:: Friday, March 18, 2005 ::
Being Nice Takes Longer
::This post is part of the Evolution/ID Correspondence Series::
It took a while (because I had to look up a few facts) for me to completely pull this one together, but here's my response to Doug the Creationist's most recent correspondence with me. As you can likely tell, it's quite long, so get comfortable in your seats.
Subject: Some Weekend Reading
I, too, am doing this out of love - tough love. Through a combination of faulty catechesis and an apparently poor science education, you have come, in your ignorance, to support a hypothesis that is scientifically invalid, namely, Intelligent Design. I do this not only out of love for you and those like you, but also for those you try to keep ignorant through the dissemination of Intelligent Design. High school science education is woefully lacking in this country, especially in rural areas - students who come from such backgrounds need to be given firm foundations in science courses, not pseudoscience such as creationism. By educating you, and those like you, I can only hope that through educating you I can save you from committing the sins of deception and lying. Leading the Lord's flock away from truth, in any form, is a very serious sin, and I hope that through our correspondence you will repent of such behavior.
Before you get any ideas otherwise, as you may have, I am no atheist. Neither am I agnostic. I am a practicing Catholic and, through the local student chapel, I am an Extraordinary Minister of the Holy Eucharist, as well as a second-time RCIA Sponsor. I attended a Benedictine-run high school, and I go to Mass multiple times a week. I do not have an encyclopaedic knowledge of Scripture, though given a few minutes I can find the passages I want.
From what you've said about evolution, specifically that "If evolution is true, then life is pointless and meaningless," I can surmise that you were brought up in, or are now a member of, a Protestant church that relies heavily upon the false doctrine of Sola Scriptura. This doctrine fails on many points, among them the fact that the Apostles managed just fine without Scripture, and the fact that nowhere in the Bible does it say that Scripture itself is the only authority. From this false doctrine you then believe that the entirety of the Bible is literally true, even though the entirety of the Torah (including Genesis) is known to been oral tradition before it was written down, and therefore subject to human error in transmission. A literary analysis of the first story of creation can come to the reasonable conclusion that it was a song (or adapted from a song), as seen from its repetition. Its main focus is not that God made everything in six days, but that God made everything, in an order, and that it was good. The second story of creation exists to explain the existence of sin and the spiritual reason for why we are different from the animals - we possess the knowledge of right and wrong, which is how we are "in the image and likeness of God," but this comes at a price, that we are thrown out of harmony with our own natures (original sin) and that must physically labor to sustain ourselves - as opposed to the animals, which merely take what they need from what is around them. The second story can also be seen as a very distantly removed story about the transition from being hunter-gatherers towards an agrarian society. Are all these things literal truths? No, but they are universal truths, things which do not change over time and different circumstances. That is what Sola Scriptura misses, and that is what you miss when you insist on a literal creation.
When you look at the text of Genesis itself, it merely states that God created things - no mention is made of how He did so. Many scientists, including myself, view the application of the Scientific Method and the body of knowledge it has produced as an ongoing investigation into the nature - the nuts and bolts - of God's wonderful creation. You, apparently, lean towards a similar interpretation yourself:
Once again - I do not reject evolution for that reason ( I reject it because it is not mathematically probable), but if there is a Creator and Designer, then we would expect Him to be very orderly - And He is. Mathematically orderly, chemically orderly and morally orderly. When laws of physics are broken, people get hurt. When moral laws are broken, people get hurt.
There is an order to creation - go ask a physicist. Monsignor Stuart Swetland, the campus Catholic chaplain, had his original B.S. in Physics, and has a t-shirt that says "And God said: [Maxwell's equations] ...and there was light." He holds a bunch of Doctorates now, is on faculty at the university, and was actually the source of part of what I was saying about original sin. (Before moving off of physics, I must quote Capt. Montgomery Scott from Star Trek here and mention that "Ye cannae break the laws of physics!" I'm a trekkie, I can't help it.) From physics directly flows the study of Chemistry, the interactions between the electrons of atoms. Many of these atoms form molecules. Those containing carbon are incredibly versatile, and as such carbon is the basis for most, if not all, organic molecules. These can arise through various means. The amino acids are known to have come from the prebiotic soup. Nucleic acids are a bit harder to create, but analogous precursors (which I'll mention again later) with similar catalytic properties could be constructed from 2-carbon molecules, which are much more abundant. The sugar backbone of RNA and DNA themselves differ by only one atom (which is important in DNA's stability) and since the nucleoside bases used by both DNA and RNA are similar (three are exactly the same, while the other two differ only by a methyl group) it is easy to transfer information between the two data media. In fact, this transference takes place all the time, is called either transcription or reverse transcription, depending on the direction of the transfer. Without transcription, genes in DNA couldn't be translated into proteins, which are what actually do most of the work of the cell. The RNA copies of genes are translated into proteins (which themselves are strings of amino acids) by ribosomes. Ribosomes themselves are merely groups of a few RNA strands that, together, are catalytically active and can use other RNA tags attached to amino acids to order those amino acids according to the instructions in the gene and to link the amino acids together into proteins. Current data indicates that ribosomes may be the oldest part of the cell machinery, and it is easy to assume that if RNA can facilitate the coordination of different strands of RNA to create a protein, that RNA catalysts (called ribozymes) may have also existed that could function as RNA copying machinery to replicate genetic material. In fact, short nuclear RNAs have been found that, when associated with each other, can excise out segments of other RNAs and re-attatch the pieces so that the new, shorter RNA makes sense to the ribosomes. Once RNA machinery, and then proteins, got going, all that was needed to create the most primitive cell would be to enclose a ribosome, some other RNAs, some amino acids, and some free nucleotides in a lipid bilayer (most likely formed from a bubble in the sea where this all occurred). Who's to say that God did not use this method to create a cell, over spans of geologic time? Remember, God has all the time in the world. He can be patient. Since God is not necessarily excluded from creation, even though evolution exists, there is no moral vacuum. Science is not atheistic, and neither is evolution. Science is, however, agnostic, because the presence or absence of God cannot (currently, and likely for some time) be proven from direct, recreatable observation. The Scientific Method doesn't reject God, it merely rejects faulty hypotheses.
If you managed to get through that, I think it might be a good time to ask what level of science education you have received. In your most recent email, you continued to cite "problems" which I had already resolved, which makes me fear that the subject matter I used went way over your head. In fact, it looks to me like the only education you have in things like molecular biology have come from the Intelligent Design materials you have read. Perhaps if I knew what level of education you've received I can better tailor my explanations to you. It might also be helpful, if you intend to continue learning about biology, to take classes at a nearby university or community college, especially ones that focus on evolution. That way you won't be arguing from ignorance, but will have a full command of the facts.
I will admit that I was a bit arrogant in accepting your concession. However, you had just deprived me of what looked to be shaping up to be the most interesting explanation I have ever received - namely, just what electrical impulses have to do with data storage in DNA. I assumed that I had sufficiently demonstrated the scientific fallacies behind that and the other points you had made. In any case, you continue to say that evolution is mathematically impossible, and that in fact this is the sole reason that, you say, you dismiss evolution. Yet, not once have you backed up this claim that is so central to your position. Since you have been skittish to bring out the math, though, I will do so for you.
E. coli, a human gut bacteria and a laboratory favorite, has a genome consisting of a single, circular chromosome of 4.6 x 106 base pairs of DNA. Without any mutagens present, DNA polymerase III, the protein responsible for the vast majority of E. coli's DNA replication, will make an error (i.e. cause a mutation) once every 104 to 105 base pairs. Error repair mechanisms reduce this rate to once every 106 base pairs by comparing the newly synthesized strand to the already existing strand. Obviously, this means that each base pair has approximately a one-in-a-million chance to be mutated at any given time. However, since bacteria are so small, 4.6 million bacteria, enough to statistically ensure that each non-fatal base pair mutation in the E. coli chromosome is represented. This seemingly large amount of bacteria can easily fit on the head of a pin - your gut houses many, many more than this puny number of E. coli. Seeing as well-nurtured bacteria can reach such population sizes within a matter of hours, novel genes - especially those that encode for antibiotic existence - are evolved all the time. Admittedly, humans have a much larger genome and reproduce much slower - which is why we evolve and develop novel traits much more slowly. Consider, though, the many billions of sperm that your and my testicles each produce daily, and thus all the chances for mutations that those numbers present. Many of these contain mutations, and it is these mutations that have caused the variability in humanity (and in all species). From the color of our hair, eyes, and skin, to the antigens on our red blood cells, many mutations are benign and even helpful.
In the process of gamete production, known as Meiosis, the set of chromosomes inherited from one parent and the set from the other parent match up, like chromosome to like chromosome. The chromosomes rely, in part, on the large amount of gene and sequence similarities between the two homologous (similar) chromosomes. Consider, for a moment, a very successful, but small, species, such as a lizard. As a species, it may have a range of hundreds of miles, but each individual of that species isn't going to go much farther than a mile to find a mate and reproduce. This can cause discreet (or continuous) populations to arise within the species. Take, now, a population at one end of the range and another population of the same species from the most distant portion of the range. You acknowledge that microevolution, i.e. adaptation, occurs. It is not unreasonable that the adaptations occurring within populations at one far end of a species' range are very different from those in a populations at the other end, since the conditions in the two areas may be very different themselves. As the adaptations pile up, the genes, and thus the base pair sequence, changes. Given enough time (on the order of thousands of years, usually), the two distant populations may change so much that when individuals from the distant populations are brought together by humans and mated, their offspring will be sterile (like a mule) because its parental chromosomes are so dissimilar. Initially, each population may be able to reproduce with individuals from the middle of the range, since these outlying groups have each had enough reproductive contact with the mid-range groups in order to maintain genetic similarities, but as each population continues to adapt the differences will become greater and the many populations will become genetically isolated, constituting individual species. Now, this is by no means the only way for speciation to occur, but it makes explicit, logical use of molecular genetics and adaptation, both of which you, I think, accept. (In fact, this has happened, and is documented, and if I could for the life of me remember the species name I'd give it to you to look up. It involved different subspecies of a species of lizard in California and Oregon, I remember that well enough.)
Now that I've given you all that to read, I think it would be fitting to deal with the rest of your most recent letter.
First, I've taken the time to investigate the list of people whose names you tossed at me: Dr. Henry Morris, Dr. Duane Gish, Dr. Joseph Mastropaolo, and Dr. Richard Bliss. Having looked them up, none of them have published anything related to evolution in peer reviewed journals. Dr. Morris is a civil engineer with no training in biology, whose papers are case studies in Red Herring arguements and false conclusions. The most obvious of these, his diatribe about the Entropy and the second law of thermodynamics, logically prohibits all life, which is in itself absurd and invalidates his argument on the topic. Dr. Duane Gish, while having done credible work with Tobacco Mosaic Virus and other projects back in the '50s-'70s, has been caught red-handed repeating arguments that he knows to have been demonstrated false. He is a liar, and since science operates on academic integrity he has no credibility scientifically. Dr. Mastropaolo is a kinesiologist, who has no training in evolution and his only papers on the subject have not been peer-reviewed. And, last and least, "Dr." Bliss received his doctorate from a diploma mill. I am not impressed.
As opposed to those men who either have no training or no remaining credibility, I have been taught and will be taught by a number of professors who work directly on human development and evolutionary issues. For example, next spring I will be taking a class taught by Prof. Carl Woese, whose research and arguments led to the defining of Archaea as a separate taxon and thus a massive re-arranging of the "tree of life." He is a well respected "distinguished leader in his field" and has peer-reviewed work to back him up.
I've already covered your objections to the RNA World hypothesis, but if you want more you can look at this post on my blog, in which I discuss (and take apart) the paper by Dr. David Rosevar that you directed me to.
Oh, and I've read about 50 pages into the PDF you sent me. I ran across the first errors in the first paragraph of "facts" and wrote a blog post about it. From as far as I've gotten, it seems to me that the author is willing to misstate scientific facts, invent facts, and libel dead people, all while wearing a tinfoil hat and expounding on the nonexistent evolutionist/ACLU/communist/humanist/spiritualist(Huh? I've never heard of that one)/atheist/fascist/witchcraft conspiracy. Factually, it appears to rank down there with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, in that both are easily demonstrated to be loads of crap.
Also, about your statement that the valid results obtained by scientists using evolutionary theory doesn't validate the theory itself: let me ask you to do something worthwhile with ID. Take bacterial antibiotic resistance. Evolution describes the mechanism for its development and the same theory suggests means to slow down the development of antibiotic resistance. How does Intelligent Design, which denies that mutations can be beneficial to an organism, deal with antibiotic resistance?
To drive home my point, I think that a repeat of my argument for the rejection of Intelligent Design as a basis for scientific inquiry is in order. This is especially so because it appears you missed it the first time around. I'll make it into a numbered list so that it's easier to follow.
1. A hypothesis, in scientific usage, is "A supposition or conjecture put forth to account for known facts; esp. in the sciences, a provisional supposition from which to draw conclusions that shall be in accordance with known facts, and which serves as a starting-point for further investigation by which it may be proved or disproved and the true theory arrived at." (from the Oxford English Dictionary)
2. One using the scientific method
A. Starts with observation3. Hypothesis that cannot be disproved are invalid for the purposes of scientific inquiry (due to a violation of 2D)
B. Formulates an hypothesis to explain that observation
C. Determines a consequence (prediction) of the hypothesis
D. Tests that hypothesis's prediction in a situation where it can be disproved
E. Reformulates the hypothesis if it is disproved OR (after publishing a paper or two) devises a new test with which to test the hypothesis.
4. Hypothesis that do not make predictions are also invalid (due to a violation of 2C)
5. Intelligent Design stipulates that an Intelligent Designer (i.e. the Abrahamic God, usually viewed through a Protestant Christian perspective) created everything, including all life.
6. The existence and/or powers of God are not able to be proven or disproved scientifically.
7. Because of point 6, Intelligent Design is an invalid hypothesis, as per point 3.
8. Intelligent Design makes no valid attempt to explain the observed relationships between species.
9. Because of point 8, Intelligent Design is again invalid as a hypothesis, as per point 4.
10. Point 8 also invalidates Intelligent Design's "Irreducible Complexity," as it is an example of an argumentum ad ignorantium.
Get it? Got it? Good.
Basically, for all the arguments going on about it, Intelligent Design is just as valid as the Time Cube, which is to say it's not scientifically valid at all. ID is an attempt to force Fundamentalist Christian beliefs into the public discourse by means of suppressing rational, evidence-based science.
SO, to recap: You're working off Sola Scriptura, which falsely dictates that you take Genesis 1 literally. This leads you to be sympathetic to ID, and your lack of science education leads you to agree with the unsound theory. Reading Genesis contextually, though, does not logically lead to a conflict between God and evolution. God could create using whatever method he so chose, and from what science tells us it looks to have been evolution. The laws of physics, filtered through chemistry, do not prohibit "abiogenesis" (misunderstandings about thermodynamics to the contrary). Primitive cells (no where near as complex as modern cells) could've (and likely did) emerge over geologic time. Mutations aren't always lethal, do not always kill, and nonlethal mutations are shown, using the math you promise and have yet to deliver with, to be quite common. Adaptation leads, de facto, to speciation over geologic time periods. Those that support ID either aren't trained to deal with evolutionary topics, or have thoroughly discredited themselves within the scientific community so as to make themselves irrelevant to modern scientific discussions. Their arguments are filled with false conclusions, argumenta ad ignorantia, Red Herrings, and the occasional ad hominem attack mixed in with some libel for good measure. Such essays are occasionally written while wearing tinfoil hats and looking over one's shoulder for black helicopters. Irreducible Complexity having been demonstrated elsewhere as a logical fallacy, Intelligent Design doesn't have a leg to stand on as a scientific hypothesis. Evolution, not containing any logical fallacies that aren't easily refuted by a half-educated premedical student (like myself), is what's left standing.
If you're even still reading at this point, Doug, it should be obvious that I did not write to you to "find the Truth." I'm doing that already, through my church and through my studies of genetics and evolution (which is what three of my four in-major advanced classes are/will be on). I'm doing this out of concern for the sins you are committing out of your ignorance, that do not just injure yourself but also impact negatively on other people in my campus community. Restated, I'm trying to defend the defenseless from a person, you, who doesn't know better. As our miscommunications have shown, I'm relatively new to apologetics. Unfortunately, my chosen profession will likely not allow me to pursue it to the fullest extent possible. But, as my job will involve healing people, I think that's an acceptable tradeoff.
I can only hope that our exchange will encourage you to learn more about molecular biology and learn the real truth about evolutionary theory. Our exchange has taught me a number of things, foremost among them that I should use my own faith to diffuse the argument that God and evolution are incompatible.
May the peace of Christ be with us both as we seek out the truths of God's creation.
This'll probably take a day or two for Doug (or any likely reader) to read through and respond to - which is fine by me, since I have a practice MCAT tomorrow and will be leaving for my folk's place shortly thereafter.
UPDATE: Doug the creationist has replied - but if you're looking for some good scientific stuff, you'll have to wait.
:: The Squire 7:32 PM :: email this post :: ::