This Creationist Breakdown comes from a website I haven’t yet had the chance to rebut material from: the True.Origins archive. True.Origins is a creationist response to the pro-evolution website Talk.Origins, and contains many “refutations” of the articles posted there. Today’s source material is one such article, responding to Mark Isaak’s “Five Major Misconceptions”. This is a long, long piece of writing, and as such, I’m going to be splitting this breakdown into five parts, so as to make sure you don’t die of boredom/starvation (depending on how riveting you find my writing).
“Five Major Evolutionist Misconceptions about Evolution” is written by Timothy Wallace, who, as far as I can tell, is a popular creationist author with no credentials in evolutionary biology. I’m not completely certain he doesn’t have a Ph.D. in population genetics, but I’m pretty sure that if he did, it would be plastered at the front of every article he’s ever written, and he would be referred to as “the Jesus-loving Evolution Expert” instead of just “T. Wallace”. Not conclusive proof, I know, but close enough.
Part 1 of this breakdown focuses on the first “Evolutionist Misconception about Evolution” that Timothy addresses: ‘Evolution has never been observed’.
Isaak oversimplifies the whole notion of evolutionary change by telling us that, “Biologists define evolution as a change in the gene pool of a population over time. One example is insects developing a resistance to pesticides over the period of a few years. Even most Creationists recognize that evolution at this level is a fact. What they don’t appreciate is that this rate of evolution is all that is required to produce the diversity of all living things from a common ancestor.”
Evolution or Variation?
Isaak here conveniently fails to mention whether by “change in a gene pool over time” he means exactly that (i.e., genetic variation, which is often called “micro-evolution”), or whether he means “macro-evolution”—which is something entirely different.
The postulation of “macro-evolution” (i.e., the emergence of entirely new and more “advanced” features through innumerable, completely new genetically-defined traits) is not to be confused with genetic variation (i.e., “micro-evolution”), which is the appearance and/or disappearance of existing and/or potential genetic traits through recombination of existing genetic code. Proponents of evolutionism often fail to note the important difference between these two, simply calling them both “evolution,” and thereby deliberately blurring the distinction between them.
No, we don’t call them both evolution to “deliberately” blur the distinction: we do it because it is true. There is really no important difference between what Timothy describes as macro- and micro-evolution, because when you get down to it, the genome is really just a bunch of nucleotides. Technically, a “completely new trait” formed by gene duplication is really just a modification of an existing gene, but allowed to co-exist with the original gene through a mistake in the copying process. When you look at it the right way, the genome is simply a malleable collection of genes held together due only to past evolutionary pressures. It can change on a whim, and it draws no special distinctions between what is “new” and what is simply a small change to what was there before.
Timothy is trying to forge an artificial line in the sand by partitioning macro- and micro-evolution off from each other, trying to find some place to insert a creative, supernatural force. But one just doesn’t exist. Change is change, and small changes will lead to the “large” changes that he says are necessary for evolution to progress.
Genetic variation is a common phenomenon, perpetually manifesting itself as extant dominant and recessive genetic traits “appear” and “vanish” in successive generations within a population of organisms. A population’s adaptation through genetic variation is as much a fact of biological life as are genes themselves. Though some evolutionists like to call this phenomenon “micro-evolution,” the variations dictated by any gene pool are neither “new” traits, nor qualitative “changes” in the gene pool (as required for “macro-evolution”); their potential is already well-defined within the DNA of the population’s gene pool, and all possible changes (i.e., variations) within that population are limited specifically to those inherent traits.
I’m confused. Tim, just a few sentences back, used the term “micro-evolution” to refer to genetic variation, but now he’s leveling a charge against evolutionists, saying that they use the term dishonestly to refer to genetic variation? Hmm.
Yes, okay, changes in allele frequencies within a gene pool cannot produce the kind of changes where an organism grows wings, but what does that prove? It just proves that those changes are not produced via that method.That’s not a criticism of evolution, that’s a misunderstanding.
Evolutionists have no basis for extrapolating the concept of genetic variation into Isaak’s claim that a particular “rate” of genetic variation “is all that is required to produce [(macro-)evolution] from a common ancestor.” Isaak apparently wants us to join him in simplistically believing that because a population’s gene pool will display a variety of existing genetic content, therefore over time these organisms must somehow also “evolve” into new and different kinds of organisms by producing unequivocally new and meaningful genetic content. This is wishful thinking, a leap of faith—not science, and the facts of genetic science simply don’t corroborate Isaak’s story.
Yes, Timothy is right. Changes in allele frequencies, like I said before, will not produce large-scale morphological changes. But changing allele frequencies are not the method proposed to explain the evolution of such changes, and so Tim’s point is useless. Perhaps Isaak should have phrased what he was saying better, so that Tim would have a harder time misunderstanding what he was saying. Gene duplications can easily produce new genetic information, enough to mold morphologies and produce new organs. There are many gene families that show very specific signs of having evolved from a single ancestor gene through gene duplications, such as the Homeobox family (controls animal body plans), the G-protein family (involved in intracellular messaging cascades) and the MYB family (controls plant development).
As for Isaak’s “example” of insects and pesticide resistance, this author knows of no work in genetics that has conclusively shown such changes to be anything more than the natural adaptive variation (described above) arising from the existing genetic potential already present in the population’s existing pool. Again, adaptive (and even non-adaptive) variations abound in the natural world, but they are not the genuine gene pool changes (i.e., additions of unequivocally new and meaningful genetic information) required by true evolutionary theory.
Timothy, you’re not looking very hard. Search for “gene duplication” on PubMed, and you’ll find thousands of papers detailing experiments where gene duplications were studied in detail. These events create new genetic information, there’s no way around it. My favourite study of the ones I could be bothered reading, as there were so many, was this one: Aneuploidy underlies rapid adaptive evolution of yeast cells deprived of a conserved cytokinesis motor. Basically, yeast cells that had a vital gene deleted (one required for cytokinesis, a part of cell division), evolved a new pathway to account for the loss.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, Timothy, that the evolved trait wasn’t “new”, as the yeast cells had it before. Well, you’re technically right, in so far that the yeast aren’t really evolving into anything different: they’re still functioning the same way. However, the yeast did not have a particular function (efficient cytokinesis), and they evolved it through gene duplication! It may as well have been a new trait, if you think about it. What’s so different between evolving efficient cytokinesis and evolving some other trait?
In genetic and evolutionary research, it is common to delete a gene and see how the organism can evolve that function again, as it is much easier to create a selective pressure by removing a necessary gene than think up a selective environment (unless of course you wanted to research such a thing, like the Lenski E.coli study).
Dobzhansky’s Fruit Flies
Isaak continues: “The origin of new species by evolution has also been observed, both in the laboratory and in the wild…” He then directs us to:
- the work of Theodosius Dobzhansky et al. (involving the deliberate, radiation-induced mutation of fruit flies in the laboratory), and
- the “Observed Instances of Speciation” FAQ in the talk.origins archives.
As for Dobzhansky’s fruit fly experiments, it should be pointed out that an example of a laboratory-induced physiological change in a specimen—even though it involves genetic change—can hardly be considered proof that NATURAL evolution occurs, since the change did not take place without the deliberate, intelligence-driven activity of man.
What, do you think that the scientists had control over which nucleotides the radiation was going to alter? Of course not. Mutagenic radiation is random, and that is why it was used in the experiments. Now, if the scientists had specifically transformed the fruit flies to have certain traits, then Timothy’s criticism would hold. But, come on, no geneticist in their right mind would think that selectively altering the genomes of fruit flies and observing the speciation that took place as a result of that would be a good study.
Furthermore, a genetic, mutational change alone, while it may qualify (in a broad sense) as evolution (“micro-evolution”), does not demonstrate evolution per se: Evolution does not require mere change, but progressive change (i.e., from simple to complex, from one organism to another organism—an increase in both quantity and quality of genetic information).
Firstly, let me say that the way that Timothy just described evolutionary progress is patently false. Evolution doesn’t require “an increase in both quantity and quality of genetic information”: how do you assess the “quality” of a genome objectively? Evolution is merely adaptation to the environment, and that can involve getting simpler, getting more complex, certain traits becoming simpler or more complex etc. It is not a ladder, it is a tree, with each branch in its own microcosm of selective pressures.
Secondly, what does Timothy mean, “a genetic, mutational change alone”? What other type of change does he want, a spiritual one? An economic one? Does he even understand that evolution progresses only through genetic change?
Thirdly, speciation is the first step on the road to a new genus, a new family, a new order. Once a population splits in two, more radical changes can take place that can separate them even further from each other, the kind of changes that Timothy seems to want: morphological, large biochemical etc.
In Dobzhansky’s work, numerous varieties resulted from radiation bombardment: fruit flies with extra wings, fruit flies with no wings, fruit flies with huge wings, fruit flies with tiny wings… In the end, however, they were all … fruit flies!
Yes, they were all fruit flies: nobody expected anything different! However, given enough time, the newly-created species of fruit fly would eventually have evolved into various different creatures, as long as there were sufficient selective pressures for certain traits.
For example, if there were selective pressures on some flies for larger wings and selective pressures on others for smaller wings, you would start to observe the divergent evolution of two populations of flies towards different sizes of wings. If they were kept genetically separate for a long enough period of time, and their environments were different enough, they would eventually speciate. After another period of time, the two populations might stop resembling fruit flies: gene duplications may lead to extra wings, specialised leg variants for any number of functions, new sensory organs, new internal organs etc. Dobzhansky’s work was simply the first step in the evolutionary process that Timothy so desperately wants to see.
Unfortunately for creationists, the scientific community doesn’t have the time to sit around in labs for thousands of years waiting for really novel features to evolve in model organisms. So I guess they’ll never get enough proof of “macro-evolution” to sate their needs.
Dobzhansky meddled with the genetic code of an organism and effected changes on the organism’s offspring. Nearly all of the changes were detrimental to survival, and none of them resulted in an advantage over other fruit flies.
Mmm, that’s because the experiment was a proof-of-concept! The reason the mutant flies didn’t have an advantage over the wild type (normal) flies was that no special selective pressures were introduced to favour any of the mutants. In the flies’ natural environment, mutations like the ones induced in the lab by radiation happen all the time, but the selective pressures are changing constantly. This produces the “natural selection/mutation” combo that is the cornerstone of evolutionary change.
But I don’t see what your problem is, Timothy! You admitted earlier that natural selection does happen, so why the dismissive tone with Dobzhansky’s research? It’s a bit inconsistent.
The “Observed Instances FAQ”
As for the “Observed Instances of Speciation” FAQ (the reading of which is encouraged by this writer), after one goes to the trouble of digesting all the preliminary verbiage, all the “speciation” examples given fall into one of two categories:
- “new” species that are “new” to man, but whose “newness” remains equivocal in light of observed genetic “variation” vs. genetic “change” (as discussed above), and/or because a species of unknown age is being observed by man for the first time.
- “new” species whose appearance was deliberately and artificially brought about by the efforts of intelligent human manipulation, and whose status as new “species” remain unequivocally consequential to laboratory experiments rather than natural processes.
In neither of the above examples cited by Isaak was the natural (i.e., unaided) generation of a new species accomplished or observed, in which an unequivocally “new” trait was obtained (i.e., new genetic information created) and carried forward within a population of organisms. In other words, these are not examples of macro-evolutionary speciation—they are examples of human discovery and/or genetic manipulation and/or natural genetic recombination. They serve to confirm the observable nature of genetic variation, while saying absolutely nothing in support of Darwinian “macro-evolution,” which postulates not just variations within a type of organism but the emergence of entirely new organisms.
Before I get into what Timothy said, let me just remind you that Answers in Genesis, yes, that’s right, the main players in the young earth creationist movement, accepts the fact that natural speciation occurs: they need it to explain the diversity of life after Noah’s Ark unloaded. Yes, Answers in Genesis agrees with the science more on this issue than Timothy does. Is that saying something, or am I just crazy?
Okay. So, for the first category of speciation, Timothy is taking issue with the fact that we didn’t see the speciation event taking place. Direct speciation can be inferred from genetic data, comparing certain parts of the genome of one organism to respective parts in the genome of another organism. Since common ancestry is the only known way by which genetic information can be similar between two organisms, and the amount of similarity decreases with time after the speciation event, the amount of time that has passed since speciation can be calculated. Because of this, not actually seeing the speciation taking place is not a hindrance.
I can hear it now: “But you’re just assuming the similarities between the organisms is due to common descent! What about the organisms being designed that way?” Well, my creationist (or humorously-sadistic) friend, the “design hypothesis” is unscientific, as it cannot be falsified or tested. As such, it fits any data pattern that we might come across, and is practically useless in terms of explanatory power. I might as well say that satanic elves make photosynthesis work.
For the second category of speciation, Timothy is completely missing the point. Laboratory experiments basically recreate natural environments, just with unnatural selective pressures. But does this mean the results are somehow invalid? No, of course not! Selective pressures are selective pressures, no matter if they are from the decreasing average air temperature of your habitat or the fact that a man with a white lab coat puts an air conditioner in your enclosure. Of course, nobody is saying that human-induced speciation is a part of natural evolutionary processes, but, again, it is a proof of concept. What can happen in a lab can happen in the wild (and you know what I’m talking about, don’t misquote me or distort what what I said).
As for your repeated insistence of evidence of a “new trait” being evolved, Timothy, I refer you to my previous example, the Aneuploidy underlies rapid adaptive evolution of yeast cells deprived of a conserved cytokinesis motor paper.
Definitions of “species” and (therefore) “speciation” remain many and varied, and by most modern definitions, certain changes within organism populations do indeed qualify as “speciation events”—yet even after many decades of study, there remains no solid evidence that an increase in both quality and quantity of genetic information (as required for a macro-evolutionary speciation event) has happened or could happen.
I’ve already dealt with the whole “increase in quality and quantity of genetic information” nonsense, and I will, again, point you to the yeast study. It has everything you want, Timothy.
Bold Claims vs. Empirical Science
Even so, Isaak insists that “it would be wrong to say that evolution hasn’t been observed. Evidence isn’t limited to seeing something happen before your eyes. Evolution makes predictions about what we would expect to see in the fossil record, comparative anatomy, genetic sequences, geographical distribution of species, etc., and these predictions have been verified many times over. The number of observations supporting evolution is overwhelming.”
Isaak’s impressive confidence seems to be based in part on his inability to differentiate between “observing” an event and “interpreting evidence” to support a hypothesized event. Even so, the empirical data largely fails to support his claims. The fact is, evolution has NOT been observed, and its chief proponents don’t deny this. Furthermore, contrary to Isaak’s assertion, evolution’s predictions regarding the fossil record, anatomy, genetics, and biogeography have NOT been verified with “overwhelming” support, contrary to Isaak’s bold claims, but are more often challenged by the facts, as we shall see.
Timothy just “refuted” what I would have said to him. Well done.
Tim, you don’t need to “observe” an event to know it happened. Take forensic science for example. Do the forensics team need to see the murder taking place to know that it happened? Do they have to look the murderer in the eye in order to know who it was? Of course not: they look at indirect evidence that fits a hypothesis about what happened. If the hypothesis predicts exactly what happened at the crime scene, there’s a high likelihood that it happened that way.
Evolution has many lines of indirect evidence that it occurred in the past: the fossil record, genetic similarities, everything Mark Isaak said in the above quote. Tim just wants to dismiss all of that, but he has no reason to. All the evidence clearly points to evolution. How can he deny it all? I’m really not sure. We’ll find out soon, I think.
And in fact, using Isaak’s own logic in fairness to the Creationists whom he wishes to discredit, one can just as easily (and much more accurately) state: “It would be wrong to say that creation hasn’t been observed. Evidence isn’t limited to seeing something happen before your eyes. Creationism makes predictions about what we would expect to see in the fossil record, comparative anatomy, genetic sequences, geographical distribution of species, etc., and these predictions have been verified many times over. The number of observations supporting Creationism is overwhelming.”
Yes, you could say that if you wanted to: but you’d be completely wrong, of course. None of that data supports creationism. Just show me the way it all fits together under a Grand Unified Theory of Biblical Supernaturalism, I dare you. Oh, and make it scientific, please. No “Goddiditthatway”, if you don’t mind.
There is an abundance of material, published by evolutionists and non-evolutionists alike, affirming that Isaak’s claims regarding genetics and “observed” evolution are based more in dogmatic “interpretation” than in a scientific, objective approach to empirical data. Two balanced, objective, scientific treatments of the subject by non-Creationists are:
– Denton, M. Evolution: A Theory In Crisis. Adler & Adler, Bethesda, MD. 1985. ISBN 0-917561-05-8 – Behe, M. J. Darwin’s Black Box. The Free Press, New York, NY. 1996. ISBN 0-684-82754-9
Michael Denton was one of the first Intelligent Design proponents, and helped start the movement. However, he now accepts evolutionary theory as being true. I must, therefore, assume that the arguments he made in his book weren’t even convincing enough to sway the author. Hmm.
Micheal Behe, on the other hand, is a creationist. Well, he’s an ID proponent, but that’s close enough, given what the Discovery Institute is like. His book, “Darwin’s Black Box”, has been debunked and refuted so many times it’s not even funny anymore. Actually, I’m lying: it is.
There are no real, scientific arguments against evolution, just like there are no real, secular arguments again homosexuality. Creationism and homophobia are both rooted in religion. There is no way around this.
“The central question of the Chicago conference was whether the mechanisms underlying microevolution can be extrapolated to explain the phenomena of macroevolution. At the risk of doing violence to the positions of some of the people at the meeting, the answer can be given as a clear No.”
[As reported by Roger Lewin (evolutionist), “Evolutionary theory under fire,” Science, vol. 210 (4472), 21 November 1980, p. 883]
This article exists on the web if you want to read it: you can find it here. Have a look, use the Find tool in your browser, and find the quote in the article. Read it, then read past it. You see that? Oh yes, it’s a quote-mine.
Roger Lewin’s article is about, strangely enough, the controversy (at the time) surrounding punctuated equilibrium, not whether evolution is true or not. Don’t you just love quote-mining? I know I don’t. Dishonesty and ignorance know no purer form.
That about does it for the first part of this article. Come back next time for Timothy’s take on the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Should be fun.