Life on Earth came so near to being wiped out that it took more than ten million years to recover. But new life-forms slowly evolved to fill the openings left by the Permian holocaust.
However, it’s worth comparing this with the Cambrian Explosion, the rapid appearance of new phyla, including the phylum Chordata to which we belong, with no ancestors (see Exploding evolution and Ediacaran explosion). One evolutionary explanation is that these phyla evolved quickly to fill vacant ecological niches. So why did not a single new phylum evolve, and do so equally quickly, after the Permian extinction? Instead, a pig-sized mammal-like reptile called Lystrosaurus, not only survived but supposedly became the most dominant land vertebrate of all time: Lystrosaurus comprised 95% of all land vertebrates in the early Triassic, by evolutionary dating.
Tyson goes on to claim, “Among the biggest winners were the dinosaurs.” But as shown, the biggest winners under evolutionary dating were the lystrosaurs. Rather, according to that ‘dating’, dinosaurs become dominant only after the Triassic-Jurassic extinction, 50 million years after the P-Tr extinction.
Tyson discusses the amazingly hardy water bears or tardigrades, “about the size of a pinpoint”:
I know an animal that can live in boiling water or in solid ice. It can go ten years without a drop of water. It can travel naked in the cold vacuum and intense radiation of space and will return unscathed. … It’s equally at home atop the tallest mountains and in the deepest trenches of the sea. … The tardigrades have survived all five mass extinctions.
They have fascinated us as well—see Life at the extremes: Evolution struggles to explain the existence of extremophiles (e.g. the tardigrades). The point is not Tyson’s, that life could have arisen in very harsh places, but, as one evolutionist put it, “tardigrades appear to be over-engineered.”36
Origin of life
After a bizarre evidence-free diversion about the possibility of life in the liquid hydrocarbons on Saturn’s moon Titan, Tyson resorts to some false humility:
Nobody knows how life got started. Most of the evidence from that time was destroyed by impact and erosion. Science works on the frontier between knowledge and ignorance. We’re not afraid to admit what we don’t know. There’s no shame in that. The only shame is to pretend that we have all the answers. Maybe someone watching this will be the first to solve the mystery of how life on Earth began.
Of course, Tyson acts as if he knows for sure that life did not have a designer and instead evolved from non-living chemicals. This is a tenet of his materialistic faith. Then he proposes:
The evidence from living microbes suggest that their earliest ancestors preferred high temperatures. Life on Earth may have arisen in hot water around submerged volcanic vents.
This just ignores the huge problems: the building blocks of life are extremely unstable at high temperature. Organisms that thrive in high temperatures, thermophiles, have elaborate repair machinery, but a hot primordial soup (i.e that from which the first building blocks originated according to evolutionary theory) would lack these. See Hydrothermal origin of life?
From goo to you
Tyson concludes this episode with another tribute to his mentor and predecessor:
In Carl Sagan’s original Cosmos series, he traced the unbroken thread that stretches directly from the one-celled organisms of nearly four billion years ago to you. Four billion years in [a slide-show of] 40 seconds. From creatures who had yet to discern day from night to beings who are exploring the cosmos. Those are some of the things that molecules do given four billion years of evolution.
It matters not that even evolutionists deny that a number of the creatures depicted were in the line leading to man. E.g. the slide-show distinctly showed a Dimetrodon, a carnivorous mammal-like reptile up to 5 m long with a distinctive ‘sail’ on its back, now not thought to be ancestral to mammals. But this fact-free slide show is designed to create an impression that evolution is a well-documented fact. This is in line with Tyson’s religious adulation earlier in the episode:
Some claim that evolution is just a theory, as if it were merely an opinion [but see our Arguments we think creationists should NOT use—JS]. The theory of evolution, like the theory of gravity, is a scientific fact. Evolution really happened. Accepting our kinship with all life on Earth is not only solid science. In my view, it’s also a soaring spiritual experience.
This the crux of the whole series. Goo-to-you evolution is really a pseudo-intellectual crutch for the blind faith of atheism, or in the words of the Apostle of Antitheism, Richard Dawkins, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”37
The evolutionary worldview from which Dr Tyson draws his “soaring spiritual experience” is one which is based on death in the past, death in the present, and which offers nothing but death beyond the grave. We invite him and all who share his faith to meet the Creator. His name is Jesus Christ. His death on the cross paid the penalty for our sin, and He is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). He is also the Resurrection and the Life. As such he offers not only true life here and now, but also beyond the grave. The Bible invites us all to choose (Deuteronomy 30:19).
References and notes
- Bowler, P.J., Evolution: The History of an Idea, University of California Press, 2003. Prof. Peter Bowler was featured in the documentary The Voyage that Shook the World (2009). Return to text.
- Full title: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, John Murray, London, 1859. Return to text.
- Herbert, Sandra, in The Voyage that Shook the World (DVD), 2009. See also creation.com/film-interviews. Prof. Herbert is author of Charles Darwin: Geologist, for which she was awarded the 2006 Suzanne J. Levinson Prize of the History of Science Society. Return to text.
- Wilkins, J., An Essay Towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language, Sa. Gallibrand and John Martin, London, p. 164, 1668. Return to text.
- Kircher, A., Arca Noë, 1675. Return to text.
- Reilly, Conor, S.J., Father Athanasius Kircher, S.J.: Master of an Hundred Arts, Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review 44(176):457–468, Winter 1955. Return to text.
- A term coined by leading evolutionist Ernst Mayr (1904–2005), from Greek állos ἄλλος (other) and patrís πατρίς (homeland). Return to text.
- Lange, K., Evolution of dogs: wolf to woof, National Geographic, p. 5, January 2001. Return to text.
- Junker, R. and Scherer, S., Evolution: Ein kritisches Lehrbuch, Weyel Lehrmittelverlag, Gießen, Germany, 4th edition, p. 39, 1998. Return to text.
- A dog called Jacksy, New Scientist 174(2343):19, 18 May 2002. Return to text.
- van Gelder, R.G., Mammalian hybrids and generic limits by Richard G., American Museum novitates 2635, American Museum of Natural History, NY 1977; citing International Zoo Yearbook 5:347, 1975 (thanks to Dr Jean K. Lightner for pointing this out). Return to text.
- Actually 2s/(1–e–2sN), where s = selection coefficient and N is the population size. This asymptotically converges down to 2s where sN is large. So it’s much harder for large populations to substitute beneficial mutations. But smaller populations have their own disadvantages, e.g. they are less likely to produce any good mutations, and are vulnerable to the deleterious effects of inbreeding and genetic drift. This is explained in Spetner, Lee, Not By Chance, The Judaica Press, Brooklyn, N, 1997. Return to text.
- A phrase coined by Kenneth Hsü, The Great Dying, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, San Diego, 1986. David Raup also argued for elements of luck in Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck? WW Norton, NY, 1991. Return to text.
- Sanford, J.C., Baumgardner, J.R. and Brewer, W.H., Selection threshold severely constrains capture of beneficial mutations, submitted for publication, 2010. Return to text.
- Ey, L. and Batten, D., Weasel, a flexible program for investigating deterministic computer ‘demonstrations’ of evolution, J. Creation 16(2):84–88, 2002; creation.com/weasel. Return to text.
- Sanford, J.C., Baumgardner, J.R., Brewer, W.H., Gibson, P. and ReMine, W.R., Mendel’s Accountant: A biologically realistic forward-time population genetics program, Scalable Computing: Practice and Experience 8(2):147–165, June 2007; http://188.8.131.52/vols/vol08/no2/SCPE_8_2_02.pdf. Return to text.
- Sanford, J.C., Baumgardner, J.R., Brewer, W.H., Gibson, P. and ReMine, W.R., Using computer simulation to understand mutation accumulation dynamics and genetic load, in Y. Shi et al. (eds.), Computational Science—ICCS 2007, Part II, Lecture Notes in Computer Science 4488, Springer–Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg, pages 386–392; www.springerlink.com/content/l636614g73322302. Return to text.
- Polanyi, M., Life’s irreducible structure, Science 160:1308, 1968. Return to text.
- See also Sarfati, J., DNA: marvellous messages or mostly mess? Creation 25(2):26–31, 2003; creation.com/message. Return to text.
- Gibson, P., Baumgardner, J.R., Brewer, W.H., Sanford, J.C., Selection threshold severely constrains elimination of deleterious mutations, submitted for publication, 2010. They found that the threshold is higher than expected, about 10–3–10–4. Return to text.
- Sanford, J.C., Genetic entropy and the mystery of the genome, Ivan Press, 2005; see review of the book and the interview with the author in Creation 30(4):45–47, 2008. Return to text.
- Kondrashov, A.S., Contamination of the genome by very slightly deleterious mutations: why have we not died 100 times over?, J. Theoret. Biol. 175:583–594, 1995. Return to text.
- Kondrashov, personal communication to Sanford, cited in Genetic Entropy (Ref. 21). Return to text.
- Scally, A., and Durbin, R., Revising the human mutation rate: implications for understanding human evolution; Nature Reviews Genetics 13:745–753, October 2012 | doi:10.1038/nrg3295. (Erratum: Nature Reviews Genetics 13:824, November 2012 | doi:10.1038/nrg3353). Return to text.
- Gibbons, A., Turning Back the Clock: Slowing the Pace of Prehistory: New work suggests that mutations arise more slowly in humans than previously thought, raising questions about the timetable of evolutionary events, Science 338(6104):189–191, 12 October 2012 | doi:10.1126/science.338.6104.189. Return to text.
- Despite some recent claims of a few creationists, the term ‘natural selection’ was never intended to personify nature. Leading evolutionists such as Darwin himself, Dobzhansky, Dawkins, all intended it to mean ‘differential reproduction’. We also think it’s futile to rename it something like ‘programmed filling’, since the renaming is a distinction without a difference, and would give the impression that creationists have no answer to a known process, as per polar bears. Return to text.
- Martin, J.W., The Samurai Crab, Terra 31(4):30–34, 1993. Return to text.
- McAtee, W.L., The Effectiveness in Nature of the So-Called Protective Adaptations in the Animal Kingdom, Chiefly as Illustrated by the Food Habits of Nearctic Birds, Smithsonian Misc. Collection 85(7):1–201, 16 March, 1932. Return to text.
- A contemporary critic of McAtee, Ref. 28, faulted McAtee mainly for not offering an alternative to natural selection—to an evolutionist, this is the only game in town. Burt, W.H., Condor 34:196–198, July 1932, elibrary.unm.edu/sora/Condor/files/issues/v034n04/p0196-p0198.pdf. Return to text.
- McAtee, W.L., Protective resemblances in insects—experiment and theory, Science 79(2051):361–363, 20 April 1934 | DOI: 10.1126/science.79.2051.361 Return to text.
- Behe, M.J., Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, The Free Press, New York, 1996. Return to text.
- Boyle, A., Einstein and Darwin: A tale of two theories—Q&A with ‘Origins’ astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, nbcnews.com, 2 May 2005. Return to text.
- The eyes have it: world’s oldest predator found, canberratimes.com.au, 7 December 2011 (based on Paterson, J. et al., Nature 480:237–240, 2011). Return to text.
- K. Towe, Trilobite eyes: calcified lenses, Science 179:1007–11, 1973. Return to text.
- Stammers, C., Trilobite technology: Incredible lens engineering in an ‘early’ creature, Creation 21(1):23, 1998, creation.com/trilobite. Return to text.
- Copley, J., Indestructible, New Scientist 164(2209):45–46, 1999. Return to text.
- Dawkins, C.R., The Blind Watchmaker, Penguin Books, London, England, p. 6, 1991. Return to text.