The Great Dothan Debate
Do Humans Have an Evolutionary Origin?
Published: 6 April 2009(GMT+10)
On Nov 27, 2007, in front of a packed house, CMI’s Dr. Robert Carter debated Mr. Rick Pierson in Dothan, Alabama, on the subject “Do Humans Have an Evolutionary Origin?”
Each debater gave introductory comments, then a rebuttal of the other’s comments. They then asked three open-ended cross-examination questions each before wrapping up with closing comments.
Carter’s opening statement
Carter opened by frankly stating that evolution is impossible, and that one must believe in the miracle of the big bang and the miracle of spontaneous generation in order to hold to evolution. He made the case that, while evolution depends on life being simple, life is complex at all levels. After pointing out the “chicken and egg” problem of the necessity of the DNA repair and copying mechanism to be coded into the DNA before DNA can exist in the cell, he stated that “complexity” is the Achilles’ heel of evolution. He then brought up the idea of “information” and stated that information is the nail in the coffin of evolutionary theory. He split the definition of evolution, disagreeing that it simply means “change”, for the creationist believes in change and yet does not believe in evolution. In fact, it was a creationist, Edward Blyth, who first came up with the idea of natural selection. (See Don’t fall for the bait and switch.) He concluded with an appeal to the audience to put everything they were about to hear into the context of these introductory comments, for this is a debate about worldview, not scientific data.
Pierson’s opening statement
Pierson started by listing what he considered the eight best evidences for human evolutionary origins, but he mentioned several of these only briefly and did not go into much detail. He focused on three of these eight as his main arguments. His first argument was the existence of “pseudogenes”, their number, and the fact that humans, chimps, and gorillas share several “lesions” that render an otherwise functional gene inoperable. His second argument was that of the reputed fusion of two ancestral chimp chromosomes to produce human chromosome 2. His third argument was for the retention of ancestral embryonic structures. If embryos from diverse organisms all follow the same development pattern, he claimed this would be evidence for common ancestry. He brought up the existence of “pharyngeal slits” (“gill slits”), and the presence of “aortic arches” (supposedly harking back to our fish ancestors) in the human embryo. He mentioned the fossil record of hominids, but ran out of time before saying any more on the subject.
Carter’s rebuttal to Pierson’s opening statement
Carter rebutted each of Pierson’s main arguments. He pointed out that the 99% similarity between human and chimp is an outdated idea (see “What about the similarities between monkey and human DNA?” in Genetics Questions and Answers). He then said that the idea of pseudogenes1 is also outdated. He discussed “Haldane’s Dilemma” (see Haldane s dilemma has not been solved) and how it led to the idea of “Junk DNA” (see Vestigial Organs Questions and Answers), but that the ENCODE Project (see Astonishing DNA complexity update) demolished the idea of Junk DNA and makes Haldane’s Dilemma much worse. ENCODE showed that 99% of the human genome is functional, contrary to old expectations (based on Junk DNA theory) that 97% was non-functional, with massive amounts of RNA transcription occurring along those supposedly junk sections of DNA. He went on to point out that the pseudogene argument is akin to the old vestigial organ argument ( Vestigial Organs Questions and Answers). As an argument from silence (one of the classic logical fallacies), it is not a sound scientific statement.
Carter went on to discuss the fusion hypothesis for the origin of human chromosome 2. There is a diversity of opinion within the creationist community about whether or not it actually happened, yet it proves nothing for the evolutionist. They claim common descent because one of our chromosomes looks like two of the ape chromosomes. But they would also claim common descent if we had the exact same number of chromosomes. Also, if it were true, it was a near-extinction event for humanity.
On the subject of homology, Carter brought up Haeckel’s fraudulent drawings (see Ernst Haeckel: Evangelist for evolution and apostle of deceit) and compared them to those from a recent paper.2,3 He claimed that an embryologist can tell the difference between the various organisms, but a lot depends on the developmental state of the embryos. He asserted that there are no gill slits in the human embryo and that the pharyngeal pouches perform no respiratory function. He showed that the “post-anal tail” is a misnomer and why it only appears to be a tail, as embryologists know (see Embryonic Recapitulation and Similarities Questions and Answers).
Carter broached the subject of hominids, but only managed to state they were fully human (see Anthropology and Apemen Questions and Answers) before time ran out.
Pierson rebuttal to Carter’s opening statement
Pierson dismissed Carter’s statement that the evolutionist must believe in miracles, specifically the two Carter brought up. He claimed the big bang was not evolution, neither was the abiogenic origin of life. He claimed that evolution was simply "biological change" [Carter warned about this deceptive definition in his opening comments].
Regarding the origin of life, Pierson claimed the RNA World hypothesis is a suitable explanation, using RNA’s centrality to life and the experimental formation of ribosome ligases from random chemical reactions to back up his claim. He also correctly outlined the difference between spontaneous generation and abiogenesis [see Origin of Life Questions and Answers].
He went on to discuss the big bang, giving a list of evidences, including the expanding universe, red shifts, experimental verification of the predicted amounts of helium and hydrogen in the universe, and the presence of the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB). He also introduced the inflationary big bang model, claiming it solved three problems in the older model. [Apparently, he is unaware of the groundbreaking work by two CMI scientists on the subject. See “What are some of the problems with the ‘big bang’ hypothesis?” in Astronomy and Astrophysics Questions and Answers.]
He then attempted to discount Carter’s analogy of computer parts randomly coming together to form a functional computer, claiming that a single replicating molecule can be both hardware and software. [For a detailed rebuttal, see Information Theory Questions and Answers.]
In an attempt to discredit Christianity, he briefly brought up ethics, referring to the Old Testament and mentioning mass murder before running out of time.
1. Carter: “Can you please give the audience a reasonable process whereby random natural events can produce the necessary but non-random information needed for evolution, including the evolution of new genes and new, complex biochemical pathways?”
Pierson’s answer to the origin of information dealt with gene duplication (giving trichromatic vision in old world monkeys as an example), and exon shuffling (e.g., serine proteases in the blood coagulation pathway). He claimed that a complex biological process like the production of the bacterial flagellum can be explained easily since the 24 core proteins are almost all slightly modified duplicates of one another (see Germ’s miniature motor has a clutch).
2. Pierson: He started his question with the claim that Carter stated in a talk the previous evening that there were no transitional fossils between reptiles and mammals or between fish and amphibians. He referenced a book that mentioned the Tiktaalik fossil and other similar species, then asked why Carter did not mention them during his talk?
Carter replied that he did not say there were “no” transitional fossils [The majority of the audience had not been present at his talk the previous evening so there was no way to verify either statement. There was also no way to see the context in which this statement was made.]. He used Pakicetus, once thought to be perfectly intermediate between land and aquatic mammals, as an example and showed how it was determined later to have no aquatic features when more of the skeleton was discovered. He showed a slide that illustrated the diversity within the ceratopsid dinosaur group and compared it to the fossil record of the rhinoceros. He showed another slide of an evolutionary tree and claimed it lacked the predicted links, that the ones used today were not used earlier, and that the transitional status of claimed intermediates is always debatable. Darwin wanted innumerable transitional fossils, but we only find a few and there is no evidence to fill in the largest gaps, which are represented by the fewest number of fossils. This is contrary to Darwin and contrary to evolutionary predictions. He finished by using the various families of stony coral families as an additional example of species stasis. (see “Are there really missing links?” in Fossils Questions and Answers) (For specific details about Tiktaalik and other similar species, see Panderichthys a fish with fingers? and the list of related article links on the bottom of that page.)
3. Carter: After referencing the ENCODE Project and saying it kills the idea of junk DNA, he asked, “With only 100,000 generations since the human-chimp split, would you please explain one of the following: a) The fixation of the 5 million indel mutations covering 90 million base pairs that separate our species; b) the fixation of the 35 million point mutations; or c) the fixation of the approximately 1,000 beneficial mutations that might have accumulated in our two separate lineages since we diverged?” He stated these were intractable problems and that there has not been enough time in evolutionary history to account for all these changes.
Pierson struggled giving his answer. He started by claiming only 5–8% of the genome is under functional evolutionary constraint [This comes from a separate paper4 that compared the human, mouse, and rat genomes and is not part of the ENCODE results. It is also based on evolutionary assumptions of common descent and the idea that long stretches of DNA shared by diverse organisms must be functionally constrained.], and that the rest can accumulate mutations at will. He brought up the results of another study in which megabases were removed from the mouse genome, with no ill effects to the mice [This was a tremendous surprise to evolutionists,5,6 who expected strongly conserved sequences to be highly functional.]. He stated only 1.5–2% of the human genome is protein coding, and that most of the genome is composed of repetitive sequences [this avoided the question that had been asked]. In saying this he showed that he was not up to date with the science (e.g., the ENCODE project outlined earlier by Carter).
In an attempt to rebut the ‘fixation of mutations’ question, he mentioned Haldane’s Dilemma and claimed it was flawed. He also mentioned James [sic, Walter] ReMine’s book, The Biotic Message, and claimed the author made invalid assumptions [see Carter’s rebuttal below]. Thus, he claimed, Haldane’s Dilemma is no longer a problem.
As far as the 35 million point mutations that have been fixed in the few generations since humans and chimps split, he said, “You can’t answer everything,” then noted that his lack of an answer looks bad. [Note: this is the crux of Haldane’s Dilemma and he did not have the ability to address the details.]
To address the assumed fixation of 1,000 beneficial mutations, he said something about different selective pressures in different environments, then split the 1,000 figure to include only 500 per lineage. [The careful observer would have noted he was only asked to answer one of the three possibilities and that he did not answer any!]
4. Pierson: This next question rambled a little before he got to the point. He started off with the claim that CMI takes Genesis as a science book instead of allegory [this is not an accurate portrayal of our position, see What we believe and The Bible and hermeneutics]. He then said that Genesis makes only a few predictions, including that man is made from the dust of the earth, which would mean man is made of silicon dioxide, and that men should have one less rib than woman, which he (correctly) claimed is also false, and that if we are created in God’s image, and if you take this literally, then God looks like us, “with two eyes, and all this kind of stuff.” For his question, he asked why the two predictions the Bible makes about humans are not correct, and if Carter didn’t think God looks like us, “anthropomorphic, with eyes, legs, and that kind of stuff,” then isn’t he “interpreting that part where it says we are created in God’s image, instead of taking it literally?”
Carter dismissed part of this as not being germane to the debate. Whether or not man is made in the image of God is philosophy and does not pertain to the debate at hand. Also, the definition of the word “image” is a religious question (see Made in the image of God).
He disagreed that the Bible taught men should have one less rib than women. He said even primitive man knew that if you lost your finger, your future children would still be born with 10 fingers [thus, Pierson’s assertion is actually a straw man argument, one of the classic logical fallacies]. He also pointed out that the rib is the only bone that will re-grow when removed (see Regenerating ribs).
He went on to give additional examples of predictions that can be derived from Genesis that Pierson failed to mention. He discussed the evolutionary tale of human migration out of Africa, as tracked by mitochondrial DNA, and how this depends on the assumptions underlying the neutral model of evolution. He then claimed the data better support the Tower of Babel story, with a single migration of humanity, out of the Middle East, traveling in small people groups, from a small original population, into uninhabited territory, in the recent past. He said the three main mitochondrial lineages found throughout the world might very well correlate to the three daughters-in-law of Noah, and that the geographic localization of Y chromosome haplotypes does not make much sense evolutionarily, but easily reflects the fact that there was only one Y chromosome on the Ark.
5. Carter: This question dealt with a recent paper that claimed the earliest fossil apes walked upright and that modern apes lost the ability. The claim that apes walked upright 21 million years ago disagrees with 150 years of evolutionary storytelling and “throws it in the trash.” His question: “Please give the audience, based on this new information, a plausible story on the origin of humans.”
Pierson did not see why this was a problem, for it did not counter the pseudogene argument, nor did it deal with embryonic similarities. He dismissed the question by stating that walking is a behavior and that the question does not deal with DNA similarities. He said we already knew that Australopithecus afarensis walked upright 3–4 million years ago and that science progresses, sometimes making mistakes, and that just because something is published does not make it a fact. He saw no reason why pushing back walking a few million years was a problem and then noted that Carter does not believe in the dates to which he was referring anyway. [We suppose he failed to realize that the reputed date of upright walking is before the human-chimp divergence and, if it turns out to be true, the whole evolutionary story of the origin of man is up in the air.]
6. Pierson: The final question was another rambling statement and returned to the pseudogene argument. Pierson claimed that pseudogenes can no longer perform their original function [note that this is an assumption], due to frame shift mutations, premature stop codons, and initiator sequence mutations. He claimed Carter believed all pseudogenes to be functional [he doesn’t], and that, if so, we have 20,000 pseudogenes that are functional in our genome that arose by mutation. He claimed this destroys all arguments based on information and that it is easy to add information to a genome by just throwing mutations at it. He also claimed this destroys all arguments about specified complexity, all arguments about information, because information is “trivially easy”, and also the “isolated great gap between functional DNA sequences”.
To address the pseudogene idea, Carter stated the old adage that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” and that just because we do not know the function does not mean they do not have a function. He said pseudogenes possibly have many functions, including the ability to translate (sic, “be transcribed into”) RNA that can then bind to the gene in the target area and repress it. He gave an example of a supposed pseudogene that humans, chimps and gorillas share. He then mentioned a common rule of thumb in biology that “form follows function”. If pseudogenes have a form, he argued, and this form is consistent among lineages that supposedly diverged 10 million years ago, the sequence in question certainly has a function (see Potentially decisive evidence against pseudogene shared mistakes ).
Regarding the results of the ENCODE project that Pierson attempted to dismiss, Carter said the purpose of ENCODE was to test how much of the genome was functional and that they found massive amounts of transcription all over the genome. To make matters even worse, they found many places with overlapping RNA codes that do completely different things. The conclusion was that the bulk of what was considered to be junk DNA is now known not just to be functional, but polyfunctional. He stated that evolution and natural selection cannot handle polyfunctionality and that the ENCODE Project answers the question of pseudogenes.
Pierson closing statement
Pierson returned to his main argument that pseudogenes prove the evolutionary origin of man. He said that transcription does not equate to biological function and that you can’t say something has a function until you find it [This violates the general rule of biology that form follows function, as mentioned earlier]. He said the ENCODE Project found that a majority of DNA is transcribed, not that it has a function [We feel that this begs the question]. That only 5–8% of the genome is under functional constraint. He then backed up Carter’s claim that the pseudogene shared between human, chimp, and gorilla discussed earlier may be an example of functional constraint, but that it is only one example and the rest of the genome is free to accumulate mutation since it is mostly repetitious. He claimed this refutes the specified complexity argument and the information argument, because these repetitious sequences have no meaning. He restated his belief that it is easy to add information to a genome.
He went on to discuss the efficiency of information storage in the DNA molecule and that human technology can store data more compactly and that computers can copy information much faster than the cell. Even though DNA is amazing, he claimed, “to put it up on a pedestal above what humans can do is not accurate.” [Note: nobody was arguing this point, but humans have achieved this information storage technology using intelligence; evolutionists claim that the incredible information storage system of DNA came about without any intelligence.]
Returning once again to the pseudogene argument, he claimed shared mutations are a basic prediction of evolutionary theory [true], and that the opposing view that CMI presents is independent origins [not true, he is assuming no design and no function for pseudogenes]. He then went into a probability argument before bringing up a few additional examples, including an apparent shared mutation that prevents humans and great apes from synthesizing vitamin C (see Why the shared mutations in the Hominidae exon X GULO pseudogene are not evidence for common descent).
He took exception to Carter’s claim that the 96–99% identity value between chimps and humans is invalid and cited several measures CMI has reported on their website [but much of what he said was the point CMI was trying to make in the article] (see Human/chimp DNA similarity, >98% Chimp/human DNA similarity? Not any more, and Decoding the dogma of DNA similarity).
He wrapped up his closing statement by attempting to restate several things Carter said in the debate and in the prior evening’s talk, asking if evolution is racist and whether or not you are immoral if you believe it [see comments by Carter below]. He ended by saying that evolution simply describes the world; it says what is, not what should be.
Carter’s closing statement
Carter began by tying up some loose ends. He returned to the ENCODE argument, saying that the fact that so much RNA transcription occurs is an indication of function, for evolution would predict some degree of efficiency and it would make much more sense if the useless transcription eventually got turned off. He agreed that the genome has much repetitive material, but that does not mean it is useless info. In fact, he said, repeats are probably structural.
He agreed that the human and chimp genomes are similar, but that there are many portions we cannot align and there are many genes we do not share. These genes cannot be explained by evolution because there is not enough time to evolve them. Getting back to duplication as an engine for evolution, he said duplicated genes should tend to be weeded out over time. They should be destroyed if they have no function. He also brought up the existence of evolutionary modeling programs (see From ape to man via genetic meltdown: a theory in crisis) and concluded that our genomes are doomed to extinction due to the accumulation of deleterious mutations that natural selection cannot weed out.
Carter: ‘there is nothing to say that raping and pillaging is wrong, for there is no higher power in evolutionary theory to whom one can appeal’
To address Pierson’s claim that Carter said evolution is immoral, he countered by saying that there is no judge between right and wrong in evolutionary theory and so the proper term is amoral. He raised the example of Genghis Khan, an evolutionary success story by all measures since he is the ancestor to 1 out of every 200 people alive today7 , and pointed out that there is nothing to say that raping and pillaging is wrong, for there is no higher power in evolutionary theory to whom one can appeal (see Morality and Ethics Questions and Answers).
He claimed Haldane’s dilemma was not the consequence of errors in his work on this, which work was actually used to generate the idea of junk DNA. He also said he had had personal conversation with Walter ReMine, who explained to him what his detractors have said about his work is wrong (see The Biotic Message: Evolution versus Message Theory).
He noted that Pierson did not bring up the creationist position often [and it seems he misstated it when he did] and how he (Carter) tried to stay on the evolutionists’ turf to make a point. He pointed out how Pierson tried to stay away from origins, how Darwinian evolution fails mathematically, and then discussed the fact that evolution is really a smokescreen for the worldview battle that is raging behind it. In fact, Darwin and his friends rejoiced that they were attacking Christianity. He then gave his personal testimony about how creationist analysis helped him keep his faith while in his undergraduate training.
Briefly, he addressed the big bang, claiming inflation theory is a magic wand and that it defies all known laws of physics. He wrapped this up with this quote, “If you have to resort to unknown mechanisms to explain the most important part of your theory, one wonders how solid your theory is in the first place.”
Regarding human evolution [the topic of the debate], he stated his belief that we came from recent origins, and gave a list of evidences from genetics.
In his final few minutes, Carter encouraged the audience to dig deeper into the subject and asked them not to turn away from God if they heard him calling.
- Splicing and dicing the human genome: Scientists begin to unravel the splicing code
- CMI scientific blunder?
- Type pseudogenes into the search engine window on this site (creation.com). Return to text.
- Pennisi, E. 1997. Haeckel’s embryos: fraud rediscovered. Science 277(5331):1435. Return to text.
- Richardson et al. 1997. There is no highly conserved embryonic stage in the vertebrates: implications for current theories of evolution and development. Anat. Embryol. 196:91–106. Return to text.
- Cooper, G.M. 2004. Characterization of evolutionary rates and constraints in three mammalian genomes, Genome Res. 14:539–548. Return to text.
- Ahituv N., et al. 2007. Deletion of ultraconserved elements yields viable mice. PLoS Biology 5(9):1906–1911. Return to text.
- Gross, L. 2007. Are “Ultraconserved” genetic elements really indispensable? PLoS Biology 5(9):1839. Return to text.
- Zerjal, T., et al. 2003. The genetic legacy of the mongols. Am. J. Hum. Genet. 72:717–721. See also “Genghis Khan a Prolific Lover, DNA Data Implies” at http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/02/0214_030214_genghis.html. Return to text.