Feedback archive → Feedback 2021
Robert Carter gets everything wrong?
Responding to even more ridiculous aspersions
Julie M. wrote in with a question:
Hi there! I am currently in a debate with my atheist cousin, and I feel I was told by God years ago that I would be having this very conversation with him, but I feel he is the most challenging person I’ve come into debate with yet, as he is closely following secular biologists and is a fan of Dawkins. Usually I talk with people who aren’t as consumed with the other side. Anyway, he linked me to a YouTube video called “Robert Carter gets everything wrong” by Gibbon (the name made me laugh, couldn’t help it.) Is Dr Carter aware of this video, and is he working on a rebuttal? I’m so thankful for your resources and am currently using the search engine to learn more about mutations vs the scrambling of already-existing DNA. I think I’m getting there, but leaning on you and the Holy Spirit because I feel a bit like I’m in over my head. It’s hard when both sides find it difficult to understand! Thank you so much for all you do, and God bless!
What follows is an expanded answer to the one initially provided by Robert Carter:
The presenters, Daniel Stern-Cardinale (a professor at Rutgers University) and Erika (who has a master’s degree in primatology and who goes by the moniker Gutsick Gibbon), are known to us. We dealt with many of Dan’s arguments in Responding to supposed refutations of genetic entropy from the ‘experts’. He also made comments on at least one of our articles (Fitness and ‘Reductive Evolution’) to which we also responded. We found that he is not one that accepts correction and will continue to spout off false claims after they have been refuted. For example, he continues to claim that the changes in the H1N1 virus are due to reassortment among different influenza viruses, not genetic entropy, even after we clearly explained the lack of reassortment in the first article linked above. This means he is either not reading our responses, he is deliberately ignoring our responses, or he does not understand our responses (I ordered those according to which is more likely).
Dan is an associate of Joshua Swamidass, who is also a troubler of the creation world and recently called for all creationist courses to be labelled on resumes so that future employers could spot them.1 I’m wondering when my yellow star will arrive. I may ask him to pin it on. I’ll have more to say about him later.
Erika has been making the rounds lately. Honestly, I find her mocking attitude to be counterproductive if she wants to provoke an honest dialogue. When creationists resort to such tactics, I tend to call them out. Thus, a mock-fest like Erika and Dan are having would turn my stomach even if someone I disagree with was the subject of their ridicule. Note: I do not know Erika. She might be a nice person in private, but she clearly has not learned enough about science to temper her demeanour. Science should humble us, especially when we consider all that we do not know and the demonstrably tenuous nature of reality. I would encourage anyone to read An open letter to Rhett McLaughlin, and anyone else on the road to unbelief. This is a key to the debate: people love the ‘gotcha’ arguments. They love it when ‘their side’ is really sticking it to the opposition. They are attracted to bullies and jerks and arrogant people who are so full of themselves that they never appear to waiver in their commitment to the cause. Hence, people like Haeckel (the “Apostle of Deceit”), Huxley (“Darwin’s Bulldog”), and Dawkins (too many articles to count) get lots of attention. I am not saying the presenters are like this, but they are only a step or two away. Another note: this also means we must watch the attitude displayed by our side!
Also making an appearance is “The Dapper Dinosaur”. From his online bio, he is focused on “debunking the scientific claims of creationism”.2
The focus of their ridicule was a short segment from the movie Is Genesis History. They spent an hour and 20 minutes3 tearing apart a few minutes of video.4 If I had that long to speak, I would have been able to better qualify my statements and provide more supporting details. But I don’t think they would have listened to anything that long, for I have done so on many occasions, and they seemed unaware of my longer treatments (which can be found here).
Early on, they make the claim that creationists like Dr John Sanford (and by association, me, Dr Jeffrey Tomkins at the Institute for Creation Research, and Dr Nathaniel Jeanson at Answers in Genesis) are ‘outside their field’ and are, therefore, unqualified to be discussing things like population genetics. Yet, they then spend the next hour attempting to refute things that are outside their own fields. Strangely, the irony was lost on them. Also, Sanford has spent several decades intensely studying population genetics, neutral theory, etc., and has amassed an impressive record of publications in these fields. In the classic tale, did it take an ‘expert’ to point out that the emperor was not wearing any clothes? No, it just took someone who had his eyes open and was willing to stand against public perception. While it is true that non-experts often miss the mark when they are critiquing ideas, it does not follow that every such attempt fails. Yet, ad hominem attacks are effective, even if they are logically flawed.
At one point, Stern-Cardinale claims that genetic entropy is his “favorite wrong creationist argument.” He claims to have read Sanford’s book Genetic Entropy but then attempts to refute it by saying this book on population genetics contains no math. Yet, what would one expect from a layman-friendly introduction to any subject? How much math has Richard Dawkins included in his many books? Not much, and his few attempts (e.g. his famous Weasel program) have gone down in flames! In Sanford’s case, after he made the general case for genetic entropy, he then set about backing up the theory with detailed mathematical treatments and computer simulations, all of which have been published, and some of that in the ‘secular’ literature.
Stern-Cardinale falls afoul of his own standards as he clearly shows he is no expert in this field. For example, he has fundamental misunderstandings of the computer program Mendel’s Accountant. He claims that all mutations in the model have fixed effects and are not context dependent (in other words, the strength of a mutation could depend on the presence of other mutations). Yet, this was studied in one published Mendel paper.5 If he wanted to, he could continue that line of research. He claims there is a problem with most mutations being harmful, but this is standard population genetics. He complains there are not enough ‘beneficial’ mutations in these simulations, but the relative numbers can, and have been, changed in the program. We also answered this specific claim in Responding to supposed refutations of genetic entropy from the ‘experts’ (also linked above). He wraps up his criticism of genetic entropy with a whopper. I cannot see how he drew the conclusion that there are no differences in relative fitness from one person to the next and that there are no selectable differences among the people in the model population. Such things were built into Mendel from the very beginning. In fact, this was the whole point of the program. I think he is purposefully obfuscating. The net effect of so many mutations accumulating in a human-like population is that most individuals share a similar mutational load, but selection still happens, and it still targets those with the highest loads To illustrate this, I ran a Mendel simulation with default parameters and graphed the results in figure 1. The model tracked 1,000 individuals over 200 generations, with a mutation rate of 50 per individual. The fraction of favorable mutations was set to 0.0001.
There are so many other misstatements in this video that it would be impossible to cover them all here. However, they focus on the evolutionary model and extoll the strength of its predictions. At first glance, such arguments can be intimidating. Also, the creationist model is still underdeveloped. We have only begun to explore its possibilities. This makes it look weaker, although we are continually making strides in the right direction. They talk about the ‘overwhelming’ evidence for evolution. They say the high diversity within Africa and the longer sections of inherited DNA outside of Africa prove that we came out of Africa. They spend time on the high degree of similarity between humans and chimps and the great differences between modern humans and Neanderthals. They make sweeping statements about Haldane’s Dilemma, claiming it was based on outdated science (when, in fact, it is worse than they realize6). They claim the diversity among certain gene classes could never have been generated from just two people. And they spend a lot of time on the difference between a pedigree-derived mutation rate and the rate of mutation accumulation in a population over time. I must thank him for making this last point. From work I did a decade ago but never published, I already know he is wrong. I am going to dust off that project and run some new Mendel simulations.
They are asking difficult questions. Some of these are, in fact, the hardest questions for the creationists, and they know it. However, they are also not listening to our answers and everything they say is either couched in evolutionary assumptions or in simplifying assumptions that make evolutionary model-building easier. For example, they must assume a near-constant mutation rate to put a timeframe on any event. They also assume the ancient mutation rate was the same as the modern one. Why would I assume these for myself? Varying population sizes, varying levels of inbreeding, varying amounts of recombination among people groups,7 mutations to DNA repair systems that circulate within sub populations, radiation (perhaps associated with a burst that occurred during the Flood or due to bursts of cosmic rays that would necessarily have occurred during rapid magnetic field reversals), and something I call Patriarchal Drive all act to mess up genetic clocks. In an earlier article, I gave six reasons why Africans might have both higher diversity and more evidence of scrambling in their genomes.
A brief detour
A year or two ago, there was much discussion on the “time to the most recent four alleles” (TMR4A) on Swamidass’ Peaceful Science blog.8 This was supposedly a refutation of the biblical timeline and, at first glance, appears to be a formidable argument against us. Using a program called ARGWeaver,9 one can run models of human history that account for recombination and inheritance. Given a constant mutation rate, a constant recombination rate, a constant generation time, and human population of at least 10,000 individuals, how long do you think it would take for you to reach the common ancestor of most people using this method?
TMR4A = 495 ± 100 kya
A half a million years (give or take)! People see numbers like that and are instantly intimidated. However, Swamidass made this admission when he set out the criteria for the calculations:
“In this conversation we are not allowing for any miracles. For example, the bottleneck couple would not be specially created or be genetic mosaics (with different genomes in every sperm/egg).”
In that same area, he says they were only considering bottleneck that happened 100 thousand to three million years ago and they never allowed the population to dip down to a single couple. Thus, Swamidass admits to excluding all aspects of the creationist model from the get go. How, then, is this a refutation of anything? About this same time, Hössjer and Gauger published a paper based on their own computer model that also claimed a 2-person bottleneck was possible.10 They did not consider “young earth” models and specifically assumed the two founders evolved from a large population that evolved over millions of years. At least the claim that it is “impossible” that the human race started off with but two people has been falsified.
The TMR4A calculation is an interesting intellectual exercise, but it is assuming too much in favour of the evolutionary position. They were not testing the biblical model in any sense. Instead, they were testing to how far back a single-couple origin for modern humanity could be, given millions of years and a consistently large population with stable mutation rates, etc. Yet, realistic biblical models were an important part of a paper I and my colleagues presented at the last International Conference on Creationism.11 We were not using ARGWeaver. Instead, we were using Mendel’s Accountant to model the spectrum of rare and common mutations found along chromosome 22 in the 1000 Genomes Project data (figure 2). We showed that several biblical models were a better fit to the real-world data than an evolutionary model, and we specifically modelled ‘different genomes in every sperm/egg’ (the Designed Gametes model).
Regarding this graph, they complained (elsewhere, not in this video) that we changed the values on the y-axes between the various graphs in our paper, as if they did not understand the process of normalization.12 It would have been nice to have all the world’s computing power at our disposal so that we could model going from Adam and Eve to 7.5 billion people over the course of six thousand model years, all the while tracking every mutation that happened in duplicate 3-billion-letter digital genomes. We would then have had as many mutations to track as seen in the 1000 Genomes data. Barring that, the data had to be normalized to be comparable. My point is that models are always limited, ours and theirs included.
A last-minute update
After this article was scheduled to be published on Creation.com, a second YouTube video from Stern-Cardinale and friends appeared.13 It was an attack on a YouTube video I had put up on my own channel concerning the Waiting Time Problem.14 Dr Don Batten wrote an article on this subject for the most recent Creation magazine, but most readers of the website will still be unaware of what ‘the waiting problem’ is.
The basic idea is that it takes a long time for any specific mutation to appear in a population, that the same mutation has to appear multiple times before one of them randomly escapes the force of genetic drift, and that it takes a long time after that for the mutation to increase in frequency to the point where it replaces the original allele. The time for these changes to happen can be mathematically modeled, and they have been, specifically with Mendel’s Accountant. The results are consistently prohibitive for basic evolutionary theory. That is, ‘evolution’ simply takes too long. You can read the original paper for yourself.15 They also spend some time on a similar paper by Hössjer, Bechly, and Gauger,16 who are associated with the Discovery Institute. Yet, most of their time and invective is directed at me and they give short shrift to the other paper, so I will not discuss it further. This video might deserve a stand-alone treatment, but I have no desire to review every anti-creationist video on YouTube, so I will keep my comments as brief as possible.
In their hour-long treatment of my 20-minute video, Stern-Cardinale summarizes everything with six main points. In every one of these points he is profoundly wrong. It would have been good for him to actually try to understand how Mendel works before trying to discredit it in public. It would also have been good for the other three people on the call to have demonstrated that they had actually watched my video before they entered into a conversation about it. Honestly, there is no reason at this point to even bother replying. They have shown themselves to be lax and dishonest scholars and they should be embarrassed by the quality of their supposed refutation. However, since I have been called out in public, and since there are others who may be looking to me for answers, here are my answers to his six points:
He claims I misunderstand the substitution rate (per year) vs the mutation rate (per generation).
I am perfectly well aware that the long-term substitution rate is not the same as the genealogical mutation rate. However, over long periods of time in a population in mutation-drift equilibrium, the two are nearly equal. There is also not, as he claims, a conflict between the thought that (a) most mutations are lost to drift and (b) the mutation rate is approximately the same as the fixation rate. Why? Because even if most mutations are lost, in a large population many are not. This is basic population genetics. They know not of what they speak. Mutation rates are difficult to calculate, but genealogical rates have been calculated for the Y chromosome. The results indicate a rate on the order of 10⁻⁸ for low-quality data and 10⁻⁷ for high quality data, or approximately one mutation per generation. By quoting a generic rate of “10⁻⁸” per generation, I was in the right ballpark according to the evolutionary community.17
He claims the mutations being tracked by Mendel are sequential and cannot occur in parallel.
No, the ‘target string’ does not have to appear sequentially, and the target string can appear in any individual at any time in the model run. They did not read the original paper and thus have no idea what they are talking about.
He claims that our model requires any given mutation in the ‘target string’ to be fixed in sequence.
No, the mutations in the target string do not have to be fixed in sequence. Again, had any of them bothered to read the original paper this would not be an issue. Any incomplete set of target letters will independently float around in the population and multiple occurrences of any subset of the target sequence can arise at any time. Stepwise fixation is simply not required. Worse, it would work in the opposite way they think. The waiting time for a series of two or three one-letter mutations is less than the waiting time for a single two- or three-letter string. How can they claim to know what they are talking about when they do not even understand these basic ideas?
He claims there can only be selection for one mutation at a time in Mendel.
Mendel was designed to model mutation accumulation in populations composed of many individuals. It tracks all mutations and their cumulative fitness effects on all individuals, independently. The thought that only one mutation can be selected for at a time in Mendel is absurd.
He claims I believe there are “50 to 100,000” selective beneficial mutations from our common ancestor with chimps, and that the correct number is less than 2000.
I never said this. And this was one of his main points. Strange.
He claims Mendel can only select for one mutation at a time due to “clonal [sic] interference” and that I am treating humans like asexual haploids not sexual diploids.
I am shocked that they do not understand what selective interference is. I also assume they do not understand the cost of selection, which Walter ReMine wrote about years ago. Basically, for selection to work, ‘surplus’ offspring have to be removed from a population. There are only so many offspring to go around, so mutations ‘compete’ for attention. This applies to both purifying (removing bad mutations) and positive (amplifying good mutations) selection. If a population has multiple alleles under strong selection simultaneously, selective efficiency breaks down. This is easy to demonstrate with Mendel, but it is also a standard idea in population genetics. Granted, my wording was weak in this section, yet they jumped to a false conclusion and tried to run with it.
The second part deals with something called Haldane’s Dilemma, which they claim was solved back in the ‘60s and which only dealt with asexually reproducing organisms.
Until recently, we could comfortably say that Haldane’s dilemma has not been solved. The attempted rescue mechanism of neutral evolution theory, and the associated belief in ‘junk DNA’, failed as an escape mechanism. However, a recent paper claimed to have solved the dilemma by adding recombination to the mix.18 They claimed that Haldane’s original concept breaks down into an asexual model and thus cannot apply to sexually reproducing species, like humans. But Haldane’s Dilemma is actually worse than people once thought. This is obvious once you remove the simplifying assumptions he made in favor of evolution. Also, several years ago Rupe and Sanford introduced the concept of “Haldane’s Ratchet”,6 making the problem orders of magnitude more difficult to solve. Muller’s Ratchet19 is a known problem in asexually reproducing organisms. Essentially, without recombination, any mutation that occurs in an asexual lineage is destined to always be present. Thus, mutations inexorably build up in such populations over time. Sexual reproduction certainly reduces the rate of buildup, but Rupe and Sanford’s work seems to indicate that sexual reproduction is not a panacea. Instead, each recombination block may act like an asexual block of DNA. In the end, the degree to which sexual reproduction solves the problem depends on many factors, including the rate and randomness (or not) of recombination. The paper that claimed to have solved the issue used a computer model that was not as advanced as Mendel’s Accountant, and I am confident that their results could be reproduced, quantified, and qualified. However, Rupe and Sanford’s work already indicates that Haldane’s Dilemma has not actually been cracked.
Additional point: He often harps on recombination, as if that will magically solve his mathematical problems. However, it will not work as he hopes. Yes, in this paper Mendel was looking for specific strings to appear within single linkage blocks. There is no way for two letters to appear in adjacent blocks in different individuals and then to be brought together with recombination. Yet, if we were waiting for a combination of two or more letters to appear somewhere in the genome, there is a high probability that recombination would separate them again. Thus, the selective string would be ephemeral. Also, if we are talking about the rise of, say, a new codon composed of three consecutive letters, the probability of recombination happening within that specific codon is so small that it is safe to ignore it.
I could say a lot more, and it was drudgery to watch over two hours of video content. From experience, I did not imagine they were going to say anything new, and I was not wrong. I could also write a long dissertation that details all the problems with their claims, but this has already been done (see links above). In the end, this is a spiritual battle more than anything. Our job is to stand our ground and try to have a Christ-like attitude. This includes either answering robustly or silently accepting the vitriol, depending on the situation. If a person has not met Jesus Christ and had their eyes opened, they will not see. All we can do is ‘leave the light on’, so to speak, so that those whose eyes are being opened can come in from the dark.
“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)
References and notes
- See Klinghoffer, D., In the name of “academic freedom,” a scientist calls for punishing creationists; EvolutionNews.org, 11 Mar 2021; evolutionnews.org/2021/03/in-the-name-of-academic-freedom-a-scientist-calls-for-punishing-creationists.
Swamidass’ original wording was, “One helpful principle is transparency. As a matter of academic freedom, scientists should tolerate institutions that teach creation science. But deviations from national norms in a science curriculum need to be prominently disclosed, tracked and reported. In practice, that means transcripts that clearly state which courses and degrees include creation science. Credit from courses that include creation science should not be used toward science degrees. Nor should they be eligible for transfer to secular institutions.”(Swamidass, S.J., A Compromise on creation. The Wall Street Journal, 4 March 2021; wsj.com/articles/a-compromise-on-creationism-11614901537.
In essence, it does not matter how competent a student is, how much evolutionary theory they learned, or how well they work with others in a professional setting. If they studied creation, they should be excluded from advancement. If this is not what he meant, his wording would have been significantly different. His defense of what he wrote was actually longer than the original, but it did not help his case. Despite many words, he seems to just dig that hole even deeper. See peacefulscience.org/qa-wsj-compromise-on-creationism.
He also attempted to rebut my statements about the TMR4A, claiming I did not understand how ARGWeaver works, etc. While I did take some shortcuts in my wording, I did not get anything wrong as far as I can see. The assumptions of deep time and uniformitarianism (i.e. constant recombination rates, etc.) are built into the ARGWeaver algorithm. True, it does not “model” populations, but it is essentially doing this before it spits out the final number. See discourse.peacefulscience.org/t/rob-carter-responds-to-tmr4a/13962. Return to text.
- This description has been modified from the original. After this article appeared, he accused me of doxxing the wrong guy. But he is named “Dapper Dino” on the video feed and uses this phrase as the title of his YouTube channel. There was no reason to suspect that there was another Dapper Dino out there who deals with different topics (flat earth, computers, gaming, etc.). Also, pulling up some basic biographical information on someone is hardly “doxxing”. In fact, it would have been bad form to include nothing about him and one cannot fault Google for not knowing the difference between them! Since there are clearly two people using a very similar moniker out there, it is impingent upon him to not add confusion. I’m sure the real Dapper Dino would appreciate it as well. Return to text.
- “Dr. Rob Carter Gets Everything Wrong (with Gutsick Gibbon)”, 20 May 2021; youtube.com/watch?v=9AxLBLpaNis. Return to text.
- “How is DNA the ‘Clock’ of the Biological World? — Dr. Robert Carter”, 4 May 2021; youtube.com/watch?v=sHtZMgawJbQ&t=0s. Return to text.
- Baumgardner, J., Brewer, W., and Sanford, J., Can synergistic epistasis halt mutation accumulation? Results from numerical simulation; in: Marks II, R.J., Behe, M.J., Dembski, W.A., Gordon, B., and Sanford, J.C. (Eds.), Biological Information—New Perspectives, World Scientific, Singapore, pp. 312–337, 2013; worldscientific.com/doi/abs/10.1142/9789814508728_0013 Return to text.
- Rupe, C.L. and Sanford, J.C., Using numerical simulation to better understand fixation rates, and establishment of a new principle: Haldane’s Ratchet; in: Horsetmeyer, M. (Ed.), Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Creationism, Creation Science Fellowship, Pittsburgh, PA, 2013; creationicc.org/2013_papers/2013_ICC_Rupe.pdf Return to text.
- Hinch, A.G. et al. The landscape of recombination in African Americans. Nature 170(476):170–175, 2011. Return to text.
- This is a blog and not a proper article-based website. It will be difficult for the reader to find the information. The URL is impossibly long to type in manually, and we do not allow many direct links to outside sites on Creation.com, so we cannot provide a ‘live’ link. However, one can probably find the discussion by searching PeacefulScience.org for “Heliocentric Certainty Against a Bottleneck of Two?” and following the links and discussion from there. Strangely, Swamidass has made repeated requests for us to allow him to post something on our “blog”, but this is not the way the world works. Return to text.
- Rasamussen, MD, et al. Genome-wide inference of ancestral recombination graphs. PLoS Genetics 10(5):e1004342, 2014. Return to text.
- Hössjer, O. and Gauger, A., A single-couple human origin is possible. Bio-Complexity 1:1–20, 2019. Note: In my original wording I incorrectly stated that they assumed the two founders evolved from a large population that evolved over millions of years. Yet, that was just one of their models. They also tested the Single Couple Origin (SCO) model. An astute reader pointed out my mistake, which was corrected in the text. Return to text.
- Sanford, J., Carter, R., Brewer, W., Baumgardner, J., Potter, B., and Potter, J., Adam and Eve, designed diversity, and allele frequencies. In Proc. 8th Int. Conf. Creationism, ed. J.H. Whitmore, pp. 200–216. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Creation Science Fellowship, 2018; digitalcommons.cedarville.edu/icc_proceedings/vol8/iss1/8. Return to text.
- In order to examine the differences between two data sets with different amplitudes, statisticians will often divide each set by the largest value in the set. This produces a number set where all values are between zero and one, as in the figure. Return to text.
- “Bad Creationist Genetics: The Waiting Time Problem”, 17 Jun 2021; youtube.com/watch?v=P3Wa_8ESP18Return to text.
- “The Waiting Time Problem ”, 8 June 2021; biblicalgenetics.com/the-waiting-time-problem. Return to text.
- Sanford, J., Brewer, W., Smith, F., and Baumgardner, J., The waiting time problem in a model hominin population, Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling 12:18, 2015; tbiomed.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12976-015-0016-z. Return to text.
- Hössjer, O., Bechly, G., and Gauger, A., On the waiting time until coordinated mutations get fixed in regulatory sequences, J. Theoretical Biology 524: 110657, 2021. Return to text.
- See Table 1 in Jeanson, N.T. and Holland, A.D., Evidence for a human Y chromosome molecular clock: pedigree-based mutation rates suggest a 4,500-year history for human paternal inheritance, Answers Research Journal 12:393–404, 2019. Return to text.
- Hickey, D.O. and Golding, G.B., Sex solves Haldane’s Dilemma, Genome 62:761–768, 2019. Return to text. Note: This was not included in the original version of this article. It was added later and then this paragraph was reworked to accommodate the new ideas.
- See the discussion on Muller’s Ratchet in Williams, A., Healthy genomes require recent creation, J. Creation
29(2):70–77, 2015. Return to text.
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