Ian Musgrave posted Entry 291 on June 22, 2004 08:32 AM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/290

William Dembski has just posted an essay on human origins on www.designinference.com. If there was any doubt that the Intelligent Design movement was about religious belief rather than science, this essay dispels that doubt.

In this rather peculiar essay, he makes it quite clear that “Design theorists” reject the idea that humans evolved from a common ancestor with apes.

I could go on at some length on the numerous mistakes Dembski makes in biology in this essay. I will limit myself to just one area, the genetic similarity between humans and chimps. Dembski has a problem with the 98% similarity between Chimpanzee and human DNA, (actually, it is closer to 99.2%, when data from the human genome and chimp genome projects are compared.) and he goes out of his way to try and minimize the impact of this, revealing his deep misunderstanding of biology in the process.

Dembski wrote:

Consider, further, that chimpanzees (like the other apes) have 48 chromosomes whereas humans have only 46 chromosomes…

Yes, consider it. This is presumably meant to throw doubt on the 98% figure, because gee, humans have lost a pair of chromosomes compared to chimps. But we have 46 chromosomes because two chromosomes that are separate in chimpanzees are fused in humans. This doesn’t affect the similarity of our DNA one bit.

Then, after a far too long section of alternate versions of a Hamlet soliloquy, he makes this remarkable statement.

Dembski wrote:

The similarity between human and chimpanzee DNA is nothing like the similarity between these two versions of Hamlet’s soliloquy. With the two versions of Hamlet’s soliloquy, we’ve lined up the entire texts sequentially. By contrast, when molecular biologists line up human and chimpanzee DNA, they are matching arbitrarily chosen segments of DNA. It’s like going through the works of William Shakespeare and John Milton, and finding that 98 percent of the words and short phrases they used can be lined up letter for letter and therefore are the same.

Ahh, no its not. Its more like comparing two different editions of the complete works of Shakespeare and finding that 98% of the proof text is identical. Remember, we now have the first draft of the complete chimpanzee genome to compare to the human genome. We have virtually the same genes, in the same order and locations, with only minor sequence differences between human and chimp genes On chromosome 22, of the 231 genes identified, 179 show a coding sequence of identical length in human and chimpanzee and exhibit similar intron-exon boundaries. For those 179 genes, the average nucleotide and amino acid identity in the coding region is 99.29% and 99.18%, respectively. Of these, 39 genes show an identical amino acid sequence between human and chimpanzee, including seven in which the nucleotide sequence of the coding region is also identical (see the recently published chromosome 22 gene sequence. It is not the arbitrary mish-mash that Dembski portrays.

Note also that Dembski doesn’t mention the shared errors between humans and chimps, like the shared broken ascorbic acid gene, or the bits of shared broken viruses that litter human and chimp genes, that provide compelling evidence of shared ancestry.

Aside from his continued misunderstanding of biology demonstrated in this essay, which would take a long essay to deal with (his misundersatnding of the implications of altered gene expression paterns alone is worth an entire essay), his essay shows that the intelligent design movement is essentially a religious movement.

Dembski wrote:

Design theorists have yet to reach a consensus on these matters [whether humans are redesigned apes or built from scratch]. Nevertheless, they have reached a consensus about the indispensability of intelligence in human origins. In particular, they argue that an evolutionary process unguided by intelligence cannot adequately account for the remarkable intellectual gifts of a William James Sidis or the remarkable moral goodness of a Mother Teresa.

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Comment #4056

Posted by ~DS~ on June 22, 2004 8:55 AM (e)

Dembski is sounding more and more like a raving YEC Evangelist. Quote mining, egregious arguments he surely has to know are shakey, to say the least, etc.
I don’t think he cares.

FYI-to the PT mods. The comment entry window is stretching off the screen to the right. It jumps back when you try to stretch the screen to accomodate it, but then returns to the stretched out window upon the first character entered. I can’t even see the end of this sentence as I type it, it’s a foot or more off the creen to the right.

Comment #4057

Posted by Les Lane on June 22, 2004 9:10 AM (e)

The essay is apologetics at its most transparent. His arguments on DNA sequence similarity are a “difference in kind and not merely a difference in degree”.

Comment #4060

Posted by Ed Darrell on June 22, 2004 9:34 AM (e)

I have a question about our shared-with-chimps inability to synthesize vitamin C: Do gorillas and orangutans also lack the ability to synthesize ascorbic acid? Other primates?

Comment #4062

Posted by Ian Menzies on June 22, 2004 9:54 AM (e)

I have a question about our shared-with-chimps inability to synthesize vitamin C: Do gorillas and orangutans also lack the ability to synthesize ascorbic acid? Other primates?

All primates have a broken ascorbic acid gene. Gunea pigs also lack the ability to make their own vitamin C, but this is (iirc) just a coincidence.

Comment #4065

Posted by Frank Schmidt on June 22, 2004 10:46 AM (e)

Dembski says:

In particular, they argue that an evolutionary process unguided by intelligence cannot adequately account for the remarkable intellectual gifts of a William James Sidis

So I looked up William James Sidis, and found this quote from Robert Pirsig:

It was about a child prodigy who had possibly the highest intelligence ever observed, and who in his later life went nowhere.

A metaphor perhaps??

Comment #4068

Posted by Dave S on June 22, 2004 12:31 PM (e)

Ian wrote:

All primates have a broken ascorbic acid gene. Gunea pigs also lack the ability to make their own vitamin C, but this is (iirc) just a coincidence.

The broken gene in question is one responsible for the formation of L-gulono-gamma-lactone oxidase. The reason for the defect is different between primates and the guinea pig, just as you’d expect.

See:

Nishikimi M, Kawai T, Yagi K. (1992) Guinea pigs possess a highly mutated gene for L-gulono-gamma-lactone oxidase, the key enzyme for L-ascorbic acid biosynthesis missing in this species. J Biol Chem. Vol 267(30):21967-21972.

and,

Nishikimi, M.; Fukuyama, R.; Minoshima, S.; Shimizu, N.; Yagi, K. (1994) Cloning and chromosomal mapping of the human nonfunctional gene for L-gulono-gamma-lactone oxidase, the enzyme for L-ascorbic acid biosynthesis missing in man.
J. Biol. Chem. Vol 269: 13685-13688.

Comment #4070

Posted by Jack Shea on June 22, 2004 12:58 PM (e)

…the 98% similarity between Chimpanzee and human DNA, (actually, it is closer to 99.2%, when data from the human genome and chimp genome projects are compared.

Wow. That is incredible. What then explains the phenomenal differences between humans and chimps? It obviously isn’t down to DNA. Do we know what the 0.8% that is unique to us produces?

Even more incredible:

“There’s a young student at this university,” says Lorber, “who has an IQ of 126, has gained a first-class honors degree in mathematics, and is socially completely normal. And yet the boy has virtually no brain.”

Surely impossible.

Comment #4072

Posted by Erin on June 22, 2004 1:05 PM (e)

While I agree that there are mistakes in Dembski’s paper, it is sort of misleading to emphasize that fact that we share 99.2% of our genetic material with chimps. We share 33% with daffodils, but no one ever uses that in argumentation. I am not saying that I deny that we share 99.2% of our genetic material with chimps, I am just saying that the statement lacks perspective and it isn’t really the most convincing. I think the most convincing arguement that humans and chimps share ancestory is the fact that we both have identical genetic errors. The probability of us both having these errors independent of each other is ridiculously small. It’s hard to argue with a fact like that.

Comment #4073

Posted by Joe Shelby on June 22, 2004 1:07 PM (e)

I also wonder if the Sidis example, along side Mother Theresa, was an attempt to try to take religion back out of it so his discussion wouldn’t seem religiously biased on first glance. Sidis himself was a staunch athiest, according to one biography site. (MT herself really was little more than an extreme case of perserverance and willpower, not anything directly “miraculous” nor a type of person that needed to be “designed” – statistics could show that type of person as being quite common throughout history. Religion may be the most common originator for an individual’s drive for positive societal change, but its hardly the only one.)

Also, I do note a tendency for IDers to only accentuate the positive. They talk about the complexity of aspects of life, like the human immune system, and yet do not talk about the flaws in it that make it dangerous to the host human, such as MS or Leukemia. Similarly, the blog-clotting system often gets a mention, without discussion of how it is responsible for heart attacks and strokes in otherwise utterly healthy people.

So not mentioning the flaws at the genome level is just part of a larger picture of ignoring the flaws of all biology in favor of a 18th century image of catagorical, idealistic perfection (which itself was inherited by the 18th century fascination with greek philosophy), all part of some overall vision of undoing the entire 19th century of science and thought (vis a vie associating Darwin with Freud and Marx which is a common writing among anti-evolutionists).

Such a vision itself is flawed, as it doesn’t recognize the aspects of the works of Freud and Marx that were in fact scientifically or sociologically correct, such as Freud’s emphasis on physiological or developmental conditions being a source of abnormal behaviour rather than “Demons”, or Marx’s analysis of the flaws of unfettered capitalism as demonstrated in the events leading up to the great depression or in the current state of small-town america being destroyed by the rise of the walmarts.

In the end, therefore, ID remains unscientific, since it filters out which data it wants to consider for supporting its hypotheses, rather than developing a hypothesis that fits all of the data.

Not that you all didn’t already know that. :)

Comment #4074

Posted by Ian Menzies on June 22, 2004 1:37 PM (e)

http://www.gate.net/~rwms/hum_ape_chrom_2.gif

Wow. Can we force those who doubt the close relationship between humans and apes to wear t-shirts with this picture on it? Heck, can I get this on a t-shirt to wear for myself?

Comment #4075

Posted by Reed A. Cartwright on June 22, 2004 1:44 PM (e)

Wow. Can we force those who doubt the close relationship between humans and apes to wear t-shirts with this picture on it? Heck, can I get this on a t-shirt to wear for myself?

I see your one chromosome and I raise you an entire genome.

http://webpages.charter.net/rufusatticus/YunisFig2.GIF

Comment #4076

Posted by gbusch on June 22, 2004 1:47 PM (e)

“Similarly, the blog-clotting system often gets a mention, without discussion of how it is responsible for heart attacks and strokes in otherwise utterly healthy people.

Wow! These website renovations really are serious! ;)

Comment #4078

Posted by M_M on June 22, 2004 2:08 PM (e)

Chimps are not like humans

Comment #4079

Posted by Reed A. Cartwright on June 22, 2004 2:30 PM (e)

From the commentary that goes along with the Nature paper,

By lining up chimp chromosome 22 and human chromosome 21 and comparing them nucleotide by nucleotide, the consortium found instances in which one nucleotide was substituted for another in only about 1.44% of the sequence. The chimpanzee chromosome has been sequenced to an accuracy of less than one error in 104 bases, so sequencing mistakes account for less than 1% of the observed single-nucleotide mismatches. There is also an impressive number (68,000) of small to large stretches of DNA that have been either gained or lost (these are called “insertions or deletions”, “indels” for short) in one species or the other….

Given the broad similarities between chimps and humans, many researchers thought that changes that alter amino-acid sequences would not be very frequent. Surprisingly, however, the consortium found that sequence differences in the protein-coding regions of genes are not a great deal less common than in non-coding genomic regions. But some of the affected genes might be pseudogenes — defective copies of functional genes — that have arisen recently. And, among 231 presumably functional genes that could be compared between chimps and humans, 179 have protein-coding regions of identical length; 140 of the predicted encoded proteins would differ by one amino acid or more, but probably with little or no functional impact. Of the other 52 genes, however, 47 show more significant structural changes.

Weisenbach (2004) Nature 429: pp352-353

Comment #4080

Posted by ck on June 22, 2004 2:44 PM (e)

Dembski points out that whenever one explains how a piece of evidence is consistant with the evolutionary hypothesis, one is “presupposing evolution”. Thus refuting all arguments in favor of evolution. Not a bad trick.

Comment #4081

Posted by Charles Winder on June 22, 2004 3:18 PM (e)

Next Dembski will start complaining that there aren’t enough “transitional” sequences between lineages.

Comment #4082

Posted by Jim Anderson on June 22, 2004 3:25 PM (e)

Dembski might also reconsider the “remarkable moral goodness of a Mother Teresa,” if this piece by Christopher Hitchens is to be believed.

http://slate.msn.com/id/2090083

As Hitchens, in his usual, irascible way, puts it:

“She was a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud, and a church that officially protects those who violate the innocent has given us another clear sign of where it truly stands on moral and ethical questions.”

Comment #4084

Posted by steve on June 22, 2004 4:48 PM (e)

Among the catholics, being only “a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud” makes her pretty upstanding.

Comment #4090

Posted by Dave on June 22, 2004 5:43 PM (e)

Oh no! John Bracht is a very intelligent compatriot of mine at UCSD. It’s rather distressing to see his name acknowledged on Dembski’s work. Bracht does some great stuff with C. elegans and never fails to make an insightful comment. Dembski’s paper fall far short of what I’d expect from his support.

The part about ethics really frosted me–Dembski first states the selfish gene ideas, which describe people like Mother Teresa as the product of a population that has been bred to contain a proportion of population-serving individuals. But, then, without telling us, he reverses course and says explicitly that evolutionary theories would regard Mother Teresa as a freak of nature.

Let me apply some evolutionary psychology to Dembski: there’s always a certain tolerance for cheaters in the population. People like Dembski can go around telling others what they want to hear (that is, Dembski is cheating) and the thing that will ultimately limit such behavior is its own detrimental effects on the populations that allow it. There was a really bad example of that in Stalinist Russia, as I read about on this site a while back…

Dave

Comment #4091

Posted by Frank J on June 22, 2004 5:52 PM (e)

This is over the top even for Dembski!

No one can really tell what someone truly believes, of course, especially if that someone is as liberal with the English language as Dembski. So with all due respect to those of you who think that Dembski is a closet YEC or OEC, I still think that he privately accepts evolution, in its scientific definition if not his fantasy one that “explicitly rules out intelligence.” At the very least he accepts common descent, despite this masterpiece of misrepresentation (note his “yet to reach a consensus” admission in the conclusion). What he wants his audience to conclude is, of course, another thing entirely.

As of his April 2004 debate with Niall Shanks, Dembski still maintained that Michael Behe accepted common decent, and as usual gave no clue to his own position. He did allude to the tired old Cambrian explosion incredulity argument, but that has no bearing on human/chimp common ancestry (other than to fool the audience). In the past Dembski has exploited the fact that Behe knows more biology than he does. Now that he is playing the Phillip Johnson outsider role and second-guessing Behe, he needs to do one or more of the following:

1. Challenge Behe directly on common descent. Caveat: The Discovery Institute has been under increasing pressure to come up with a model, and common descent simply will not do with the literalist audiences, so it’s possible that Behe may be forced to recant soon if he hasn’t already.

2. Come up with compelling positive evidence of independent abiogenesis for one or both lineages. After all, we still need to know how the designer did it if not by speciation.

3. Admit that the essay is just a “devil’s advocate” exercise, and that the implied alternative - independent abiogenesis - is the real extraordinary claim – with or without a designer.

Comment #4095

Posted by Jack Shea on June 22, 2004 7:04 PM (e)

Why so much sneering and sarcasm? Is it because a remarkably non-human chimp has entered the room and no one knows what to say to him?

This is kind of interesting. Hot news in fact. And on one chromosome. What will the others tell us? Our common ancestor was a daffodil?

The results reported this week showed that “83% of the genes have changed between the human and the chimpanzee—only 17% are identical—so that means that the impression that comes from the 1.2% [sequence] difference is [misleading]. In the case of protein structures, it has a big effect,” Sakaki said.

The researchers report in Nature1 that many of the differences were within genes, the regions of DNA that code for proteins. 83% of the 231 genes compared had differences that affected the amino acid sequence of the protein they encoded. And 20% showed “significant structural changes”.

You guys are up against a wall and your dull retorts are running out of steam. Well at least this proves that DNA does have some function. I was beginning to wonder what could have been in that 0.8%.

Thanks M_M for shedding some light on why we are so different from our cousins. I don’t think Reed’s apology diminishes the impact of this piece of research.

Wow! Send me my chimp T-shirt!

Comment #4097

Posted by steve on June 22, 2004 7:11 PM (e)

Well at least this proves that DNA does have some function.

I’m suspicious that this guy is a real creationist. Is anybody really this clueless?

Comment #4099

Posted by Bob Maurus on June 22, 2004 9:28 PM (e)

Jack,

Exactly what light did M_M shed? “Chimps are not like humans” is hardly an incisive comment.

I would suggest that an incisive comment might be, “Inanimate man-made contrivances are not biological organisms,” and further, that “Extrapolations cannot be made from the former to the latter without a valid basis being first established.”

If you have a dispute with this, take your best shot.

Comment #4101

Posted by pennathur on June 22, 2004 9:51 PM (e)

So Dembski is now taking on the ultimate icon- human evolution(I wonder why not primate evolution as a whole? maybe his reading assistants didn’t have enough time to write up crib sheets and flash cards?) This essay is sloppy even considering Dembski’s abysmal standards. If Dembski wants to offer up a serious critique of evolution by examining the case of a certain religious “mercy worker” he should spend time reading Hitchens on the lady. There’s an even better account of the miracle work and saint in waiting - Read it at www.meteorbooks.com. The author Aroup Chatterjee was one of the producers of the Channel 4 documentary that Hitchens hosted.
Aetheists and secular humanists have as a class exhibited genuine altruism when compared religious extremists. One has to only compare Bertrand Russel to his intellectual inferior CS Lewis. As Jeffrey Shallit puts it if (anyone) compared Russel to Lewis even in imaginary debate, Russel would clean out Lewis’s clock! Wonder what produces outstanding intellectuals like Russel? Maybe intelligent design works sometimes after all!

Comment #4102

Posted by RBH on June 22, 2004 9:56 PM (e)

Dave wrote

Oh no! John Bracht is a very intelligent compatriot of mine at UCSD. It?s rather distressing to see his name acknowledged on Dembski?s work. Bracht does some great stuff with C. elegans and never fails to make an insightful comment. Dembski’s paper fall far short of what I’d expect from his support.

See his collaboration with Dembski on a supposed model of evolutionary processes here: http://www.iscid.org/mesa/mesa-overview.php. Then consult someone who knows anything at all at a professional level about GAs to comment on “MESA,” claimed by Dembski to be a useful simulation tool generated by IDists. See Bracht’s posting describing what he thinks MESA means for biology here: http://www.iscid.org/boards/ubb-get_topic-f-6-t-000061.html. Note especially the sentence

The MESA program is a generic model of an evolutionary process, and grants the evolutionary process the best possible fitness function: one that is smooth, and gradually slopes up to a single, unique, global optimum. (Emphasis added)

Ask your friendly neighborhood evolutionary computing expert how well MESA, which is a primitive child’s toy of a GA, represents “a generic model of an evolutionary process.” Hell, I wrote a more sophisticated genetic algorithm on a TI-99/4A nearly 20 years ago. But see what Dembski claims for it:

Evolutionary computation occurs in the behavioral repertoire of organisms but is also used to account for the origination of certain features of organisms. It would be helpful to explore the relationship between these two types of evolutionary computation as well as any design intrinsic to them. My work in chapter 4 of No Free Lunch lays out some of the theoretical groundwork here. Besides theoretical work in this area, we need a large contingent of ID computer programmers who can write and run computational simulations that investigate the scope and limits of evolutionary computation. One such simulation is the MESA program (Monotonic Evolutionary Simulation Algorithm) due to Micah Sparacio, John Bracht, and me. (http://acs.ucsd.edu/~idea/idprospects.htm)

Bracht may be doing some fine work with C. elegans, but his work with evolutionary modeling leaves a good deal to be desired. Again, consult your friendly neighborhood GA expert for an opinion.

RBH

Comment #4104

Posted by Francis J. Beckwith on June 22, 2004 10:19 PM (e)

You guys are the experts. So, I write with deference to your wisdom. But it seems to me that comparing chimp DNA with human DNA assumes that DNA is the relevant common-property of comparison. But why choose DNA? Shouldn’t physics have a say in this? If so, then at the most basic level of material constituency, chimps and humans have 100% in common. But so does Britney Spears and the tree, materially speaking, of course.

Why choose biology over physics or cognitive psychology or philosophical anthropology?

Comment #4105

Posted by Francis J. Beckwith on June 22, 2004 10:22 PM (e)

You guys are the experts. So, I write with deference to your wisdom.

It seems to me that comparing chimp DNA with human DNA assumes that DNA is the relevant common-property of comparison. But why choose DNA? Shouldn’t physics have a say in this? If so, then at the most basic level of material constituency, chimps and humans have 100% in common. But so does Britney Spears and the tree, materially speaking, of course.

Why choose biology over physics or cognitive psychology or philosophical anthropology?

Comment #4111

Posted by Jack Shea on June 23, 2004 8:50 AM (e)

From the inimitable, ubiquitous Steve:

I’m suspicious that this guy is a real creationist. Is anybody really this clueless?

Steve, you keep reiterating that you have no truck with debating creationists but you keep coming back with inane personal attacks on me. What’s your point? If you want to discuss something, do it. If it’s not worth your time or attention, ignore it. Otherwise you’re just a pest and reduce yourself to appearing even more idiotic than me, something I assume would be anathema to you. I suggest some remedial reading lessons as a start and some basic lessons in literary comprehension.

Before I become as inane as you, let me take up your point and add that I am not a creationist in your reductio ad absurdum model of a creationist. My entire argument is framed within what I perceive as the inability of science to prove that living organisms arise or evolve by a process of spontaneous and random self-assembly. That’s it. When I see supposedly scientific minds insisting that random self-assembly is the cause and maintenance of all life, despite evidence to the contrary, I begin to smell what you call “creationism”, ie a belief system based not on fact but on history, majority consensus, preservation of hierarchies, etc. It’s intellectual laziness and there’s no place for that in science. I am an evolutionist in the sense that there is evidence that living organisms have changed radically over time. But the “missing link” I am looking for is not in transitional forms because I do not see the evidence indicating that species evolve into other species. The “missing link” I am looking for is the source of the information, genetically coded, which separates life from non-life and one species from another. Like many a poor soul I once took Darwin’s scenario as fact and as I have said I haven’t entirely shed the notion of evolution. Darwinism and neodarwinism had their place and set us thinking in the right direction about the origins of life, but they no longer stand up to what we know about living organisms. We have refined our empiricism but our ultimate conclusion has remained the same. We need new explanations of evolution which match, not ignore, the existing evidence.

Bob sez:

Exactly what light did M_M shed? “Chimps are not like humans” is hardly an incisive comment.

MM provided a link to an article originating in Nature which revealed that 83% of the genes in chimp chromosome 21 were different from orthologous human chromosome 22. This radically revises assumptions of chimp-human genetic identity based on the 99% parity in base pairs between chimps and humans. The article was in May 2004.

In his article Dembski criticizes evolutionists for stressing the similarities between apes and humans while ignoring or glossing over their preponderent differences. I agree with Dembski that the differences between apes and humans are much more marked than their similarities. The fact that this difference, until now, was not reflected in observed DNA differences between chimps and humans always puzzled me. But lo and behold, in its admirable pursuit of truth, science has now revealed that at the rock bottom level of our genetic constitution humans are indeed very different from chimpanzees.

But I quoted from the article and you ignored it. You guys want to wage war with straw men.

Comment #4112

Posted by Steve Reuland on June 23, 2004 8:51 AM (e)

Frank wrote:

It seems to me that comparing chimp DNA with human DNA assumes that DNA is the relevant  common-property of comparison.  But why choose DNA?  Shouldn’t physics have a say in this?  If so, then at the most basic level of material constituency, chimps and humans have 100% in common. 

Because DNA carries information and is a strong causal determinant of an organism’s phenotype. DNA is also heritable, being passed nearly identical (though not quite identical) from parent to offspring. The more basic materials that an organism is comprised of are not heritable, but become incorporated into the organism (and endlessly cycled through) because of its behavior and physiology, which themselves are specified by DNA.

It’s really that simple. DNA is what makes humans human, and chimps chimps. I’m oversimplifying of course, but that’s what it boils down to. Being made of carbon or containing lots of water is not what distinguishes one organism from another, nor does it even distinguish living from non-living.

Given how ID advocates fawn all over the incredible “information” contained within the genome, I’ve come to expect that most ID sympathizers believe DNA to have have special, almost magical properties. It’s very amusing to see its status downgraded to “expendable” as soon as we start comparing human and chimp sequences. I guess you use whatever works for the moment.

But so does Britney Spears and the tree, materially speaking, of course.

Being the die-hard Britney Spears fan you are, you should know that she contains a bit less cellulose than the average tree. Unless you know her more intimately than we do. :)

Why choose biology over physics or cognitive psychology or philosophical anthropology?

Why do you think a forensic pathologist uses DNA instead of congnitive psychology or philosophical anthropology to identify a murderer, or to determine paternity? You use the tool that’s appropriate for the question you’re trying to answer. And if the question is about biological relatedness, then you look at the DNA.

Comment #4114

Posted by Andrea Bottaro on June 23, 2004 8:55 AM (e)

It seems to me that comparing chimp DNA with human DNA assumes that DNA is the relevant common-property of comparison. But why choose DNA? Shouldn’t physics have a say in this? If so, then at the most basic level of material constituency, chimps and humans have 100% in common. But so does Britney Spears and the tree, materially speaking, of course.

Why choose biology over physics or cognitive psychology or philosophical anthropology?

Well, first of all the close relationship of chimpanzee and human was first inferred based on anatomical traits. Behavioral studies have also confirmed the close affinity of cognitive and behavioral processes in the two species.

Ultimately, however, since it was determined over half a century ago that DNA constitutes the material of genetic inheritance, it became possible to study genetic relationships based on DNA similarity. This applies at all levels: between individuals in a population, populations within a species, and species within larger taxononomic groups.

As for why not use “physics”, I guess “physics” is not a very discriminating parameter at this level: chimps, humans, plants and rocks are all have mass, are made of atoms, which are made of the same subatomic particles and are subject to the same physical laws. General chemistry is a little better, as you could relatively easily distinguish a rock from a living thing with a basic chemistry set. To distinguish plants from animals you’d need more sophisticated chemistry tools, and to distinguish humans from chimps you’d need very discriminating tools (eg, fine analysis of protein electrophoretic mobility, or better, such as DNA analysis). To distinguish Joe from his brother Jack, you would essentially need DNA analysis, or an approach of equivalent resolution power. This, of course assuming Joe and Jack are not identical twins (although I hear that even identical twins can in principle be unequivocally distinguished based on somatic mutation patterns).

Comment #4116

Posted by Bob Maurus on June 23, 2004 9:08 AM (e)

Jack,
You said “MM provided a link to an article originating in Nature which revealed that 83% of the genes in chimp chromosome 21 were different from orthologous human chromosome 22.” Not in this thread he/she didn’t - the post, in its entirety, was “Chimps are not like humans.”

Comment #4117

Posted by RBH on June 23, 2004 9:19 AM (e)

Bob Maurus wrote

Not in this thread he/she didn’t - the post, in its entirety, was “Chimps are not like humans.”

That sentence is a hyperlink.

RBH

Comment #4118

Posted by Russell on June 23, 2004 9:41 AM (e)

Oh Lord. He’s back - the Prince of Vagueness.

When I see supposedly scientific minds insisting that random self-assembly is the cause and maintenance of all life, despite evidence to the contrary

Which scientific minds are you talking about? Seems like a pretty cartoonish summary of what biology is really all about. So in this context, not surprisingly, “all evidence to the contrary” is pretty much devoid of meaning.

More vagueness:

You guys are up against a wall and your dull retorts are running out of steam.

What guys? What wall? What dull retorts?

On another note:

Even more incredible:
“…. And yet the boy has virtually no brain.” Surely impossible.

You’re right to be skeptical of anything coming from Dembski & co. (“mistrust, but verify”, I think would be the operative approach here). There are a few possibilities to consider, though.

(1) Dembski basically has his facts wrong. {This would not be inconsistent with the rest of the essay and the ID movement in general.)

(2) Even though significant variations from the norm in brain structure are generally associated with severe disruption of function, conceivably as long as the proper neurons communicate with the proper neurons, it might still work. (Isn’t this something like what a “hopeful monster” might look like? What makes you so sure this isn’t the potential step in a new evolutionary direction you’re so confident doesn’t exist among the 6.4 billion humans?)

(3) Wells & Dembski are really onto something here: not only does it turn out that DNA has little or nothing to do with genetics, brains have little or nothing to do with cognition and behavior!

Comment #4119

Posted by Ian Menzies on June 23, 2004 9:57 AM (e)

You guys are the experts. So, I write with deference to your wisdom. But it seems to me that comparing chimp DNA with human DNA assumes that DNA is the relevant common-property of comparison. But why choose DNA? Shouldn’t physics have a say in this? If so, then at the most basic level of material constituency, chimps and humans have 100% in common. But so does Britney Spears and the tree, materially speaking, of course.

Why choose biology over physics or cognitive psychology or philosophical anthropology?

Because DNA is the medium by which heritible traits are passed to descendants.

Comment #4120

Posted by Bob Maurus on June 23, 2004 10:26 AM (e)

RBH, thanks - it didn’t occur to me that that might be why is was blue.

Jack, my apologies.

Comment #4125

Posted by Russell on June 23, 2004 11:10 AM (e)

More vagueness:

This radically revises assumptions of chimp-human genetic identity based on the 99% parity in base pairs between chimps and humans.

I guess that sort of depends on what assumptions you’re talking about. It doesn’t radically revise any of mine.

Even more:

I agree with Dembski that the differences between apes and humans are much more marked than their similarities.

What can this possibly mean???

And this:

…science has now revealed that at the rock bottom level of our genetic constitution humans are indeed very different from chimpanzees.

How different is “very” different? No matter how you define difference/similarity, humans are a hell of a lot closer to chimps than rats are to mice.

Comment #4126

Posted by Adam Marczyk on June 23, 2004 11:10 AM (e)

MM provided a link to an article originating in Nature which revealed that 83% of the genes in chimp chromosome 21 were different from orthologous human chromosome 22.  This radically revises assumptions of chimp-human genetic identity based on  the 99% parity in base pairs between chimps and humans.

No, it doesn’t. Both of these statements can be correct. Given that even a single-base change makes a gene “different”, you can have a large number of genes that are not completely identical between humans and chimps while still having an extremely high degree of overall similarity. If, for example, you compared the text of two books and found that 83% of the sentences in one book differed from the corresponding sentences in the other book by a letter or a word, you could conclude that 83% of the sentences were technically different while still concluding that the two books shared a 99% or similarly high degree of similarity when compared letter by letter. In such a case, by far the most obvious conclusion would be that one book was copied from the other.

I should also point out that many changes to a given gene will be neutral, having no effect on its function. Given that humans and chimps have been diverging from each other for between 5 and 10 million years, it’s hardly surprising that our respective genomes have accumulated small differences all over the place from genetic drift. (The Nature article does point out that only 2 to 3% of those changed genes show signs of adaptive evolution.)

Comment #4128

Posted by Reed A. Cartwright on June 23, 2004 11:20 AM (e)

Francis J. Beckwith wrote:

But why choose DNA?

We don’t. We use many types of data to study the relationships among organisms. Other methods include comparative morphology, comparative development, comparative amino acid sequences, and comparative karyotypes. All these methods tell us the same thing: humans and chimp/bonobos are surprisingly similar and are each other’s closest extant relatives.

The thing that non-evolutionary biologists and especially creationists miss is that it doesn’t matter that humans and chimps are ~98% similar genetically. It matters that humans and chimps are ~98% similar and both are ~95% similar to gorillas and all three are ~93% similar to orangutans. (Figures are inexact.) Comparative analysis means relatively little unless you actually have more than two species to compare.

In other words, you need three to make a tree.

Why choose biology over physics or cognitive psychology or philosophical anthropology?

We choose biology because we are studying biology.

Comment #4129

Posted by Jim Harrison on June 23, 2004 11:26 AM (e)

About brains and mental functioning: one type of mental deficient, the nanocephalic dwarf, possesses a very small head and correspondingly tiny brain but retains the ability to speak and understand true language. Back in 1967, the linguist Lenneberg pointed to these people as evidence that it was not sheer size but something about the organization of the brain that made language possible. Nobody except the Wizard of Oz is claiming you can think without a brain—that’s really a strawman argument.

Comment #4130

Posted by Andrea Bottaro on June 23, 2004 11:30 AM (e)

Jack:
MM provided a link to an article originating in Nature which revealed that 83% of the genes in chimp chromosome 21 were different from orthologous human chromosome 22. This radically revises assumptions of chimp-human genetic identity based on the 99% parity in base pairs between chimps and humans. The article was in May 2004.

In his article Dembski criticizes evolutionists for stressing the similarities between apes and humans while ignoring or glossing over their preponderent differences. I agree with Dembski that the differences between apes and humans are much more marked than their similarities. The fact that this difference, until now, was not reflected in observed DNA differences between chimps and humans always puzzled me. But lo and behold, in its admirable pursuit of truth, science has now revealed that at the rock bottom level of our genetic constitution humans are indeed very different from chimpanzees.

Actually, if you assume a uniform distribution of nucleotide substitutions, 99% sequence identity at the DNA level would result in something like 5 aminoacid changes per protein, on average.

The truth is, the number of nucleotide substitutions in the human and chimp genomic sequences reported in Nature was not higher that expected - in fact it is entirely consistent with previous estimates (~1.4%). What was higher than expected was a) the number of mutations with possibly significant effects on protein structure/function (about 20% of the proteins) (I say “possibly” because the vast majority of these are either small indels, or additions/loss of aminoacids at the N- or C-terminus of the protein, whose functional significance is at this point entirely unknown, and may in fact be quite small, as anyone who has generated “tagged” fusion proteins for functional analysis can attest), and b) the number on insertion/deletion-type mutations in both coding and, especially, non-coding regions. If confirmed on a larger set of genes, this would have implications for the study of molecular evolution and mutation mechanisms, of course, but would hardly make a dent in the fundamental genetic similarity of humans and chimpanzees, let alone phylogenetic comparisons with other species.

You, like Dembski, seem to have some serious misunderstanding of the facts, methods and theory of phylogenetic analysis, and its relationship to genetics and molecular biology. Perhaps we can talk about it in detail after Dembski has a chance to improve his manuscript. I am quite sure that was just a first, rough draft.

Comment #4131

Posted by Mike S. on June 23, 2004 11:33 AM (e)

Jack Shea wrote:

Wow.  That is incredible.  What then explains the phenomenal differences between humans and chimps?  It obviously isn’t down to DNA.  Do we know what the 0.8% that is unique to us produces?

One thing that doesn’t seem to have been mentioned is that differences in the sections of DNA that do not encode for proteins can cause dramatic differences in physiology. So a relatively small number of DNA base changes in promoter regions, or in splice sites, can have a large effect on the timing or levels of expression of a particular gene, even though the two genes (human and chimp) are identical (well, in the case of a splice site they wouldn’t be). Which can then affect other genes, etc., leading to a significant change in the organism. We’re also just learning more about RNA molecules that are encoded for in the genome, but whose purpose is to regulate gene expression, not be translated into proteins.

In a sense the phenomenal changes that you are talking about are due to the increased size of our brains compared to chimps. It would take a relatively small number of genetic changes to bring about those changes. Just look at the physiological changes in different dog breeds. The real philosophical and religious arguments are over how you interpret these differences. The atheist will say that the biological similarities mean that there is not a substantive metaphysical difference between chimps and humans - we just happened to evolve more complex brains. The evolutionary theist will say that certain physical capacities are necessary in order for a creature to be capable of love, abstract thought, spirituality, and reason, and that God intended such capacities to develop via evolution. The Creationist will say that such capabilities could not arise via evolution, so they must be the result of supernatural intervention. Science cannot distinguish between the first two options, since they are questions of meaning, not questions of observation. It can answer the latter question, at least up to a point, since it does depend upon observations. (Technically it can’t rule out the possibility that human beings were supernaturally created in a manner that made it look as if they evolved from a common ancestor of chimps, all it can say is that there is no evidence of such an event.)

Comment #4136

Posted by Ian Menzies on June 23, 2004 1:32 PM (e)

MM provided a link to an article originating in Nature which revealed that 83% of the genes in chimp chromosome 21 were different from orthologous human chromosome 22. This radically revises assumptions of chimp-human genetic identity based on the 99% parity in base pairs between chimps and humans.

No it does not. It illustrates where the similarites and differences exist as far as actual genes go. 17% of the actual functioning genes are exactly, 100% alike. From the companion article posted immediately after the link in question, we find that 47 out of the 213 genes examined, about 20%, differ by a significant amount. The remaining genes code for proteins that only differ by a few amino acids, which probably translates to about a 1% difference. So about 20% of the genes are significantly different, about 17% are exactly the same, and about 63% are different but not significantly so. This does not change the fact that compared side by side the human and chimpanzee genomes are 98%+ the same. Furthermore, it means that about 80% of our genes are either exactly the same or at least functionally the same.

In his article Dembski criticizes evolutionists for stressing the similarities between apes and humans while ignoring or glossing over their preponderent differences. I agree with Dembski that the differences between apes and humans are much more marked than their similarities. The fact that this difference, until now, was not reflected in observed DNA differences between chimps and humans always puzzled me. But lo and behold, in its admirable pursuit of truth, science has now revealed that at the rock bottom level of our genetic constitution humans are indeed very different from chimpanzees.

Yet we are more similar to chimpanzees than to any other animal, morphologically and genetically. That the genetic similarities extend to non-functional regions of our DNA indicates that we share a recent common ancestor rather than simply showing evidence of “common design.”

On a side note, I wonder what a similar comparison between two humans would show?

Oh, and just for the irony:

You guys want to wage war with straw men.

What will the others tell us? Our common ancestor was a daffodil?

Comment #4137

Posted by Les Lane on June 23, 2004 2:06 PM (e)

M_M, Francis Beckwith, and Bill Dembski prefer propositional logic to understanding models and their dynamics. It’s startling to realize how little Dembski seems to understand of DNA sequences. Any research scientist will tell you that propositional logic, in the absence of models and experimental testing, can lead one far astray (e.g. from humans to daffodils). Undue reliance on propositional logic is an indicator of an unscientific (perhaps legalistic) mind.

Comment #4143

Posted by steve on June 23, 2004 5:42 PM (e)

MM provided a link to an article originating in Nature which revealed that 83% of the genes in chimp chromosome 21 were different from orthologous human chromosome 22. This radically revises assumptions of chimp-human genetic identity based on the 99% parity in base pairs between chimps and humans.

Want to know what’s so bad about creationists? They think they know better than thousands of biologists, when they don’t even understand the most basic things about DNA, genes, and proteins. If they could see themselves like others see them, they’d die of shame. Nothing wrong with being ignorant, but nothing worse than ignorant and arrogant.

Comment #4154

Posted by Nick on June 23, 2004 9:57 PM (e)

Great post, Ian. I’d like to post the side-by-side chromosome comparison for the benefit of readers:

Human, Chimp, Gorilla, Orang, right-to-left:
http://www.gate.net/~rwms/hum_ape_chrom_2.gif

A comparison of all of the chromosomes of the four species is here: http://www.indiana.edu/~ensiweb/lessons/chro.all.html (IndexExercise)

Here are a bunch of different comparisons of human-chimp DNA using different methods (all get % DNA identity results in the high 90’s).

Dembski also disses the fossil evidence for human evolution. I wonder how he would compare to other creationists, who can’t even consistently decide which fossils are human and which are ape (see this Comparison of Creationist Opinions.

Here is one convenient graphic of some of the fossils:

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/images/hominids2.jpg

See also here for a nice for rebuttal to creationist claims on hominids: Claim: All hominid fossils are fully human or fully ape

Comment #4155

Posted by Reed A. Cartwright on June 23, 2004 10:59 PM (e)

Nick wrote:

A comparison of all of the chromosomes of the four species is here

I now have a higher resolution of this figure as a pdf on my site.

http://blog.rufus.ws/files/YunisPrakash_1982_Fig2.pdf

Comment #4156

Posted by Nick on June 23, 2004 11:15 PM (e)

Reed wrote:

I now have a higher resolution of this figure as a pdf on my site.

http://blog.rufus.ws/files/YunisPrakash_1982_Fig2.pdf

Nice. Funny that Dembski felt like he had a worthwhile opinion on the topic of human/ape ancestry, while obviously knowing absolutely nothing about human/ape chromosome comparisons. And that bit about DNA comparisons being based on aligning random little chunks that happened to be similar, rather than large blocks, was a really astounding bit of ignorance. Look at the friggin’ chromosomes, man!

Ahem. Sorry. Back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Comment #4163

Posted by Jack Shea on June 24, 2004 9:22 AM (e)

Russell:

He’s back - the Prince of Vagueness.

A good example of a “not-dull retort”.

Even though significant variations from the norm in brain structure are generally associated with severe disruption of function, conceivably as long as the proper neurons communicate with the proper neurons, it might still work. (Isn’t this something like what a “hopeful monster” might look like? What makes you so sure this isn’t the potential step in a new evolutionary direction you’re so confident doesn’t exist among the 6.4 billion humans?)

It could very well be a hopeful monster. Could it also suggest that certain human mental functions have less to do with a physical brain than we have assumed? Maybe we’re evolving into electromagnetic angels? Shedding our reliance on the physical. Doesn’t seem possible but neither does a brainless boy with normal mental capacities. I’m surprised at the lack of investigative followup on the brainless boy. I can’t find anything on the condition anywhere on the net. Alas.

ME: I agree with Dembski that the differences between apes and humans are much more marked than their similarities.

YOU: What can this possibly mean??? 

Geez Russell, just look around. What is the magnitude of difference between Beethoven and his orchestra (extension of Beethoven’s mind/body) and the smartest collection of chimps that has ever lived? The entirety of recorded human history compared to chimp history? We are to chimps as gods are to us. It’s an entirely different ballgame. We have gross physical similarities to chimps and they possess the most rudimentary of our mental characteristics but there the match ends. We can’t exclude human cultural achievements in our chimp-human comparison. Otherwise it’s like comparing a photograph of a chimp with a photograph of a human and concluding they are remarkably similar based solely on photographic evidence. This is where I support Dembski. The oversimplification of “human” makes it easier to propose an ancestral linkage than it is if everything “human” was taken into account.

How different is “very” different? No matter how you define difference/similarity, humans are a hell of a lot closer to chimps than rats are to mice.

Are you serious? OK, since you’ve offered me total freedom I’m taking culture and capabilities as my marker. Here chimps are much closer to rats and mice than they are to humans and rats and mice are virtually identical.

Comment #4164

Posted by Les Lane on June 24, 2004 10:10 AM (e)

Good commentary on ID and legalistic thinking.

Jack’s comments above are a good example of apologetics (starting with a conclusion and selecting evidence to support it). This is common religious thinking, but science trains people to put evidence first. DNA sequences are especially valuable for comparisons because they contain vast amounts of information and consequently can’t be “preselected”

Comment #4165

Posted by Jack Shea on June 24, 2004 10:21 AM (e)

Adam:

If, for example, you compared the text of two books and found that 83% of the sentences in one book differed from the corresponding sentences in the other book by a letter or a word, you could conclude that 83% of the sentences were technically different while still concluding that the two books shared a 99% or similarly high degree of similarity when compared letter by letter. In such a case, by far the most obvious conclusion would be that one book was copied from the other.

Precisely. But if both books made perfect linguistic sense, spelling and syntax correct, and moreover the second book was of the calibre of Shakespeare while the first was (name your least favourite author) would you assume that the second book had been derived by a random redistribution of the words/letters? Doesn’t it seem more likely that the genome somehow “learns” from its achievements and then incorporates and extends this knowledge into subsequent generations? Isn’t this what hox genes are all about? Hox genes seem to represent a comprehension of some sort, an awareness of overall form and function. I realize the impropriety of anthropomorphizing the genome but there seems to be no other way to describe what hox genes do. How can hox genes derive comprehensive control of a collection of genes by blind processes? The system is just so damn intelligent, in a very real sense. So much more intelligent than we are that we spend millions of human years trying to figure out how it works and then can only approximate what is going on and certainly can’t even begin to recreate it. Argument from incredulity? Well, yeah. Call me Mr. Incredulous.

It seems to me that evolution proceeds by very intelligent means somehow lurking within the fabric of living systems themselves. Learning/Creativity is a function of certain animals despite (we assume) human-type self-awareness. Mayfly larvae build wonderfully precise little tubes of tiny stones stuck together with spit. The stones are all irregular but the brainless little bug finds perfect edge-to-edge matches, a difficult challenge as anyone who has ever tried to build a stone wall knows. There is obviously no thinking going on here, it is a direct expression of genetic hardwiring. But without a brain the bug is solving something similar to the “minimum colour map” problem. More incredulity. If this type of pattern-forming ability is resident at a genetic level then why could there not be a similar pattern-forming ability possessed by genes with reference to themselves? Creativity (the ability to build something) is evidentially not restricted to self-aware, intelligent beings. Intelligent self-design is what seems to be happening. So, not God, not no-God. No bearded patriarch dispensing dubious advice to a malcreated world but an intelligent animating force permeating everything. Not separate from but resident within the universe. Organizing, organized energy. Information management of the highest order. The Ultimate Science.

Comment #4168

Posted by pennathur on June 24, 2004 11:21 AM (e)

Jack Shea writes:

> Terms such as these - caliber of Shakespeare, linguistic sense - make little sense objectively. They are useless in any scientific discussion. And unless you can point out two real books rather than imaginary ones your comparisons are pointless. Les Lane has it right about apologetics.

You aren’t offering anything different from alchemy (the search for the quintessence) or the more recent search for the “vital force” during the turn of the 19th-20th century. “Information” in the ID sense is very old hat. There was considerable debate among the “Vaisheshikas” and the “Samkhya” two schools of philosphers in ancient India (well before 500 BCE). Buddha in a turn toward rationalism dismissed this as idle speculation maintaining that it is worthless to discuss entities that cannot be explained with the logic available at the time.

Please don’t get started on this dead end once again.

Comment #4170

Posted by Russell on June 24, 2004 11:47 AM (e)

From Jack’s last communication:
(quoting me:)

How different is “very” different? No matter how you define difference/similarity, humans are a.hell of a lot closer to chimps than rats are to mice.

Jack Shea wrote:

Are you serious? OK, since you’ve offered me total freedom I’m taking culture and capabilities as my marker.

Jack appears to have taken quote mining to a whole new level: he’s taking his own quote out of context. As you’ll recall, Jack’s statement I was responding to was:

… science has now revealed that at the rock bottom level of our genetic constitution humans are indeed very different from chimpanzees

(emphasis added)
So, no, I wasn’t offering you “total freedom”. I was assuming - foolishly - that you would stick to the subject.

As to your perception of the difference/similarity between humans and (the other) apes, I would say you’ve got to shake that anthropocentric attitude if you want to talk about biology.

To summarize: genetically, humans are far more closely related to chimps than mice mice are to rats. Somewhere around 99.9% of biologists (99.999% of serious biologists) take this to be consistent with common descent from relatively recent ancestors. Dembski is attempting to contort recent findings to conform to his religiously inspired conception of physical realities, using arguments that any high school biology student should be able to see through. And Jack bought it, hook line & sinker.

(Unless you really are just having us on. It occurred to me that “Jack Shea” might be an anagramized version of “Jack Ashe”, which might be a coy admission of what you’re up to here)

Comment #4171

Posted by Les Lane on June 24, 2004 12:12 PM (e)

Jack-

In scientific arguments, apologetics are worse than unconvincing. If my gist is obscure, I can be more specific.

Comment #4173

Posted by csp on June 24, 2004 12:39 PM (e)

Hi. Let me introduce myself first and explain what my horse is is this race-since this is my first time posting here. I’m an economist by training, with a strong background in economic anthropology and economic history. Since I teach in a small understaffed Social Sciences Department (as opposed to an economics department) I also teach Cultural Anthropology. Over the last few years I’ve invested a considerable amount of time self-teaching myself some basic Biological Anthropology.

What bothers me about Dembski’s article are two things. First, is the bizarre way he sets up the Hamlet quotes. Though I lack any formal training in Biology, the error(s) are immediate and apparent. That said, I’ll leave it to the Biologists to point it out (which they have).

The second thing that bothers me is that he goes way, way, way out on a cultural anthropology limb. I’d have to monopolize this forum or invest all my time refuting him in a whole paper so let me point out one or two errors that are indicative of what he says.

Firstly, let’s look at linguistic evolution and rethink the Hamlet quotes. It is exactly these “small mutations” in languages that lead to language change over time. Change onle letter in verb “Face” (pronounced Fah-chay) to “H” and you have “Hace” (pronounced Ah-say). Hence the difference (or one of them anwyay) between Spanish and Romanian, both descended from a common ancestor, Latin. So here is morphological change from one isolated mutation.

Secondly, citing Chomsky on primate language and primate cognition is misleading. Chomsky’s theories about language (deep, innate structures of the mind) is controversial in and of itself (though not implausible). But Chomsky is known as the ultimate “debunker” of primate communication experiments.

These are just two examples that jumped out at me immediately. There’s a lot more, but they all follow this sort of basic error-not really understanding the arguments about economic history and economic anthropology.

Comment #4174

Posted by Gary Hurd on June 24, 2004 12:43 PM (e)

Reed wrote:

“We choose biology because we are studying biology.”

Now, now, Reed. Let’s remember there are some poor benighted anthropologists, lawyers, and others.

Comment #4175

Posted by Les Lane on June 24, 2004 12:59 PM (e)

Jack-

In scientific communication, apologetics are worse than unconvincing. If you find this too vague, I can be more explicit.

Comment #4177

Posted by Les Lane on June 24, 2004 1:24 PM (e)

Jack-

In scientific communication, apologetics are worse than unconvincing. If you find this too vague, I can be more explicit.

Comment #4181

Posted by Mike S. on June 24, 2004 3:04 PM (e)

Firstly, let’s look at linguistic evolution and rethink the Hamlet quotes. It is exactly these “small mutations” in languages that lead to language change over time. Change onle letter in verb “Face” (pronounced Fah-chay) to “H” and you have “Hace” (pronounced Ah-say). Hence the difference (or one of them anwyay) between Spanish and Romanian, both descended from a common ancestor, Latin. So here is morphological change from one isolated mutation.

Rob Pennock’s book “The Tower of Babel” goes into a discussion of linguistic evolution, and how it, too, can be used to refute ID.

Comment #4185

Posted by Jason on June 24, 2004 3:51 PM (e)

While pointing out to creationists that humans are genetically most similar to chimps is helpful, pointing out that chimps are more similar to humans than they are to gorillas has much more of an impact.

Why would a god create chimps to appear more closely related to us than to gorillas?

Comment #4188

Posted by darwinfinch on June 24, 2004 5:00 PM (e)

And now we have this “Jack Shea” character. Are there REALLY a fair number of these creationist/ID apologists and think-they’re-so-witty posters? Or are they actually the same, exasperatingly dull pest?

When, several years ago, I first began following the “debate” on this issue, I realized that the charm of discussing a question with either a blantantly, often proudly, dishonest IDot or an unreasoning and unimaginative Xian fanatic lost its charm very quickly: they had nothing to offer, and certainly nothing to lose.
However, their questions would, often enough, elicit interesting information and descriptions about details of biology and evolution I, as very much the layman, would otherwise never have understood, or even noticed.

Even this pleasure has apparently been taken, due to the petty and insulting clevernesses of these “Jack Shea” characters, the Wile E. Coyote, “Supergenius” of the issue.

Dear “Jack” –

Impress me by showing a gram’s worth of honest interest and sincerity, along with your silly quips and dirty swipes.

Comment #4190

Posted by EmmaPeel on June 24, 2004 5:06 PM (e)

Geez Russell, just look around. What is the magnitude of difference between Beethoven and his orchestra (extension of Beethoven’s mind/body) and the smartest collection of chimps that has ever lived? The entirety of recorded human history compared to chimp history? We are to chimps as gods are to us. It’s an entirely different ballgame. We have gross physical similarities to chimps and they possess the most rudimentary of our mental characteristics but there the match ends. We can’t exclude human cultural achievements in our chimp-human comparison. Otherwise it’s like comparing a photograph of a chimp with a photograph of a human and concluding they are remarkably similar based solely on photographic evidence. This is where I support Dembski. The oversimplification of “human” makes it easier to propose an ancestral linkage than it is if everything “human” was taken into account.

Hmmm… There’s no evidence that humans of 5,000 years ago had ever produced anything like complex musical instruments, let alone a symphony. Nor is there evidence that they produced any literature to speak of, nor complex technology nor mathematical or scientific theories. By your logic, the humans of 5,000 years ago might be related to apes, but we modern humans could not be!

Comment #4194

Posted by EmmaPeel on June 24, 2004 5:45 PM (e)

Syntax Error: mismatched tag 'li'

Comment #4204

Posted by Creationist Timmy on June 24, 2004 6:57 PM (e)

We have gross physical similarities to chimps and they possess the most rudimentary of our mental characteristics but there the match ends. (Jack Shea)

Exactly, you evolutionist pigdogs! Sure, chimps may have one or two features in common with us, but not most of them. Consider just 10 random ones:

1 We have five fingers
2 They don’t have mitochondria in their cells
3 We have blood, they don’t
4 We have binocular vision
5 They have hair on their legs
6 We have fingernails
7 We have ribs
8 They have ‘pancreases’
9 We have top And bottom teeth
10 We are capable of wearing clothes

Therefore, chimps are only coincidentally like humans. Furthermore, consider that every single chromosome we have is different than every chromosome they have. Therefore there is zero similarity on the genetic level. This radically revises our understanding of similarity between chimps and humans.

Comment #4207

Posted by Frank J on June 24, 2004 7:33 PM (e)

In Post 4165 Jack Shea ends one paragraph:

“Argument from incredulity? Well, yeah. Call me Mr. Incredulous. “

and begins the next one:

“It seems to me that evolution proceeds by very intelligent means somehow lurking within the fabric of living systems themselves.”

Jack, may I assume that you still think that there are boundaries to this evolution, such that may prevent a common ancestral species from diverging in to human and chimp lineages? This, despite the fact that Dembski asserted that the designer could create these lineages anyway He wanted? If so, please tell us of which of these two scenarios you are more incredulous:

1. Sometime in the last 6 million years, possibly much more recently, the designer assembled many multicellular eukaryotes, either as zygotes or perhaps more fully developed, out of some inanimate matter. Some of these populations had many genetic and anatomic similarities, but very different levels of intelligence.

2. Sometime around 6 million years ago two ancestral species wandered apart. Evolution occurred as usual in both lineages. After many generations the populations could no longer interbreed. In one lineage the designer saw to it that some of the genetic changes, though quite minor in number and extent (at least one fusion and several inversions), crossed some critical barriers in terms of processing, and that lineage acquired intelligence.

Yes, there are other conceivable options, but I am only interested in how you rank these two, because we all know that #1 is what most people infer when they buy those incredulity arguments against common descent. And these are essentially what Dembski proposed in his “modified monkey, modified dirt” discussion (and still left us guessing as to what his position is).

Comment #4212

Posted by Creationist Timmy on June 24, 2004 11:46 PM (e)

How brilliant of my scientist friend Jack to seize on culture as yet another example of where we are Irreducibly Different than chimps. For example, I like to hang out at Borders and read Evangilical Today, and drink some coffee. Meanwhile pygmies in Cameroon live in the forest and talk like Oooga Booga. Do you satanic Evilutionists think that those pygmies will randomly assemble a Borders anytime soon, with working electrical outlets, cash registers, and total supply-chain management? Of course not. We are Incomparably Different in cultural terms, it is not possible that pygmies are at all related to humans. That’s irrefutable.

In the many generations of pygmies which have been studied (there are an estimated 100,000 pygmies, so that’s 100,000 generations) has anyone ever seen a pygmy spontaneously turn into a K Street stockbroker, with matching suspenders and tie? No, and that disproves Evilution.

Comment #4216

Posted by Jim Harrison on June 25, 2004 2:01 AM (e)

In case nobody’s made the point recently, Noam Chomsky is not an anti-evolutionist. One can very well deny that the great apes possess syntactical abilities truly comparable to humans without implying that we are the result of a miracle. I used to know a nun who wrote a master’s thesis claiming that Chompsky’s ideas evinced divine intervention, but that tells you more about nuns than about linguistics.

Comment #4217

Posted by Ian Musgrave on June 25, 2004 2:03 AM (e)

Steve posing as Creationist Timmy wrote:

How brilliant of my scientist friend…

Okay Steve, please stop trolling. It was amusing once, but is now very stale.

I would also like to remind the other participants to “play nice” and avoid personal attacks.

Cheers! Ian

Comment #4218

Posted by Frank J on June 25, 2004 5:20 AM (e)

Oops. In Comment 4207 I meant to say “Sometime around 6 million years ago two *populations of an ancestral species* wandered apart.”

Comment #4219

Posted by Jack Shea on June 25, 2004 5:35 AM (e)

pennathur:

> Terms such as these - caliber of Shakespeare, linguistic sense - make little sense objectively. They are useless in any scientific discussion. And unless you can point out two real books rather than imaginary ones your comparisons are pointless.

Give me a break. Shakespeare is objectively a high order of literature, by universal consensus. If one wanted to waste the time this could be “proven” I suppose, but why bother? The meaning is as clear to you as it is to me. Language is a remarkable shortcut to meaning. If we had to stop and “prove” every single word we used as we used it we would never get anywhere. In this instance the comparison is between a chimp and a human with the analogue between Shakespeare and a book of a lower order than Shakespeare.

There was considerable debate among the “Vaisheshikas” and the “Samkhya” two schools of philosphers in ancient India (well before 500 BCE). Buddha in a turn toward rationalism dismissed this as idle speculation maintaining that it is worthless to discuss entities that cannot be explained with the logic available at the time.

Buddha was careful to point out the ultimate meaningless of all rational discussion and rational thought. Rooted in the misinformation of the senses, the rational mind was considered a very convincing illusory view of reality. However, he was equally careful to point out the importance of carrying on such meaningless discussion as a “finger pointing at the moon”, ie indicating but not embodying a different state of non-rational awareness. His teaching was “don’t confuse the finger pointing at the moon with the moon itself”. He did refuse to give any answer at all to the scientific pest who kept plaguing him to reveal the origins of the universe.

Comment #4220

Posted by Jack Shea on June 25, 2004 5:59 AM (e)

Andrea:

What was higher than expected was a) the number of mutations with possibly significant effects on protein structure/function (about 20% of the proteins)

So I guess the jury is still out, though the consensus is weighted in favour of similarity as opposed to difference. I’m in no position to judge, as you rightly point out. If we are genetically virtually identical to chimps what then explains the differences between us? The argument that “biology does not deal with culture” which others have advanced doesn’t fly. There must be something in our genetic/biological makeup which explains the perceived differences in complexity between chimps and humans. If not then we are suggesting that there may be other than material causes operating, at least in humans. Or of course that we just haven’t yet found out what the significant 0.8% different genes actually do to us.

Comment #4221

Posted by Jack Shea on June 25, 2004 6:19 AM (e)

Russell:

As to your perception of the difference/similarity between humans and (the other) apes, I would say you’ve got to shake that anthropocentric attitude if you want to talk about biology.

What “anthropocentric attitude” do I reveal in pointing out that humans are very different from chimps? In making a comparison do we really have to restrict ourselves to matching shape and organs? That’s like comparing a plane and a car by examining their body construction, wheels and windshields and on that basis determing that they are “the same”. The problem with human-animal comparisons is difficult because although we possess similar body construction to chimps what we do with our physiology is vastly different. Physiological function is a valid biological marker. It is within the realms of biology to study how a cheetah’s legs and body are constructed with reference to its running speed and make a comparison with the legs and body of an armadillo and its running speed. So, chimps have 99.9% genetic parity with humans, opposable thumbs, reasonable brains and the capability to use sticks to root termites out of logs. With the same genes and physiology humans construct Hubble space probes and write symphonies. Explain in biological terms this difference in function.

(Unless you really are just having us on. It occurred to me that “Jack Shea” might be an anagramized version of “Jack Ashe”, which might be a coy admission of what you’re up to here)

I assure you I’m real. Who is Jack Ashe?

Comment #4222

Posted by Jack Shea on June 25, 2004 6:38 AM (e)

darwinfinch:

Even this pleasure has apparently been taken, due to the petty and insulting clevernesses of these “Jack Shea” characters, the Wile E. Coyote, “Supergenius” of the issue.

Dear “Jack” —
Impress me by showing a gram’s worth of honest interest and sincerity, along with your silly quips and dirty swipes.

I’m both “real” and “sincere”. The nature of this blog is big of rib-jabbing thrown in with the attempts at finding some answers. It’s part of the fun. You see, darwinfinch, “I” have been accused of being a liar, an idiot, a multiple personality, a fictitious entity, a creationist. I am none of these things. I am just a Wile E. Coyote who gets beaten up every time he tries to catch the ever-elusive roadrunner. Wile E is a great metaphor for science, as I’m sure you realize. With all our contraptions we will never catch that roadrunner.

Comment #4223

Posted by Creationist Timmy on June 25, 2004 8:56 AM (e)

Steve posing as Creationist Timmy wrote:

How dare you, sir. Just because my email address is 99% similar to this ‘Steve’ fellow does not mean we are related in the slightest, as any good Creation Scientist can tell you.

Comment #4224

Posted by Megan Good on June 25, 2004 9:13 AM (e)

Jack: From what I understand, the difference in the complexity of chimpanzee and human cultures (I assume we’re ignoring the vast difference between individual contemporary cultures, much less the difference between modern American society and one of the earlier human cultures) is due to sheer need. Culture is a method of non-physical evolution–it’s very flexible, allowing people to change behaviors quickly. The Australopithecus lifestyle would have been quite a bit more dangerous than that of a chimpanzee, so “more” culture, however one defines that, would be highly advantageous. Probably necessary for survival. It’s those damn cheetahs, you know.

4-6 million years of adaptation across a wide range of climes and increasing brain complexity would easily lead to this… extreme difference that you claim is present, although I’m sure primatologists would dispute that the gap is quite as large as you think.

Comment #4228

Posted by Les Lane on June 25, 2004 10:28 AM (e)

Jack-

Dembski’s essay focuses heavily on cognition, which is “holistic” and poorly understood. Since it’s poorly understood one can say almost anything about it without being demonstrably wrong. Science on the other hand focuses on analyzing what can be understood. Like Dembski you dismiss DNA sequence as being a simple property like “height”. DNA is essentially a “digital description” of an organism. We can “read” this desciption, and at least partially understand it. We can also see how DNA changes and ask whether the changes are consistent with mutation or with design. Being a scientist is like being an auto mechanic in that you must both know about the parts and be interested in them. Grasping the basics of DNA is crucial to understanding modern biology.

Comment #4229

Posted by Jack Shea on June 25, 2004 10:58 AM (e)

Megan:

Yes but the capacity to adapt in that way to meet survival needs is a major physiological leap as well as a mental one. The European Cup is not played by chimpanzees. Physically as well as mentally human beings are the most complex and varied animals in terms of their motion. The mind and body work together to produce “Swan Lake”. This is a singularly physical difference between ourselves and chimpanzees, the complexity of our movements. It represents a greater leap than can be found between any other two compared species. We are unique in the animal kingdom in language, complex ritualized behaviors, range of physical movement…the list goes on and on. There is something we possess as humans which no other member of the animal kingdom possesses. Conscious thought, science, art. Yes we are animals, but we are animals like no other. What explains this difference? It is possible to attribute it to animal evolution. It is also possible to attribute it to an Intelligence manifesting itself in the world of the material.

Comment #4232

Posted by Megan Good on June 25, 2004 12:25 PM (e)

It’s not a leap, Jack, it’s a series of steps. If you’re going to shift from culture to movement, the transition is well documented in the fossil record. Areas of the brain enlarge, hands become more dextrous, bipedalism develops. Linguistic capacity develops in response to what was probably a need for rapid, efficient communication. Culture gradually develops the entire time–we’re talking four million freaking years overall, a few hundred thousand for more modern variants. That is a long time to develop culture, and for the brain itself to become more complex. It’s not just possible to attribute this vaunted “difference” you keep harping on to evolution, it is necessary. There is absolutely no evidence for “an Intelligence manifesting itself in the world of the material.” None. There is, however, a great mountain of evidence showing evolution could leads to such physical and behavioral changes. You incredulity is neither sound evidence nor sound argument; it merely shows that you don’t know much about the subject. Which is fine, most people don’t, but if you’re going to argue for an intelligent designer then this is a poor way to do it.

Comment #4233

Posted by Jay W on June 25, 2004 12:27 PM (e)

Are we just arguing with a broken record here? Someone needs to pick up the needle and move past the “it’s too complex to understand, therefore God/aliens did it” argument from incredulity. Over and over again, it’s the same scoop of ice cream, just a different flavor. I’m not much of a scientist, and yet the theory of evolution is so easy to grasp whereas the “if not x, then y” theory of ID seems more and more laughable with each successive minute I spend researching it. Maybe if my parents had been more religious and less interested in me getting a quality education, I would have turned out differently.

Comment #4235

Posted by Jim Harrison on June 25, 2004 12:37 PM (e)

Shea finds the difference between chimps and man “a greater leap than can be found between any other two compared species.” The difference he emphasizes is the possession of “conscious thought, science, art…” Well, these things are important to me also, but I’m aware that my preference is a value judgment.

As good ol’ Xenophanes of Colophon used to say: “If cattle and horses or lions had hands, or were able to draw with their hands and do the works that men can do, horses would draw the forms of gods like horses, and cattle like cattle, and they would make their bodies such as they each had themselves.” Or, to bring the quote up-to-date, if an anteater were a devotee of intelligent design, he’d point out that the development of a long and sticky tongue was a greater leap than can be found between any other two compared species, greater, certainly, than the insignificant acquisition of loquacity by some ape or other.

A biological judgment of the magnitude of the difference between two species presumably be based on something a little more objective than human cultural preferences, genomic similarity, for example.

Comment #4236

Posted by Jim Harrison on June 25, 2004 12:40 PM (e)

Shea finds the difference between chimps and man “a greater leap than can be found between any other two compared species.” The difference he emphasizes is the possession of “conscious thought, science, art…” Well, these things are important to me also, but I’m aware that my preference is a value judgment.

As good ol’ Xenophanes of Colophon used to say: “If cattle and horses or lions had hands, or were able to draw with their hands and do the works that men can do, horses would draw the forms of gods like horses, and cattle like cattle, and they would make their bodies such as they each had themselves.” Or, to bring the quote up-to-date, if an anteater were a devotee of intelligent design, he’d point out that the development of a long and sticky tongue was a greater leap than can be found between any other two compared species, greater, certainly, than the insignificant acquisition of loquacity by some ape or other.

A biological judgment of the magnitude of the difference between two species presumably be based on something a little more objective than human cultural preferences, genomic similarity, for example.

Comment #4244

Posted by Frank J on June 25, 2004 3:50 PM (e)

Jay W says:

“Are we just arguing with a broken record here? Someone needs to pick up the needle and move past the “it’s too complex to understand, therefore God/aliens did it” argument from incredulity.”

As I attempt to show in my comment above, when one actually describes the alternative “hows” in detail they elicit even more incrdulity than the “hows” that are supported by science. That’s why creationists, and especially IDers, say as little as possible about their alternative, and always try to shift the focus on what is uncertain, or not yet known, about evolution. Of course, to do that they need to define terms to suit their argument, quote out of context, and dodge questions.

Comment #4249

Posted by Jack Shea on June 25, 2004 6:46 PM (e)

Friends:

Megan sez:

It’s not a leap, Jack, it’s a series of steps. If you’re going to shift from culture to movement, the transition is well documented in the fossil record. Areas of the brain enlarge, hands become more dextrous, bipedalism develops. Linguistic capacity develops in response to what was probably a need for rapid, efficient communication.

So all these developments emerge in tandem by a series of happy accidents with the bad product getting the chop from natural selection. What mechanism continues to consistently re-enhance desirable traits? How probable is it that a purely random genetic mechanism is going to continue to enhance traits across an animal’s entire genetic makeup so that we see a human emerging from an ape-like ancestor? The inception and coordination of just a single new chunk of beneficial information -not just a purposeless reshuffling of existing genetic bits- is a considerable achievement for a random mutation to make just once. For this unlikely event to occur thousands of times even over the course of five million years purely by accident is stretching credibility and mathematics. While we’re into “deep time” what consideration is given to the fact that at this point in time 1/7th of the entire historical human population is now walking the earth. You folks are good at numbers, work out the curve of human population over five million years. It gets awfully steep where we live. We have to factor population increase over time into our “deep time” figures in order to get something which is not just a linear, and therefore wildly inaccurate estimate of the probability of a beneficial mutation occurring in the population. Has anyone done the figures on the numbers of new genetic combinations which would be required to make the full biological transition from chimp-like creature to human-like creature? This is not computer morphing, folks, this is large adjustments to fundamental anatomical and intellectual characteristics.

I think the point that we are living in an intense concentration of “deep time” right now should be obvious. Therefore we should be observing random mutations in our own species which indicate that we are heading somewhere new. With the corresponding massive increase in domesticated animal populations, indexed to human populations, cats, rats, dogs, horses, cattle, we should be observing similar speciations. But we don’t see speciation. We see stability. The Genus barrier is unbreachable. It’s right in front of our eyes and we’re refusing to look at it. Has random mutation given up the ghost? Or is it just waiting for a cue from the Director of Punctuated Equilibrium to get going? The evidence, as it stands, overwhelmingly negates random mutation as the initial shaper of evolutionary developments.

If evolution cannot be randomly driven, if the probabilities and observations argue so forcefully against it, as they do, then what is the alternative? The only possible alternative is that evolution is directed. There is no other option, it’s either random or non-random. Directed evolution equals some form of intelligence directing the process, an “a priori”. Where does this intelligence live? In every living thing. In every non-living thing. Is it as intelligent as we are? Infinitely more intelligent. It has formed every aspect of what constitutes our intelligence, in a very real sense it is our intelligence. What is science? An elaboration in symbolic form of the laws of nature. From whence does every scientific observation originate? In nature. What then is considered a “scientific achievement”? An exact symbolic matching/understanding of a law of nature. What would be the contents of the intelligent scientific mind without a nature to observe? Zero.

Scientific intellligence is composed in its entirety of artefacts gleaned by our senses from the natural world. When we achieve a pattern match between our cogitative process and a corresponding objective reality we declare it a natural law. Intelligence becomes synonymous with correspondence, not with origination. The sum of every known natural law in a single brain on instant, perfect recall, would be a remarkable intellectual achievement but it would still be only a simulacrum, a partial reconstruction in symbolic form of a pre-existent world. No matter how desperately the symbol-generating intellectual engine worked to keep pace with the vastness of the world of which it was an insignificant part it could never do so. The intellectual engine itself is the creation of the thing it looks out upon. It owes its existence to the object of its study. Its intelligence is a pinprick of nothingness compared to the intelligence from which it was formed. The universe is a Mind.

With that I return to my Zen moss garden. It has been immensely enjoyable and educational. Sayonara!

Comment #4250

Posted by steve on June 25, 2004 7:22 PM (e)

Evolutionist: “Pray tell Steve, why don’t you argue with creationists?”
Steve: “Take a gander at this here post #4249 what is on TPT right in fronta my eyes.”
Evolutionist: “I see.”
Steve: “Indeed.”
Evolutionist: “Praise Darwin.”
Steve: “Darwin be praised.”

Comment #4251

Posted by Frank J on June 25, 2004 7:25 PM (e)

Sayonara?

Jack, can you stick around long enough to answer my question in Comments 4207 and 4218?

Comment #4255

Posted by Bob Maurus on June 25, 2004 8:49 PM (e)

Jack,

If you’re still around, what’s your best shot? Do you have a coherent answer that can be tested? Do you have anything to offer that doesn’t involve supernatural intelligence? What do you propose? Naysaying is not an alternative theory. ID is not an alternative theory until it actually proposes a testable theory. Don’t run away. Give us something to work with beyond negatives.

Comment #4260

Posted by Frank J on June 26, 2004 7:05 AM (e)

Bob,

I gave him two. All he needs to do is pick the one that is closer to what he has in mind.

Comment #4263

Posted by Bob Maurus on June 26, 2004 10:54 AM (e)

Frank,

I should have scrolled back.

Comment #4264

Posted by Russell on June 26, 2004 12:25 PM (e)

There’s a pattern here.

Creationist offers a “scientific” defense of creationism. [Aside: unlike Phil Johnson, who embraces the term, Dembski and Jack Shea protest that they are not creationists. I say seriously doubting the common descent of humans and chimps is pretty much the definition of a creationist].

Creationist cheerleader leaps into the lion’s den of “Darwinists” (ooh… lions and pandas: a potentially tragic mixing of metaphors) with smug chortling about how objective assessment of data shows that “Darwinism” is a fairy tale.

Challenged with specifics and quantitation, creationist cheerleader retreats into distinctly non-scientific unquantifiable platitudes about the sublime-ness of Beethoven and Shakespeare, intelligence inherent in matter and such (while seeming to take umbrage at being dubbed Prince of Vagueness).

“Darwinists” rip cheerleader’s faulty facts and reasoning six ways to Sunday.

Creationist cheerleader, confident his masterly critique of science hasn’t been touched, disdainful of small minds too obsessed with facts and figures to see the cosmic truth of the big picture, withdraws to commune with said cosmic truth.

Like Candide, having gotten into trouble with the tutelage of Pangloss (who, were he nonfictional and alive today, would surely be a fellow of the Discovery Institute) cheerleader decides in the end it’s best to cultivate one’s garden.

Comment #4265

Posted by Frank J on June 26, 2004 1:33 PM (e)

Russell,

I try to use the word “creationist” sparingly, because there are so many definitions. Johnson would call me a creationist - and a “Darwinist” of course, depending on which point he was trying to make.

I prefer “anti-evolutionist” as a blanket term for those who misrepresent evolution, from YEC, to OEC, to OEC-plus-common descent (Behe’s position), but excluding theistic evolutionists (TEs), who are among the chief critics of the ID strategy. TEs have all the standard objections to anti-evolution strategies plus the complaint that those strategies caricaturize the Creator/designer as something that we can outsmart.

My latest kick is that we make anti-evolutionists look good, and ourselves look bad to the public when we frame the debate along religious lines, rather than science vs. pseudoscience.

Comment #4266

Posted by Russell on June 26, 2004 2:21 PM (e)

Frank - your point is well-taken. I used the term here is that the reason that Dembski finds the term so galling. I think that’s because he wants us to believe that his evo-skepticism springs from an objective analysis of the evidence, and not from an idealogical precommitment.

I can’t say exactly what Jack’s precommitment might be, but clearly he’s going to cling to his evo-skepticism despite (dare I say it?) the overwhelming evidence. He has been very adamant that he, unlike us myopic science types, is uniquely able to see the evidence without religious filters. I guess here I’m just trying to rub his nose in the mess that he made.

So, for other contexts, I’m in the market for a substitute for “creationist”. I have reservations about “anti-evolutionist”, because it sort of implies a contrast with “pro-evolutionists”. (I, for one, am no more pro-evolution than I am pro-gravity.) I sometimes use “evo-skeptic”, but I don’t want to confuse willful blindness with “healthy” skepticism.

Comment #4268

Posted by Frank J on June 26, 2004 3:48 PM (e)

Russell,

Unfortunately it’s not easy for a word to catch on. I have several that I try to use often at talk.origins, but with few or no takers. Who wouldn’t love to coin the next “Carbs.”

Not that it will catch on, but “evo-increduluos” comes to mind to avoid the real meaning of “skeptic,” which is virtually unknown to the public.

The only thing I find that helps is to be clear about to which “kind” (sorry) of creationist one refers, as well as whether a professional evolution misreprenter or just a clueless follower.

Comment #4271

Posted by steve on June 26, 2004 4:22 PM (e)

In my opinion, Creationist is the best term. Everyone knows what it means. It exposes the religious underpinnings they try to escape by renaming themselves ID Theorists. And it’s been beaten back by the courts.

Comment #4272

Posted by Jim Harrison on June 26, 2004 5:31 PM (e)

The trouble with calling creationists and their allies “evo-skeptic” or “evo-incredulous” is that the problem for these folks is not that they doubt evolution but that they have a heck of a time doubting it. Their skepticism is the reverse of traditional skepticism. It is not a search for objective knowledge, but an attempt to avoid recognizing facts which, from their point of view, are all too objective.

Comment #4274

Posted by steve on June 26, 2004 5:39 PM (e)

Indeed, Jim. And that’s part of my philosophy of not arguing with them. I think the only way for creationists to change is to realize that they aren’t trying to do science. They aren’t really interested in science. They’re interested in justifying their religious beliefs. And that’s a fundamentally wrong thing to do, and it leads to fooling yourself, and wasting a whole lot of time doing so, both yours and others’.

Comment #4275

Posted by Mark Perakh on June 26, 2004 6:54 PM (e)

ID advocates(e.g. Dembski) rather vigorously object to being called creationists. For example, Dembski bitterly complianed that Pennock has included his (Dembski’s) essay in his (Pennock’s) anthology without his (Dembski’s) consent and asserted that he (Dembski) would never give his consent because of the anthology’s title (“Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics”). These complaints, though, sound hardly credible if he recall that another anthology, edited by Dembski and comprising a host of articles by ID advocates, including Dembski himself, was titled “Mere Creation.” Isn’t anybody who believes in Creation, a creationist? Mere or not mere, is just a detail.

Comment #4299

Posted by T. Russ on June 27, 2004 6:15 PM (e)

Dr. Perakh,

You speak the truth. Dembski is a creationist. And shouldn’t really deny it. He should be okay with the title. However, I suppose that he would if “creationist” wasn’t such a rhetorically laced word. You anti-creationists have done a heck of a job conjurring up a slew of negative conotations associated with that word. I also understand dembski’s disdain towards the title IDC. The IDers should be allowed to name their own movement.

Comment #4300

Posted by Russell on June 27, 2004 7:24 PM (e)

T. Russ: … if “creationist” wasn’t such a rhetorically laced word

The only aspect of the word that is relevant is the one he doesn’t want to be tarred with: someone who is determined to fit the round peg of science into the square hole of his ideological preconceptions. It’s also the one that’s spot on.

Now that you’ve brought up the subject of “rhetorically laced”, may I suggest that as long as Dembski insists on talking about “Darwinists” and “Darwinism”, he can’t complain about our reluctance to euphemize him.

Perhaps, by symmetry, his camp can be called “Paleyists” (Paley-ontologists?)

Comment #4301

Posted by steve on June 27, 2004 7:34 PM (e)

Mark, when people catch on to a scam, the scammers change their name and try to keep scamming. What was called Clairvoyance 100 years ago, was called ESP 50 years ago, is called Remote Viewing now, and will be called something else later. The Supreme Court caught on to Creationism 20 years ago, so it’s no surprise they’re calling themselves Intelligent Design Theorists, and pretend to be wholly different. When that runs out of gas in 10 years, they’ll call themselves Immaterial Naturalists, or some such.

The names change, but deep down, it’s 10,000-year-old superstition vs 400-year old rationalism.

Comment #4304

Posted by Bob Maurus on June 27, 2004 8:07 PM (e)

T. Russ,

You said, “The IDers should be allowed to name their own movement.”

Even if they name it science?

Comment #4335

Posted by Guts on June 28, 2004 8:49 PM (e)

The statement:

“In this rather peculiar essay, he makes it quite clear that “Design theorists” reject the idea that humans evolved from a common ancestor with apes.”

is simply false and is contradicted by Dembski’s article, that Ian himself quoted:

“Design theorists have yet to reach a consensus on these matters [whether humans are redesigned apes or built from scratch].”

Comment #4343

Posted by T. Russ on June 28, 2004 11:33 PM (e)

Bob: Well, they should be allowed to argue about whether it is science. In a broad sense ID has been science at least since the very dawn of science itself. Personally, I count the dawning of science as beginning with those crazy greeks Plato, Aristotle, and so on, who were mostly all design theorists. Also, did not William Whewell himself, the philosopher who invented the word “scientist,” argue that in the life sciences it was impossible to acheive a correct understanding without reference to design? I could draw out a long historical arguement which would lead us up to today and explain why it is that many scientists believe erroneously that the concept of design cannot function within science, however that would be hyjacking this blog. But to answer your question… Yes they can, and rightly so.

Comment #4345

Posted by Bob Maurus on June 29, 2004 12:17 AM (e)

T. Russ,

What does Divine Creation have to do with Science?

Comment #4348

Posted by T. Russ on June 29, 2004 1:30 AM (e)

You seriously want to know? I can give you some information or some argument but… if you really want all the goods check out Osiris (A Research Journal Devoted to the History of Science and its Cultural Influences)Volume 16 “Science in Theistic Contexts. Cognitive Dimensions” This volume is a collection of essays adressing the conceptual developments of various fields in science in which religious thought, namely the idea of Divine creation, played formative roles in inspiring research, concept formation, etc. Boyle’s theory of matter, Newton’s postulation of Gravity, Kepler’s discovery of elliptical orbits, etc… all great Stuff. The best articles concern the formation of Darwin’s theory. So, Divine Creation at least has very much to do with the formation of modern science.

As for what it has to do with todays science. I guess that depends on the answer to the main question we’re all so rowled up about. If the world is the result of the design or plan of some divine intelligence then it has everything to do with science. However, if the world, it’s laws etc. are here as a result of no divine act, then it matters still. Then Divine Creation is something we ought to ponder, a belief or inference, which has curiously evolved in the minds of us naked apes. Either way, don’t dismiss the idea because you want to, or because its fashionable. It’s a bit more complex than that.

Comment #4383

Posted by Bob Maurus on June 29, 2004 9:10 PM (e)

T. Russ,

Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough, or perhaps you misunderstood.
We all know how early Science was an exercise in trying to expand the knowledge and celebration of the Glories of His Handiwork (Divine Creation). That it didn’t quite work out that way is certainly not for want of trying. That was not my point, though.
My question and response had to do with what I see as ID’s attempt to pass off what I consider Divine Creation as a valid Scientific theory. As far as Osiris goes, provide a link and I’ll take a look.

To rephrase my question – What place does Divine Creation have in Science; what does it have to offer for plausible explanation; and what avenues for testing does it provide?

And now to your last paragraph:
You said, “If the world is the result of the design or plan of some divine intelligence then it has everything to do with science.”
It is incumbent upon you to prove that the world is the result of design, since there is at present not an iota of evidence for that, and until you do, this line is simply a red herring.

And then you say, “ However, if the world, it’s laws etc. are here as a result of no divine act, then it matters still. Then Divine Creation is something we ought to ponder, a belief or inference, which has curiously evolved in the minds of us naked apes.”
Why exactly do you think we should waste our time pondering why a notion that – by your rhetorical acceptance here - has absolutely no basis in reality/fact/knowledge, has some degree of currency amongst the general population of naked apes? Here’s a simple answer - we all need something to get us through the night. Do you have a better answer?

Comment #4397

Posted by Great White Wonder on June 30, 2004 3:23 PM (e)

T. Russ

I guess that depends on the answer to the main question we’re all so rowled up about.

Oh, you mean whether there is no difference between ID apologists and Bible thumping creationists, or just a teeny tiny difference?

Comment #4406

Posted by Bob Maurus on June 30, 2004 8:41 PM (e)

T. Russ,

We’re waiting.

Comment #4408

Posted by T. Russ on July 1, 2004 12:01 AM (e)

Keep waiting. I have a paper due at the end of this week. I will then return to the good ol’ fun at PandassThumb.

Comment #4411

Posted by Bob Maurus on July 1, 2004 10:24 AM (e)

Intentional typo, T Russ?

Comment #4417

Posted by T. Russ on July 1, 2004 3:26 PM (e)

Actually, it wasn’t intentional. Sorry Bout that.

Comment #4418

Posted by Bob Maurus on July 1, 2004 3:34 PM (e)

No problem - I thought it was funny as hell!

Comment #4425

Posted by Douglas Theobald on July 1, 2004 5:10 PM (e)

Just three quick points, joining the discussion a bit late:

On June 22, 2004 01:05 PM Erin wrote:

While I agree that there are mistakes in Dembski’s paper, it is sort of misleading to emphasize that fact that we share 99.2% of our genetic material with chimps.  We share 33% with daffodils, but no one  ever uses that in argumentation. 

Sure they do. That’s part of the evidence that we share a common ancestor with daffodils.

I am not saying that I deny that we share 99.2% of our genetic material with chimps, I am just saying that the statement lacks perspective and it isn’t really the most convincing.

Actually that is a pretty good piece of evidence. It is surprising, since the variation between many morphologically indistinguishable species (in fact even the variation within some species) is much greater than 2%. The genetic variation separating us from chimps is comparable or less to that separating the individuals within other species.

A further point that should be made, which Dembski completely sidesteps, is that the genetic differences between us and chimps are minor and trivial in terms of microevolutionary processes. All of the differences betweeen us and chimps are due to simple genetic processes that have been found and have been observed to occur, frequently, within species—deletions, insertions, chromosomal fusions, point mutations, etc. The sole major genomic difference is the chromosomal fusion relative to the other ape genomes. As I have pointed out elsewhere, some of the mice on Madeira have undergone nine chromosomal fusions in the past 500 years.

So, yes, chimps and humans are genetically different. Duh! That is exactly what one would expect for two groups of organisms that speciated around 6 million years ago.

Comment #4427

Posted by Russell on July 1, 2004 6:51 PM (e)

I had posed the following mathematical exercise for some of our creationist friends a while back, to convince them of the potential of “deep time” to bring about genetic change inconceivable in a mere century of fruitfly breeding:

Considering only point mutations

s = e^(-g*m)

where:
s == similarity == fraction of genome shared between a fly and its ancestor g generations ago
m == probability of mutation at each base pair per generation
(assume 10^-8)

Ignoring the effect of natural selection, calculate the genetic similarity between a modern fly and its ancestor 5,000,000 years ago, assuming a generation time of 10 days

Unfortunately, our creationist friends were preoccupied in making content-free rhetorical points about the “obvious” impossibility major genetic change, and never got around to doing this assignment.

It’s interesting, though, to apply the same exercise to humans and chimps. Assume a generation time of 15 years.

Comment #4462

Posted by Ian Musgrave on July 2, 2004 5:34 PM (e)

Russel wrote:

It’s interesting, though, to apply the same exercise to humans and chimps. Assume a generation time of 15 years.

I get 96% similarity.

Comment #4464

Posted by Frank J on July 2, 2004 5:37 PM (e)

Russell,

I plugged in the numbers. Neat! Gives a better appreciation of deep time. Of course, just like with equations like PV=nRT, misrepresenters will focus only on the approximations rather than the fact that the equations work reasonably well, and that no one has proposed workable alternatives.

Wasn’t that question posed specifically to Jack Shea? If so, that makes at least 2 questions that remain unanswered.

BTW, has the “search” function been greatly limited in the redesigned site, or am I just missing something?

Comment #4467

Posted by Russell on July 2, 2004 6:17 PM (e)

Wasn’t that question posed specifically to Jack Shea? If so, that makes at least 2 questions that remain unanswered.

Yes. I thought it spoke pretty directly to his contention that 70 years of fruitfly experiments was a reasonable approximation of geological time scales.

I also asked FL to have a go at it, but (s)he has neither responded nor said why not.

Comment #4470

Posted by Douglas Theobald on July 2, 2004 6:47 PM (e)

on July 2, 2004 05:34 PM Ian Musgrave wrote:

I get 96% similarity.

How did you get that? I used 5 million years at 15 years per generation = 333,333 generations, and get S = 99.667 %.

The equation quoted above actually gives the change from the original sequence in only one lineage. So, for the similarity between two species, the equation should be modified to s = e^(-2*g*m). Which then gives 99.34%.

A better equation that corrects for mulitple changes at the same site (and the fact that completely random sequences are 25% similar) is:

S= (1 + 3*e^(-8*g*m/3)) / 4

This gives 99.34% too, as it should, when such short divergence times won’t lead to many multiple hits.

A more accurate approximation uses a spontaneous mutation rate of 2 x 10^-9/year. Then, for 5 million years the similarity is 98%.

Comment #4471

Posted by Russell on July 2, 2004 6:57 PM (e)

As ballpark figures go, though, I think these are pretty good.

A more accurate approximation uses a spontaneous mutation rate of 2 x 10^-9/year.

I’ve never quite figured out why the rate should be similar per year, rather than per generation.

Comment #4475

Posted by Douglas Theobald on July 2, 2004 7:48 PM (e)

As ballpark figures go, though, I think these are pretty good.

Yeah, they are. Except the factor of 2 part is often forgotten, and it pretty much doubles the observed dissimilarity.

I’ve never quite figured out why the rate should be similar per year, rather than per generation.

That’s a topic of investigation. Ohta’s nearly neutral theory explains it pretty well. But I’ve never really understood why people think the rate should be dependent upon generation time. For many organisms, that makes sense if you assume that the majority of mutations are introduced at replication (which is probably wrong, since the replication machinery is so accurate). But for multicellular animals, like us, sperm are being produced all the time, not just once per generation, and we also know that mutations accumulate in both the egg and in sperm with time, while they are just sitting there. That’s one of the reasons women in their 40’s have a much higher incidence of spontaneous abortion and of kids with genetic problems. So per year makes the most sense to me.

Comment #4485

Posted by Frank J on July 3, 2004 7:39 AM (e)

Russell says:

“I’ve never quite figured out why the rate should be similar per year, rather than per generation.”

Adding a chemist’s POV to DT’s comments, I would expect that, since mutations are chemical reactions, their rates would be based on common units of time, unless of course, they occurred primarily at reproduction, which is apparently not the case.

Comment #4493

Posted by Russell on July 3, 2004 12:39 PM (e)

Frank J:
“Adding a chemist’s POV to DT’s comments, I would expect that, since mutations are chemical reactions, their rates would be based on common units of time, unless of course, they occurred primarily at reproduction, which is apparently not the case.”

(Actually, Russell is a chemist’s mind trapped in a biologist’s body.)

I did rather assume that the mutations occurred primarily at reproduction, but I guess not. These are, of course, all fine points relative to the back-of-the-envelope calculations I was hoping to interest our creationist friends in.

I think the truth of the matter, as it so often tends to be, is a little more complicated, which is probably one reason that molecular clock arguments are not quite as “slam-dunk” as we would like. If, for instance, during the lifetime of an individual, gametes were descended from gametes descended from gametes… the mutations would be cumulative. If, on the other hand, gametes were continually read off of a “master copy” - a relatively slowly replicating stem cell - all gametes would be similarly divergent from the parent regardless of the age of the parent.

Comment #4496

Posted by Douglas Theobald on July 3, 2004 2:34 PM (e)

Russell wrote:

I did rather assume that the mutations occurred primarily at reproduction, but I guess not.

Well, I gave my POV. The evidence is equivocal and needs more study, and lots of evo biologists would agree with you.

These are, of course, all fine points relative to the back-of-the-envelope calculations I was hoping to interest our creationist friends in.

Yep. The really amazing thing is that the background mutation rate as determined by a cancer researcher is independent of what a paleontologist says is the date of divergence for chimps and humans, and both are independent of what equation an evolutionary biologist derives to relate the two measurements. And even with the simplifications, the equation’s predictions match observation extremely well. As in all of science, that is certainly not what one would expect if your theory is wrong.

Comment #4500

Posted by Ian Musgrave on July 3, 2004 8:44 PM (e)

In a previous post I wrote that I got 96% similarity between human and chimp genomes.

Douglas Theobald wrote:

How did you get that? I used 5 million years at 15 years per generation = 333,333 generations, and get S = 99.667 %.

The equation quoted above actually gives the change from the original sequence in only one lineage. So, for the similarity between two species, the equation should be modified to s = e^(-2*g*m). Which then gives 99.34%.

(looks embarrased) Transcription error, I converted the 99.6% on my calculator to 96%. I used 6 millon years fro the LCA, so my figure is 99.60%, using the corrected formulat, I get 99.21% for a LCA at 6 million years.

Comment #4516

Posted by Frank J on July 4, 2004 8:41 AM (e)

Russell wrote:

I think the truth of the matter, as it so often tends to be, is a little more complicated, which is probably one reason that molecular clock arguments are not quite as “slam-dunk” as we would like.

In fact I was surprised that the “stochastic clock” was even as reliable as it is. Cells are as far from the proverbial ideal gas that one can get.

On that note, while biologist critics of Michael Behe often dismissed him as having had a poor understanding of evolutionary biology while writing “Darwin’s Black Box,” I have always held that it is even more irresponsible for a biochemist like Behe to sell out to his argument-from-incredulity than it would be for a non-molecular biologist. Especially since it is more about abiogenesis than evolution, most of the latter he apparently accepts. Behe knew quite well how few chemical details are known about abiogenesis and early evolution, but nevertheless exploited this to the general public as being a challenge to evolution. It may be a challenge, but to claims that evolution never made in the first place.

That of course doesn’t mean that Dembski can be forgiven for not being a biologist or chemist. He has had ample time to come up to speed on the subjects of his obsession.